Column: Wood tennis racquets live on
I collect wood racquets.
I can't quite remember when I started exactly but somehow I've accumulated around 500 or so of them.
Around 1968 I began my tennis career at the age of 13, with a wood racquet in hand, and since that time have fallen in love with the workmanship of the many varied and unusual types.
By the age of 17 I was stringing and repairing the main tools of the trade used in tennis and made some extra money doing string jobs - mainly gut for the better players who had money in their wallets and nylon for players who were on the poorer side, at our newly built indoor tennis club.
Putting new leather grips on racquets and keeping them from sliding around was a trade to learn as well. Elmer's glue dotted along the underbelly as you carefully held, wrapped and tapered the grip around for a righty or lefty, cut neatly at the top and trimmed with electrical rubber tape showed if you were a professional, or not.
At most tennis facilities, the front desk person would answer the phone, greet the guests, sell products from the pro shop, sign people up for memberships, run the leagues, get subs as needed...and string racquets. It was a real learning experience for a teenager.
My aunt lent me $500 to purchase a stand-up-model stringing machine from a sporting goods shop that was going out of business. I set up shop in the basement of the first house I rented at the age of 18 and now pushed my racquet repair products and service as the assistant pro at the Granville Tennis Club.
Heck, my first car only cost me $75, so this gadget that held racquets in place, with a spring-loaded tension gauge seemed quite expensive and I knew it would take quite a while to pay back the loan at the cost of about $10 a racquet for nylon strings and around $20 to $25 for gut, minus costs.
In those days, it was common when you broke a string to have your local stringer put a patch job in your racquet that cost only a buck or two to have done. This is where you pulled out a string or two from where it broke, re-pulled the tension - tied two new knots and then put in one or two new strings with left over material.
In fact, you might find one to three patch jobs in a racquet before it was restrung.
With today's racquets, putting a patch job in is almost unheard of, and much harder to do because the string holes (now with plastic grommets) only allow room enough for one strand of string.
When you received a wood racquet in for repair, the first thing you'd do is look over the frame to see if there were any cracks you could detect, or if the head of the racquet was worn down to the point of the strings breaking because there was no groove left for them to fit in without being exposed.
If that were the case, it was time to tell your client that you'd only do a patch job and he'd better see about buying a new stick.
Another option you might try was to get a small electric drill out to regroove the area that was worn down. The question would be, when that was done, how the racquet would play - and with new tension would it hold without breaking?
I'd seen racquets warp and some times the strings pull straight through the wood frame. It was a risk, but most of the time it was done with the owner's permission and thankfully held up more often than not.
By 1979 the wood racquet era was almost over and professionally the last wood racquets were used at Wimbledon in 1988. So thirty-plus years have elapsed since the end of the woodies and it now seems the tail end of even finding wood racquets in thrift stores has arrived.
But, for those of you who want another swing at what "once was", the 16th Annual Legends Wood Racquet Tournament will be held this coming Sunday (July 17th) from noon to 4 p.m. at the Roughrider Tennis Center, and racquets are provided if you need one. Call 928-642-6775 to sign up ($15.00 per person) individually or as a team.
Wood racquets do live on....at least one day out of each year!
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-642-6775.