Originally Published: August 1, 2016 8:28 p.m.
It seems almost impossible to add something new and unusual to make the game of tennis more fun or easier to use - in practice, learning tools, equipment, wear ... clothing/shoe design - or any other aspect related to what has transpired in the past 50 years.
How do you create a new mouse trap or reengineer an item to help tennis players in practically any aspect imaginable?
In just my life time the sport has seen some amazing innovations and changes.
Tennis racquets may make up the biggest change, bringing the world of tennis to a much faster pace and added topspin game, and with that a needed part taken in how players train - physically and mentally. From the middle of the 19th century through 1987, wood was the main-stay of what most racquets had been made from, followed by metal, fiberglass, and more currently graphite. Fourteen ounces to now as little as 7 ounces, lighter - stronger, made-to-weight design and stiffness measures. It compares to the horse and buggy era to today’s computer designed vehicles - a crazy difference.
What used to be a two-string choice, natural gut or nylon, has blossomed to hundreds of types of strings of tinsel strength, gauge, color and feel to have strung in your racquet. Making a decision can be mind boggling.
Grips used to be made of leather, and you can still find those types of grips if you look hard enough, but for the most part a grip today is designed out of rubber, cushioned, non-perforated or very perforated, raised or flat, grooved in various ways to increase the ease it takes to hold on to your weapon, without getting blisters. Add to that the over-grips that are made for hot/humid, medium or cold weather - to soak up sweat, stay tacky on cold days or be somewhere in-between. Double-sided tape helps to attach them so out went the messy Elmer’s glue, which did its job for years attaching grips to handles.
Tennis shoes have gone from the good old stand-bys of Stan Smith and Rod Laver proto-types, where after a hole was made or the shoe wearing thin - Shoe Goo might have been placed to prolong the life and expense of what was good and broken in. Shoes of today fit every mold, of low-cut to ankle fitted, narrow - medium or wide sizes, colors of the rainbow and all range of prices. Even different treads for what you like and the type of surface you’ll be playing on.
Clothing from the tennis whites of the past, where you looked good - but might die from heat stroke - have evolved to the new light-weight breathable materials of today that are a godsend in comfort.
Picking up balls has gone from a not-so-liked bucket where you bent over to pick up each ball hit, to ball hoppers, tubes and mowers that can take up all the hard work of practice balls scattered all over the court and in a much shorter time, without making your backache. The newest “ball hopper” even has wheels attached to it to help the cause, which was a simple but nice addition.
Ball machines have gone from the old pressure build-up bladder shooters that might dink a shot out - followed by a bullet, based on the condition of each ball, to the consistent two-wheeled machines that today have an easy charge-up battery pack that fits in the trunk of your car. It delivers a consistent, well-placed array of balls that make practicing better and without the hassle of dragging cords around, not to mention electric plugs that may not be available.
Teaching aides are numerous. Want to video your strokes, which used to be quite a production? Pull out your phone and record away - pretty dog-gone easy.
There’s an app for everything you want to chart or work on, as well. You want to learn something new? Join one of the hundreds of tennis web-sites. You can even video your strokes while playing your opponent and then email or text the recording to your coach of choice, which they can view, evaluate and reply with feedback.
Want to have the most fun, private tennis court in your area? Have it fixed up with its own “hawk-eye” line calling system. In today’s world you can build a clay court that uses underground sensors to tell when it needs watering and it’s done from underground bladders.
You’ve got to love the ingenuity of what has taken place to date ... and what will happen in the future.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.