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Tue, June 18

Howard: The changes in tennis - past, present, future?
My Point

What will the game of tennis be like in 20 years?

I saw this question posed lately and it’s interesting how the evolution of a sport that is popular or becomes such unfolds.

In 1874 Major Wingfield didn’t really invent the game of tennis, but he did get it patented, had some rules printed out, came out with a boxed set of racquets, net and balls and wala - tennis became a bit more official, promoted and easier for people to try.

Those boxed sets of tennis equipment and simple rules made their way around the world by people who were wealthy and had the time and inclination to show their friends and then take it to the next level.

The hour-glass tennis court became a rectangle, the rules were refined and governing bodies came into existence, and even though the game was primarily social and just for fun, the human nature of competition turned the corner to tournament play. The first Wimbledon being held in 1877 with 22 male players competing, an entry fee and prizes to the winner.

In most places the courts were set up on lawns of grass, but then clay was tried, wood floors, then hard courts (asphalt/concrete), carpet and even synthetic grass. Indoor facilities in areas with cold weather were built, stadium courts with retractable roofs and controlled indoor climates. Who in their wildest imagination would have guessed all of this would take place?

Clothing for tennis has changed drastically and become big business.

In the late 1870’s the players dressed very nice, formal by today’s standards. But each decade and with the players becoming more and more competitive, the freedom to move easily with comfort took over. From trousers to shorts, from dresses to the ground and long sleeves to spandex. Another major industry born that continues to develop.

Equipment. Holy cow, when we go back and compare the wood racquets, shoes, strings, grips, balls, eyewear, etc., of yesteryear to what we have today it’s absolutely crazy.

Take racquets for example. Wood was prevalent for the first 100 years of the game with some experimentation of steel. But then it ventured to illuminum, fiberglass, Boron, Kevlar and graphite. Not to mention replaceable bumper guards (grommet strips), and even the inset of computer sensors put in the handles to give feedback to the player.

Grips went from grooved wood to leather, now synthetic polymer - neoprene, rubber type materials. All types of over-grips that are set for hot, cold or muggy weather to help hold the racquet with the most ease.

Strings were at one time only made of natural gut, now of nylon, polyester, Kevlar and monofilament, multifilament, textured, solid core, outer wraps, composites, of various gauges, soft or firm, and hundreds of types to choose from. Mind-boggling.

The technology of and for the athlete has taken on new proportions in physical and mental training. From a few books on learning the game properly and good technique, each area has become a field of expertise. The top players have a coach and hitter, a physical trainer, a nutritionist, a mental coach, stringer, an agent and sometimes more.

Play is covered by fans, magazines, books, radio, television, cable, a frenzy of media, parents, staticians, related local, national and world organizations, high school, college and professional coaches and specialized sport schools.

And this list of items and thoughts could be much longer and complete.

The old-time kicked back garden type social gatherings of the games simple beginnings have gone a little coo-coo in idolizing some of the best players in the world and at times created a monster in the pressure put on in playing this fun and healthy game (in my opinion) and we need to keep it in perspective.

A multibillion dollar industry today that began with a boxed set of tennis equipment and a simple patent...what will the next 20 years bring?

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 45 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.

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