Stringing made of sheep intestines, vibration dampener, two-grip racquets...and the Babolat Play. Discover and rediscover the most striking developments of the tennis racket in the top of the week.

The history of sport is marked by constant technical inventions. Material evolutions changing it forever. Of course, tennis and racquets are no exception. Revolutionary, wacky or ephemeral, we go back on over a century of evolutions.

 

- The Pioneers:

 

The invention of the racquet doesn't come from tennis but from the Jeu de Paume (“Palm Game”) and the first wooden model would have been made in 1505. But we had to wait until the end of the 19th century, more precisely 1868, to see the first stringing. It was the work of an English surgeon named Lister and was made of sheep intestines. Bon appetit!

 

- The stringing:

 

Specialist in the transformation of sheep intestines for sausages, stringed musical instruments and surgical sutures, Pierre Babolat could never have imagined that an order passed in 1875 will change his life forever. Bussey, an English racquet manufacturer, asked him if it was possible to manufacture tennis racquets strings from cello strings. The first synthetic rope was born! A century later, Babolat is one of the world leaders in racquet sports.

 

- Vibration dampener:

 

In 1960, Rene Lacoste invented the anti-vibration pad for tennis racquets. Fourteen years later, he developed the vibration dampener (the "damper") for graphite racquets. By reducing the vibrations caused by the ball’s impact on the stringing, it removes the vibrations transmitted to the hand then wrist, elbow and finally shoulder, establishing itself as the best enemy of elbow tennis.

 

- The graphite racquet:

 

The supremacy of wooden rackets seemed immutable. Until that an idea popped into the head of Rene Lacoste. In 1963, the most famous of the Musketeers developed the first graphite racquet. Marketed by the brand Wilson, it accounted for 46 Grand Slam titles between 1966 and 1978. With Jimmy Connors and Billie Jean King as first ambassadors. As for the wooden racquets, they completely disappeared from the tour in 1984.

 

- The oversized head:

 

The invention of the oversized head is the work of the aeronautical engineer Howard Head, who, as his name suggests, was the founder of the Head brand. But it's when he was working for the brand Prince that he decided to enlarge the racquet's head in 1976. The surface of about 65 square inches was then increased to almost 110 square-inches. Today, the maximum allowable area is 137 sq. inches, resulting in an increase in the "sweet spot". Meaning: the comfort zone and an excellent performance of the head.

 

- The Spaghetti racquet:

 

One of the craziest inventions in history, the spaghetti (also known as the “double-strung” racquet) is quite the highlight. The West German horticulturist Werner Fisher is the man behind this crazy project: the stick, which featured a highly movable string surface, could impart massive amounts of spin that were completely unheard of at the time. The racquet was banned from the tour in 1977 for having offered too many victories to average players.

 

- The "cross bar stabilizer": 

 

The famous Prince Original Graphite of Michael Chang has marked the history of racquets in the 80s with its famous "cross stabilizer bar" between the grip and the head. Designed to provide more stability at impact, the extra bar was also found on various models Head and Völk. A tool now gone out of fashion. Like those horrible 80s glasses with a double bar.

 

- The smart head racquet: 

 

In the early 2000s, Head introduced the world to a new racquet apparently revolutionary. Created from smart materials and systems of self-control developed by high-tech industries (aerospace, automotive, aerospace), the Head Intelligence uses the energy produced by the impact of the ball to transfer within the whole racquet. With a list of users to make more than one nostalgic: Sébastien Grosjean, Gustavo Kuerten, Arnaud Clement, Thomas Enqvist, Mariano Zabaleta and Hicham Arazi.

 

- The two-handled Natural Power-Grip racquet:

 

In the late 2000s, Brian Battistone, anonymous player of the tour found a way to make a name for himself: he invented a racquet with two grips, called The Natural. But how could the ITF accept such a thing? With a rather simple argument actually: "If you can beat Roger Federer with a thing this size, then go for it." To the latest news, Brian Battistone would be floundering in the depths of the ATP rankings in singles and beyond the 200th in doubles.

 

- The Babolat Play: 

 

Today, it’s Babolat that presented a racquet that will "change tennis." The Babolat Play is equipped with gyroscopic sensors - as the Skybox or the Wii - which analyse the game and collect information about it. Once the match is over, the player can see his stats linking the racquet via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB to the computer. It will therefore allow him from next year to have an ultra-precise database on his game. Last July, the ITF announced the authorisation to use this "Player Analysis Technology" during matches.

 

By Antoine Mestres