Tennis Racquets Through History

Tennis Racquets Through History

Tennis is a sport that’s been around for many years.  As would be expected, tennis racquets through history have changed quite a bit.

When did the spelling go from racquet to racket?  Does it matter how you spell it as long as you know what you’re referring to?

It’s interesting to look at the history of the game and learn the origin of tennis racquets and how the sport as developed over the years.

Check out the timeline that spans many centuries for key events in the development of the sport of tennis and tennis racquets through history!

11th Century

historical tennis racquet and court

Going all the way back to the 11th century, there’s been a great interest in tossing a ball around to have a good time.

Around this time, monks used their hands in a form of handball, but the basic rules of tennis were kind of the same.

They had to use some form of a central line, and while it wasn’t a net, it’s speculated that they would draw lines in the sand.

Through the 11th century, there’s not much more talk besides this.

Monks had to find wholesome ways to pass the time while remaining true to their religious calling.  Monks basically invented the first game of tennis.

1530s

King Henry of England built the very first tennis court as we know it today.

There were lines and rules but the original court doesn’t remain today.

Much of what we know about this time is documented in light text and only potentially historically accurate data.  There could be various interpretations of tennis during this timeframe.

It is believed that in 1625 they reconstructed King Henry’s first tennis court and it is in use today.

It’s the longest living embodiment of tennis throughout history.

1583

Early Italian Tennis Racquets

Tennis rackets (in a more traditional and modern sense) were created in Italy.

They were considered predecessors to the current tennis racket design that was mostly established in 1874.

For whatever reason this design remained just in Italy didn’t take hold in other areas across Europe.

While Italy has some current rising stars, it isn’t really known for being a tennis powerhouse country.

1868

This is where the rich adopted tennis as their sport.

You had the Wimbledon district of London create the All England Croquet Club, where tennis was introduced and exclusively played by the rich.

It’s to blame for much of the stigma on tennis as being a rich man’s sport, though it no longer resembles those ideals.

Owning your own tennis court can be a bit pricey, but rackets, shoes, and other gear don’t cost nearly what they did back then.

It was a status symbol to be able to play a round of tennis.

There wasn’t much love or admiration for the game; it was a power move to play it.

1873

Major Wingfield invented tennis that could be played outside on your lawn (partially to stick it to the posh folk of that club we just mentioned), so lawn tennis was born.

The only thing is… it was still a rich man’s game.

They made hourglass-shaped designs in the lawn where the court was built and proceeded to exclude anyone who wasn’t filthy rich.

This is really where tennis really took hold.

A ruleset was formed, and while it’s changed in nearly 150 years since its inception, many of the fundamentals remain the same.

1874

Major Walter C. Wingfields tennis pioneer

In addition to creating the idea of lawn tennis, Major Walter C. Wingfield made the very first actual tennis racquet.

Back then, they were made entirely out of wood, and this sport was primarily practiced in England.

The notion of a tennis club began where players would meet at a single member’s house where they would have their own courts built.

Having a tennis court at your home in 1874 was much like it is today – an ABSOLUTE symbol of wealth.

1874 was a busy year though because this is when tennis came went across the pond to America.

A pair of brothers, Joseph and Clarence Clark, brought some of Wingfield’s tennis racquets and balls to America to test it out.

That very same year a lawn tennis tournament was held and the love of the game was formed.

It’s believed that if the Clarence brothers didn’t bring the racquets over, it wouldn’t have been until 1910 that anyone in America truly took notice, but that’s up for speculation and much debate!

1875

Wooden rackets are being used in the All England Croquet Club around the same time that Henry Cavendish Jones convinced them to start using a lawn tennis court instead of a croquet court.

This was slightly controversial, but after some testing, proved to be in everybody’s best interest to make the switch as it made the game a lot more fun.

1877

This is when the very first world championship of history was held, and where talks of rackets changing their design came into play.

Everything became more tactical, a little more logical, and soon you had tennis players trying to figure out how to get custom rackets made with different grips.

Laws and regulations around tennis sprung up around this time to prevent too-easy methods of being produced by racket manufacturers.

1896

Tennis made it into the olympics

Tennis made it into the Olympics during this year.

It pertains to rackets because it was where a lot of guidelines were set that we commonly follow today.

The average racket was 27” long and the average handle grip was 4 ⅛” long.

Tennis had already been transforming since Wingfield’s invention of the modern racquet, but it was absolutely exploding in a way that he never expected.

Tennis went from being a fun game that rich men played to an Olympic sport.  Athletes had to have more access to different and better equipment.

1976

Early Fiberglass tennis racquet

Look, a lot happened in these past eighty years, but they just don’t pertain to the racquet or regulations as much.

The world had been figuring out how tennis worked, and everybody agreed on (just about) every rule about it.

But that’s when manufacturers had to get smart.  Wooden racquets were becoming too expensive to make and the supply and demand weren’t enough to sustain their business model.

Let us introduce you to the graphite and fiberglass racquet models.

Graphite didn’t last too long because they broke too easily.  With some adjustments here and there, fiberglass became the go-to.

1984

Clay Courts in the 1980s

Clay courts really became popular in the 80s and the way tennis was played changed forever.

That may sound a bit overly dramatic, but that’s when people realized they needed more power.  Clay absorbs so much of the force of the ball bounce.

Tactics changed and new grip styles were formed to conquer the challenge of clay courts.

Are Wooden Racquets Relevant Nowadays?

Are wooden tennis rackets used today?

Not really.

You’ll see wooden rackets more as historical pieces than anything else that belong in a museum.

While laminated wood was used not too long ago, it didn’t really serve the right purpose.

As time went on and synthetic materials became more available, we looked to aluminum and it’s been the primary frame material for years now.

Wood isn’t manufactured like aluminum or nylon is.

Wood comes with varying ounces and weaknesses that vary from individual piece to piece.  Tennis players are keen on precision in their equipment to ensure their rackets are of a certain size and weight.

Wood doesn’t allow such precision.

Aluminum and fiberglass, as well as nylon and other synthetics, are what you will see today.

Armed With Knowledge

You enjoy tennis, but now, you get to appreciate it for what it is and what it was.

Next time you set foot on the court, take a walk around and just imagine what it would have been like if certain advancements in tennis history never happened.

Enjoy tennis knowing you’re part of the fabric of it’s history and future.