Tennis Racquets Through History

Tennis Racquets Through History

Rackets go a very, very long way back in history, and it’s kind of strange.

Because it goes back to the 11th century, there’s a lot of misconception and lore around it with little to back all of it up.

Still, it’s important (and darn interesting) to know where tennis rackets and the sport originated from to develop a truly deep appreciation of the game.

Let’s do an entire timeline that goes over multiple main events in history that pertain to tennis rackets, starting with the monks.

11th Century

racquets medivals

From 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 during very dark eras while remaining true to their calling, and so they 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 rigid lines and rules that were being made, though the original court doesn’t still stand today.

Much of what we know about this was through light text and potentially historically accurate data, so you could run into various mentions of this throughout history.

They later reconstructed what was believed to be the first tennis court in 1625, and that is in use today.

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

1583

Early Italian Raquets Tennis

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 because this template didn’t really leave Italy.

Instead, visitors and tourists would talk about them, and then they became a sort of lost throughout history.

Italy isn’t really known for tennis, just like it wasn’t known for it then.

1870

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 clothing 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

You’ll come to know about Major Wingfield in a moment.

He 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 essential court was built and proceeded to exclude anyone who wasn’t filthy rich.

We have small bits and pieces of history that led up to this point, but this is really where tennis became very developed.

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

You have a very similar structure in current day tennis to how they had it back then, so you won’t have much to look at in terms of history.

They kept this pretty tight-lipped.

1874

Major Walter C. Wingfields

Major Walter C. Wingfield made the very first actual tennis racket.

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

Tennis clubs were being formed at this point, where they would meet at a single club member’s house where they would have their own courts built.

It was a much more egregious process to make your own court in 1874 than it is today, and it was an absolute symbol of wealth.

1874 was a busy year though because this is when tennis came to America.

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

In the very same year, despite the brothers not going at the beginning of the 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 rackets over, it would have been around 1910 that anyone in America truly took notice, but that’s obviously up for speculation and debate.

1875

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

This was slightly controversial, but after some testing, it proved in everybody’s best interest to make the switch—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 got 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 had to be set that we commonly follow today.

The average racket was 27” long, and the average handle grip was 4 ⅛” long, and a ton of other averages was set at the same time.

Tennis had already been transforming since Wingfield’s invention of the modern racket, but it was absolutely exploding in a way that he originally didn’t expect.

Tennis went from being a fun game that rich men played to an Olympic sport, which means that athletes had to have more access.

1976

Early Fiberglass tennis racket

Look, a lot happened in these past eighty years, but they just don’t pertain to the racket 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 rackets 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 racket models.

These didn’t last too long because they broke fairly easily, but with some adjustments here and there, fiberglass stuck around more than graphite did.

1984

Clay Courts became often used

Clay courts really became a thing right around here, and with that, the way tennis was played changed forever.

That sounds a bit drastic, but that’s when people realized they needed more power because clay absorbs a lot of the shock of a tennis ball.

It saps the kinetic energy.

Tactics and new grip styles were formed around this time to combat clay courts, and eventually, people just learned how to play in spite of them.

While clay courts were mostly indoors at this point, it made its way to the Olympics and became part of the regulation.

Are Wooden Racquets Relevant Nowadays?

Are wooden tennis rackets used today?

Not really.

You’ll see wooden rackets more as figure pieces than anything else, and they do 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 we wanted to make things out of synthetic materials or metals, we looked to aluminum, which has been the primary frame material for years now.

Wood isn’t manufactured; it isn’t created exclusively in a factory setting like aluminum or nylon is.

Wood comes with varying ounces and weaknesses that vary from individual piece to piece, and we don’t know if you noticed, but tennis players are really keen on making sure their rackets are of a certain size and weight.

This kind of throws off that whole rhythm.

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.

The game is at its peak right now with minimal tweaks here and there, because it’s perfect as it is.

You’re playing one of the most developed sports in history, and you’re going to make it better.

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