View Full Version : Wooden Racquets and Spin

01-07-2005, 06:17 PM
I'm watching the 1980 Wimbledon final between Borg and Mcenroe, both using wooden racquets at the time. I was wondering how much topspin/spin these old wooden racquets could generate. They are hitting with slice serves so they must be able to generate some spin...
(I was also reading in an article on how "serve and volley died with the invention of topspin"; newer racquets with bigger heads allowed easy topspin)

01-07-2005, 07:28 PM
I began tennis in 1965 with the Kramer Auto. and switched to graphite in 1982. You could hit tons of spin with a wood racket; example that match you mention McEnroe hit a topspin lob to win a critical point. I often think the Prestige is really a larger version of the Kramer, that is bigger sweet spot and more consistent material. Vilas used a Kramer before Head made his signature racket , I think the very 1st prestige.

joe sch
01-07-2005, 08:05 PM
I have always found it easier to generate more spin with wood rackets and more flexible old school graphite rackets. Topspin and slice trajectories were more common in the days of the woodies especially on the ladies tour where many of the players would hit moon balls back and forth. Tennis today is much more of a power game with winning stokes common from the baseline. With higher trajectories and more spin in the tennis game of yesteryear, the serve/volley game was much more common but with todays power game, S/V is a very difficult tactic because of the powerful passing shots and service returns.

01-07-2005, 09:30 PM
I think you'll find that topspin has been in the game pretty much as long as the game's been played. Excessive topspin, even, is hardly a new method of play. If you saw Vilas play with his traditional shaped wood you'd have seen him hitting with huge amounts of spin. There is also the matter that, as tests have shown, no ball is ever hit 'truly' flat. There's always some spin on it, usually either top or slice.

Im 35 now but when I was 12 was lucky enough to see the very old school tennis great Frank Sedgman (bonus points if anyone bar an Australian or tennis historian remembers him) pick up a wooden racquet and hit on our local court. I was surprised to see just how much top there was on his shots and on his serve (he was about 55 at that point).

I think the biggest killer of 'pure' serve and volley tennis is the amount of power you can generate with the modern racquets. You just dont get the same amount of time to make good position at the net as you used to due to that power. It survives in doubles due to the presence of the net man and the greater percentage in having two up rather than one up and one back. A very good reason why we should preserve doubles in pro tournament play.

01-08-2005, 09:10 AM
being an oldie i can tell you that 'better' players back then hit with loads of spin (and all kinds of spin..not just top)..back then it took FAR more skill to hit with spin than it does now and as a result there were more players hitting flattish balls. if you had a topspin backhand you really were in the very small minority even among better players. if you dont believe me try hitting topspin forehands in a 62 sq in frame (a woodie). and try it w. a western grip. you had to be really precise to do that because the steep angle of attack to created topspin left a very small margin for error in such a small headed frame..i think you can see where i am going with this. that was what was so amazing about borg (who i consider the precursor to the modern game)...he could hit loopy forehands w. a 62sq in head string at like 70 pounds thus making his sweetspot about the size of a walnut...he even framed alot of balls w. his forehand and he had arguablly the best eyes in the business (along w. agassi and connors). so lighter and bigger headed frames opened the way for western grippers and baseline bashing and really have benefitted the baseliner and return of serve and not the serve, and that's why the game is played the way it is today (more from the back). vilas figured out that larger headed benefitted his brutal baseline slugfest and i believe he was one of the first to go to a larger headed frame..i think it was the head Vilas Model and was wood w. maybe some high tech (for then) laminates....if Rabbit is in here, he will know

disclaimer: maybe the borg frame wasnt precisely 62" and perhaps borg didnt string precisely at 70 pounds and maybe his sweetspot was more the size of a kumquat than a walnut....i'm just covering my bases here..lol

Steve Huff
01-08-2005, 09:37 AM
I don't think it was the excessive topspin that decreased the number of serve-and-volley players so much as it was the power of the newer, graphite frames. To add to Andrew's comments, not only did the power decrease the amount of time a player had to set up at the net, it increased the amount of power a player could generate even when they were out of position. Good serve-and-volleyers relied on putting a ball in a place that would force a weak return. With the more powerful rackets, a player didn't have to be in good position to hit a strong return, or at least a deep return. So, the S & V player had fewer chances to get to the net in an attacking position.

01-08-2005, 09:56 AM
Joe sch, you wrote "I have always found it easier to generate more spin with wood rackets", then you are a very special guy, because it is actually way easier (and by very far) to hit topspin with the modern racquets (bigger headsize, more open string pattern even for the ones supposed to have dense string patterns) even if they are stiffer, Nobadmojo perfectly explained why, I don't say it is not possible to hit topspin with an old wood racquet, I simply say it is easier with modern racquets, I would also add that your conception of what a topspin stroke is, seems to be a bit confused, I don't say it to attack you especially, but just because many players have the same msiconception as you about topspin, and I'd like to clarify the following point about it : when I read your post, it looks like you think (like many other players I repeat) that Topspin = higher trajectories and moonballs, while lower trajectories = flat strokes, but it is a misconception, because if a topspin stroke can be a moonball, or high trajectory ball, it is also possible to hit heavy topspin with pretty low trajectories and clearing the net by only a few centimeters, for that kind of strokes the flying path of the ball almost looks flat at the begining but it is only a deceptive impression, the ball have a very high amount of rotation on it, and the trajectory curves only after the net, the bounce is really nasty and the ball feels really heavy (no need to add that to obtain some descent depth for that kind of stroke, the ball must be hitted extremely hard), it is the kind of strokes that are produced by a vast majority of the modern pro players on the ATP and WTA tours, pure flat balls in the modern game are very rare at pro level.

To say it simply: the height of the flying path is absolutely not an indication of the amount of topspin imparted to the ball.

01-08-2005, 10:33 AM
i agree spinbalz...topspin takes many number of forms, and better players can intricately and precisely vary the spin, and i agree w. your definition of a heavy ball, which not too many seem to be able to understand. as far as it being power that has changed the game i feel that to be pretty innacurate (no offense to anyone).you can hit the ball really hard with wood with good technique. i will say it is easier to hit the ball harder with bad technique now. i would also suggest that if power has changed the game. it has only changed it from the backcourt, for good servers can serve just about as hard with a woodie (tennis racquet) :0 as they can with something modern. again, i really believe it is the larger head coupled w. the lightweight that has changed the game (making it the percentage to play the ball much less in the air). the strategy w. wood was often to get your opponent in a position where he couldnt properly prepare, and then you had him, because wuthout proper weight transfer and setup in a smaller headed frame you would get a weak ball which you could attack but not usually put away with just one shot (that was part of the real joy of tennis was to work points that way). these days better players can easily put away short or weak balls because of the gear(i guess that is where power does come into play)..but these days, it is harder to get something weak out of a player because they can wrist flick a forehand (for example) w. no weight transfer because of the light weight and still hit a deep ball because of the big sweetspot and stay in the point. oh man..i miss being able to hit passing shots because so few ever venture to the net,,,,i think the old technology allowed for the best players to more easily rise to the top. same is tru in golf IMO as it takes MUCH more skill to hit a small headed persimmon wood than it does a great big bertha whatever. and no, i am not anti technology, i am only inflicting my viewpoint on fellow board members :O...if the pros would benefit from something no matter how light they would use it...lesser players do benefit from the technology and they should take advantage of it (unless they dnt care about playing well or winning)people should use whatever they want, and i believe some of the technolgy to be good. my posts are becoming like SpecialK's now....i'm out.

01-08-2005, 02:42 PM
The Head Vilas (I own 5 of them :) ) is a regular sized (mini for you younger members of the boards) racket that is of wooden construction. Like the PF Flyers (sneakers for you younger members of the boards) it contains a wedge too. This wedge does not guarantee that you can run faster and jump higher, but it does add weight to the head. There is a graphite or fibreglass wedge in the head of the Vilas. Also, down the shaft of the Vilas are graphite laminations that make it stiffer. Of course, stiffer is relative as anyone over 40 can tell you. Stiffer by wooden racket standards is more than flexible by today's standards. For the six months a summer ago that I played with the Vilas, I can veify that you can punish the ball with wood. The biggest differences for me are second serve and volleys. You must be precise.

I find that topspin is easier to generate off the forehand with wood, but harder off the backhand. When I was coming up, my second real racket was a Spalding Pancho Gonzalez. I remember the older guys at the club saying I had a nice backhand. I did because I am left-handed and the natural crosscourt shot from a right-hander is to my backhad, so it was either get a backhand or go back to golf. Anyhow, they were all really impressed when I started hitting topspin backhands, which coincided with my acquisition of a Slazenger Challenge 1, probably the sweetest wooden racket I played with in my misspent youth.

Back on subject. The pros could hit serves as hard with wood as they can today. The big difference again was the second serve. You'd better reign in your first serve because hitting a kick serve with a wood racket can be challenging simply because of the size of the head. Also, not necessarily the weight of wood as much as the balance kept players from using really extreme grips like they do now. The Eastern grips and the Continental were the primary grips because you didn't have to move your hand much. Even Borg, who hit with extreme top hit with an Eastern on the backhand.

Rod Laver is widely regarded as the first player to really come over the all on both sides. His topspin backhand was one of the fiercest shots on tour when he was in his prime and Ken Rosewall's elegant sliced backhand was the perfect foil to Laver's slashing and attacking. Ilie Nastase was one of the first players to hit a topspin lob off of a backhand, and did so on the dead run with amazing regularity. Nastase was also one of the first guys to really start making it up as he went. Nastase would play any shot from any position on the court. He did so either to win the point, or try and run his opponent.

I agree that prior to Borg, topspin on the backhand was the exception and not the rule. If you look at Borg early in his career, he played sliced one-handed backhands. It wasn't until he developed physically and became stronger that he began to consistently hit the two-handed topspin backhand for which he is now famous. McEnroe, while fully capable of hitting topspin, was widely renouned for never hitting the same spin twice in a row. He did this to keep his opponent off balance and probably more importantly because he could. Arthur Ashe was also known for having a better backhand than forehand, and he could come over the ball as well.

Topspin backhands off wood were generally tighter in spin than they are today. Mojo is dead on, it took really good technique and timing to hit a topspin backhand with a wood racket. But, when you hit the ball in the center of the, albeit small, head, nothing feels better than wood.

01-08-2005, 04:57 PM
rabbit wasnt there also a larger headed wooden Head Vilas model or did i just make that one up somehow???? i thought Vilas used somethng like that later in his career? i know there were a couple larger headed woodies...i've vague memories of this, but maybe Snauweart had a larger headed wood frame and a couple others..back then an oversized frame was maybe a 75??? good thought about the 2nd serve in your post. tennis is still most awesome, but one of the really good things about being an old fart is to have played 'old fashioned' tennis....rabbit if you ever get your bunny *** down the bunny trail, break out one of your Vilas's and i will break out one of my Snauweart Fibre Comps all engraved 5 360 325 for gripsize,weight, and balance. who said you couldnt get matched racquets back in the late 70's. is that when this was?? could we possibly be this old??? more/some manufacturers should do that now since the specs should be far tighter..there really is no reason other than being cheap to get out of spec frames IMO. i know the latest volkls all indicate weight and balance and some other stuff and the last time we checked specs on some volkls, they were within a very few swingweight points of one another..maybe 2 or 3.

01-09-2005, 12:37 PM
I have a couple of Snauwert ATP 90 wood frames. They are strung with gut.

I think Vilas moved to OS with Slazenger, the same model that Cash later used.

01-09-2005, 08:00 PM
True Vilas moved to Slazengers he used a standard size wood for awhile then moved to the midsize V24 same Cash used. The Head Vilas was a fine racket I never hit with it, but new a few guys who thought that racket "hung the moon".