Ginepri, Djokovic & the Bryans hit with wood racquets earlier this year

Discussion in 'General Pro Player Discussion' started by Moose Malloy, Jun 22, 2007.

  1. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    Did anyone see these 'hitting experiments' at Indian Wells/Key Biscayne?

    All that racket: Players have appreciation of wooden past
    By Douglas Robson, special for USA TODAY

    Novak Djokovic held it lightly, feeling the contours as if he were examining a T. rex bone at a natural history museum.
    To be fair, the Wilson Jack Kramer Autograph tennis racket is a dinosaur.

    "It's the first time in my life" to hit with it, said Djokovic, born in 1987, long after wood joined the museum shelves of tennis history. The fifth-ranked player in men's professional tennis who competes with a Wilson nBlade graphite racket added, "Now I realize how tough for the players it was 30-40 years ago to play."

    During the last three decades, racket technology has advanced astronomically. The sizes, shapes, materials and performance of the main tool of tennis, on display Monday as the fortnight of Wimbledon begins, are nothing like they were two or three generations ago.

    To understand these technological changes and help shape the debate about increasing power in tennis, USA TODAY enlisted nearly a dozen top pros to hit the 1970s-era wood rackets. They were supplied by the Newport, R.I.-based International Tennis Hall of Fame.

    The wonderment Djokovic experienced brings to mind how the generation of Rod Laver and wood rackets gave way in the 1970s to Jimmy Connors and his metal T2000. Next came the stronger, lighter, bigger, more powerful frames used today.

    Laver, the last man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single year, said it "just wasn't that big of a deal" when the metal era arrived. Perhaps not. But it definitely grabbed everyone's attention.

    So did our hitting experiments in March at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla.

    It wasn't quite like Bode Miller barreling down the slopes on wooden skis without release bindings or Lance Armstrong tackling the Alpe d'Huez on a three-speed bike. But almost across the board, it was an eye-opening experience. Many, including Djokovic, had never played with wood.

    "It feels like a different game out there, to be honest," 2005 U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri said. "It doesn't give the pop or the spin that the graphite rackets have today."

    It would be "almost impossible (to win a match on tour) unless your opponent misses every single shot," 18-year-old Vania King, one of the USA's more promising players, said while laughing.

    Although most could hit proficiently after a few minutes, the pros noted a significant decrease in power and spin and a diminished sweet spot. Only one player, 2004 U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova, felt confident enough in her strokes with a wood racket that she could win a match on tour.

    "Your chances of missing are a lot higher," top-10 player Tommy Robredo of Spain said. "That racket doesn't get much spin. … If I played with a racket like this, for sure I would have a lot more touch, because you cannot play with power. You have to play with other things" such as spin.

    It's a far cry from today's rackets, which, depending on your point of view, have helped democratize the sport or dumbed-down technique and given way to brute force.

    "I love the new rackets because they have made, and kept, tennis fun for players of all abilities," said pioneer Billie Jean King, who won the 1967 U.S. National Championships (which became the Open in 1968 with a then-new metal frame.

    Wood good for touch, technique

    Players trying the old rackets felt they had less maneuverability with wood, which is 25% to 40% heavier than modern frames. In many cases, they were forced to alter their grips and flatten their strokes to hit the ball cleaner because the hitting area of the older frames is considerably smaller (80 square inches vs. 90 to 120-plus square inches).

    But a few players noticed more "feel" with wood.

    "I tried a drop shot, and I knew exactly where it was going to go," said Mike Bryan, who, with twin brother Bob, is part of the top-ranked doubles team in the world. "You can feel it all the way to your hand through the wood."

    "Definitely for the feel and touch, it's great," 10th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia said.

    But using the wood also led some to observe how much easier the game has become with today's technology.

    "You have to have very good technique to play with this one," Russian Kuznetsova said of the wood.

    "Technology can hide flaws in your game," Bob Bryan said.

    Hall of Famer and TV commentator John McEnroe agreed. Comparing the power surge in rackets and strings to modern-day baseball, he said, "If they had some of the equipment we have in tennis, they'd be hitting the ball 700 feet."

    "I'm 48 now, and I hit my serve harder than when I was 25," added the three-time Wimbledon champion, who transitioned from regulation wood to midsized graphite over the course of his pro career in the 1970s and '80s.

    "It's gone way too far."

    The Bryans said their volleys with wood felt almost the same as with today's rackets. But like several other players, they said serving and hitting groundstrokes were compromised.

    "You only get 50%-60% of your normal power," said Bob Bryan, who nonetheless would like to see a "cap" on some of the advancements in racket technology.

    more at:

    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/tennis/2007-06-20-raquet-tech_N.htm
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2007
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  2. LarougeNY

    LarougeNY Professional

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    Very interesting article. I would love to see the video of their hitting sessions with the wood.
     
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  3. diggler

    diggler Professional

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    great article.

    Powerful rackets have helped a lot of old people to stay in the game but whether they are good to watch the pros is another issue.
     
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  4. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    another article on equipement changes:

    Like Laver, few players in the 1960s and 1970s foresaw how technology could one day alter the sport.

    "I don't think anyone knew at the time that it was going to have the enormous effect on the game," says American Gene Mayer, whose image became entwined with the technology movement when he rocketed up the rankings after switching to an oversize graphite frame in the late 1970s.

    "We used to think that if you went from a small racket you were a sissy," recalls Brian Gottfried, who used wood and in 1977 rose as high as No. 3.

    "The outcry wasn't until the cows left the barn," adds American Eliot Teltscher, another top-10 player from the early 1980s.

    Stuart Miller, technical manager for the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees testing and regulations in tennis, says space-age materials such as boron, graphite and Kevlar have made rackets bigger, lighter and stiffer. That, and improved manufacturing processes, allow players to swing harder, better manage off-center hits and generate more spin.

    "It has unlocked many performance advantages," Miller says.

    Until the late 1970s, governing authorities in tennis took a laissez-faire approach to racket technology, leaving the door of design and dimensions open to the whims of players and manufacturers.

    "You can play with a tomato can on a broomstick, if you think you can win with it," USTA President W.E. "Slew" Hester Jr. said in 1977.

    Since, tennis has periodically imposed rules on racket technology in response to advances that seem to threaten the integrity of the sport. The first rules came surprisingly late, 1978, considering the sport's 19th century origins. Those restrictions on size and shape followed the introduction of the oversized Prince racket, which was invented by engineer Howard Head.

    That same year, restrictions were put on stringing patterns because players began using a patented system, dubbed "spaghetti" string, that could generate almost double the spin as conventionally strung rackets.

    Ten years ago, the ITF clamped down again. Following a period in which observers feared big serving was making tennis one-dimensional, particularly at Wimbledon, the ITF reduced the overall racket length for pros from 32 inches to 29 inches (also known as the "Michael Chang rule" for Chang's extra-long racket.)

    In retrospect, the ITF's Miller says, the 1997 rule might have been a "knee-jerk reaction" because the total number of aces has flattened or declined after peaking in 1998. In the interim, baseline play has become the dominant style despite ongoing increases in serving speeds.

    Miller says any additional restrictions today would be unnecessary even though speed increasingly pushes up against the limits of human physiology. There are other ways to tamp down power besides restricting rackets, he says, such as balls and surface composition.

    "I wouldn't disagree that players have physiological limits with reaction times, for example, and that at some point serve speeds will increase to a point where serves can't be returned," Miller explains. "Then you have to step in and use the rules of tennis to restore some order. But we're not at that point at the moment."

    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/tennis/2007-06-21-racket-sidebar_N.htm
     
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  5. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    came across another article on this, here are some excerpts:

    Roger Federer didn't participate, but the top-ranked Swiss agreed – twice – to do so, bolstering his reputation as a cooperative, go-to No. 1 and a student of the game. A scheduling conflict prevented me from getting to him prior to the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells, Calif., so I solicited him again in the stadium bowels at the Sony Ericsson Open a couple weeks later.

    “No problem,” he said, and reached out to take the three wood racquets I was lugging around so he'd have them at his practice session the next day. “Do you want me to take them now?” Thankfully, I kept the rackets because Federer lost later that day for a second consecutive tournament to Guillermo Canas. He split town before we had a chance, but I was heartened to know he was eager to try.

    Effervescent Serb Novak Djokovic also jumped at the opportunity to test them out when I came upon him practicing with his coach, the former Czech pro Marian Vajda. He, Vajda and a third hitting partner proceeded to engage in a hilarious series of tiebreakers using the bygone racquets – all with dinner on the line. After hitting, Vajda waxed nostalgic about the wood days, while the 20-year-old Djokovic expressed his delight at playing with a material he had never tried before. “It's the first time in my life,” he said. “When we started to play, I tried to play as players did 20 years ago – the flat hits, chip and charge… volleys, slice. Then I tried to hit as we do today with spin and it was pretty good. I won I think three dinners."

    The young Belgrade native also recognized the limits of the old technology and suggested that today's evolving supersticks mean some restrictions might be in order. “I just couldn't serve as normal... Now I realize how tough for the players it was 30-40 years ago it was to play," he said. “Maybe they should start to have more rules because I don't believe it would be so good for the sport, for tennis, if somebody has [the] best racket in the world with the most improved technology, in let's say 5-10 years, and this racket can give you a lot of control, speed, power and somebody cannot afford this racket and they play against this guy and it's much a bigger difference and it's much easier.”

    He added: “I think they should have certain rules like golf and Formula 1 so everything can be even.”



    When I happened upon her Russian compatriot Maria Kirilenko, she was wrapping up a practice session with Thomas Blake (James Blake's older brother). Kirilenko had already been eliminated from Indian Wells, so I figured she'd be an easy target. Being tactful, I explained my proposition to Blake, who walked over to the far side of the court to ask Russia's other Maria if she would hit. She shook her head no in my direction, and Blake returned to tell me she had no interest in trying wood. While I have had no interactions with her before, the tour rumor mill has identified the admittedly attractive Kirilenko as a bit of a diva, so her refusal didn't completely surprise me.

    I like Ana Ivanovic and find her a pleasant personality, but she, too, begged off trying the rackets when I ran into her one day practicing after she'd been eliminated. When I wandered up to her at the end of the session, she politely told me she would have none of it.

    I desperately wanted Rafael Nadal to partake in light of the torque on his technique and the tremendous spin he generates. What, I wondered, would the Mallorcan Masher do to the ball using ash? When I approached his PR guy about it, he almost laughed. No chance. But one afternoon I followed Rafa onto the practice court anyway, three rackets in tow, and told him about the experiment I was conducting. He seemed interested, and took one of the rackets from me and examined it for a while. With various members of his entourage present, however, I discerned that even if he had wanted to try it, it wouldn't fly. Opportunity missed.

    To be fair, a player could have many reasons for declining to participate. They don't want to ruin their timing (though this loses some credence once a player is out of a tournament). They don't want to injure themselves. They are tired. They aren't interested. And so on. But considering the overwhelmingly positive response I got, it makes you wonder.

    http://www.tennis.com/features/general/features.aspx?id=97114
     
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  6. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    BOB BRYAN
    “The new rackets let you hit a more variety of shots….Those guys [the older generation] would have been phenomenal with the new technology.”

    ROBBY GINEPRI
    “My arm is already hurting and I was only hitting for 10 minutes… With my grip, it's pretty extreme, it's hard to get through the ball with the wood. It's definitely a different game back there. It was more precision….It feels like a different game out there to be honest.”

    MARTINA HINGIS
    “At first I thought also I would have a harder time to actually hit the balls... I think I'd come in a lot more with this one.”

    MIKE BYRAN
    “I was surprised by how much feel there was. I can see why they all used continental grips - same grip for every shot.”

    JONAS BJORKMAN
    “It's more the string than the racket really that is different.”

    THOMAS JOHANSSON
    “It's a different feeling. The head of the racket is a lot smaller... I think I could make [125 mph] or over [on my serve] with natural gut.

    DANIELA HANTUCHOVA
    “It was coming off the racket pretty well... I always thought I'd be quite good playing maybe 100 years ago.”

    TOMMY ROBREDO
    “We would not play like the clay court players with all the spin. We would play maybe like (Fabrice) Santoro or a Czech guy that always play flat. The rackets we are using now they are a lot better for us.”

    VANIA KING
    “[It would be] almost impossible [to win a match on tour] unless your opponent misses every single shot.”
     
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  7. superstition

    superstition Hall of Fame

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    Robredo is incorrect concerning the ability to play clay court tennis with wood, although the extreme topspin of today isn't something players hit in the past because the heads were smaller, the string patterns were denser, and natural gut doesn't lend itself to the extremes of topspin that poly does. Players in the wood era could use slice, flat, or topspin shots. Borg used topspin, for instance.

    Vania King's expected result wouldn't be much different from her current situation. I think she was even beaten by Flipkins.

    Mike Bryan's point about continental grips isn't accurate. Most players used eastern grips during the wood era, but the continental grip was popular with serve and volleyers.

    It sounds like Ginepri's racquet didn't have natural gut.

    Bjorkman is flat wrong.

    Hantuchova is exaggerating. Wood racquets were used a lot more recently than 100 years ago.

    Bob Bryan is missing perspective. The players of the past were phenomenal when they played. The current stuff would not make them better, it would just change the type of tennis they would be phenomenal at.

    Johansson seems to be mistaking feel for power. The greater feel of wood may make him think he's hitting harder, but it's an illusion.

    It's clear from that list of comments than none of the players really understand wood racquets or what tennis was like with them.
     
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  8. aidenous

    aidenous Semi-Pro

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    Very cool stuff. I would have loved to seen the video to.
     
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  9. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    Interesting articles. It required a strong wrist and forearm, to hit hard and with spin with the old wood. See players like Hoad, Laver or Nastase. Laver played a semi-continental grip for all his strokes.For Borg (and McEnroe) in the late 70s it is to be said, that their rackets were not entirely out of wood. I am not an expert in material, but if i recall it right, the Donnay of Borg had fibreglas lines in it, wo make it stiffer and prevent the vibrations of the pure wood rackets like the old Dunlop Maxply or Jack Kramer Autograph by Wilson. Borg also had unusual hard strung rackets, which could really explode sometimes. And i think, McEnroes new Dunlop Maxply, which he played begin of 80s, was also stiffened by some fibreglas ingredients. Maybe these innovations then, made it easier to hit extreme topspin, as Borg or Vilas did. But the racket head remained small, for most of the top players. Gene Mayer was one of the early players with the big Prince racket. I recall, that Vilas had a strong comeback in the early 80s, when he changed to a bigger sized racket.
     
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  10. rosenstar

    rosenstar Professional

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    JONAS BJORKMAN makes a very good point. I know this has been brought up on these boards before and that different pro's have made statements about this, but players on tour (probably around 3/4) aren't using the newer racquet technology the public uses. most of them have been using the same raquet for years. Fed uses pretty much the same racquet sampras has been using since the early stages of his career. many other pros (like safin) have been using frames like the prestige classic, which is also an older racquet.

    the difference now is the poly strings, and the fact that players are much stronger in today's game.
     
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  11. fastdunn

    fastdunn Legend

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    I think the head size is the major factor we should slowly start regulating.

    About Bjorkman's comment: people wouldn't use polyester if they have to
    play wooden frame.

    rosenstar: Federer is still a natural gut user mainly. (He uses polyester
    on crosses but mains dominate the playing chracteristics. I use
    same set up). Sampras and Federer eralier used 85 sq in and full gut.
    Federer now uses 90(or 92?) and gut main and poly cross.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2007
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  12. rosenstar

    rosenstar Professional

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    You are very right. I'm just trying to emphasize that in many cases in the professional game, racquets have not changed the game as much as people believe. I admit that federer was a bad example, but still, it is undeniable that strings have changed the PROFESSIONAL game more than racquets.
     
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  13. superstition

    superstition Hall of Fame

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    No it's not. It's the opposite. People are using poly string because the racquets have changed, not the other way around. Therefore, the racquets represent the biggest change.

    Early graphite racquets were standard head size, not midsize like the Sampras/early Federer Prostaff 85, and definitely not the 100 sq in racquets that are so common today. They also were not 71 RA stiffness like a Pure Drive. They were not widebody. They were not head heavy.

    Prior to them, there were wood/graphite composite racquets, racquets with wood encased by graphite.

    If Bjorkman said people wouldn't use poly with wood he's correct. Poly is used to tone down the excessive power of large headed stiff racquets and allow extreme topspin to be produced. Along with the topspin and power is the excessive injury rate, particularly wrist injuries.
     
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  14. rosenstar

    rosenstar Professional

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    federer's escentially using a racquet from the late 80's/early 90's. Roddick's using the same racquet since before 95. Safin's also used the same racquet since the early 90's. As is Tursunov. As is Djockivic. Hewitt's also been using the same racquet since the early 90's. The list goes on and on.

    THis may not hold true in the women's game, where stiff oversized frames are very common.

    In the men's game, very few players use powerful oversized frames. Most of those who do are using POG's, which are by no means a "new racquet"
     
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  15. superstition

    superstition Hall of Fame

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    No. He switched from the Prostaff 85 to the Tour 90.
    What racquet is that?
    If oversize is around 100 sq in, then that's probably true. 100 sq in is much larger than a standard size racquet, which is considerably smaller than a mid. Midsize used to be smaller, too. Refer to the Kramer midsize wooden racquet. It's much smaller than the 90 sq in "mids" that Hewitt and Federer use.
    100 sq in stiff widebodies like the Pure Drive is a far cry from a woodie, or even an early graphite like the Wilson Ultra or Yonex R7. In comparison with a woodie (or another "standard" size racquet), 98 "midplus" is oversized, let alone 100 or 110. It's not just the head size that's changed. The stiffness of the racquets has increased, and poly has further made topspin from the baseline too dominant in the game and led to increased injury.
     
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  16. The Gorilla

    The Gorilla Banned

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    federer said in an interview that with the tour 90 he was asking for a 90 inch pro staff so you're definitely wrong there.
     
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  17. rosenstar

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    The PS85 is pretty much the same as the Tour 90. do you really think 5in makes that much of a difference? Do you really think that HIS racquet differed much from the first? The K90 he plays with now is pretty much a ps85 w/ an extra 5 inches.

    That would be the Pure Drive. and that is by no means an oversized frame.

    well, according to TW, an oversized frame is above 105 inches.

    Believe me, I am very aware that today's racquets are NOTHING like the wooden frames frome 40+ years ago. What I'm trying to say is that people never started COMPLAINING about the racquet technology until close to the time that pete sampras retired. until then people were aware of the changing racquet technology, but, for the most part, didn't accuse it of ruining the game like they do today. I'm just trying to say that most pros have been using the same frames since before people started to accuse racquets of ruining the game.

    the only change in technology (on the pro tour) since then is the strings. a lot of players use frames designed in the 80's/early 90's, but with the luxilon, can swing as hard as they like and the ball still drops in the court.
     
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  18. superstition

    superstition Hall of Fame

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    It's a different racquet. The beam is thicker, right? The flex is lower. The materials are at least somewhat different. The 5 sq in do make a difference. No one plays with an 85 today, and Federer and Hewitt are the only pros using a 90.

    If there's no difference, he wouldn't have switched from the PS 85. Sampras also would be unlikely to make such a big deal about how the newer racquet is better.
    In comparison with woodies, 95 sq in might as well be called oversized, let alone 100.
    It took people too long to notice the problem. It actually started with the PS 85. That's when people started complaining about the "all aces" matches with Sampras, Stich, etc. However, the PS 85 is lower in power and forgiveness than any racquet currently used by pros, so things have changed.
    Who uses racquets designed in the 80s? Even the so-called Prince Original Graphite has been renamed and people have said it's stiffer and lighter. And, it's hardly very important since only midrange players or lower ranked players use it, and not very many.
    The string change is important, but the racquet change is what caused those strings to be viable. You won't see poly in a wood racquet, a wood composite, or a standard size graphite racquet.
     
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  19. Eviscerator

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    Excellent article, thanks for posting it.
     
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  20. rosenstar

    rosenstar Professional

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    I know that they are slightly different frames, but they are extremely similar

    who said there's a problem?
     
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  21. superstition

    superstition Hall of Fame

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    They're different enough that no one uses the PS 85 anymore. Federer's best results came after he switched.
     
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  22. Steve Huff

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    Superstition, your comments are right on the mark. I played and strung wood rackets. Standard wood rackets were 72 sq in (I'm almost certain), not 80. The 1st graphite rackets that came out, like the Adila Cannon, Kawasaki Ruler etc, were 72-75 sq in also. The Prince oversize came out shortly before the graphites if I remember correctly. The Maxply McEnroe did have a graphite (not fiberglass) layer of reinforcement--I have one. Materials like graphite and boron were added were added as facings to wood rackets to stiffen them, or at least to give them a thinner profile while retaining their stiffness (Snauwaert, Garcia, etc). Often, the bonding process wasn't that good at first, and the layers in early graphite/wood composites could separate. Polyester strings weren't really used in the US until metal rackets came here. Leoina Poly 7 or Poly X was the first I remember. The changes in racket technology definitely impacted the game more than the changes in string technology. Durability was rarely an issue with wood frames because of the dense pattern. As racket head grew, patterns opened up, strings broke easily, so stronger strings were developed. By the way, nice article.
     
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  23. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    where have you been the last 20 years(wait, I see you're only 17..)?the players, fans, media, etc have been complaining about racquet technology since 1985 when Curren & Becker started an acefest at Wimbledon that lasted until 2002. Bud Collins was crying during that telecast that tennis was being destroyed. McEnroe(the #1 player in the world at the time) also complained loudly that new racquets were hurting the game. The cries got even louder in the 90s when Sampras played Ivanisevic in W finals. The atp experimented with heavier balls(they even considered trying a larger ball & eliminating lets-I'm not making this up), the itf had meetings in the early 90s about what could be done to slow down the game(they banned some oversize racquets, which really didn't do anything) SI had a cover with 'Tennis is Dying' on the cover in 1994, ripping the power of racquets. I know you're pretty young, but racquet technology & the power in the game was criticized far more in the 80s/90s than it is today. you shouldn't look at the 10 people that post here as indicative of what the majority of tennis fans think of the game today. they(& the atp) love it. there are more rallies today than at any other time in the last 20 years, & the atp/itf sure as hell aren't having meetings about controlling the 'power epidemic' in tennis like they were in the 90s. they slowed down courts & got their wish(reducing aces)
    aces were increasing considerably every year of the 90s, they then stopped increasing in the early 2000s. Problem solved.

    and really some of those 80s racquets were jokes compared to todays racquets(try playing with pat cash's frame when he won wimbledon in '87 or ivan lendl's, & tell me with a straight face that federer's racquet is 'basically the same')
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2007
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