Some cars go down in history as classics because of their innovative design and for me there are some tennis racquets which are icons of the game. For my criteria, I have only chosen racquets that I have played with in the past and some of these are only very recently enough. I have based my choice on design, impact on the sport and their overall playability. Humans are fickle beings and what might have been in fashion six months ago may not be the case today. When I was growing up in Ireland and starting to play tennis there was only a choice of three manufacturers of racquets that you could buy and two of these no longer make them. They were Donnay, Snauwaert and Dunlop. Very occasionally would you come across a player wielding an exotic Wilson racquet.
Dunlop Maxply (Fort and McEnroe)
Debuted in 1931, this wooden racquet taught many generations how to play tennis and was still being used into the mid 1980’s. Now that is longevity for a racquet. Made with a composition of woods the most notable users were Rod Laver and John McEnroe. They had to be kept in a frame to stop them from warping and particularly so in wet weather. Dunlop, a British company, have been making sporting equiupment since 1910 and are still a leading brand in the field today.
Donnay 3 set.
The Donnay 3 set was originally produced in wood but it was the later version manufactured in fibreglass that I first used. I loved this racquet for playability and design. It was the first racquet that I played with that wasn’t made out of wood and the extra power and accuracy that I got was astonishing to me at the time. Donnay was a Belgian company who were the world’s largest producers of racquets and so many a tennis champion hopeful began with this brand. Bjorn Borg himself played with the wooden version of the 3 set and he didn’t do too bad with 5 Wimbledon wins and 6 French Opens. As far as I know they stopped making racquets in the late 1980’s and now just make sporting attire.
When John McEnroe moved over from the old Maxply McEnroe wooden racquet to the new 200G in 1983 when he was world number one he brought a lot of people with him. It was the first to be injection moulded and made out of a type of carbon called Grafil. Beautifully designed, though it was heavy and especially so for younger players when at a time junior racquets were pretty much non existent. Martina Navratilova used it for a while but the most notable player ever to grace it’s hands was undoubtably Steffi Graff, winner of 23 grand slam soingles titles. This racquet is a piece of history and anyone who has ever played with one will recall many fond memories. Unfortunately Dunlop discontinued the Max line in favour of their new revelation brand.
I was never a huge fan of Prince (the tennis manufacturer not the singer) and I have never actually bought one but I have occasion to play with one whenever the strings in my own racquet had broken. My mother owned a Prince pro, the large head sized one which seemed enormous compared to the racquets I had been playing with. I think it was 100 square inches and it was made of aluminium and it felt like a sledge hammer in my hands. Made popular by Pam Shriver in the late seventies it brought a lot more power to the game.
Wilson Six one:
I had two of these racquets but each with different specifications. One was the Wilson six one and the other was the six one team. The first had a 90 square inches head frame and was very rigid and the second I think had 100 square inches, was much more flexible and had a wider framed body. The Six one was most notably played by Roger Federer and came in a red and white design which was very pretty to look at. Wilson have since upgraded the six one and now it comes in a Basalt graphite composition and changed over to a black colour.
Babolat Aero Pro Drive:
The aero pro drive made famous by Rafael Nadal was a black, yellow and white racquet that caught the imagination of many a junior player. My wife bought me one about five years ago and I will still use it today from time to time because it’s lightweight, strong and still very stylish. It offers great playability and is very durable. There is a wide range in the Babolat Aero Pro range and other more notable players included Andy Roddick and Agnieska Radwanska. Babolat and Wilson are now probably regarded as the best tennis brands on the market due to their commonality of use.
Above are 6 types of racquets that I regard as icons in racquet history and I know some people will disagree with me but they had the biggest influence in my playing career. There are a few other racquets that I would like to mention here that are icons in their own right even though I have not played with any. Here’s a short list:
I have only ever held one of these steel made racquets most notably used by Jimmy Connors. It was extremely innovative for it’s time considering every other racquet made at that time was out of wood. To me it looked extremely ugly and heavy but Connors bought every one he could find when Wilson stopped making them.
The Snauwaert ergonom was one of the most unusual racquets ever produced, featuring a rotated head that allegedly stayed in line with the path of the ball longer than a conventional racquet head. Needless to say, it didn’t catch on and the company went out of business in 1994. Snauwaert’s were used by Gerulaitis, Pernfors and Mecir.
Another one of my mum’s racquets, the Prince o3 has large grommet holes to help swing the racquet faster because of less wind resistance. Much easier to string too I would imagine. Again, the series comes in a wide range, colours and specifications. I have played with it once or twice and though it is very lightweight and produces a lot of power I just couldn’t get used to it. An acquired taste, methinks.
We used to call them shock absorbers but I guess the correct technical term is vibration dampener. They are small rubber items fitted in between the base of the strings and they do exactly what they say on the tin which is dampen the amount of vibration of the strings after the racquet has contact with the tennis ball. It eliminates the “ping” sound you get from the ball coming off the racquet to become more of a thud. So, why is it that some players choose to use them and some don’t?. Well, most racquets produced nowadays will have in built dampening properties so the need becomes less apparent. Some people use them out of habit, some to incorporate their own little bit of personal style or character and some to reduce the onset of tennis elbow. There is no real scientific proof to suggest that they do reduce the risk of tennis elbow but they definitely don’t do it any harm. One thing is for certain, once you have used a vibration dampener, you will find it difficult to play without one.
These little tools come in all shapes, sizes and designs but the two most common are called button and worm. The button dampener is either usually round or square with grooves on the side to allow it to be placed inside the strings and the worm dampener is long and zig zagged through the strings with clips on the end to hold it in place on the strings. They cannot be placed anywhere inside the string pattern but must be put outside the pattern of the crossed strings so that basically means top left or right or bottom left or right. There is no limit to the amount of dampeners you can use on your racquet but nearly all find one sufficient to do the job.
Most tennis brands manufacture dampeners with their logo emblazoned across them which is another novel way of advertising. They range anywhere from about two euro up to five euro in cost and can all be applied easily enough to any racquet. I personally hate to play without one now that I’ve been using them for so long and I know many other players fell the exact same way. Perhaps that’s more of a mental thing now. My best advice is to test them out and see if you can feel (or hear) the difference and then go on to make your choice afterwards.
Either at professional or recreational level, when you have played against an opponent many times you get to recognise patterns in their play and shots they are most likely to play in any given situation. We are after all creatures of habit and when we recognise something that works for us on the tennis court we have a tendency to re-play that shot many times. When we see this in our opponent we can start to anticipate their next course of action and position ourselves accordingly. We don’t always get it right but it can make the difference in tight matches. When our opponents begin to recognise patterns in our play then we must learn to try and disguise our intentions and the most obvious ways we know we are successful in this endeavour is when we wrong foot our opponents or leave them flat footed on the court (stuck in the mud). So, how do we go about disguising our tennis shots? Here are some tips:
It may sound obvious but having a consistent toss during the service action regardless of the spin employed will not only disguise our intention but will keep our opponent guessing. I have a player at my local club who I play against regularly and whenever he is going for an excessive sliced serve it is very noticeable that his toss is exaggerated out to the right and that allows me to ready myself for the oncoming ball. A consistent toss should bring more consistency to your serve too but it may limit the amount of spin you can generate. On the overhead in general, varying your amount of wrist pronation will change the direction of your shot regardless of the stance you are using.
Return of serve:
It can be very hard to disguise your return of serve because you often get very little time and if your opponents serve is strong you may also have very little choice. Although not technically a disguise, the best way to hide your patterns on return of serve is to mix it up a bit. Go for the shot down the line eventhough you are aiming into the smaller part of the court and your recovery is a greater distance. It will break up the pattern of always returning back crosscourt and is a good ploy to use in doubles to test the servers partner to see if they are competent at the net.
In order to disguise a groundstroke it may be necessary to hit from a different stance. A lot of players will move from their usual open stance into a more neutral stance in order to hit down the line. By moving to this neutral stance you can convince your opponent that you are about to hit down the line but then hit crosscourt.
Another good trick is to use the classic “V” tactic and then hit back behind your opponent on the next shot in order to wrong foot hi/her. This strategy can be employed a number of times before your opponent becomes wise to it.
We should always try to disguise a dropshot. The most commonly used ploy is to backswing your racquet like you are going for a powerful drive at then at the last moment loosen your grip and bring the racquet forward slowly with an open face. Swing high to low to generate a little (or a lot) backspin to complete the execution. Federer is a master at reverse disguise in this instance. He will set himself up like he was about to hit a drop shot and then and the last moment he will slice the ball long after his opponent has committed himself to running forward looking for the short ball. I have also seen him look one way with his gaze and then go about hitting the ball in the opposite direction. This is a risky tactic as it involves the player taking their eye off the ball which could easily lead to a mishit. You need to be very confident that it’s going to work or otherwise you could look like a little bit of a fool out there.
A great volleyer is capable of disguising their volleys at will. Again, hitting back behind your opponent is a good tactic to use. The disguised drop volley can be a very effective shot to play if done right and at the right time providing you have the touch and softness of hands. The only way to disguise your volley really is either with the amount of depth employed or the choice of angle used. You can vary your pace but most drive volleys are hit with power.
Rather than play against, this article picks the top five women I’d like to play mixed doubles with, otherwise it may be too reminiscent of the battle of the sexes between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King. Presently I would prefer to play singles but with the advent of time this choice may change. I have chosen the five on differing criteria and bot necessarily with whom I think we’d have the best choice of winning. Some are icons of the game and some slightly less known but all great tennis players, past or present. I have always chosen to play on the advantage side of the court for doubles, men’s or mixed, but I would be willing to make a change for the left handed players if that’s what they wanted. Here’s my choice:
Probably the greatest female doubles player of all time as nobody came close to her achievements and records. A lefty with a solid serve and volley game but also no mean player from the baseline. Her experience and craftiness would carry pretty much any other doubles partner and I would have to really take a back seat when playing with her. She has won 10 mixed doubles grand slam titles, 31 women’s doubles grand slam titles and 177 doubles titles in all. What an achievement!.
I probably wouldn’t play that well with Daniela Hantuchova because I’d probably be too busy looking at her than at the tennis ball. In my opinion, by far the prettiest female tennis player on the WTA tour and very tall to boot. With both of us at net, our opponents would find it difficult to lob us. Nicknamed “the legs from Slovakia”, Hantuchova has a career grand slam in mixed doubles having won all four starting with Wimbledon in 2001 and ending with the US Open in 2005. Her women’s doubles record isn’t too shabby either reaching the Australian Open final on two occasions. I had my chance to ask her to play with me when I met her at the US Open in 2014 but I’m afraid I bottled it. There’s always the next time.
Okay, so she’s way better at singles than doubles and that is clearly illustrated in her tournament results to date. I would pick Simona, Romanian, as I think we’d get along quite well. It would also please my wife, Lavinia, who comes from the same city as Halep in Romania; that being Constanta on the Black Sea coast. She has played mixed doubles in the past with Horia Tecau so she is no stranger to the game and all it’s intricacies. She is an aggressive baseliner in style of play much more comfortable plonked in and around the back of the court. I guess I’d have to play net which suits me anyway. Her serve can be erratic and occasionally lets her down but she is no quitter and would never give up on any ball or point.
Another doubles specialist who has had a lot of success recently in women’s doubles alongside Martina Hingis. She has won 3 mixed doubles grand slam titles with Wimbledon being to only one to evade her. Similarly in women’s doubles not having crossed the line at Roland Garros. Like Hantuchova, a pretty girl, who has reached world number one in the WTA women’s doubles rankings in April 2015 and she is still there. A strong all court player who isn’t afraid of the net; she can play in any position. She loves to hit the ball as hard as she can. She comes from India and turned professional in 2003. No stranger to a little controversy in her playing career as she is strong willed; I think we’d get along just fine.
For my last choice I again have picked someone who I think I’d get along quite well with. Caroline Wozniaki always has a smile when out on court and I imagine would be fun to play alongside. Not famed for her doubles results she is clearly first and foremost a singles player and former world number one, surprisingly enough never having won a grand slam title of any description. She really is destined to be always the bridesmaid and never quite the bride. Another player not hard on the eye, she was once engaged to previous golf world number one, Rory McIlroy. Great speed around the court and fabulous consistency but lacks a weapon that may have seen her win a grand slam in the past. No matter the result, I’m sure we’d have some fun out on the court.
Out of all the tennis players that have graced the courts, it is hard for me to pick just 5 who I would love to play against but I’ll give it a go. I have not confined my choice to only current players though four out of five of them are still playing today on the professional tour and I think the other is still playing on the senior tour. All these players have reached the pinnacle of the sport and one is widely considered to be the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time). Two out of five are left handers which throws a little variety into the mix. Between them they hold a vast array of records too many to mention here and now. I would like to think I could achieve a number of games won over the course of five matches but perhaps it might be nice if some of them were having an off day. Without further ado, here are my top 5.
The first of the left handers and considered by many to be the game’s toughest opponent and certainly the player with the most wicked topspin. Rafa comes from Majorca, part of the Ballearic Islands off the coast of Spain and is a former world number one and regarded as the king of clay. Just facing the kick he gets from his topspin forehand would be an experience alone. Not the greatest server in the world but has improved this shot throughout his career. Of course Uncle Tony would be in the stands cheering him on though I doubt he’d need much encouragement. His rather odd obsessive courtside gestures wouldn’t distract me from realising that I’m playing against one of the greatest the sport has ever thrown up.
Next would be Mr. GOAT. Holder of seventeen grand slam singles titles and all around nice guy. I don’t know if I could play that well against him as I would be so totally star-struck. His mere presence in my company might turn my legs to jelly but there’s no shame in losing to the greatest of all time. He’s a true all court player with his volleys being massively improved since working with Stefan Edberg. Mirka and the kids would probably be in the crowd and nobody likes to lose in front of their children so I might take it easy on him (who am I kidding). Federer doesn’t really have a weakness so there isn’t any shot that I could play to exploit his shortcomings. Hopefully his first serve just isn’t firing and I might get lucky with a few second serve returns. We can all live and hope.
Probably my favourite player of all time and the second lefty to be faced. I think I’d like to play him now rather than when he was number one in the world as he would have lost a few yards around the court. He’s another character of which I’d be in awe of considering his contribution to the sport. I’m not so sure of how I’d deal with his on court tantrums were he to have one but I’d probably smile and think back to the early 1980’s when he was reigning supreme. Of all the players, he’s the one who I’d most like to go for a meal or a drink afterwards and dissect the previous match. A great player in his time and now a fantastic commentator. He’s probably the player I would do the best against considering his age and style of play. Very few players nowadays are serve and volleyers as most choose to stay back as aggressive baseliners due to the advancements in racquet composition and design.
Well, it’s about time I encountered the current world number one and my favourite player on the tour right now. Recently reached the top of tennis, he is operating on all cylinders at the moment and definitely the man with momentum. Another all court player though his volley may still be slightly questionable. A Scotsman with the wind in his sails being rather eloquently blown by the great Mr. Lendl. No doubt his mother, Judy, would be plonked firmly on his side of the players box watching intently on the unfolding of the match. She needn’t worry much with the form he’s been in for the last six months. His return of serve is the best since Agassi and his double handed backhand is a pleasure to behold. It’s great to see someone from so close to home being on top of the world.
I had to go for an up and coming star of the future as my last choice in my top 5. He is a young Russian player,19, who reached world number 1 in the ITF junior world rankings and has won 1 ATP singles title since turning professional in 2013. I watched a match of his just yesterday in which he beat Federer in 3 tie-break sets in the Hopman cup in Perth, Western Australia. As far as I know, it was his second time beating him. He hits the ball so hard it’s a wonder the felt doesn’t fly off from the rubber. I fantastic athlete with an all court game, he is definitely one to look out for in the near future and I’m sure he’s going to go on and win multiple grand slam singles titles. His father was a pro before him and so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.