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.