Evolution of the Tennis Racket
Few adjustments were made to elite-level rackets between the late 1870s, when frame size and shape were largely standardized, and the 1960s. The Jack Kramer Autograph, launched by Wilson in 1948, enjoyed a run of some 35 years as the most popular wooden racket. Its namesake was a a top player in the 1940s and '50s and a key figure in the development of the modern tour.
In 1970, Court used a Slazenger to win all four Grand Slam titles. Slazenger has also supplied the balls for Wimbledon since 1902.
In terms of rackets, Borg is best known for the Donnay Allwood he used while winning four Wimbledon titles from 1976 to 1979. Borg even tried to use a wooden racket when he returned in 1991 after an eight-year retirement.
Wilson launched the Chris Evert Autograph racket in 1976, which Evert used until switching to the Wilson Pro Staff Mid in 1984. Evert ended the year as the No. 1 player seven times and won 15 Grand Slam titles with the Autograph racket.
In 1975, Howard Head registered his revolutionary oversized frame (which featured a significantly larger "sweet spot") with the U.S. patent office, and when it hit the market a year later -- the Prince Classic -- the act of striking a tennis ball would never be quite the same. The Prince racket gained notoriety in 1978, when 16-year-old Pam Shriver used it to reach the U.S. Open final, and by 1982, Head's Prince company had cornered 30 percent of the market.
Noah is the last player to win a Grand Slam tournament with a wooden racket, the 1983 French Open.
Here's how <italics>Sports Illustrated</italics>'s Alexander Wolff described the Wilson T-2000 racket that Connors made famous during the 1970s and '80s: Connors had picked up the Wilson T-2000 racket for the same reason any teenager would, because its extruded-aluminum frame looked cool. Yet the T-2000 proved to be a perfect technical match for his game and far too temperamental for anyone else's. No one but Connors had the eye and the grooved ground strokes to find and exploit the racket's tiny sweet spot. "Everybody thought I hit the ball hard -- I didn't hit the ball hard," he says, with a nod to the T-2000. As tennis journalist Peter Bodo puts it, Connors simply brandished 'a futuristic instrument that gleamed with the promise of heroic deeds and lethal power. It was Arthur and Excalibur all over again.'"
John McEnroe and Steffi Graf
McEnroe and Graf both enjoyed enormous success with Dunlop models. McEnroe dominated with his touch and accuracy, while Graf ruled the WTA with her powerful forehand.
Lendl wore distinctive Adidas shirts and played with the Adidas GTX Pro racket, which followed his use of the Kneissl White Star Pro.
Monica Seles won eight Grand Slam tournaments from 1990-1993 with a Yonex. She continued to use Yonex rackets after returning to tennis following recovery from the 1993 stabbing.
Agassi won 37 of his 60 titles and seven of his eight Grand Slams with the Head Radical, which was designed specifically for him when he signed with the company in 1993.
Sampras used the Wilson Pro Staff from childhood through retirement, winning 14 Grand Slams with the racket. Sampras considered switching rackets near the end of his career but stayed with it.
Babolat, a longtime string maker, didn't introduce a tennis racket until 1994. The big-serving Roddick was one of its first clients, and his success, which included the 2003 U.S. Open title, helped the company become a household name as a racket manufacturer. Babolat is known for its Woofer technology, which Tennis.com describes as "a grommet system that expands the sweet spot and increases dwell time by engaging more strings upon impact."
Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, plays a heavy Wilson model that has a relatively small head. "I've tried bigger," Federer said in 2011. "The problem is we don't have enough time to do racket testing, you know? I'm always talking to Wilson about: 'What else do you have? What else can we test?' And who knows? Maybe down the road, I'll change again."
Nadal headlines the current professionals who endorse Babolat. In a 2011 story, <italics>The New York Times</italics> noted that Nadal's racket, the AeroPro Drive GT, is lighter and has a smaller grip than those of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Nadal's racket is designed to allow him to generate his trademark heavy topspin on his ground strokes.