TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I’m a tennis player and a tinkerer, and I’m always wondering about out-of-the-box ways of engineering tennis racquets. Do you know of any concepts or existing products that strike you as “eccentric,” like, way outside of the norm? For instance, has anyone ever tried manufacturing an electric racquet, or a racquet filled with a liquid that’d move as a player swung?—Kevin P.
With respect to potential racquet innovations, Kevin, my imagination has likewise run amuck. Back last year, I wrote a short post detailing what I imagined might be the “perfect” racquet, namely one that’d be able to change its properties according to the type of shot a player was about to hit. For instance, you might be able to program the racquet to become heavier at the baseline for extra power, or lighter at the net for extra maneuverability. Or, mid-point, you might be able to shift the stick’s center of mass in order to shape the sweetspot to your tastes, transforming the conventional static racquet into something dynamic.
The problem is, many of these types of ideations, yours and mine included, wouldn’t translate into legal equipment. According to the International Tennis Federation’s Rules of Tennis, “electric,” “liquid-filled,” or generally mutable racquets would run afoul of Appendix II, which currently states the following:
“The frame, including the handle, and the strings, shall be free of any device which makes it possible to change materially the shape of the racket, or to change materially the weight distribution in the direction of the longitudinal axis of the racket which would alter the swing moment of inertia, or to change deliberately any physical property which may affect the performance of the racket during the playing of a point. No energy source that in any way changes or affects the playing characteristics of a racket may be built into or attached to a racket.”
(As for that liquid stick, we’re not the first ones to imagine it, anyways. Back in the ‘90s, tennis players were introduced to Dynaspot, a racquet filled with water—click on the above photo, originally found on the Tennis Warehouse message board, for the details. Ultimately, the ITF did not approve.)
Still, the rules governing racquet design allow for quite a good deal of leeway. The ITF states a racquet is legal as long as:
(1) It has a uniform, interlaced stringbed;
(2) It is no longer than 29 inches and no wider than 12.5 in.;
(3) It has a hitting surface no longer than 15.5 in. and no wider than 11.5 in.;
(4) It doesn’t change materially during a point (per article c, quoted at length above);
(5) It isn’t equipped with a device that communicates to players tactics or instruction.
Within these rather general parameters, you can tinker to your heart’s content. A stick with a 178 square in. stringbed? Totally legal. Double stringbed? See: Blackburne Double-Strung Racquet (video below). Two handles? Read: Battistone Freestyle/Diamond.
Maybe you’ll surprise us with something delightfully zany, too?