Smiley faces and ladybugs. Brand logos and NFL teams. The aesthetics of tennis racquet dampeners continue to evolve, even as the science behind the small pieces show they do little more than change the sound of strings.
Tennis inventor Rene Lacoste brought us the first patent for the vibration dampener, with his 1964 invention of the first on-racquet system designed to handle vibration (below). While Lacoste no longer makes the dampening device, nearly every racquet manufacturer does, if for no other reason to jump aboard a marketing opportunity.
Research from Taiwan to England shows that the dampening device is too small to actually reduce frame vibration. “String dampers do not reduce the amount of racquet frame vibration received in the forearm,” says Dr. Francois-Xavier Li of the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences. “They remain a popular accessory among tennis players because of their acoustic effects and psychological support, rather than any mechanical advantage.”
Much like a finger on a guitar string, the low vibrations pass through the device, but the high—and more audible—vibrations do not, so any sort of “ping” noise from the strings gets eliminated.
Some players enjoy the dampener streamlining the sound from their string bed, while others appreciate having another accessory to show off personality.
A Yonex spokesperson says Stan Wawrinka uses the triangle-shaped AC165 with the brand’s logo. The Swiss player generally switches between black and white, but makes a point to move to pink once in a while (the style also comes in yellow and blue).
Black and silver have remained a popular choice for Volkl’s top-level players, whether choosing the new Equalizer dampener that stretches several strings or the VFeel 1 dampener.
Dunlop recently created a new Black Widow dampener, simply to support the marketing efforts around its most popular poly string. A Dunlop spokesperson says the spider dampener has proven popular at the junior level and for anyone keen on having a spider crawling on their racquet.
Other brands have taken an even more playful approach to design. Babolat’s most popular dampeners include the Loony Dampeners with fun faces in differing colors. Tourna, which is known for the O-style dampener made famous by Pete Sampras that the brand says is more aerodynamic while not overly muting the strings, was the first to introduce dampeners for kids. The brand has gone essentially 3D with flower petals or spider legs coming off the center of the device.
Wilson has taken its view of the dampener one more step recently, bringing in its partnership with the NFL to create team logo dampener options, allowing tennis fans to show off their support of their favorite hometown football team while on the court (right).
For those looking to mute the sound of their strings or show off a little personalized accessory, color and style take the focus on string dampeners.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.