10 Racquets That Changed The Game

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Historical importance, as it relates to tennis racquets, is measured by a frame’s technological innovation and cultural influence. From the dawn of the Open era in 1968, tennis players and fans have seen and experienced plenty of both—some fleeting, some revolutionary. In the end, a tennis racquet is only as important as the changes it brought, and how much it was embraced by the masses. These 10 frames registered high marks on both scales.

10. Yonex R-22

The Japanese badminton brand turned to tennis with a fiberglass racquet used by Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the shift to graphite frames in the early ’80s that Yonex really made its mark. The R-22 was the first tennis racquet with an isometric head shape, increasing the size of the cross-section and creating a larger sweet spot. In 1984, Navratilova used it to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open, and it was later used by Monica Seles.

9. Prince Graphite 100 Longbody

Bigger was better in the mid-’90s, as racquet manufacturers entertained the concept of length. Dunlop Slazenger’s Max Predator was the first long racquet of the era, but Wilson, Prince and other brands quickly stepped in with their own 28-inch—and longer—offerings. One of the most popular was the Prince Graphite Longbody used by Michael Chang (left). The American stood just 5'9", but his extended equipment allowed for greater reach while covering the baseline, serving or playing the net.

8. Babolat Play

Babolat modernized its engineering with algorithms and technology to introduce the first “connected” racquet in 2013. The Play tracks stroke types, spin, power and other statistics through sensors in the racquet’s handle. An International Tennis Federation rule even allowed the technology on tour, and it’s used by Caroline Wozniacki (above) and Rafael Nadal. Included in versions of the Pure Drive and Pure Aero frames, the Play function allows for real-time, on-court stroke analytics.

7. Head Radical

Andre Agassi’s style was one of a kind, so it’s fitting that Head developed this frame specifically for his game. The American won seven of his eight Grand Slam singles titles with the Radical, which debuted in 1993. His popularity and success helped propel it to the top of the racquet sales charts for five years (1999–2004). The resurgence of Head, which had designed aluminum in the 1960s, allowed them to research technology and introduce the first titanium-graphite racquet in 1997.

6. Prince Pro

The 1970s ushered in the era of aluminum, an easier-to-mold material than steel. With it came the exploration of oversize racquet heads. While Weed USA offered up the first oversize racquet in 1975, it was Howard Head’s design for the Prince Pro in 1976 that brought big to the big time. That, and 16-year-old Pam Shriver’s run to the 1978 US Open final. Wielding the 100 sq. in. frame, the teen shocked top seed Navratilova in the semifinals and played No. 2 seed Chris Evert to two tight sets before succumbing. That was all recreational players needed to see before wanting to go big themselves. With substantially more string area than the standard 65 sq. in. wood frame, the lightweight, oversize sweet spot of the Pro—and the similar Prince Classic—brought power to the people.

5. Dunlop Max 200G

Dunlop started the transition away from aluminum, which was seen as too flexible to optimally control, by creating the Max 200G in 1980. It was one of the first graphite tennis racquets and featured a 12.5-ounce, 85 sq. in. frame. When legends Steffi Graf (left) and John McEnroe showed what the frame could do in competition, Dunlop knew it had something significant on its hands. The then-revolutionary process of injection molding of carbon fiber (graphite) and nylon into even lighter frames was refined in subsequent models.

4. Babolat Pure Drive

Babolat invented racquet strings in 1875. Over 100 years later, in 1994, the French company entered the world of racquet manufacturing with an entirely new grommet system. But it was the introduction of the Pure Drive in 2000, and the success of Andy Roddick (below)—who won the 2003 US Open with the lightweight, powerful frame—that helped put Babolat in the limelight.

3. Wilson T2000

René Lacoste came up with a novel blueprint for a metal tennis racquet in 1953, but it took Wilson’s creation on that steel design—the T2000, in 1967—to give us the first commercially successful racquet that wasn’t made of wood. After King and Clark Graebner used it to win titles at the ’67 U.S. Nationals, Jimmy Connors (right) famously won Wimbledon with the T2000 in 1974 and 1982. The racquet’s 67 sq. in. head increased power and control beyond the capacities of any wood frame. When Wilson stopped producing the T2000, Connors purchased every one he could find.

2. Dunlop Maxply Fort

Made from a mix of nine different woods, the Maxply Fort proved to be one of the most popular racquets ever. Debuting in 1931, the racquet was used by a range of pros including Rod Laver (above), who was said to customize his Dunlops to reach the exact head weight he sought. With apologies to the Wilson Jack Kramer Autograph from the late 1940s, the Dunlop Maxply Fort had a staying power that led a generation of wood-racquet users.

1. Wilson Pro Staff

The Pro Staff line wasn’t new in 1983, but the use of braided graphite certainly was. What started in a 110 sq. in. frame was then downsized into the 95- and 85-inch models, with the 95 outliving the rest. The braided construction of graphite and Kevlar allowed continuous fibers throughout the frame, giving the Pro Staff a distinct feel. It was made famous by Pete Sampras in the 1990s and then later by Roger Federer. While not the first graphite frame, the technology of this racquet, and the all-time greats who swung it, helped make the Pro Staff family widely popular. 

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