This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
“We made an absolute sensation of that racquet,” Billie Jean King said. The racquet in question was the Wilson T-2000, the game’s first stainless-steel frame; the “we” were King and Clark Graebner, who introduced the United States to the gleaming new silver wand when they used it to blaze through the field at the 1967 U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills. King didn’t drop a set on her way to the title, and while her fellow American Graebner lost in the final, he stunned the crowd, and gave tennis a taste of its big-game future, by mowing down Aussie great Roy Emerson with a barrage of 25 aces in the quarters. The age of metal, and technological advance, had come to tennis.
The fact that this age started in ’67 was hardly a coincidence; the T-2000 could be used as Exhibit A by anyone trying to prove the predictive power of markets. By the following spring, the Open era had begun, professionals had broken down the gates at the Grand Slams, and money had begun to flow through the sport. The tennis boom was here, and Wilson was ready.
But the company hadn’t invented the T-2000. It had actually been designed by French legend René Lacoste in 1953, but its sweeping shape and metallic glint were the perfect fit for the Space Age 60s. It may have been a shock to traditionalists—for a century, tennis racquets had been made of wood, period—but it caught one ambitious junior’s eye. As a teenager, Jimmy Connors caught a glimpse of a test model of the T-2000 and told his mom that he had to have it. It became little Jimbo’s Excalibur, and its trampoline effect helped him create the most potent baseline game in history to that point. Once Connors picked up the T-2000, in fact, he couldn’t put it down. When Wilson took the stick out of production in the 1980s, he stockpiled every one he could find.
Unfortunately for the company and the frame, Connors was the exception rather than the rule. By today’s standards, the T-2000 was heavy, the head was tiny, and the coiled hooks at the edges made stringing it a chore. By the early 70s, even that noted progressive Billie Jean King had gone back to wood. Yet the T-2000 set off a race that continues to this day: The quest to make frames of new and ever more powerful materials.