The game of tennis was largely developed in the 16th in France and England. Prior to that, there was a game similar to tennis developed in the 11th century, but that version did not involve rackets. Over the past few hundred years, though, the game has evolved significantly, and in particular, the tennis racket itself has gone through major changes.
In the very beginning, tennis was played without rackets. Instead, participants used their hands in a racket-like fashion. This game was popularized by French monks and is really more akin to handball. Tennis continued to evolve, and the courts and rules began to look more like modern-day tennis in the 16th century.
Tennis with rackets, as we know it today, began in the 19th century. At that time, the rackets were very primitive, made almost entirely from planks of wood. Major Walter C. Wingfield is credited with making the very first racket back in 1874. The earliest rackets had a rectangular, or even trapezoidal, head. They were very clunky and also quite heavy.
Laminated rackets, introduced by Lacoste, came out in 1947. These rackets revolutionized the sport, giving the head of the racket its now-classic oval shape and reducing the weight of the equipment significantly. In 1968, the Wilson company developed the first steel racket. These rackets were more durable than laminate rackets but similarly light.
Oversized rackets became popular a few years later, but it was 1980 that marked the biggest and most revolutionary change in tennis rackets. That year, both Dunlop and Prince sports companies switched to graphite framed rackets. These rackets were so light and durable, they made wooden rackets obsolete.
Many tennis stars since then have specific racket preferences, such as a wide head or a shorter handle, and they have led fads of new racket styles, but in general, the graphite rackets still rule the day. There are some new advances in tennis racket development, including using titanium and hypercarbon technology, which began in 1998. This technology enabled rackets to be ultralight and powerful, but they also gave rackets the ability to dampen vibrations.
Wilson has been the dominant company for tennis racket production for most of the sport's history. Wilson is the preferred racket brand for many tennis stars, including Roger Federer who won 17 tennis titles using his Wilson rackets. Some tennis celebrities, such as Rafael Nadal, opt for other brands and give those companies a boost in the market. Nadal uses AeroPro Drive tennis rackets.
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