The tennis racquet is one of the most personal aspects of the sport for a player—customized for each person, carefully selected after trial and error, and serving almost as a teammate of sorts in a primarily individual sport. It’s clutched close for every point, spoken to softly in intense moments, flung into the air in the exuberance of a win, and sometimes takes the brunt of a player’s heated frustration.
Development of such an essential and personal piece of equipment has been no simple task over the years. Rather, tennis racquets have evolved immensely with manufacturers and athletes experimenting with different shapes and sizes of frames, handles and grips, construction materials, strings and stringing patterns, and means of production.
In a newly launched digital exhibit by the International Tennis Hall of Fame, tennis fans can explore the evolution of the tennis racquet throughout tennis history, learn more about how and why racquets have come to be what they are today, and perhaps re-connect with some of the racquets that were near and dear to them in their own tennis experiences. Smash Hit: The Evolution of the Tennis Racquet traces the racquet’s history as told through notable racquets, many of which were used by Hall of Famers in significant moments.
The exhibit is available now at racquets.tennisfame.com.
“Racquets are one of the most identifiable aspects of the sport and the evolution of the racquet is a clear way to depict the evolution of the sport itself—how playing styles have changed, how the business side of tennis grew, creative innovations, and more,” commented Nicole Markham, museum curator for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “The strength of this exhibit lies within the diversity of our collection. We have tremendous variety in manufacturers and models types, documenting player preferences and great moments in history. As a result, the exhibit provides an engaging opportunity for fans to learn and explore tennis history.”
The exhibit features just a portion of the Hall of Fame’s collection of notable racquets, which exceeds 1,200 pieces. In the coming months, additional racquets will be added and featured, and ultimately the entire collection will be available online for fans to search and explore.
Within the exhibit, visitors can trace the overall history of racquet evolution through specific eras in tennis, learn more about unique racquet types, and explore the racquets that may have propelled their favorite Hall of Famer to victory. The exhibit provides interesting, perhaps unexpected, detail on how and why certain advancements came to be. For example, people may be intrigued to know that the early shape of the racquet was derived from a hand, or that prior to the open-throat style we are accustomed to today, there were many variations of open throat, closed throat, and even throat wedges that were created to address aerodynamics and strengthening of the racquet.
Additionally, tennis fans can also look closer at racquets of some of tennis all-time greats, with featured racquets including the wooden laminate Wilson Tony Trabert Autograph that was used by Arthur Ashe to win the 1968 US Open; one of Jimmy Connors’ famed Wilson T2000’s; and the Dunlop Max 200G that Steffi Graf used to win the 1988 US Open, the last victory of her Golden Grand Slam.
“With tennis racquets being such a personal aspect of the sport, Smash Hit provides an opportunity for fans around the world to connect to tennis history in a meaningful way. It may be by remembering some of the racquets of their own past, and perhaps learning more about the intricacies of those pieces, or exploring the stories of the Hall of Famers who inspired them,” commented Museum Director Doug Stark.
Smash Hit was curated by the museum staff of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and developed by Braid, a digital agency.
A DIGITAL FUTURE FOR TENNIS HISTORY
Digital museum exhibits like Smash Hit are made possible as a result of the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s multi-year project to digitize the vast museum collection. In addition to the new racquet exhibit, the Hall of Fame has recently released Tins, Cans, and Cartons, a look at captivating vintage tennis ball containers, and Courting Fashion, which offers a peak into the sport’s “closet”, in a showcase of the evolution of tennis fashions. All digital exhibits can be accessed on tennisfame.com/digitalexhibits.
“The International Tennis Hall of Fame’s museum collection is comprised of more than 30,000 objects and in excess of 300,000 photos, and 5,000 videos representing key moments in tennis history. Digitization of our collection and curation of digital exhibits supports our mission by enabling us to share these compelling stories with younger generations, educators, and tennis fans around the globe, even if they can’t get to Newport in person,” stated Stark.
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