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.
Here's No. 10–No. 6 in the countdown to the most significant racquet.
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.
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. The American stood just 5'9", but his extended equipment allowed for greater reach while covering the baseline, serving or playing the net.
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 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.
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.
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.