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. 5–No. 1 in the countdown to the most significant racquet. (See No. 10-6 here.)
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 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.
Babolate 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—who won the 2003 US Open with the lightweight, powerful frame—that helped put Babolat in the limelight.
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 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.
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, 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.
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.