And having played/watched/followed tennis as long as I have, few things have altered the development of the game as much as changes in technology. Rackets in particular.
So for today’s Top Five Tuesday I thought I’d walk down Racket Memory Lane as we see together which rackets have dominated the last five decades at the U.S. Open:
When I think of the 1970s at the US Open, I think of John McEnroe’s Wilson Jack Kramer Pro Staff:
He won two Opens playing with this, one with a wooden Dunlop racket (1981) and then his final Open with a Dunlop graphite (1984).
Some of his most dominating, artistic tennis, however, happened with this frame known best for the two brown diamonds painted on the shaft. Never as popular as its cousin, the Jack Kramer Autograph, the Pro Staff nevertheless connects the most with my Open memories.
Ivan Lendl made the finals at Flushing Meadows eight straight times (winning three), all while playing with an Adidas racket to go along with his Adidas clothes and shoes.
We all knew that the Adidas was really just a painted-over Kneissl, but no one in the world was going to buy a racket with a silent first letter. Either way, in anyone’s hands other than Lendl, the frame played like a heavy fiberglass plank.
The real racket of the eighties, in terms of sheer numbers of “players playing” if not titles won, was the Prince Graphite. It made most players’ games much better; it made mine much worse.
The 90s are a tie between Pete Sampras’ Wilson Pro Staff (not the Jack Kramer Pro Staff, mind you)
and Steffi Graf’s Dunlop Max 200G:
Only two titles — Andy Roddick in 2003 and Rafa Nadal in 2010 — but the decade belonged to Babolat. The company used to make racket string only — an exotic product we called VS Gut — but when it moved into the racket business, it got it right.
When Novak Djokovic first switched from Wilson to Head in 2010, the move was widely criticized by experts who said that both the timing and the purpose of the change were wrong. After an all-time year in 2011, Djokovic proved them wrong. I have a hunch that he’ll do so again in 2013, still using his Head frame. Plus . . . I still like Head’s logo better than any other in the game.