Last week, I posted about the different cars of my life. Almost an autobiography told from the perspective of different cars I’d driven. A lot of you seemed to enjoy it.
So I thought it would be fun to do the same thing . . . except with tennis rackets. Caution: this post will mean the most to tennis nerds.
But here’s a flavor of some of the different rackets I used at different ages, and what they meant to me at the time. Getting some of these images was not easy, but the cause prevailed.
My first racket was a handed-down, beat up Jack Kramer autograph. I originally used it to play a 1969 version of air guitar in the alley behind our house. It looked something like this:
That was the racket I used when I started playing tournaments and getting a little bit good. I remember earning my first state ranking with it — #5 in Texas for Boys’ 10-and-under!
My second racket came about because I broke my first. Yes, in a fit of rage at losing to Brad Stoffel, I not only cracked that Kramer, I folded the head completely over. I was 10 and I was mean. So my dad thought an . . . unbreakable racket might be better (I’m lucky he ever let me play again). So I got a Sheffield X-15 Steel racket — steel was kind of the rage in 1971. Here’s what it looked like:
By the way, that ad is from a 1971 issue of World Tennis magazine that I have around the house. The ad is priceless — if you look in the bottom left corner there is a picture of Clark Graebner, who endorsed the X-15. Except in the picture he’s playing left handed and everyone knows Graebner was a right hander. And you wonder why Sheffield went out of the tennis business?
When I turned 11, I upgraded to the Head Master. Great racket. Almost a space age feel. I should have stayed with it longer. Here it is:
But when I got to be 12, everyone was switching away from metal and back to wood. I thought it would give me better control. Plus, I heard that Spalding had a “free list” for players with a good state or national ranking. At the time, I was #2 (behind that Brad Stoffel) in Texas, so I wrote to them. They said yes! So with my first “free” rackets, I switched to the Pancho Gonzales Autograph and back to wood frames:
I stayed with Spaldings from when I was 12 to when I was 16. The most interesting Spalding I ever used was called the La Vitesse — French for “The Speed.” It was narrow, flexible, and had a small slit in the side. Unfortunately, that slit made it so they warped very easily. But I did love that racket and played reasonably well with it in the 14-and-unders. I think I switched to it when I played so badly with the Pancho Gonzales that I thought of quitting (because it had to be the racket’s fault). Here’s La Vitesse:
The final Spalding was the World Open, which Aussie pro John Alexander used in the mid-1970s. It was supposed to be Spalding’s answer to the Jack Kramer. It wasn’t.
But you know, there’s a reason Spalding doesn’t make rackets anymore, either. So when I was 15 or 16, coach Danny O’Bryant was able to get me on Wilson’s Free List and I came back to the place I never should have left: The Jack Kramer Authograph. Man, those felt great. Strung tight with VS gut. Smooth leather grip. I used this when I had my best results as a teenager, including winning the tournamet to be ranked #1 in Texas for Boys’ 18-and-under. I still have a couple at our house, and they still look good:
Unfortunately, by 1980, oversize rackets were all the rage and I felt I had to keep up (because poor results had to be the fault of the racket, right?). So just before I went to college, I switched to the Prince Woodie (can you believe they named a racket that?). It was supposed to give the advantage of the new “big” rackets with the feel of wood. Sadly, for my game it did neither. Here’s what that frame looked like:
I only used it for like six months. Then mid-way through my freshman year at college our coach suggested the Head Graphite Edge to me. It was smaller in the head, which worked better with my strokes, and it was graphite so it was cool. Plus, Princeton’s team had a nice arrangement with Head. So I switched and it helped:
I used the Graphite Edge until my senior year when another crisis in confidence led to another change. It was 1984, and I became convinced that I needed to switch back to a standard-sized (like wood size) racket. I believed the smaller head would help my backhand. That’s how I found the Rossignol F100 — graphite, small, and with a grip shape that felt like it was part of my hand. I played my best tennis ever with this little racket:
Rossignol stopped making the F100 shortly after I started using it. But I stocked up on some frames and then after graduating from college began playing less and less.
The next switch happened with the “widebody” phase of rackets in the late 80s and early 90s. I got hold of the Rossignol FT580, which had that good grip shape, a wider head frame, and good backhands stored up inside it. So I gathered up a bunch of them which I still have and still use. I played several tournaments with it in the early 90s and like it a lot. Take a look:
Then last summer I figured I could no longer use obsolete,18 year old rackets. So I bought a new-fangled, high-tech Head Prestige. It looked great — but for the first time ever I got tennis elbow. Had to be the racket’s fault, right?
So now I’m back with an obsolete, 18 year old, low-tech Rossignol.
What’s next? A Jack Kramer Autograph of course!