History of Tennis Strings – A Brief Overview

history of tennis strings

As a sport, tennis has come a long way. From its humble beginnings in 12th century northern France to the worldwide phenomenon it is today, the game has seen many changes and innovations. One of the most significant changes over the years has been in the type of strings used in racquets. Let’s take a look at some of the history of tennis strings!

How Tennis Came to Being

The history of tennis strings doesn’t unfold the way you would think it would! Dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, the game was played using the palm of the hand rather than a racket. Soon after, leather gloves were used to strike the wooden balls. 

The game is essentially an advanced and modified version of the old game “Jeu de paume”, which originated in the 11th century. Its name was derived from the French word “tenez”, which translates to “here it comes”.

Founder of Tennis

It was not until later on in 1874 that Major Walter C. Wingfield came along and developed the first tennis racket. Although the originator of the game seems to be in a big dispute, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield is celebrated as being the founder of the game.

Walter also published a book of rules in 1873, after which he took out a patent on the game in the following year.

How Tennis Strings Came into Existence

Tennis String Timeline

YearWhat happened
1875Estimated year that Babolat started manufacturing Natural Gut strings
1968Open Era started with a great technology boost
The 1970sCompanies experiment different materials
The 1980sRacquets transformed to garphite and metal
The 1990sPoly’s started being popular

How Tennis Strings Came into Existence

Even though the first tennis racket was manufactured in 1874, it was still a year later in 1875 when Major Walter C. Wingfield visited Pierre Babolat to first discuss the possibility of tennis strings. 

The Choice of Natural Gut Strings

During this time, Pierre had already manufactured natural gut strings and thus the idea of using them for a racket’s strings was not completely preposterous. Many argue that the natural gut strings possess qualities that make them superior to all others.

The First Tennis Strings

These came into being in 1875 and were made using a sheep’s intestine. During present times, “Babolat” has been converted into a tennis company but it still makes natural gut strings; however, they use cows’ intestines instead of sheep’s now. 

Pierre Babolat’s Rise to Fame

Pierre Babolat had already been quite famous for crafting these natural gut strings for musical instruments, but the birth of tennis paved the way to his stardom. Natural gut strings seemed to be the perfect material for tennis strings because they provided better tension retention than other materials. 

The Introduction of the Synthetic World

Natural gut was quite expensive and required a lot of machining to produce, making the price of the rackets skyrocket. This meant that rackets would become a luxury and tennis would become a game only for the wealthy.

Although natural gut is durable, its quality seems to deteriorate over time. This would present a problem to the players because they would have to constantly change their tennis strings before playing. This presented an inconvenience and thus brought about a much-needed change in the history of tennis strings.

Synthetic Strings

During the 1970s, people were starting to deviate away from natural gut strings as they seemed to require constant changing and were becoming a very unwise financial choice. 

This need led to the rise of synthetic strings; these were more cost-efficient and easier to mass produce as well.

Increased Durability 

Apart from being highly cost-effective, they were also able to provide more durability. The main materials used for the manufacture of these strings were Polyester, Ventran, Polyurethane, Zyex and Kevlar. 

Many combinations of these materials were tested to see which one produced the strongest string. The string itself was experimented with athletes to judge their performance against each mixture.

Manufacturing Process 

Synthetic strings are made using a five-step technique. The first step included gathering and choosing the right raw materials, then creating the filaments from which the strings were to be made. An extrusion and pulling process was used to make the strings.

As synthetic strings are made using multiple different polymers joined together, the next step was multifilament construction. In this step, the different filaments would be intertwined by wrapping, twisting or braiding.

The last step was coating and sizing, since tennis strings come in various colors and sizes. In addition to the coloring, the coating on the strings would allow it to have certain qualities.

Specific hard coatings would provide a tougher string that would be resilient and strong, while a softer coating material would help to improve and increase the friction between the strings.

Comparison between Natural Gut Strings and Synthetic Strings

Now that you know the most popular types of strings, let’s dive deeper and examine the pros and cons of each category.

If you’re an avid tennis enthusiast, you are sure to know that most professional players tend to favor polyester strings. This is mainly due to the durability and control that they provide during the game. The spring potential of these strings also seems to be superior to that of natural gut strings. 

In addition to that, they have a great rebound rate so they will bounce back into place almost immediately, all while promoting your spin potential. Unlike the polyester strings, natural gut is more expensive and less durable, making it a costly purchase. However, the natural gut is better at providing a softer string set-up for people suffering from arm injuries.

Even though polyester seems to complete the checklist for a good string requirement, it still has its downfalls. The firm feeling that the strings provide might be more suited for a professional. It’s also not a great choice if you suffer from any arm-related ailments. 

Softer string polyester and a hybrid setup of polyester is always a good choice due to the control and tension it offers to suit a professional tennis player’s requirement. It also provides them the ability to have fuller and faster swings.

And there you have it: the history of tennis strings, the brief version! Now you must remember that each player has a different requirement from a string and there isn’t a one size fits all option. In the end, let us say we hope you find this article helpful and that you find the perfect string for you!

Final Thoughts

Today, tennis players are spoiled for choice. From the stiffness of a string to the color or brand name on it, there is something that will suit everyone’s needs and preferences. Although we have come so far from those first crude strings made out of sheep gut in France centuries ago, there is still plenty more room for innovation in this area. Who knows what great new string might be created by some new company? The future looks bright.

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