Wooden Tennis Racquets & Courts – How Did It Play?

Tennis has fully embraced modern technology as far as racquets are concerned. Gone are the days when people played the sport with wood racquets, deadened strings, and super fast playing surfaces. Now, it’s all about being able to keep points going, all while hitting great shots over and over again.

How did the sport play in the past? Many people end up being pretty intrigued to read about tennis back in the day, and how people were able to succeed in a sport that looked very different from the modern game. This is how it used to be in tennis, and what worked for the top players in the world.

Serving

Even though serves have changed quite a bit, it’s still a weapon for the best players. Not much has changed in that regard, as the best players with wooden racquets could hit aces and dictate points if they could put the ball where they needed to.

Obviously, the serves were not going as fast with the lack of technology holding players back, but it doesn’t mean that the ball didn’t put pressure on the opposition. Grass courts, in particular, sped up the serves and made it tough for people to return. There’s also a factor of players using very small head sizes, so being overpowered by a serve was not as hard.

Most of the serves hit with wood racquets were very flat. Placement could help to put opponents in poor hitting positions. The mechanics of a powerful serve have improved over the years, which has a lot of people wondering how fast modern players could hit serve with old technology.

Returning

Tennis racquets have pretty much stayed the same length as they were during wood racquet times. That means that the reach of a player when returning is pretty much the same. The difference is the surface area on the modern racquet, as players have a lot more to work with using modern racquets.

It was very tough to have a clean return with a wooden racquet, even if the serve was not nearly as fast as they are today.

Couple that with players coming into the net right after they hit a serve, and it was a nightmare for a lot of returners. It basically had to be a great return to one side of the player rushing the net. In many ways, it was a battle to get to the net, and the one who was able to get there first won the point.

Volleying

Players were not able to generate the power needed to play a true baseline game, which is why so many players would try to volley as much as possible. Volleys can be very crisp with just about any type of racquet, especially if a person gets right there to the net.

There isn’t a ton of forgiveness with wood racquets, and it can sometimes be a little tough to maneuver. However, the greats were able to put the ball where they needed to, and dictate the point from the net.

If there’s one thing that wood racquets challenged players with, it was hitting volleys. There were a lot more hit during that era, and some of the best players today are only average volleyers because they rarely go to the net. It’s just not a strategy used much anymore, as players can blast the ball and easily hit past people at the net unless they come in at just the right time.

Effect on Ball Speed/Spin

Given the strings, the size of the racquet head, and the general approach to the game, the amount of spin on a tennis ball is nothing like it is today. In this world today, there are so many people trying to hit the ball with as much spin as possible. It helps to keep the ball in during tough rallies, and puts the opponent under constant pressure.

Tennis was rarely played from the baseline those days, so people weren’t exactly trying to hit with a bunch of topspin to get their opponents back on the baseline. They were also not taking full cuts at the ball, since it would likely go out without any top spin to help.

Racquet technology helps with spin, but so does string. Polyester strings, in particular, help out significantly with hitting with a lot of spin on any type of shot.

Court Speed

A factor that impacted how the game was played when wood racquets were around happened to be the speed of the courts. All types of courts were a lot faster back then, which meant the players were trying to get to the net so that they could put away points. Points were shorter, so being assertive with each shot mattered.

Why were courts so fast? For starters, grass courts were much more in fashion. Grass courts can be extremely fast and slick, as a ball will skid across the surface instead of providing a nice bounce.

During that day, the clay courts and hard courts also played a bit faster, as it catered to how the game was being played. The top players wanted it to be fast, and that’s usually what tournament directors decided to do when that was the case.

Training

It might be unfair to talk about tennis training back in the day compared to now, but it does play a big factor. Tennis players make more than ever, and that means with so much of a line, players are trying to do as much as they can to become outstanding players overall.

It starts with being able to get balls back and keep the point going for as long as possible. With each point taking more and more effort to win, it’s very important to be as in shape as possible. Not only do players need perfect strokes, but they need to be able to withstand hours and hours of play, only to do it again in the next match the following day.

Being less predictable also is a huge part of having success as a tennis player. One-dimensional players simply can’t have the same type of success as in the past. That’s even changed over the last few years, as the level of play has increased a bit.

Racquet technology definitely plays a role in a player’s ability to hit so many different types of shots. Fitness goes hand-in-hand with it in many ways, and one look at the average player today compared to decades ago indicates that.

Final Thoughts

Sports have evolved all around the globe, but tennis hardly looks like it did when racquets were the norm. Players have an entirely different strategy when they are on the court, and the technology they use is completely different as well. Players have adapted accordingly, and the average tennis player is much stronger and capable of covering the entire court at a much higher rate.

There are occasionally some tournaments that are put together by local organizations to remember the past and enjoy wood racquet tennis once more. Although it’s fun to play once in a while, it’s never going to come back the way it used to be.

Not only is the technology really out of date, but it was pretty hard to keep everything in working order. Wood racquets would warp, strings lost tension pretty quickly, and there would be a ton of minor issues with playing surfaces.

Fred Simonsson

I'm Fred, the guy behind TennisPredict. Apart from writing here, I play tennis on a semi-professional level and coach upcoming talents.

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