The tennis racket has developed since the origins of Lawn Tennis in the 1870s. This study investigated how the tennis racket developed from 1874 to 2017, using measurements and material classifications for 525 samples. Racket measurements covered geometric, inertial and dynamic properties, and the number of strings. Rackets predating 1970 were mainly wooden, and typically characterised by head areas below 0.05 m2
, masses over 350 g and natural frequencies below 120 Hz. Rackets from the 1970s were made from wood, metal and fibre–polymer composites, with most postdating 1980 made from fibre–polymer composites with a larger head, lower mass and higher natural frequency than their predecessors. Principal component analysis was used to reduce the dimensionality of the number of variables. Principal component one (PCA1) accounted for 35% of the variance in the measured racket properties, and was found to be significantly affected by material. Head width was best correlated with principal component one (r = 0.897, p < 0.001), followed by head length (r = 0.841, p < 0.001) and natural frequency (r = 0.813, p < 0.001). Early rackets were constrained by the limitations of wood, and the move to composites, which began in the 1970s, allowed this observed increase in head size and natural frequency. As material development has been a major driver of racket design in the past, we propose that new materials and manufacturing techniques, like additively manufactured composites, could further improve the tennis racket. The measurement techniques described here can be used to monitor developments in racket design.
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