Making Headway: A Prince Turns King
State of the Ark
When they first hit the courts six years ago. oversized tennis racquets immediately drew the scorn and skepticism of any self respecting tennis player. But the innovation has come to corner the racquet industry as it siphons off 40 per cent of the total market sales. Promising and apparently serving up unreal results, its geriatric stigma has now disappeared.
Once thought to be crutch for lovable the "biggies" have by vox populi been adopted by those who play competitive tennis as well as those of high society enjoy tennis foe its social value. Spectators at this year's U.S. Open, for instance, saw more than one-third of the competitors topspinning, lobbing, and winning with oversized--but no longer ostracized racquets.
Initially under siege from the reactionary tennis establishment, critics accused the fledgling racquet, which boasts a 40-per-cent greater hitting area than its traditional counter-part, of being illegal, Political humorist, Art Buchwald, an avid tennis fan, recalls his personal "humiliation" and "suffering" when he first brandished it against Washington politicos. "I went through a terrible period... my opponents were screaming bloody murder, accusing me of cheating." While most of Washington officialdom are now converts, rumor has it that president Reagan doesn't play the game because he hasn't figured out where to hitch his horse on the court.
Prince, the prototypical and most popular oversized racket, simply grew out of its creator's desire to better his own game. Millionare inventor Howard Head '36. who revolutionized the skiing industry by introducing the aluminum ski in the '50s, began tinkering with the idea of a bigger racquet in the early '70s. Head, a typical hacker, became frustrated with his frequent off-center hits which would cause racket and wrist to turn, spraying the ball awry. Reasoning that the laws of physics dictate that the wider something is, the more resistant it is to twisting. Head figured bigger might be better. After some years of labwork, he devised a racquet with a "super" sweet spot-- the elusive point where the entire swung weight of the racquet is laid squarely on the ball and the racquet becomes an extension of the player's motion. "Ping."
The Prince's superiority over standard racquets rests in the fact that the best place to hit the ball is located in the racquet head's three-inch area of added size, an area which does not even exist on traditional racquets. About two-thirds from the grip, this critical spot would fall embarrassingly on the throat of the standard racquet, So, up to a point, the larger hitting surface improves players' game by 35 per cent, according to customer surveys.
The invention marks the first radical change in the design of the tennis racquet in more than a century, Surely in the past tennis has seen its oddities. Witness Richard Sears, the first U.S. champion in 1881, who used a rectangular racquet. The tennis world has not been immune to other experimentation... a racquet shaped lia a pitchfork, diagonal stringing, crooked handles, and the infamous spaghetti racquet, a springly double-string device which, until its banishment, put a remarkable array of spins on the ball so looking back, it is no small miracle that today oversized racquets have succeeded in a sport so stubborn to change.
Oversized racket sales -- with prices ranging from $100-300 -- grew by 60 per cent last year. The racquets have put the snowshoe on the other foot, prompting Prince users to jeer outdated traditionalist and mock the mini-racquet antiques. What's that for. . . Stir your martinis? Swat mosquitos? Nail down the lines?
Quietly, (How else would something occur in accordance with tennis etiquette) this earlier tension created by wielders of the weed killers has died and anybody worth a mishit is converting.
Case in Point. Touted as the one man advertising campaign for Prince, Gene Mayer of Woodmere, Long Island has scissor-kicked from no-man's-land at no 148 to a center court No 4 ranking in the world in the brief three years since he picked up the Prince. Other top "Princelings" include super star Sammy Giammalva, age 18, Schlomo Glickstein of Israel, and Hollywood heartthrob Vince Van Patten. In the future the plethora of oversized racquets will become even more impressive as more than on-half of the U.S. Junior Davis Cup players "swear"'by oversized racquets.
Match point. Harvard's no,1 player Howard Sands '83 underwent customary Prince growing pains two years ago. Already an established top tenner in junior tennis, Sands wanted to build his serve and volley game. But Sands, a skeptic after two weeks of using the Prince, wanted no part of gimmick. However, Sands stuck out the four-week trial period. Needless to say the story goes, Sands stayed with prince both story goes, Sands stayed with Prince, both story goes, Sands stayed with Prince, both to his and Prince's benefit. Sands, an All American, recently placed in the top 15 in a national collegiate tourney.
So buy one of the upstart tennis bats an poach a few quick sets from your weekly partner. Flaunt that ego But hurry, because the word-of-mouth fad has taken off like a Harold Solomon moon ball and soon your opponent will indulge himself with the weapon. Then you and your rival will both be using oversized racquets. Thus, eventually the racquets will neutralize each other and everyone will be serving from zero. But in tennis that means love.