How Space-Age Tennis Rackets Are Changing the Sport
Designing a new tennis racket is not as simple as sitting down and drawing a picture with paper and pencil. There is a lot more that goes into racket design. In fact, racket design in 2020 is so scientific that it rivals what designers in automotive and aerospace are doing. Furthermore, it is producing some truly space-age rackets that are changing the sport for the foreseeable future.
A great Popular Mechanics article published in mid-January 2020 details some of what goes into designing modern tennis rackets. Contributor Tim Newcomb wrote the piece, and it begins with a nod to the 2020 at Australian Open and some of the new rackets being used in the tournament.
Newcomb mentions the fact that modern tennis rackets are made with materials like carbon fiber and graphite. They are made with highly technical processes that take place in climate-controlled manufacturing environments. And of course, every new design is vigorously tested and modified before production begins. Manufacturers do not start producing new rackets until their designs are perfect.
Success on the tennis court relies on three primary factors, the first being racket speed. The tennis player wants to be able to swing the racket as quickly as possible without sacrificing control. Why? Because speed equals power. The faster the racket swings, the more energy it transfers to the ball on impact.
Racket speed is often addressed through material choices. As explained by Utah-based Rock West Composites, carbon fiber and graphite are good materials because they are lighter than both wood and aluminum. Reduce the weight and you increase racket speed. The key is reducing weight without sacrificing strength. Again, that’s where carbon fiber and graphite prove so invaluable.
The second factor is racket flexibility. Tennis is ultimately a game that relies on the basic principles of physics. Get the physics right and a player’s natural talent reaches its fullest potential. We say this to say that racket flexibility plays into many of the fundamentals of energy transfer.
The amount of energy a tennis racket deflects on contact with the ball affects both power and control. A less flexible racket creates more power on impact by deflecting more of the ball’s energy – rather than absorbing it. However, you sacrifice control when you increase power.
A more flexible racket produces less power because it deflects less energy on impact. However, the upside is that you get more control over the ball. The question for racket manufacturers is this: which property is more important? Do you want more power or more control? Ultimately, that is up to the player.
At the moment a ball strikes racket, energy transferred from ball to racket begins to disperse, creating a certain level of vibration. You ideally want as little vibration as possible during competitive play. To achieve this, manufacturers concentrate on what is known as the sweet spot.
That sweet spot is a spot on the racket face that allows for maximum power but minimum vibration. You know when you hit it the spot because striking the ball seems effortless. The bigger a racket’s sweet spot, the better the physics of each shot.
All three of these factors are continually being researched and tested by tennis racket manufacturers. They are constantly tweaking their designs in order to perfectly balance all three factors as best they can. In essence, they are applying physics and the properties of composite materials to make space-age rackets unlike anything tennis has ever seen before. With every new design the game gets better, faster, and more exciting.