Exhibition dates: January 2010 – 30th November 2010.
Tennis has become a part of the social history of Australia due to its appeal to people of all ages.
Many things have changed in the game of tennis since its inception – balls, racquets, clothes, and court surfaces to name a few. However two things have remained the same: the court size and the net height. Times will change and technologies will improve but the true essence of tennis will remain as long as there are players and balls, and racquets to hit them with.
- Tennis Ball Transformation -
When looking at your everyday tennis ball it is hard to believe that it could have changed so much in its many years of existence. The first tennis balls (from the 18th Century) were made of a wool or hair centre wrapped in leather. Unfortunately these balls were known to cause players severe injury. The rubber tennis ball was then introduced in the late 1800’s. This original rubber ball had no covering to protect it from weathering, so they were soon replaced by the ‘white ball’ which was the same rubber ball but with a protective white covering. It was not until 1972 that the iconic yellow tennis ball was introduced to the game.
Ball containers have also changed over time. They originally came in cardboard boxes and displayed the fans’ favourite players. Metal cans then entered the scene storing between two to five balls. Nowadays plastic containers are used so balls can remain pressurised until they are used.
- Court Surface Revolution –
Court surface is an extremely important element in the game of tennis as it affects how the players move around the court and how the ball reacts. Different surfaces require different game strategies, maintenance and care. Tennis was originally played on grass courts but since the 1970’s many other surfaces have been introduced. These include: dried cow faeces (mainly in India), wood, synthetic carpets, anthill grit (in Australia), concrete, crushed brick, clay, asphalt, canvas, rebound ace and plexicusion – only to name a few.
The four Gran Slams use a variety of court surfaces. The Australian Open uses Plexicusion, the French Open uses Clay, Wimbledon has stayed with tradition and uses Grass, and the US Open also uses Plexicusion.
- Racquet Revolution -
The racquet is relatively new to the game of tennis. It was originally played by hitting the ball with the hand and later a bat. The first racquets were made of a wooden frame with animal gut strings. Wire strings were then introduced and lead to the dominance of wooden racquets for almost 100 years. It was not until the 1960’s and 1970’s that metal racquets were introduced. The next step in the evolution of the tennis racquet came with a material called ‘graphite'; this made the racquet lighter and stiffer. Soon after that a number of new materials were being used in racquets including Kevlar, ceramic and titanium. No longer were players to suffer from warped wooden racquets, these new technologies ensured the racquet is long lasting and very durable.
- Tennis Costume Changes -
Tennis clothing has evolved into an extremely lucrative business. In the 19th Century players’ generally wore white clothing as it reflected the heat. Men would wear long trousers and a shirt which was long sleeved but could be rolled up to the elbow, a hat or cricket cap would accompany the outfit. Women wore an everyday dress (ankle length) complete with petticoat, stockings, a corset and a wide-brimmed hat. Thankfully fashions began to change and men began wearing short sleeved shirts and shorts, with women wearing lighter cotton dresses without the stockings and corset. These changes however were not always met with encouragement. The first time tennis player Gussy Moran wore a pair of lace tennis panties designed by Ted Tinling (a designer who would revolutionise women’s tennis fashion) in the late 1940’s it is said to have shocked the tennis world.
Since then tennis clothing has continued to evolve. Clothes now display a wide variety of colours and styles, and are made of synthetic materials which are designed to take sweat away from the player’s body, instead of cotton. Nowadays companies will often sponsor certain tennis players as a form of advertising and these players will often wear clothes specifically made for them.
- Honouring Talent –
Tennis players today are rewarded for their successes with impressive trophies and significant prize pools. However it wasn’t until the introduction of ‘Open’ tennis in 1968 that players were paid for their efforts on court.
Trophies that were originally awarded to winning players consisted of a wooden base and silver plated cup on top. The players’ name would be inscribed on the trophy and kept for the next year; the player would then receive a keepsake trophy to take home. Gradually these silver plated trophies were replaced with ones made of plastic, crystal or glass.
Prize money for singles titles has also changed dramatically. In 1969 the Australian Open offered $4,500 (AUD) to the winning man and $1,750 (AUD) to the winning woman. The largest prize pool at this time was the US Open with the winning man taking home $15,068 (AUD) and the woman getting $6,457 (AUD). However this is a tiny amount compared to prize money nowadays. In 2009 both the winning man and woman at the Australian Open received $2,000,000 (AUD). This was also the highest amount given at the four Grand Slams that year.
The evolution of tennis over the years has included improvements in balls, courts, racquets, clothing and prize money. Although the way the game is played remains the same, the evolution of these things have changed the game dramatically.
The Australian Tennis Museum has kept track of these changes through collecting and preserving as many pieces of Australian tennis history as possible.