Since the sport's inception, the design and manufacture of tennis equipment has been affected by technological advances and regulations. As is common in major sports, regulations became more exacting over time, with improvements affecting the qualities of the tennis racket and the tennis ball.
As materials improved, becoming lighter and stronger, rackets were made larger, accordingly. Larger rackets have more surface area, making them easier for many players to return a ball. Sizes are:
- Mid: 93 square inches (600 cm2) and below
- Mid-plus: 94–105 square inches (610–680 cm2)
- Oversized: 106–122 square inches (680–790 cm2)
- Super-oversized: 122 square inches (790 cm2) and larger
The balance point and grip size of a racket changed as technology progressed. Depending on the player's style of play, choice is made between a head-heavy racket and a head-light racket. Head-heavy rackets provide more power on serves and ground strokes, while head-light rackets provide more control. Along with racket balance, the size of the grip on the racket can affect play style as well. Unlike football, American football and baseball where sporting goods are tightly regulated, tennis has been rather free in the successive innovations of its sporting goods—whether materials, product architecture or weight. Given such latitudes in sport equipment design, changes in the tennis racket have been dramatic, contentious, and somewhat haphazard. An outsized role was allotted to players who volunteered with new designs propagated by major firms producing the equipment. The herd behavior induced by well known tennis stars legitimized new racket designs thus rendering obsolete previous standards. Despite widespread resistance the tipping points of successive designs took place at shorter time intervals even as much turmoil ensued in the tennis playing sector. The oversized rackets, for example, were ridiculed as favoring women or men weakly endowed with arm and shoulder muscles, presumably corrupting the norm of fair play. While often controversial, innovations have been rather ambiguous in their effect on performance and ergonomics so that standards are not as common and more the result of social construction and less due to imposition of regulatory or engineering standards.
Early rackets were made of wood, which was not as good as modern materials, since wood has inconsistencies, resulting in different feels when striking the ball. Wood rackets needed a brace to stop warping when not in use. Later designs used metals, with experimenting with metals such as aluminum, magnesium and titanium. Later, people experimented with materials such as boron, ceramics, graphite, and composites. Each material had its own desirable qualities but ceramics and graphite were the best picks for being very stiff as well as being very good with vibration reduction.
The earliest strings were made from cow intestines ("natural gut"), a reliable string but very expensive. With time and improved technology manufacturers have been trying to duplicate the natural gut feel with synthetic materials. Also, manufacturers are creating strings that are designed to produce more spin, power, and durability. It remains unclear whether the technological innovations in materials, product architecture, and size affected the performance of players, even if such innovations are controversial and even contested by sport-regulatory bodies. The prevailing standards are as much due to advancements in musical string technology as to the social construction of the racket by the tennis playing public and the manufacturers who furnish the sporting goods. Social construction refers to the framing or interpretation of the physical implement by the community of tennis players some of whom often challenged the putative benefits of certain strings or other aspects of the racket.
Originally the tennis ball consisted of rough cloth strips tightly bound together. Eventually the cloth strips became the core, wrapped in twine and covered by a finer cloth or felt hand-stitched around it. In 1972 the tennis ball was manufactured with the optic yellow felt. Now tennis balls are mass-produced for high performance at minimal costs.
- .Such controversy resembles the recent disputes about speed skaters' drag-diminishing garments and friction drop of swimwear worn at Olympic Games. Kim, Hann Earl; Johannes M. Pennings (2009). "Innovation and Strategic Renewal in Mature Markets: A Study of the Tennis Racket Industry". Organization Science 20 (2): 368–383. doi:10.1287/orsc.1080.0420.
- Bud Collins' Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis
- Tennis: Game of Motion by Eugene Scott