Cork tennis players ready to embrace the wooden racket revival

Douglas Tennis Club was the first in Ireland to test them out when sport returned
Cork tennis players ready to embrace the wooden racket revival

Monkstown tennis coaches Jo-Anne Williamson and Donal Neary with The WTC Director Steve O'Sullivan.

WOOD-EN it be nice to take a trip back in time!

Back to when the game of tennis was more about the skill of the player rather than the technology of the equipment.

This is not saying that the presently top-ranked players are not geniuses in their own right but simpler equipment would certainly challenge the players to a huge degree!

Enter the comeback of the wooden tennis racket.

I had a rare treat this week hitting some balls with The Wood Tennis Club (WTC) Director, Cork man Steve O’Sullivan.

Originally from Fountainstown, Steve has played provincial and international tennis and has a passion and a wealth of knowledge for the sport. He has brought his newest venture to kick off in Ireland in the real capital, Cork.

The plan is simple and concise and set to get the juices flowing for tennis fans everywhere along with today’s youth players who fancy a challenge. The brainchild of Australian Stephen Murphy, who discovered by chance that Grays of Cambridge still had the ability to manufacture quality new wooden tennis rackets.

He decided that this was an historic opportunity that developed into The WTC roll-out plan to have an International Wood Tennis Tour.

As tennis clubs across the Republic opened on April 26, Douglas Tennis Club were first in line to put these rackets to the test.

Tennis enthusiast, racket collector and club President Mike Ryan took to the courts under the glorious sunshine to sample the newly crafted Grays Masterpiece.

Ryan was keen to find out more details of the planned comeback of the wooden weapons and with director Steve O’Sullivan on hand to answer any questions it created quite a buzz.

The WTC brings about the opportunity to enhance tennis in the 21st century around the world and to add a new dimension to the sport by bringing the wooden racket back to life. A piece of living history!

Roughly 18 months ago the production of wooden rackets began with Grays of Cambridge coming to the fore.

A family-run company that dates back as far as the mid-1800s, Grays is known for many other sports as well as tennis. Hockey, rugby and cricket equipment made by Grays are commonplace on the sporting fields of the world and tennis is about to step up in line with them.

Having piqued the interest from Cork clubs already, a second visit during the week to Monkstown tennis club saw Cork legend Vere Ludgate back on court to test run the Grays racket.

The Wood Tennis Club Director, Steve O'Sullivan and Monkstown's Vere Ludgate.
The Wood Tennis Club Director, Steve O'Sullivan and Monkstown's Vere Ludgate.

I also got the opportunity to get my hands on the masterpiece.

Striking the ball was a pleasure and finding the sweet spot was a necessity.The racket was unforgiving of my off form play, which after four months away from the game was understandable.

Playing with this beautifully crafted racket certainly put my game under the microscope and as smooth as it felt I knew should I want to play with this on a regular basis then I’d have to do a lot of work on my timing!

It brings to question how ultimately talented the players of yesteryear really were and with the transition to blended rackets of graphite and titanium, you would have to wonder which player really is the greatest of all-time?

With wooden rackets starting to be phased out in the early 1980s, the epic Wimbledon men’s final in 1981 saw John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg stay true to the crafted Ash/Beech blend.

By 1983, the larger midsize head had appeared and wooden rackets had started to morphe towards what we now use.

With a similar weight of approximately 300+g and a slightly smaller, more delicate frame the player would need to be sure the stringer has experience of stringing a wooden racket for fear that too tight a tension may well cause some damage.

Grays' tennis rackets
Grays' tennis rackets

Born and bred in Cork, Rob Leahy has been brought in as the official stringer for TWC.

Based in Qatar, He has worked on the pro tour and is a highly respected, experienced stringer. He told me there’s a certain way to do it.

“Any stringer could learn but you’d need to be shown before trying, even for an experienced stringer.

Obviously, these rackets haven’t been around for 40 years, even good stringers now wouldn’t have experience of playing with them.”

The reintroduction of these rackets is not to compete with the equipment of the present day but for wooden rackets to have their own tournaments, tour and ranking system.

Ireland’s clubs will take a trip down memory lane with wood-on-wood matches ahead.

“Our mission is to have Wood Tennis as a standalone, environmentally sustainable alternative to modern tennis,” Steve added.

“Initially, the project will attract nostalgic interest, but as it grows, the market is open to all, with the younger categories attracted by the sustainability element of wood rackets.”

O’Sullivan has great faith in the future of the WTC and having myself experienced the demand for perfection, precision and prowess, these rackets are going to test players to a higher degree.

Perhaps in time, we might get to see the world’s top players compete with the smaller racket head relying heavily on skill. Oh wood-en that be nice!

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