A shrinking stick

In 1969, Rod Laver won all four majors to complete the Grand Slam. At 5′ 9″ and 145 pounds soaking wet, Laver clubbed his opponents into submission with the Dunlop Maxply Fort, a 13 to 14 ounce composite of ash and maple strung with cow gut.

About 20 years later, Sampras would begin to dominate the game much as Laver had, though he never won the Grand Slam, and he never won Roland Garros. He’d eventually retire with 14 major championships to the undersized Laver’s 11. At 6′ 1″, 170 pounds, Sampras wielded the Wilson ProStaff, a graphite composite weighing 13.5 ounces.

Roger Federer, 15 Slams and counting, has dominated his era like no other. He has played in 17 of the 18 past Grand Slam finals. Like Sampras, he stands 6′ 1″, though at 187 pounds, he carries around some extra muscle. His weapon of choice is the Wilson K Factor KSix-One Tour. 12.5 ounces, a 90 inch head. (The head size of Laver’s stick was maybe 68 inches.)

Today’s players are bigger and fitter than their forebears. If Laver looked like the kind of guy you might bump into at the office water cooler–his gorilla-sized forearm notwithstanding–Sampras looked like an athlete. And Federer, with his broad shoulders, narrow waist, and exquisite movement, is a freak of nature.

And yet as the players have become more physically imposing, their equipment has become less so. What could Laver have achieved with fewer ounces, a larger head, and a bigger sweetspot?



4 responses to “A shrinking stick

  1. There’s really no good way to compare the eras. Roger’s, era is much different then Pete’s and even more so than Laver’s. Could Laver, have accomplished more with a graphite racquet? I don’t know? I’m not convinced that Laver, could have accomplished as much with a graphite racquet.

    • I agree. I was playing around with the idea of things that could be represented graphically, but probably went a little too in far in looking at racket size and slam totals.


  2. Sampras loaded his racquet with lead tape, as does Federer.

  3. Good point. I hadn’t thought about lead tape, but I’m sure it makes a huge difference.


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