The barber's man hath been seen with him; and the old ornament of his cheek
hath already stuffed tennis balls.
Much Ado About Nothing (Act3 Scene II) by Shakespeare
tennis ball is solid. The balls are hand made by a process which has changed
little since the 15th century and hardly at all since the 18th century. A full
set of balls is nine dozen. Each ball contains a core wrapped around with some
thirteen yards of webbing in half inch widths. The webbing having been wetted
is tightly wound like wool into a ball and is then moulded on a special bench
into a spherical shape. When moulded, the ball is then tied with twine, again
on an attachment fitted to the special bench, the process being repeated three
times before a ball tightly bound with only triangles of webbing showing
through the binding is ready for covering. The covering is made of wool cloth
which is hand sewn on to the core with thin thread. In view of the heavy use
to which most balls are put, each ball will have to be re-covered about once a
month. The core, however, rarely wears out. Many balls in use today started
their life over a century ago. It used to be said that the uniform of French
prisoners-of-war imprisoned in England during the Napoleonic wars 1799-1815
was used with great success in making the balls for the Royal Tennis Court.
Recently a rubber composite ball has been introduced as a substitute ball. The advantages of the composite ball are that it is cheaper than the hand-made ball and has a truer bounce. On the other hand, the composite ball wears out and cannot be recovered and seems to be a little heavier than the hand-made ball because it has less give.
The shape of a tennis racket has changed little over the last century. It seems heavy and cumbrous. However this is necessary since the balls are solid and heavy. A light framed racket would be quickly broken by the weight of the balls. The curious shape of the head of the racket is designed to help the player to cut the ball by having a large area of strings across which a ball can sweep diagonally.
Usually the racket is held halfway up the handle so as to balance the weight of the head against the handle. This means that the player has to move more rapidly to get near enough to the ball to hit it. On the other hand the fifth Marquess of Salisbury, passionately fond of playing tennis, used a racket with a handle which he had made longer to compensate for his increasing lack of mobility as he aged.
Tennis rackets are usually made from hickory or ash. Heavy sheep gut is commonly used for the strings of a racket. It is interesting to note that, before the invention of a new method of stringing a tennis racket in 1856, the old way of stringing consisted of looping the side strings round the main strings. This produced a rough and smooth effect in the strings and hence came the practice of calling "rough" or "smooth" to win the toss at the beginning of a lawn tennis match.
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