Updated: Aug 17, 2020
28 June, 2020. It is still the racket with which a single player could win the most titles worldwide. Jimmy Connors has won 109 tournaments throughout his career, more than Roger Federer and any other player in the world. His racket - a Wilson T2000 -. This racket - with its striking appearance and a very extraordinary string pattern - also heralded the end of the wooden racket era. Why was it like that - and how was this racket strung with the technology of the stringing machines of the 70's ? This is explained in this article and corresponding video documentary below.
In 1953, René Lacoste - one of The Four Musketeers with Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, and Henri Cochet, those French tennis stars who dominated the game in the late 1920s and early 1930s - came up with a novel blueprint for a metal tennis racquet in 1953. It is very likely that the roots of Lacoste's ideas were initially triggered by the first metal rackets that appeared on the market in the 20s. It took him another 8 years to finalize the concept. In 1961, Lacoste unveiled and patented the first tubular steel tennis racket in the history. At that time, wooden rackets were the norm; the new version's strings were attached to the frame by a series of wires, which wrapped around the racket head. The steel-tube racket was stiffer, and imparted a greater force to the ball during a stroke.
From 1961, Lacoste tried to build up his sales and distribution channels. But – hoping that the French readers of this article aren't upset about that – it was never easy for a French business to prevail. Lacoste was a brand rather made for the luxury sector than for the general market. As a result, Lacoste was only moderately successful with his product.
Of course, this wasn't hidden from the competitors. It was common knowledge at the time that the racket was offered to Spalding and Dunlop but was turned down. And so, also William B. Holmes, who was the fourth president of Wilson Sporting Goods, became aware of the Lacoste's steel construction. Holmes contacted Lacoste, and then eventually in 1965, it was a beautiful summer evening, one of the most incisive business meetings in tennis history took place at a nice restaurant under the Eifel Tower in Paris.
The crucial point - Lacoste wanted Wilson to produce the racket, but - under license. With his name and the alligator trademark to appear on the racket. Holmes, who was a smart businessman with a very fine sense of historical and revolutionary opportunity, insisted on a Wilson identified product exclusively. One can speculate about what was going on that night. Holmes had his return flight to the United States the other day. Lacoste paid the manager of the restaurant, which usually closed at midnight at the time, a substantial tip so that the two could continue to negotiate until dawn. Nothing is known about how exactly Holmes convinced Lacoste to waive his request, but it should be clear that both left the place with a contract in their pocket that made the champagne corks popping at their both' homes.
And then, everything went very quickly. Slight cosmetic changes as well as refinements in the metal used for the string suspension were worked out by the Wilson engineers. Sales and marketing strategies were developed. Naming the racket, it was decided to go the same route as ten years earlier with the A2000 baseball glove. Thus, the T2000 name was assigned.
Introduced in 1967, players were waiting seven to twelve weeks for delivery. Image this today, players wouldn't even accept a delivery time of more than a day and they would already change the supplier. It was supposed to break all previous sales records in the near future. Wilson eventually signed a contract with Jimmy Connors who would play the “Steelie”, as it was sometimes called, for 18 years. He was so tied to his Steelie that he continued to play with the racket even after production stopped and bought up every T2000 that was still available.
It was Connors' trademark, but also the beginning of the end for the wooden racket era. After its release back in 1967, within 4 months, more than 2 dozen different models of competitors' metal rackets appeared on the market. Wilson, worldwide leader in marketing top grade wooden rackets, had broken the barrier, and within 18 years, wooden rackets would all but disappear from the scene.
Our special gratitude goes to Rodney Lack and Jean-Claude Marty for the photo material provided.
Full video documentary: History of Lacoste Steel / Wilson T2000
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