There’s not much innovation in the world of marketing, as demonstrated by tennis rival Head’s announcement of its new graphene racquets as used by Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova. A series of videos extol the benefits of this new wonder material.
It’s almost ten years since French racquet manufacturer Babolat jumped on the nanotech bandwagon with the world’s first tennis racquet incorporating carbon nanotube technology. The company’s claims at the time, based on loading the composite with a very small quantity of nanotubes were
- Five times more rigid than current carbon racquets
- Molecular organization, as pure as that of a diamond, makes it the ideal material to use between the sweetspot and the handle.
- High driving properties
- Enhanced performance for the stabilizers between the sweetspot and handle thanks to this real concentration of power and purity .
- More power and feeling in real time.
The product marketing claimed that the new technology was “100 times more rigid than steel [and 6 times lighter!], 10 times stiffer than conventional graphite. Carbon Nanotube ™ is the ideal material. Extremely resistant and highly reactive, it provides power to the racquet through rigidity and playing sensations never experienced before.”
Head gush in a similar fashion about graphene…
Discovered in 2004, Graphene™ consists of a single two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms. This material has a breaking strength 200 times greater than steel, which makes it the ultimate substance for creating new HEAD tennis racquet frames with exceptional properties. Graphene™ technology allows for the first time an optimal redistribution of weight in HEAD racquets. Through the use of Graphene™ in the shaft, the weight in the middle part of the tennis racquet can be reduced. Instead, weight can be shifted to more functionally relevant areas in the grip and racquet head. This unique construction provides players with an unmatched maneuverability and an increased swingweight. In other words, a racquet with Graphene™ is easier to swing and enables even more powerful shots. And it will give opponents a really hard time.
Fast forward ten years and Babolat seem to have given up on carbon nanotubes and are now touting graphite, and graphite incorporating tungsten fibres as the new peak of performance. There’s no mention of carbon nanotubes anywhere, the wonder materials that nearly was.
Another common feature is the use of the ™ symbol after the material name, Babolat use Carbon Nanotube™ and Head have PLAY YOUR BEST GAME EVER WITH GRAPHENE™.
While transferring the physical properties of graphene to the macroscale appears somewhat more straightforward than with nanotubes could Head have backed the technology equivalent of Elvis rather than Carl Perkins?
In the end it hardly matters, from Dennis Lilleee’s aluminium cricket bat or Rafael Nadal’s graphite to Maria Sharapova’s graphene, it’s not the materials technology that sells sports goods, it’s the celebrity endorsements that enable even talentless tennis oafs like me to feel that, through graphene, we have a link with the sporting elite. Now, where did I hang my Sir Bradley Wiggins mohair suit?