Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jack Kramer: The Racket Worthy of its Crown


My very first tennis racket in 1971 when I was four years old was a Wilson Jack Kramer. My dad had sawed off the handle to make it short enough for me to use. I can vividly remember the delicious feel of the Kramer sweet spot when a shot hit right in the center and the wood frame flexed back and put a smooth smack on the ball that sounded like the man for whom the racket was named.  

Jack!

I didn’t think about this sound until I read the excellent tribute to Kramer by Steve Tignor in Tennis magazine in 2009 where he wrote about ”the three quick syllables and hard, clicking ks at the center” of Kramer’s name.  For me, Kramer’s name is like the sound of a rally: Jack! — the sound of the ball on the strings after an especially good forehand;  Krame is the shot zipping through the air; and Er is the felt-covered rubber orb landing on the court. Then it repeats.  Jack Krame – erJack Krame – er…the rhythmic sounds of tennis.
 
About 17 years ago when I lived in Houston I went to put up signs advertising for a yard sale at my home. I stopped off at a antique/junk store near my house and ended up buying a dozen Kramer frames for a total of $100, acquiring rackets even when I was on a mission to sell things. I’ve continued to collect Kramer rackets, even though since Wilson made about 10 million or so between 1949 and 1982, these frames are by no means rare.  I love the Jack Kramer racket nonetheless, both the ubiquitous ones with the golden crown on the throat and the 
rarer, earlier ones emblazoned with his image. A Kramer feels good in your hand, standing there swinging in the living room or the den every now and then, imagining a ball hitting squarely in the sweet spot. 

Shortly before New Year’s Eve in 2000 I spent a long time in a sports shop in New York contemplating buying the graphite Jack Kramer Autograph Millenium Edition for $250 or so.  I passed, reasoning that I already had multiples of the real thing and didn’t need one of graphite. 

They don’t make wood frames like the original anymore — rackets are all plasticized composites and near weightless and coded with numbers like software programs, bearing futuristic descriptions such as ”Microgel” and “Cortex.” 

Tennis rackets were better when they were made of wood and named after a man. Long live Jack Kramer.

Originally published October 28, 2009.

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