The wooden squash racquet is a symbol of the game of squash, woven into the game’s history. The swashbuckling Pakistanis of the 60s, 70s and 80s, Jonah Barrington, Geoff Hunt and Heather Mckay all sported the classic circular head racquet when competing at the highest level.
Since then, however, the squash racket has evolved, quite significantly, both in material and shape and become ideal for hitting a rubber ball on all four sides of a squash court. Here’s a history of squash racquets, through the ages.
While squash balls may have their own story, in the history of squash racquets you will see that this piece of equipment has taken its own, unique evolutionary trajectory. Squash racquets may have started off wooden, with round heads, but today, they have evolved into mainly graphite or aluminium-based ‘teardrop’ head or blade racquets.
There were a couple of key reasons for this. The squash racquet that the great Jahangir Khan used in his dominance on the game was heavy, to say the least, and the round blade that included that small sweet spot, or a particular area that you were expected to hit from over and over, meant using it was no easy task.
These round blades were also smaller in size (as seen in the photo above), which meant that the racquet of that era had less space to hit the ball with, relative to today and in turn, playing the ball was harder.
The earliest of what we consider to be racket sports today was a form of lawn tennis, essentially played the same way as handball or with the players using their hands. And eventually, wooden rackets with strings made of animals were used to play sport.
Wooden squash racquets – history
Much like the earliest of tennis rackets, the squash rackets of the 1800s were made of wood with a long handle and a small round blade or head, with strings. This was necessary as a larger head could not be supported with the material and would lead to cracking or breaking the racquet.
Manta was a very popular brand that developed these early wooden racquets, and while it is no longer a mainstay in the squash world (it does still produce squash racquets), the company has capitalised on the growing popularity of Pickleball.
These racquets did not change much over the course of the next 100 years. While there were metal-framed racquets that were also introduced, these never quite amounted to the same level as the others and stuck around.
The aluminium racquet was the next big evolution that the game needed. Its lightweight and durability made it ideal for investing in for the first time and playing the game of squash. The lightweight also meant that the power of the racquet was greatly increased. There were, however, several issues with the racquet which especially frustrated more advanced and professional players.
For starters, the lack of flexibility in the frame alongside the increased power means that shot placement is never accurate. It is quite likely that the ball will end up in a place the player does not want it to, in turn, ruining the direction and placement the player is targeting. To add to this, the strings also changed in place and this affected the overall quality of the game.
These racquets, however, also came with the more contemporary teardrop style head, which increased the scope for hitting with the sweet spot and eventually becoming the norm for all squash racquets.
While aluminium racquets are no longer the go-to, they are still used by beginners, as an easy and durable option. Additionally, they are often the main option for players to rent at a club, as they provide durability and are long-lasting due to their material.
The modern racquets – Graphite, titanium and carbon
The latest major innovation in squash racquet material has been the use of Graphite, which began to take place in the last two decades of the 20th Century. Squash racquet companies were looking for a solution to build a racquet that was durable and lightweight, and also didn’t impact the quality of the game on the court. The aluminium racquet met two of those criteria but failed on the latter.
Therefore, the usage of materials like graphite in conjunction with titanium, carbon, kevlar and ceramics was born, to make the modern-day racquet. These racquets solved several problems, such as the weight of the racquet, the durability while providing spin and enabling better control of the direction of the ball.
Overall, this enabled a rapid increase in the speed of the game, added to the power of shots and significantly improved the consistency of the shots.
Not to mention, the modern racquet has made the game much more accessible, as more people can come and try it out. One of the issues around squash had always been that the first-time player found the game really hard, however, with a little hand-eye coordination, the game is now, thanks to the modern racquet far easier to enjoy for the newest of players too.
The future of the squash racquet
While the increased quality of the racquets has meant they tick off all the basic requirements in improving the game, this also means that specialised squash racquet companies have drifted into oblivion (or closer to it, anyway). These racquets can now last several years, which means people do not have to constantly invest in new ones, especially if they’re playing socially and do not take the game much more seriously than that.
With dwindling numbers and other issues around participation levels in squash, this means that squash racquet brands have to constantly innovate and add new features to their racquets, to attract potential customers.
Although we do not know what they are cooking up at this very moment, one thing is for sure, the innovations are likely to continue. With the rapid development of squash racquets in recent years, we are likely to come across racquets with new features. Not to mention the growth in the use of sports data and SportsTech innovations, such as the squash-specific Racketware sensor, it is definite that squash racquets will continue to evolve.
The wooden racquet may now be an antique piece forever embedded in images and videos of yesteryears legends, but its place in the game’s history will remain.