Roberto Gazzara, his interview with TennisTalker (Italy) – a behind-the-scenes look at the design and development of a new tennis racket.
1.How do you design rackets with the varied and diverse needs of potential users in mind?
When designing a tennis racket, but the same rule applies to all technical sports equipment, many parameters are taken into consideration, both geometric and physical, looking for the combination that maximizes performance for a specific player or category of players.
From the very beginning you have to decide the quality level, for example the tolerance on weight and balance, and the performance you want to offer to the tennis player. These choices strongly influence the cost of production and the price to the public. The choice of technology and materials is consequent. Then, given the same basic choices, the knowledge of tennis physics and the ability of the designer and the entire R&D department make the difference.
Sometimes a new racket, rather than responding to specific needs of the end user, is born to chase market opportunities or the need to offer something new.
At Snauwaert, we have strategically decided to offer the highest level of quality available today, aware that our production costs are high. We use the best materials and, without false modesty, we base our design and development on the highest level of expertise in the tennis industry. Each frame is designed for a specific player profile and skill level.
From beginner to competitive player, what are the biggest design challenges?
The perfect racquet that fits all playing styles and preferences does not exist.
The designer must be familiar not only with the technology but also with the game.
The challenge is to calibrate the design parameters to achieve the best combination given the technology available. Designing a racquet today is very different than in the days when wood was used and then aluminum. But it is also different from the 80’s and 90’s when carbon fiber-based composite materials began to be used and traditional sections and shapes were used. Today, three-dimensional design allows the development of complex and efficient geometries for both the shape of the frame and its sections.
Not only have materials and technologies changed, but we players have changed as well, and playing technique is constantly evolving.
Today, designing a racket for competitive players means guaranteeing increasingly faster movements, extreme trajectories and spin, and increasingly rotated grips. This means designing more stable frames, adapted string patterns and searching for innovative solutions.
Designing a beginner’s racket is just as difficult and requires making frames that are easy to use, powerful and comfortable, making it faster to reach the minimum technical level needed to enjoy the game. We need to encourage the birth of a passion that motivates the player to tackle the path of personal technical growth, which is never trivial in a social context that does not encourage perseverance.
Snauwaert rackets are designed in Italy, they have cutting-edge technical solutions, with variable sections optimized to best withstand all local stresses, complex flexions and torsions. The frames have specific shapes modified at 3 and 9 o’clock to widen the optimal areas of impact of the ball and, in the case of more powerful frames, also at 2/10 o’clock.
3.From the idea to the design to the prototype, how much work goes into bringing a new racket model to market?
I will be provocative. A banal racket, without any real innovation, can be made in a few months and without too much effort.
It is totally different to develop a completely new project or one that really wants to evolve the performance of an existing model.
Many company resources are involved, and many months are needed.
The design of the frame, shape and sections in 3D, requires many iterations and dynamic simulations. Weeks to months, including 3D printing of prototypes.
Once the pot is made (frame mold built), the recipe must be defined, and the best ingredients chosen.
The development process requires several steps and several prototypes. The frame of the new racquet must be robust and pass all quality tests. The performance must then be tested in the field and quantified in the lab, comparing to reference models. Prototyping departments, the testing laboratory, internal players and testers are involved and finally the results must be verified with the final users, better if in different markets and contexts. Once again, the final result depends on the investment, both economic and of resources, and this, inevitably, is reflected in the cost to the public.
We, at Snauwaert, follow specific procedures, which include the initial testing, both in the field and in the laboratory, of two or three “recipes” (quantity, type and positioning of composite materials) by our team. In the second step, with new prototypes, we carry out further tests in the field with comparisons with reference rackets, with selected players who belong to the target group, in Italy, in the rest of Europe and in Japan. Finally, for the final approval we carry out a market test with a large sample of players.