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Topic section: Tennis
Amateur players are inspired by the idea that they too can play like Tim Henman – or perhaps even as well as the
Picture: 01_1983-5236_E07661.jpg
Methods used to string a tennis racket.
Credit: NMPFT
 Williams sisters. But can a shiny new racquet really bring us sporting greatness on the court at the local park? The first

The fallibility of human judges was an ongoing problem when professionals began serving at over 140 mph

 tennis racquets that were sold in the late nineteenth century had wooden frames and cat gut strings. While suitable for a knockabout in the garden, such materials often broke easily in competitive matches. Despite the failings of wood, it wasn’t until the 1970s and the end of Bjorn Borg’s dominance of men’s tennis that metal, carbon fibre and  fibreglass racquets came to dominate. The new racquets of the 1970s also had much bigger heads, and were eagerly embraced by
Picture: 01_10276503.jpg
This tennis racket is made from carbon fibre in nylon reinforced plastic.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 amateur players – the size of head increased the dimensions of the ‘sweet spot’ at the heart of the racquet, thereby allowing players to make better shots more often.

Early tennis balls were made of rubber and covered with wool. They were held together by hand stitching, which unfortunately made all balls unique so that they all bounced differently. From 1929 a new system for making the balls from a vulcanised rubber process, which also cemented the cloth on to the core, was used. This new manufacturing process, a side product of 1920s’ rubber technology, meant that all balls were standard and bounced in the same way. This was hugely important for the growing professional game as the element of chance was removed from the ball’s performance. From 1937 balls at professional events were refrigerated to eliminate climatic differences in their performance. With the advent of colour television in the 1960s balls were changed to their current yellow colour so they would be more visible for viewers at home.

New technology has improved equipment and created ‘better’ players. However it has also caused new problems. The fallibility of human judges became more apparent, when professionals began serving at over 
Picture: 01_10308124.jpg
Samples of carbon fibre.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
225km/h (140 mph). It was not until 1980, that this was resoloved by another piece of new technology, the Cyclops machine. This removed one of the most disruptive elements of the professional game and, as serves get ever faster, increased players and spectators' belief in the fairness of the umpire’s calls.

In recent years tennis has moved away from being a service-dominated game with the introduction of a bigger, slower tennis ball which bounces differently and gives more time for a player to react and return the ball. Ironically, it would appear that technology is being used to slow the game back down to a more manageable – and watchable – ‘human’ speed.

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Topic section: Disability sport
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Disability sports are growing rapidly and technology is playing an important role in their development. There is a wide variety of sophisticated wheelchairs designed for specific sports. And the competitors’ prostheses are engineered for maximum performance.  > more

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Topic section: Horse racing
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Horse-racing may seem natural, but from the starting gate to the photo finish it is highly technological. Recent innovations include virtual racing and the cloning of a racehorse. Satellite broadcasting combines with off-course betting to form a multi-million pound industry.  > more
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