Today, one of the most recognizable brands in tennis turns the big 4-0. The brand in question is the one that claims to “rule the court.” Of course, we are writing about Prince.
Think that catchy slogan is too tough to live up to? Consider this: Prince has sponsored some of the greatest of all time, players such as Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Michael Chang, Martina Navratilova, and Jimmy Connors. The new class of Prince players are making their own mark on the game, from Gael Monfils to Maria Sharapova to the Bryan Brothers to John Isner. The Bryan’s even delivered an early birthday present for Prince by winning their record breaking 62nd doubles title a few days earlier at the Farmers Classic in UCLA.
A true innovator and trail blazer for the game of tennis, Prince was the first to develop a commercial ball machine, the first to introduce a multi-filament string and the first to make extended length or “longbody” racquets.
According to Prince, it all started in 1970. Working in his Princeton, New Jersey garage, inventor and entrepreneur Bob McClure reversed the motor on a household vacuum cleaner to produce the first commercially viable tennis ball machine. He called the machine the “Little Prince” and a tennis brand was born.
The original ball machine developed by Prince
Prince hit the world scene in the mid-1970’s when legendary engineer, Howard Head (who also invented the first metal alpine ski), using McClure’s ball machine to work on his tennis game, realized he could develop a racquet that would help him significantly raise his level of play and hit better shots, more often. Head patented the first “Oversize” tennis racquet in 1976 with a 110 square inch head, called it “The Prince,” and in doing so, ushered in a major tennis ‘boom’ by making tennis easier to play and more fun for millions of people.
The first oversized racquet known as The Prince
In a statement released to the press, Nick Bollettieri said, “I remember when I first saw that new racquet in the mid to late seventies, I thought, what in the world is that? It looked completely different to the small, heavy wooden frames of the day, but it was helping all of these people play better tennis.” The founder and President of Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy continued, saying, “I remember young kids traveling all around in cars and vans to let players at private clubs, public courts, tournaments – wherever there was a tennis player – test out these new frames. And boy did it catch on! Pretty soon, you could not throw a stone near a tennis court without hitting someone using a Prince racquet. Our academy is proud to be affiliated with Prince products and we look forward to forty more years of their moving the game forward.”
Most recently, in 2005, the company debuted another revolutionary breakthrough in product design with the introduction of O-Technology in racquets. Eliminating restrictive grommet holes in the frame, this engineering feat used large holes and suspended the string bed facilitating more string movement for an enhanced sweet spot. Maria Sharapova won her U.S. Open (and subsequently her first Australian Open) using this new technology, and today there are nearly 100 players on tour who have switched to this racquet design innovation.
“At the end of the day, we strive to continue the mission set forth by Mr. McClure and Mr. Head – to help all player types, whether recreational or those competing at the game’s highest levels, hit more great shots, more often,” said Zach Perles, Vice President of Global Communications at Prince Sports, Inc. “We will continue to bring to market best-in-class products that help raise people’s level of play and support them with meaningful grassroots programs and industry partnerships designed to grow the game overall. We are an integral part of the fabric of this sport, proud of our past products, programs and players, but even more energized about our plans for the future.”
Prince EXO3 Black - featuring Prince's latest technology
A list of milestones in Prince’s history:
1970 – Bob McClure invents the first commercially viable ball machine by reversing the motor on a vacuum cleaner. The “Little Prince” is introduced and Prince Sports, Inc. is formed.
1976 –Howard Head engineers and patents the first “Prince” racquet – an “Oversize” frame at 110 square inches designed to deliver the largest sweet spot. It revolutionizes the game.
1977 – Prince introduces the original Graphite, which becomes the first “top players” racquet and the standard by which all others are compared.
1978 – Prince invents the first multi-filament tennis string, which becomes an industry top seller that same year.
1985 – Seeing the need to go beyond the all-purpose shoe, Prince introduces the TPU-4000, a lightweight and durable shoe made specifically for tennis players.
1995 – Prince is the first company to introduce ‘Longbody’ technology, which launches Michael Chang to #2 in the world. His frame becomes the best-selling racquet in tennis.
2005 – Prince re-invents racquet design with introduction of O-Technology, which transforms traditional grommets into large holes. The technology platform is soon exported to brands in other sports. Maria Sharapova wins the 2006 U.S. Open with the Prince O3 White (which features O-technology). The racquet becomes the best selling model in the United States.
2009 – Building off the O-Tech platform, Prince introduces EXO3 racquet technology, which suspends the string bed for ultimate string movement resulting in a larger sweet spot.
Happy birthday Prince! Can’t wait to see what you have in store for tennis in the next 40 years.