Innovators at their very heart are visionaries who also have determination, dedication, passion and motivation. Howard Head made a revolution in two sports, first accomplishing success in skiing and then in tennis through an intuitive approach.
Though unskilled in both sports, Head managed to change the equipment, considered by many to be unchangeable for at least a hundred years. The sports enthusiast replaced the old wooden skis, with lightweight metal skis because he considered them too cumbersome for his tastes.
However, Head’s greatest triumph came in the late 1960s, when after selling his ski company for $16 million; he took up tennis as a hobby and shortly thereafter, invented the oversized racquet with sizes ranging from 95-135 square inches.
One of the engineering principles that guided Head in creating a new racquet was that "inverse inertia increases with width”. The racquet designed was two inches wider and three inches longer than usual, therefore increasing the efficiency four times. Although the size of racquets had increased by 60 percent, the material used didn’t make it heavier.
Sports Illustrated soon declared Head’s invention “the most successful racquet in the history of tennis” and it was the first significant change in product technology.
Arthur Ashe (image: wikipedia.org)
Arthur Ashe (image: flickr.com)
Tennis industry leaders mostly criticized the use of the space age materials in the early 70’s and replaced traditional wooden frames with metal. The company gained significant notoriety in 1975 when Arthur Ashe used an aluminum Head racquet to upset a heavily-favoured Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon, making him the first African American to win the prestigious event. Graphite and titanium racquets emerged more in 1997.
Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic and Andy Murray (image: flickr.com/head.com)
Since Arthur Ashe, many top tennis professionals have used Head equipment such as Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic. In 2012, the brand gained even more popularity with three champions in one year: Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, Maria Sharapova at the French Open and Andy Murray at the US Open.
Bianca Andreescu and Maria Sharapova (image: Head Twitter)
Head’s tennis division has made some important decisions in recent years, adding star players like Canadian superstar Bianca Andreescu, and up-and-coming talent like Alexander Zverev and Coco Gauff. Andreescu, the 2019 U.S. Open singles champion, started using the updated Head Graphene 360 + Speed MP in 2020. That version of the Speed MP offers improved stability and power, as well as the addition of Spiralfiber technology, which provides greater feel at impact in the lower head of the racquet.
Head Players (image: Head Twitter)
Head’s invention was less about making money than it was about improving the skills of both the professional and amateur player. Despite several ownership changes and Head’s passing in 1991, the brand remains a significant competitor in the tennis world.
Now headquartered in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Head’s Racquet Sports division is one of five different types of sports equipment manufactured under the Head N.V. umbrella. Using the tagline “a racquet for every game,” Head still promotes the massive sweet-spot on their main product, developed over 50 years ago. In addition, the company has also expanded into clothing apparel, footwear, accessories, balls and fitness equipment.
Howard Head will remain in history as one of the greatest innovators of the 21st century. Driven by a passionate desire for perfection and extraordinary intuition, he changed the world of tennis and skiing forever.