History and evolution of the racket
Think for a moment about what happens when a player hits the shuttlecock during a game of badminton. A good smash causes the shuttlecock to travel at an initial speed of over 400km/h, the fastest speed that can be achieved in ball sports. And that speed is the result of evolution in badminton equipment.
The oldest badminton tournament is the All England Open Badminton Championships (formerly the All English Badminton Championships), which were held for the first time in 1899. In those days, rackets were made of wood. The 1960s saw the emergence of steel rackets that had a steel shaft while keeping the original wooden frame. In the 70s, the frame itself began to be made from metals such as steel and aluminum. Where wooden rackets weighed 125-140g, steel rackets were around 120g and aluminum rackets were even lighter, weighing only around 100g. Between this and measures to make the shuttlecock lighter by switching from land bird feathers to waterfowl feathers, players were now working with much lighter equipment, which saw fast plays become a focus in the sport.
In the 80s, the focus of racket materials shifted to carbon and titanium, which are light, strong with good repulsion. Rackets were now between 70g and 80g, and this evolution ushered in a new phase.Development projects explored combinations of various materials, the position in which each material should be placed and the way it should be placed, in order to meet a wider range of needs from players.
What you want from a racket
When asked about recent trends in badminton rackets, Hiroyuki Miyakawa, a WILSON racquet sports marketing team, said “Until recently, there tended to be a demand for lighter rackets, but in recent years that has decreased a little and I get the sense that the badminton world is going back to the middle range in terms of weight.” This is being driven by players’ need for a racket that can provide power. The pursuit of power has traditionally come from male players with strong muscles who wanted to deliver game-deciding smashes, but changes are being seen here too.
“There are now also many women who want their racket to supplement the power they are able to achieve. We met this demand with our new RECON racket, which we released in spring 2020. The RECON series was originally popular among male players who have intrinsic power, but the new RECON was designed and developed as a supplement for players who don’t have that power.”
Aoi Matsuda, who has represented Japan in international tournaments, was involved in testing the new RECON at the development stage.At 159cm, Matsuda is comparatively short for a female badminton player, but says “My strength is offense from the back and I wanted to focus on that and refine my technique in that area, so I asked for that to be considered in the development.” The results are clear: armed with the new RECON, Matsuda secured a victory at the BWF World Tour in Germany in November 2021.
Generally, the power of a racket is linked to its repulsive force, but obviously the tradeoff of greater repulsive force is less control. “When the shuttlecock hits the racket, the frame turns inward to throw the shuttlecock back in the direction it came from,” explains Miyakawa. “So when the repulsive force is increased, the control is affected.” An element that has helped to overcome this issue is high modulus carbon material; the new RECON is the first badminton racket where this material has been used.
“After testing a variety of materials, we eventually decided to adopt Teijin’s Tenax BM, which is used in satellites among other things,” says Miyakawa.
To travel in space, a satellite needs to be strong enough not to break easily, while also achieving precision. After all, a small deviation in the transmission of a signal will be magnified into a major deviation by the time the signal reaches the earth. Four areas of the new RECON’s frame are made with the tough,high-quality Tenax BM that is used in satellites and other aerospace equipment, providing both power and control when hitting that shuttlecock.
“The combination of the materials and structure have improved the stability of the racket’s surface,”explains Miyakawa. “The racket grabs the shuttlecock firmly and releases it rapidly. When I say that we’ve improved the stability of the surface, I mean that we’ve minimized deviations that occur on the surface. So even when you’re hitting back the shuttlecock with a lot of power, there’s much less loss of control.”
Control has always been a vital element in a badminton game. Those 400km/h smashes are being aimed near the line in a constant series of defensive and offensive moves.
Players are always looking for something better. More powerful shots. More precise control so that the shuttlecock goes where the player wants it to. So it goes without saying that we’ll see endless evolution in badminton rackets in future. And materials will be the backbone of that evolution, according to Miyakawa.
“The sport of badminton has evolved to become more powerful and faster. But the rackets themselves are subject to regulations—things like the size and length aren’t likely to change. The shape won’t change much either, I’d say. So that leaves the materials. We’ll continue to explore the unfamiliar in that area as we develop the next rackets to give players what they’re looking for.”
So what kind of new rackets will we see in future? “The unfamiliar” could include recyclable materials like carbon. The state of the environment is a major social issue, and the badminton world, like so many other areas of society, is paying more attention. Already we are seeing the traditional natural feathers of shuttlecocks being replaced by artificial materials, and it likely won’t be long before these are used in matches. Rackets, too, have potential for greater sustainability, as do all products involved in this sport. Teijin’s latest materials are being developed with both functionality and sustainability in mind, and we’re looking for opportunities to use these in the development of many different products. It is clear that we are on the eve on an age where it would be unthinkable not to create products like this.
New materials like this represent new dreams for the sporting world.