THE DUNLOP MAXPLY
Tennis.co.uk's newest writer Paul McElhinney pays homage to an icon in tennis history.
In the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1970’s, the Dunlop Maxply tennis racquet was an iconic brand. It was used by many of the best players in the world at the time, male and female and in imitation, by players down the hierarchy. Being a British racquet, it was less popular among American players who mostly opted for the Wilson. Yet, John McEnroe used a Maxply, probably in honour of his great hero and mentor, the Australian Rod Laver, also a left-hander who played with one.
My first Maxply was a present from St. Gerard’s School in Ireland for winning Sportsman of the Year in 1971, my last year at the school. It was delivered to me by John Carlos, a master at the school, when I had started the following term at another school, Glenstal. Having previously used a Slazenger Challenge No. 1, I was switching over to a new brand. Despite several re-stringings and changes of grip, it was a racquet that was to stay with me throughout my school playing days. You could also get a big Dunlop ‘D’ stencilled into the middle of the frame, seen as the ultimate in cool, but also an obvious marketing plus for the manufacturers.
The model was quite commonly used in my school. My great tennis adversary, Mark Ryan, used one as did our tennis master, Fr. Mark Tierney. His model seemed to last forever, so careful was he to avoid getting it scratched. At the end of my time in Glenstal, Fr. Mark’s racquet looked as pristine as when I had just arrived.
The racquet’s manufacturers, Dunlop, were also big in tyres and tennis balls, but the Maxply was the icing on the cake, stylish and solid. There was also a squash version of the Maxply. Smaller obviously, it had a wide wooden head and it was the model I used in my early squash playing days. I recall it was also the model used by the great Jonah Barrington and many other top players.
The tennis version also had a metal variant – not too popular- and you could get blue, red or white tennis covers to protect the strings from the perennial rain. This was particularly important for catgut strings which could snap easily when wet.
At the major tournaments, players would enter the court carrying their multiple racquets – was it affectation or sensible preparation for every eventuality? This was good advertising for firms like Dunlop. Another form of promotion was the provision of free racquets (or sponsorship) to good, up and coming young players on the junior circuit. To win one of these sponsorships was a feather in the cap for a young player and a useful reduction in his or her personal expenses.
I remember in the mid 1980’s at a time when wooden racquets were on the way out, trying to buy one while on holiday in Berlin. It was almost impossible until I eventually found one, such was the surge towards graphite racquets with larger heads. I felt I was buying a collector’s item and in a few years, that is exactly what the old Maxply had become.
It might at first seem strange why one would write a piece on a tennis racquet. However, the Maxply was a classic brand before the concept of branding had really taken root. It symbolised British style and elegance, yet also power and success. It had the nice sleek finish of a classic British motor car. It was also associated with Rod Laver, Tony Roche, Virginia Wade, and John MacEnroe, the very best in the sport. It was one of perhaps three top tennis racquets at the time: the other two being the Slazenger Challenge No. 1 and the Wilson.
I’m sure my old Maxply is somewhere among the junk in my house, a memory of years gone by. Technology brought an end to the era of wooden tennis racquets, an era never to return. Maybe, however, there will be a vintage event organised somewhere with the wooden Maxply centre stage.