What are the rules and regs surrounding racket vibration dampeners and what do they do anyway? From space shuttle science to illegal adornments, we look at one of the smallest but most controversial pieces of tennis kit
It's a Marmite thing. You either don't feel tennis-dressed without one or like our friend Greg Rusedski you think they are just for those who don't "feel" the game. But if you are a champion of the vibration dampener it is good to know what they can and can not do, and also what is allowed in the rules and what is not.
What are vibration dampeners?
Most dampeners are simply discs of rubber designed to slot between the racket strings. Others are strips of plastic (or nylon, silicone or elastomer compound) that connect across the strings. Lower-tech solutions are available too. Andre Agassi famously used a rubber band and you can even buy dampeners adapted from this principle that look just like elastic bands - see the Tourna Damp.
Who invented the dampener?
Would you believe it, but that genius of 1930s tennis and one of the the Four Musketeers René Lacoste filed the fist patent for the first anti-vibration dampener in 1964 (See right, © Lacoste archives).
Do they work?
If you like a more solid sound when the ball hits your racket, then yes they certainly do. Indeed, after using one you may feel that your racket plays a little like a biscuit tin if you don't have the dampener attached. However, there is little real evidence that a dampener can do enough to deaden vibrations to have any effect on the performance of the racket, let alone to help guard against injuries such as tennis elbow. According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences in 2004 by Dr Francois-Xavier Li, D Fewtrell and Dr Mike Jenkins, they don't help prevent 'tennis elbow' or serve no scientific purpose: "String dampeners do not reduce the amount of racket frame vibration received in the forearm. They remain a popular accessory among tennis players because of their acoustic effects and psychological support rather than any mechanical advantage." As the University of Birmingham explained, "Dampeners act on the racket strings like a light touch of a finger affects the high frequency vibration of a guitar string. The low damaging vibrations pass through, but the high audible though harmless vibrations are stopped."
Nevertheless, companies still sometimes claim injury-prevention benefits. Road to Pro. Inc, set up by a former pro, claims to have invented the world's best dampener. It insists that the Shocksorb, using patented material employed in space shuttles is different and "reduced most of the testers' arm (wrist and tennis elbow) and shoulder pain from shock and vibrations." Maybe it is rocket science after all.
How to make dampeners work for you?
Even if you accept dampeners are unlikely to have a injury-prevention benefit, it has been argued that through the affect on sound and the aesthetics, they can change your play. A whole industry has grown up around novelty dampeners and attitude-enhancing models. For many Local Tennis League players, wearing the badge of the leagues on your racket is a way of showcasing support for grass-roots tennis. In addition. Local Tennis Leagues has invented the exclusive UP/Down dampener, a brilliant way to decide who serves first.
Where can you place the dampener on your racket?
The ITF makes the rules on all aspects of tennis equipment and dampeners are no different. Dampeners have to be placed outside the string pattern - either at the top or (more usually) at the bottom of the racket. Contrary to popular belief, so long as you observe this rule, you can have as many dampeners on your racket strings as you wish.
Can I stick anything I like on my strings?
Again the ITF rules on this. Devices need to comply with racket regulations. "The strings shall be free of attached objects and protrusions other than those utilised solely and specifically to limit or prevent wear and tear or vibration." They must be reasonably sized and located. Radically new ideas need official ITF approval before they can be used in the Pro game. So, the PowerAngle dampener which accompanies a dimond shaped stringing pattern has the go-ahead, but the Prince Silencer does "not conform to the Rules of Tennis". Now wouldn't you enjoy pointing that out to your opponent in a League match?