When it debuted in 1976, the Prince Classic was anything but. Cartoonishly oversized, the Classic was a revolutionary implement that would change the game. The lightweight frame would let hackers serve as fiercely as Roscoe Tanner. A sweet spot so large it could induce hyperglycemia meant that even an ill-struck forehand could be strafed past an opponent, and the snowshoe-sized head made every ball seem retrievable. A little-known 16-year-old named Pam Shriver (left) clutched a Classic in the U.S. Open final in 1978. A few years later yours truly used his $70 high-tech wand to try to knock Andy Bonser from the top of the Southern Indiana 12-and-unders.
The Classic was the brainchild of eccentric engineer Howard Head, who figured he couldn't go wrong marketing a tennis racket with a 110-square-inch face, more than 50% larger than that of the competition. Suddenly suckers like me helped Prince account for one third of the rackets sold in the U.S. As I gushed to my brother, Gerald, the contrast between my Classic and his wooden Jack Kramer was "the difference between a five-speed and a banana-seat bike."
All that power came at a price. The ball felt as if it had been launched from a trampoline. Touch was a mere abstraction. Kick serves could be better executed with a jackhammer. Shriver never achieved greatness with the Prince Classic, and as for me, even wielding a racket nearly as big as I was, I got my butt kicked by Andy Bonser.