The ‘racquet-maker to the stars’ blazed a path for expert customization.
When a toddler asks “Why?” over and over, it can lead to some pretty exasperating conversations. But Warren Bosworth never outgrew his fascination with asking why. In fact, he fostered the habit in his own son.
“My dad was always asking why, and as a result, I grew up obsessed with why,” says Jay Bosworth. “‘Why’ is in my head 24 hours a day, just as it was with my dad.”
“Why” is what led Warren Bosworth into the world of tennis. There, his all-consuming curiosity over why and how a racquet could influence a player’s game would catapult him into the business of building customized racquets, a 35-year odyssey during which he would become advisor, sounding board and even mentor to a host of players recognizable by their first names. Martina. Andre. Ivan. Venus. Boris.
As founder of Bosworth Tennis, Warren Bosworth was jokingly (but accurately) referred to as “racquet-maker to the stars.” As far back as the 1970s, he was dissecting racquets from pro shops and sporting goods stores, trying to figure out what differentiated them.
Too much, he decided. The fact that a dozen frames of the exact same model could be strung the same way using the same string, yet still play differently enough to affect a player’s game, was a source of both curiosity and irritation to Bosworth. He hadn’t grown up with the game of tennis, but he certainly could tell when something could be built better. And using the very potent combination of his curiosity, his meticulous craftsmanship and his charisma in reaching out to the right people for advice, he began the process of building not just a better racquet, but a dozen better racquets. And eventually, all of them played exactly the same, and all could be customized to enhance a specific athlete’s strengths, and downplay his or her weaknesses.
Long before his company became public knowledge, it was Bosworth’s ability to develop consistency in equipment that caught the attention of engineer and product developer Fred Schwacke. Schwacke, who was working with a string company, was trying to find a way to test his product.
“At the time, one of the big things Warren had to offer was the fact that when he did 10 racquets, every single one of them played identically,” Schwacke says. “That takes an extremely high level of technology and craftsmanship.”
Schwacke and Bosworth remained good friends. “What Warren didn’t know wasn’t worth knowing,” says Schwacke. “He was an extremely good mentor and he was very happy to share his knowledge.”
Warren’s skill at fine-tuning racquets to meet players’ needs was legendary. One of the stories that circulated was that the great Ivan Lendl had called Bosworth from an overseas tournament to complain that something was wrong with his racquet. Bosworth had Lendl hold the racquet up to the phone and tap the strings so that he could listen. From thousands of miles away, Bosworth was able to diagnose the problem, create racquets that played the way Lendl wanted, and put them on a plane in time for the next match.
“That is a true story,” says Jay Bosworth, who joined his father’s company in 1982. “My father was that observant.” Jay Bosworth grew up watching his father hold consultations with players. “Martina Navratilova — she would literally have a meeting with us the day after a final. She’d say, ‘I just won Wimbledon. How do I do it next year?’ She wasn’t angry or grumpy; it was more like, ‘I’m so happy, please tell me how I can do this even better.’”
“You have to understand what those racquets could do,” says Schwacke. “Something like Warren’s skill was the tie-breaker that can put a player over the edge.”
Lendl, says Jay Bosworth, was one of the athletes who stayed with Bosworth Tennis over the years, always seeking the tools to help him maintain his competitive advantage.
“Warren and I were always working on my racquets,” recalls Lendl. “As I got stronger, he would adjust the racquets, strings, etc., so it was always a work in progress, but he understood what I needed right from the beginning, and I saw results right away.”
Warren Bosworth died in July, leaving his company to Jay, who continues the work of quietly creating an evolution in the sport.
“About 35 or 40 years ago, my dad started something here, but I think we’ve still got a long way to go. In terms of customizing racquets for players, I think my dad has been a pioneer. He made money at it and it was a good business, but business wasn’t why he went into it. He went into it out of interest, because he loved asking questions and learning new things.”
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.