Danny Lee presents “The Shark”…
The Shark was a prototype racket that I used back in the 80’s for a while invented by Gerry Evenden, who was my tennis doubles partner. Gerry consulted me on the development and initial production.
It was revolutionary not only because of its shape and the angle of the head , but because…..
1. it was made of the same grade of carbon fibre used to build space shuttles, so it was strong and light.
2. It had the largest stringing area of any racket up to that time.
3.It was strung in thin, multi filament string which frayed like gut.
4. It had a unique cork dampening core . Other early carbon fibre rackets vibrated.
5. It was the lightest racket of its time and had no bumper strip, just individual grommets.
The racket received unprecedented publicity and was featured on Tomorrow’s World , where I was interviewed by Judith Haan, Thames Sport and several world wide TV shows.
My photograph with the racket was on the back page of the Daily Mail and it was featured in all of the national papers. The Observer had a large back page feature in its technology section with interesting drawings .
I played against Jahangir Khan, Hiddy Jahan and Stuart Davenport with The Shark and did better than expected. In the French Open against JK I won more points than the rest of his opponents put together ! 🙂
On some shots , particularly overhead I was more accurate and I got both extra power and extra cut, compared with the other rackets of that era.
The sad part was that having created a huge buzz and anticipation about the launch of the racket, when it was time to mass produce established companies fell well short of the standards that Gerry and I had set with our “test” prototypes !
Slazenger produced a good looking racket and were all ready to sign me on a very large contract plus royalties , offering Gerry some up front money and a decent profit share .
Tragically the racket was ridiculously heavy and probably because I was was 21 years old and Gerry was an anti establishment, alternative thinker , nobody wanted to take our advice and we pulled away from the squash “deal of the century “ !!
Some momentum had now been lost and I could only play with the prototype .
Interestingly as a result of the shark’s larger head size, the rules of squash were changed to allow the bigger rackets that have become standard in the game for the past 20 years. The changes in the game at all levels are in great part down to this rule change .
Gerry was desperately keen to have the racket made in Britain but as both he and I had very little money and he no longer trusted the racket companies , we had to enlist the help of a private investor .
A successful businessman called John Parkinson who I knew from playing Yorkshire League for Collingham saw the potential and was prepared to invest £50,000 for a share of the company. A deal was done and we started production on a small scale at a British factory . This time the lightness and feel were fantastic but again and for the same reasons , nobody consulted Gerry or I on the detail and the rackets broke far too easily .
John sponsored a junior tournament and the Sharks were given out as prizes . I think Simon Parke won one of them !
It was a disasterous move which hadn’t been approved by Gerry. I was the go between in the doomed relationship between John and Gerry. I guess Gerry lighting up a spliff in a business meeting wasn’t quite the style that John was used to ! Gerry still held the registered design but his lifestyle became even less mainstream and his motivation levels dropped.
I signed for Wilson who had high quality carbon fibre rackets and that company along with Prince and Head lead the way and carved up the lion’s share of the high end of the market . The Shark was no longer there to take the sizeable chunk that it deserved.
One of the reasons that I’m writing this is that every now and then people post things about The Shark on social media that are well intentioned and quite interesting, but normally have one or two facts completely wrong . This is a completely factual brief history of the squash racket that was world famous for a few weeks . A racket that really was “ ahead of its time “ brought down by a combination of distrust, incompetence , snobbery and inverted snobbery .