The famous Vilsbiburger Tennis Racquet, invented by Werner Fischer (GER):
One of the greatest inventions in tennis history
With regard to highly collectible racquets of the 70s, one certainly has to pick out the famous Vilsbiburger tennis racquet with double-stringing (“spaghetti strings”). This unusual stringing system, invented by Bavarian Werner Fischer and released to the market in 1976, produced an incredible, erratic topspin and overnight enabled weak players to beat stronger players. It took Werner Fischer, a horticultural engineer in his main profession, four years to develop the Vilsbiburger double-stringing system that had vertical strings graduating from 9 to 12 kp and horizontal strings mostly 20 and 22 kp - very soft. After its introduction, it quickly gained ground in Bavaria, played by Fischer himself and most of his colleagues from the TC Vilsbiburg mens tennis team. By means of their Vilsbiburger racquets, Fischer and his friends suddenly rose to big success, becoming Bavarian team tennis champion in June 1977 and then promoting to the German Tennisbundesliga, the highest team tennis division in Germany, in September 1977. Another player of the TC Vilsbiburg mens tennis team, Erwin Müller, achieved the biggest success with a Vilsbiburger racquet in 1976 and 1977. He managed to beat a range of well-known, clearly higher ranked German players such as Frank Gebert, Werner Zirngibl and Peter Elter. As a single player, Müller also won a German tournament with a Vilsbiburger racquet in June 1976 and reached the semifinals of the National German Tennis Championships in 1977. At the same tournament, Bavarian Ameli Ring (TC Dachau), using a Völkl Zebra with Vilsbiburger strings, sensationally reached the ladies finals, but lost to Helga Masthoff.
Big media interest and flourishing business
The Vilsbiburger racquet attracted a lot of both national and international media interest and quickly grabbed the headlines in newspapers and magazines. Fischer's invention naturally encountered ambivalent reactions. In Germany, racquets with Vilsbiburger strings were given a lot of deprecative nicknames such as "Fliegenklatsche", "Vilsbiburger Keule", "Softpatsche", "Fischerpatsche" or "Matratze", but partly also admiring nicknames such as "Wunderwaffe" or "Wunderschläger". In November 1976, Werner Fischer even was invited to the "ZDF Sportstudio", a very popular sport programme of German television, and after that screen appearance was hardly able to cope with the flood of enquiries coming from tennis playing German TV watchers. For preparing a racquet with Vilsbiburger strings, Fischer charged his customers between 120 and 150 DM (about 60-75 Euros). Definitely not a steep price, considering the fact that Fischer spent three working hours on stringing one single racquet. "It was extreme manual labour", Fischer says. But he meanwhile had hired some employees who supported him. Also in November 1976, Fischer attended the Cologne Grand Prix tournament, trying to introduce his Vilsbiburger system to Top Ten players such as Jimmy Connors or Harold Solomon. But straight-hitting Connors, holding a Vilsbiburger racquet in his hands, only said something like "That's not my cup of tea" and passed the racquet on to Harold Solomon, well-known for his heavy topspin strokes - potentially a much better candidate for the Vilsbiburger racquet than Connors. However, Solomon checked the racquet and told Fischer that he had already played with a similar racquet in the past, allegedly having encountered an arm injury as a consequence. So Fischer drove back to Bavaria without having been able to convince the world elite of his stringing system.
Vilas, Nastase and the ban
It was obvious that prominent, established tennis professionals - after having lost to a nobody with a Vilsbiburger racquet - most heavily complained about that revolutionary racquet. But also the Association of German Tennis Teachers and some physicians advised against it. Calls for a ban of the Vilsbiburger stringing system became louder and louder, but the ITF (International Tennis Federation), after having discussed the topic at a conference in London in July 1977, decided to keep it legal. But that liberal view upon the Vilsbiburger racquet shouldn't last too long - in early October, there was an episode that made the ITF think differently about the "Wunderwaffe": When Argentine superstar Guillermo Vilas met Ilie Nastase in the best of five set final of the Aix-en-Provence tournament in early October 1977, he dropped the first two sets by 6–1, 7–5 and then retired in protest of Nastase's use of the Vilsbiburger racquet! Thus Nastase snapped Vilas' world record 53-match winning streak on clay courts which stood until the record was broken by Rafael Nadal in 2006. “It was really the racket,” Vilas said. “I didn’t lose against a player, I lost against a racket.” He and his coach Ion Tiriac then used their big influence on the ITF, causing it to ban the Vilsbiburger racquet at the end of October 1977. What is remarkable: While condemning the racquet in public, Vilas did use the racquet himself, not officially, but during training sessions. His trainer and manager Ion Tiriac said: "Guillermo simply is unbeatable with the double-stringing system in his training matches!".....
Werner Fischer himself had prepared Nastase's Head Aluminium racquet with Vilsbiburger strings and personally brought the racquet to Aix-en-Provence by car, handing the racquet out to Nastase. The Romanian did play a Vilsbiburger racquet, although ONE WEEK before the Aix-en-Provence tournament, in an interview with German "Tennis Magazin" he had declared that he would never play with such a racquet, even saying that would be "beneath his dignity"! But Nastase more than quickly changed his mind, upsetting Vilas with the Vilsbiburger racquet. One must know: At the French Open 1977, Nastase had lost to George Goven - a Frenchman who used a Vilsbiburger racquet, too... Goven also made it into the semifinals of the Aix-en-Provence tournament, along with Vilas, Nastase and Eric Deblicker, who also played a Vilsbiburger racquet, so that three of the four semifinalists played with a Vilsbiburger! Deblicker lost to Vilas in a very close five set match.
When the ban on the Vilsbiburger stringing system came at the end of October 1977, Fischer had prepared about 2,000 racquets with Vilsbiburger strings. "If the ban had come one year later, I would have become a millionaire, but instead, I was financially ruined". Fischer had applied for several patents in order to prevent his invention from getting copied by other manufacturers, but these were investments that should not pay off in the end. After his double-stringing system, Fischer developed a few more stringing systems that, according to him, were even better than the Vilsbiburger system. But the ITF always changed its regulations so that all his inventions quickly became forbidden.
The ban - a case of conspiracy?
Tragically, the ban of the Vilsbiburger stringing system was a case of fraud and conspiracy obviously. On behalf of the ITF, the German Tennis Federation (DTB) had enquired an expert opinion from the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany), and that expertise deciced in favour of the Vilsbiburger system. But nevertheless, the ITF voted against it afterwards. One year later, Fischer got a hint that the ITF had received a faked expertise. Later on, there was a court trial in the USA that confirmed the existence of two different expertises - original and fake. But for Fischer, that finding unfortunately came too late - "At that point of time, I already was a has-been", Fischer said. He supposed that the Association of German Tennis Teachers was responsible for the fake.
The legend lives on
Today, the Vilsbiburger legend lives on. Fischer's invention has constituted a unique chapter of tennis history, his double-stringing system is another great example of German inventiveness and innovative strength in the tennis industry. Werner Fischer also cooperated with another well-known German inventor who revolutionised the racquet industry: Siegfried Kuebler. Kuebler manufactured the "Original Werner Fischer" frames for Fischer, a metal racquet that had been derived from Kuebler's "Plus 20" racquet. But Fischer and Kuebler didn't team up for a long time - the ban on Vilsbiburger strings inevitably led to the end of the cooperation.