This summer, all eyes are on Iga Swiatek, Novak Djokovic, Ons Jabeur, and everyone else engaged in the grand slam battle. But whatever the outcome, some tennis lovers will be happier to look back at the game’s glorious, sepia-tinted past.
How about the first tennis racket produced in Tsarist Russia that Nicolas II played with, or an iconic 1876 model by the American manufacturer A.G. Spalding & Bros? Because of its rarity, even the keenest buyer would be lucky to bag such treasures for their collection.
Dubai-based private collector and entrepreneur Slava Babienko will auction antique tennis rackets during the Roland-Garros tournament, which will take place from May 28 to June 11. Over 90 original collectibles, with their NFT versions, will be available.
“I acquired all of the objects, including the 1876 A.G. Spalding & Bros tennis racket, from auctions worldwide over the last decade,” says Babienko. “This 1876 racket is one of the earliest tennis racket models produced by A.G. Spalding & Bros. It’s incredible to see how the racket maintained its shape even after 147 years.”
Babienko, who started playing tennis to boost his mental and physical health, has a collection of tennis rackets and antique tennis balls – way before they were painted in “optic yellow” shade – tournament cups, and even postmarks.
“The most interesting lot of the collection is the tennis racket manufactured by Brothers Tsygankov between 1906-1910. It was the first tennis racket produced in Tsarist Russia, and Nicolas II played with the same racket. Currently, only four rackets are known to exist; three are in museums, which makes the racket only of this kind in the world to be available to buy.”
Talking more about the auction during the Roland-Garros tournament, Babienko says he’s worked with Max Mirnyi’s foundation to digitize three Roland-Garros winner cups he acquired during his career. “These are very exclusive NFTs, and we are working on a special release for those.”
Tennis enthusiasts will have an opportunity to connect with the sport’s history thanks to the collection, which will be available for purchase through the OpenSea platform and includes physical objects and NFT collectibles.
“The world of collecting is rapidly changing. NFT has already revolutionized how we interact with digital art, and I believe it can do the same for any collectible,” says Babienko. “NFT technology allows us to reach wider audiences and make collecting rare objects more appealing to younger, tech-savvy collectors, all while creating a digital footprint of the historical object online.”
Babienko says will put “at least a part of the funds” he collects from the auction toward a new collection.
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