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Babolat Play & Connect: Welcome to the future

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Originally published on: 26/05/12 00:00

Eric Babolat, Chairman and CEO of the oldest tennis company in the world, unveiled the French manufacturer's futuristic racket technology yesterday.

Called 'Play and Connect', the technology involves the placement of tiny sensors into the handle of a racket, allowing technical data to be collected and analysed to help players improve their game. Best of all, Babolat's innovative technology is not just aimed at pros but will be accessible to all.

Speaking from the exclusive event at Roland Garros, Babolat's CEO spoke of his desire to "create the equipment for the players of today and tomorrow".  With racket evolution resulting in lightweight frames that deliver power, the latest challenge, Babolat identifies, is harnessing the technology to measure feel. Where some players are fortunate enough to have coaches and trainers, Babolat believes that 'Play and Connect' can provide the same kind of information professionals would, but allows all players – be they world ranked or amateur – to access it.

Although the technology is still a work in progress – it’s taken at least five years to get it to this point in its development – the company hope for a launch in 2013. First it must be tested by 100 people around the world to garner feedback from players at all levels and, crucially, to ensure the information is useable.

Four Babolat players – Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kim Clijsters and Li Na – were on hand at Roland Garros to demonstrate how the technology works on Thursday. The girls were up first and as they rallied on Suzanne Lenglen Court, we viewed some statistical information about them on a tablet. This demonstration monitored the nature of the shot (forehand or backhand), the power of the shot (the percentage of the maximum available), the effect (slice, spin) and the accuracy of the shot (it’s proximity to the sweet spot).

The technology has been developed with a Grenoble company called Movea, a worldwide specialist in movement sensors, and when Babolat first started thinking about the innovation 10 years ago, the sensors were simply too big to fit into the handle of a racket. Now, remarkably, they do so without affecting the weight or handling of the frame. The technology could be placed in any racket at all – it just happens to have been developed and patented by the French manufacturer.

The software is easy to use, or it certainly seemed straightforward as we studied the figures of Nadal, Tsonga, Clijsters and Li on the Parisian clay. Even Toni Nadal (aka Uncle Toni) got on court to have a go and thoroughly endorsed the idea. Clijsters, who will sit out next week’s French Open, said she found the technology “amazing” and that she looks forward to seeing how the WTA and ATP Tours embrace the idea.

The underlying message from Babolat was that the pro players had helped develop the concept. The company has also been able to observe a wide range of players through its extensive club coaching network and 20,000 partner stores, allowing the brand to get the product to this stage. The prototype will undergo more widespread testing prior to its planned launch next year.

It certainly looked fun, very informative and is easy to digest. Graphics deliver the stats, so there’ll be no need for a PHD in statistical analysis to break down your performance. Babolat also suggested that there could be new uses for the technology in its next stages of development. For instance, when buying a racket, if you know your game is, well, let’s say flat, lacking power and you regularly miss the sweetspot, you’ll get a good steer on what qualities you need in a new frame.

“Innovation is only valuable if it advances the game of tennis to the benefit of the greatest number of people,” says Eric Babolat in the company's brand philosophy, and the French manufacturer have certainly delivered on their intention. With 'Play and Connect', the future of the game is exciting. And exciting for all of us.

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Tennishead magazine brings you the very best tennis articles, interviews with the great players, tennis gear and racket reviews, tennis coaching tips plus much more
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