Choose your weapon: Babolat Pure Strike
Originally published on: 27/11/13 00:00
It’s one thing to recognise your shortfalls – it’s a very different thing to overcome them. That’s the task Babolat took on with their new Pure Strike range – identifying the hole in their racket range, and applying the core principles behind their swift rise in the racket world to fill it.
Babolat may be one of the oldest names in tennis, but only made its debut on the racket scene in 1994. Inside 20 years, however, they’ve established themselves as a market leader, with their approach to racket technology built on three core values: their ranges have well-defined playing styles, stay on the shelf far longer than many other manufacturers and are built around solid engineering values. Fad frames? Forget it.
A key part of that engineering process is recognising the changing face of tennis, something that set Babolat apart when first Carlos Moya and later Andy Roddick burst onto the scene with their trusty Pure Drives. Rafael Nadal’s Aero Pro Drive followed – and that’s worked out pretty well – while the Pure Storm, used today by Sam Stosur, has been refined over the years.
All three frames found a sweet spot in the shifting patterns in tennis, built for baseliners who either hit big from deep (Roddick), build their game around heavy topspin (Nadal) or are looking for enhanced control (Stosur). The past decade has seen baseliners dominate the tennis landscape – but while Babolat had most players covered, attack-minded players found themselves short of options when it came to the two-stripe sticks.
So Babolat did their research, and found that modern tennis players by and large fall into two categories – punchers and strikers. Punchers are defenders – players happy to hit a clean ball at the top of the bounce who don’t give up on points without a fight. Strikers are aggressors, moving forward to take the ball on the rise and using their opponents’ power against them in the search for winners.
Punchers had no problem finding a Babolat racket for their game, with their focus on oversize racket heads and spin-friendly frames – backed up by 135 years of string knowhow. But strikers? They have struggled. Both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco have looked a little less potent with their Babolat frames in 2013.
Another thing: those of us who did not learn to hit our forehands like Rafa or backhands like Andy and Novak are, on the whole, strikers. Sure, we hit with topspin off both wings but give us the chance and we’ll still take on a slice approach and get into the net, or flatten out that forehand to turn defence into attack.
A striker’s racket needs to be reactive – highly manoeuvrable with plenty of power so that any point on the court offers the potential to hit a winner. It needs to be solid at net with good feel while the spin generation takes a back seat. Armed with this brief, Babolat set to work on a hybrid of their original rackets – combining the stiffness of the Drive and the square-style frame of the Storm to fuse power with control.
The results are impressive. The first three rackets of the Pure Strike range – the standard frame, the heavier Tour and the 100 – hit the shelves in December, with a 16×19 version of the Strike due out in March 2014.
First up was the Pure Strike 100, the lightest of the bunch at 290g unstrung and with that slightly larger 100sq in head. Word is that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jerzy Janowicz have been playtesting reweighted versions of this frame ahead of 2014. While very mobile and forgiving from the outset, the 100 does feel a little lightweight – volleys were placed away rather than punched and don’t expect to get much help on serve – but the legacy of the Strike’s sister ranges means that spin is easy to come by, something that players looking for a little more consistency from a lighter frame that still has enough pop to take the game to their opponent might buy into.
Up next was the 98sq in Pure Strike Tour, the beefed-up version of the standard frame at 320g. This is the frame Babolat expect to take on the likes of Wilson’s Pro Staff and Blade and Head’s Prestige line. In spite of the X-Sider valley at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock on the racket head the sweet spot is still small, but find it and the Tour provides effortless power. There’s still spin potential there as well and touch at the net came naturally, but after a while the extra weight began to take its toll on this club player, who still yearns to pick up his Prestige again but ends up putting his Volkl PB9s in the bag.
After putting down the Tour, the standard Pure Strike felt like the same racket with the handbrake taken off. Given that both were freshly strung with RPM Blast at 56lbs in the mains and 54lbs in the crosses (thanks John!), the only difference between the two was the 15g drop in weight – less than a couple of pound coins. That drop restores the manoeuvrability that some players may lose out on with the Tour, which says more about the tester finding a racket for his level than the racket itself.
The Pure Strike may have borrowed elements from it predecessors but it certainly feels like a departure. There’s less evidence of the sapping stiffness of the Pure Drive but certainly more power than the Pure Storm has ever offered, a decent return given the racket’s target audience. Serves popped through, volleys felt solid and it was easy to dial in drives from the baseline.
The fourth member of Babolat’s player-frame family is likely to appeal to players with a game that may have become outdated on the pro circuit but still holds court at club level. Up against the likes of the Pro Staff and Prestige, the Tour comes off second-best in terms of feel but is a match for the power of the Blade with the added bonus of the spin potential that comes with its breeding.
The 100 will appeal to juniors and tinkerers, its player-friendly dimensions making it a solid choice for those looking for more pop from the baseline. But for a trigger-happy club player, the Pure Strike is a solid option. There are more powerful rackets out there, but it’s the added feel and whip that comes with the frame that will entice the strikers out there.
Babolat Pure Strike range – on sale December 2013
Pure Strike 18×20: Head Size 98sq. inches. Weight: 305g
Pure Strike Tour 18×20: Head Size 98sq. inches. Weight: 320g
Pure Strike 100 16×19: Head Size 100sq. inches. Weight: 290g
Pure Strike 16×19 (available May 2014): Head Size 98 sq. inches, Weight: 305g
For more information, visit babolat.com