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Thursday, August 29, 2013 /by

There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics. The adage, often attributed to Mark Twain, speaks to the persuasive impact of numbers.

Just as with most sports, tennis coaches are adamant about the value of using data to reveal the true nature of performance. The scoreboard reveals which player had the better day, but it doesn’t always tell how well someone truly played. Performance goals such as first-serve percentage, net approaches, and percent-of-forehands hit can’t be accurately ascertained by a win or loss. To bear this out, coaches frequently chart matches and practices for their students. But most of us don’t have a coach sitting courtside at our disposal.

Enter the Babolat Play Pure Drive. A project ten years in the making, Babolat Play allows the player to collect match statistics such as power, impact location (sweet spot), strokes hit (forehand, backhand, etc.) and spin production. A sensor in the handle records all the data which can be uploaded to any smartphone, tablet, or computer via Bluetooth or USB cable. The stats can be saved and compared over time with yourself, or against an entire community of Babolat Play users. Want to know if the new workout regimen is adding power to your forehand? Are all those serving lessons resulting in a higher serve percentage? Now you can have quantifiable data to prove it.

Other than price, the Babolat Play Pure Drive will have the same specs as the regular Babolat Pure Drive:

Headsize: 645cm²/100 sq. in.
Weight: 300g / 10.6 oz
Balance: 320 mm/7 pts. HL
MSRP: $399.00

The price tag will certainly be a challenge in gaining traction with consumers. The other more important hurdle will be performance—it has to work properly. After extensive testing, the Babolat team is confident it will do just that. In a meeting with president and CEO, Eric Babolat, he explained how the technology works and how it can be adapted over time. As with most first-generation equipment, there will undoubtedly have to be some kinks to work out.

For instance, say a player serves a fault. The short lapse in time between hitting one serve and then another indicates to the sensor that a second serve is coming. However, what if the player has just hit a let? If the sensor believes a second serve is about to be hit, and it’s really a first serve, that can skew the data.

But even if that or other minor glitches occur, Babolat says updates to the technology will be easily attained. He’s aware of the investment players will be making in his racquet and doesn’t want it to appear inflexible or outdated. He’s much more excited about the possibilities such a racquet brings to evolving the sport and appealing to a new generation of participants. “We don’t want tennis to be played in a museum,” says Babolat. “We want it to be a modern, connected game.”

Besides allowing recreational players to record, analyze, and share their stats, the technology may have an impact on the pro level as well. Babolat petitioned the ITF, and starting in 2014, Rule 31 will go into effect, allowing the racquet to be used in tournament play. Players can’t have smartphones with them on court, so there’s no way to check the data during the match. However, in WTA tournaments that allow coaching, as well as during rain delays, coaches can share the data with their players.

The hardware is ready to move—testers will get samples in November, with a full U.S. launch in December—but the software apps are a few weeks away. Even though Babolat is a French company, they are releasing the racquet in the U.S. first because it’s still the biggest tennis market and has the most “connected” people. The global launch will follow in 2014. If all goes to plan, expect the technology to find its way to other Babolat frames in the near future.

Earlier this week, Babolat started accepting applications on its Facebook page for U.S.-based players to be the first to try the Play Pure Drive. Fifty players will be chosen to join the Babolat Play Test Team and experience the Babolat Play community before it’s available to the general public. Fortunately, I can skip the application process and wait for my sample to arrive. I can’t wait to see what lies my stats tell me.


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