Racquet Review: Babolat Pure Drive

by: Jon Levey | December 02, 2014

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Price: $199
Head Size: 100 sq. in.
Length: 27 in.
Weight: 11.2 oz.
Balance: 4 pts. HL
Swingweight: 317
RA Rating: 72
Beam Width: 23.5 mm / 26 mm / 23 mm
String Pattern: 16x19
NTRP: 3.0-5.0

When Babolat Play was introduced in the Pure Drive last year, it was greeted with a certain degree of skepticism. Some players just didn’t see the value of collecting playing data through a connected racquet. So what if you could know how many forehands you hit during a match and if you hit them harder than the last time you played—would any of that data make you a better player?

That’s certainly debatable, but, depending on what you look for in a racquet, it may have led to a better Pure Drive. One of the measurables of the Babolat Play is ball impact location on the racquet head. By having access to user information through the Play app, Babolat discovered that most players were making contact higher up on the string bed. The result was to create an updated Pure Drive with a raised sweetspot for more power and comfort in that part of the frame, as well as a tighter string pattern for better directional control (dubbed FSI Technology).

For players that have wished for a more restrained Pure Drive, this presents progress. But what does that mean to devoted Pure Drive fans who have grown attached to the frame’s particular attributes? Frequent Pro Shop contributor, and longtime Pure Drive user, James Golden, has sampled the new edition and offers this take.

James Golden: Among the challenges of being an icon, the most pressing is having to keep pace with change without losing the character that led to such status in the first place. Take, for example, the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Introduced in the late 1970s, amid slow, nondescript cars with interiors bathed in various shades of beige velour, the Golf GTI was practical yet fun to drive. It was the alpha and omega of what would become the "hot hatch" segment of auto industry. While still beloved, the once rolling Id's sprightliness has given way to portliness due to years of creature-comfort related refinements intended to keep it competitive among its many rivals.

Such is the dilemma faced by Babolat as it set out to update the venerable Pure Drive. It helped spawn the "tweener" category of racquets during the 1990s and rival manufacturers have spent the last 20 years trying to match, with limited success, the Pure Drive's remarkable mix of power and control. The Pure Drive's allure seems to defy tennis racquet logic, appealing to a wide range of players regardless of age or NTRP rating, including several grand slam champions. As such, the task at hand was for Babolat to refine the Pure Drive without allowing the racquet to lose its iconic DNA or legion of fans. There is always trepidation among racquet faithful when their beloved stick is tinkered with, and Pure Drive users are no different. For many, the scars have yet to heal from when Babolat updated the Pure Drive with Cortex...back in 2005!

Well, Pure Drive loyalists can breathe a sigh of relief.  

Having played with various versions of the Pure Drive ever since "Y2K" was a thing, I'm quite familiar with its many attributes. As noted, the Pure Drive has an uncanny mix of power and control. Given its 100 square inch headsize, low static weight, high stiffness rating, and relatively open string pattern (16x19), the Pure Drive has always had more in common with game improvement racquets than of those swung by high-level players. Nonetheless, Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, Carlos Moya, and Li Na have all achieved grand slam success with the Pure Drive (or a modified form of it), and innumerable WTA and ATP pros wield the frame week in and week out as they chase their grand slam dreams.

While the specs of the updated Pure Drive have not changed, what has changed is its feel. Few current racquets, if any, are as stiff as the Pure Drive, a characteristic only magnified by the use of polyester strings. Despite the attraction of the Pure Drive's power and control, many have found previous versions to be too harsh, bordering on painful. The new version of the Pure Drive feels more muted. By no means is it a soft feeling racquet, but the crisp feeling of old has been tempered. The muted feel of the new Pure Drive gives the impression of a more control-oriented and solid-feeling frame, but I think that is attributable to the dampened feel more so than a fundamental change in the racquet's performance. In fact, I switched back and forth between the 2012 version and 2015 version and found no difference in power or spin.  

It seems that Babolat may have pulled off the difficult feat of broadening the appeal of the Pure Drive without forsaking the racquet's iconic playability. Overall, the Pure Drive feels refined rather than revised. While other manufacturers of late have made drastic changes to their flagship racquets, the changes to the new Pure Drive, including the slight change in the spacing of the strings at the perimeter of the racquet to increase control and raise the sweetspot, reflect incremental rather than monumental change. And for this, Pure Drive fans will be very grateful.  

To buy, demo, or learn more about this racquet, go to: 


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