Power? There, and then some. Spin? Easy to produce and very inviting. Stability? Surprisingly good given the frame’s manageable weight. Feel? More muted than before, but still plenty firm. Yes, there are some tweaks to the newest installment of the venerable Babolat Pure Drive, but the core elements of what has made the frame so popular are ever present and accounted for.
With a cosmetic that returns more of its signature electric blue coloring, this Pure Drive also harkens back to its more powerful incarnations. The previous model introduced FSI Technology—a raised sweet spot with a denser string pattern for improved control. (Babolat determined from data culled from their connected Play frames that players most often make contact higher up on the string bed). It has now evolved into FSI Power which employs wider spacing in the cross strings and diamond shape grommets to boost pace, spin and comfort.
And from the baseline it works to great effect. I found repeated success loading ground strokes with power and topspin to deliver deep and heavy shots. My opponent was constantly faced with the prospect of either fending off balls from above his shoulders or retreating well behind the baseline. (The frame was strung with RPM Blast Rough at 50 lbs., which certainly accentuated the attribute). The wider string spacing seemed to create a higher trajectory on shots which promoted spacious net clearance and easy depth.
The access to spin was necessary to manage some of the inherent power of the frame, otherwise shots could fly long. This was more of an issue on my two-handed backhand, which is a naturally flatter shot. And if I got lazy on a slice from that wing, the ball would balloon instead of bite. But my whippier forehand was having lots of fun; if I happened upon a short ball it was a blast to blast away.
Which has also always been an attraction of serving with the Pure Drive. One quick swat of the frame can produce a bullet delivery. More than just the raw power, as a user of more traditional, control-oriented frames, I’ve always marveled at how a medium-paced swing can yield a commanding serve with the Pure Drive. This latest version follows suit; you simply don’t have to work that hard to create offense. And the improved spin-potential makes kick serves a massive problem for your opponents.
Net play with the Pure Drive remains what I often call “backboard” volleying: just get it in front of the incoming ball and let the racquet do the work. The frame is light enough for quick handling, yet possesses enough clout to deflect incoming pace (although I would think seasoned doubles players would want the extra mass of the Tour version). It’s virtually effortless to get good depth with reasonable directional control to hit a working volley; slamming away sitters and smashing overheads are child’s play.
But the stiffness makes it problematic playing with touch. It was challenging taking pace off the ball or aiming at too fine a target. At times, I felt clumsy in my attempts. I’m sure with practice, subtle shots would become more reliable to muster. Still, racquets of this class are more adept at driving volleys, rather than finessing them. Which is a perfectly acceptable tradeoff for its audience.
A stiff frame can also be a harsh one, especially when contact is off-center. Another addition to this Pure Drive is Cortex Pure Feel, which is intended to lessen that sensation. The result of a partnership between Babolat and SMAC, a French aerospace company, a thin viscoelastic rubber has been integrated into the frame to absorb unwanted vibration. Along with the wider string spacing, this creates a more dampened feel from the previous version. I found the kinder response a more comfortable and welcome change to the frame. I still wouldn’t characterize it as super plush or in the arm-friendly category, but this could be an invitation to those players who have struggled with the feedback of previous incarnations. However, devoted Pure Drive users could miss some of the crispness and connection they discovered in past models.
So, the more muted feel could present a dividing line in opinion, but there’s little debating the new Pure Drive has all the hallmarks of the modern power racquet it has come to define. And like its predecessors, it undoubtedly will find a wide audience. From competitive, heavy-hitting baseliners looking to bully opponents down to casual players simply looking for a little boost from their racquets the new Pure Drive is a willing accomplice.