When I first got my hands on Babolat’s new Pure Strikes, I was sure the Tour version was going to be my favorite. Call it a 12 oz. bias, but the specs seemed to be right in my sweet spot. And upon first trying out the frames, my suspicions were confirmed. The Tour’s added heft gave it a leg up in stability and comfort on the standard 18x20, while the 100 seemed more suited for intermediates looking for a free-swinger that provides extra pop and spin.
But then came the 16x19. It won’t be available for a few months, but we still got a few to test. Even though it’s lighter than the Tour, and lighter than I like, it still packs a nice combo of mass and swingweight. My current frame has a 16x18 pattern, so this configuration wouldn’t be a problem. However, I was a devout 18x20 man for many years, and the pinpoint control and plow-through I was getting out of the Tour had me reminiscing. I thought that going lighter and opening things up might increase spin, and possibly power, but harm everywhere else.
Again, my hunch was (temporarily) confirmed.
My shots weren’t nearly as dialed in, nor did I have the same stability as with the Tour. But as I kept playing with the 16x19, and started going for my shots more, the results greatly improved. Even the response felt more comfortable. Like a car that needs to be driven fast, the more aggressively I played with the PS 16x19, the better it performed.
For instance, when I tried to roll back or block returns, the results were often disappointing. I grew frustrated with how many times shots sailed long off a seemingly harmless swing. However, when I went after the ball, especially on my two-hander, I had much greater success. I could tear open the point right away. I had a similar experience when serving: The bigger, the better. I don’t know if it’s the psychology of the name, but my game flowed when I would strike the ball with good pace and bad intentions.
That’s not to say I couldn’t sustain controlled rallies with the 16x19, or play with touch. But it wasn’t as impressive in that capacity. I’m not much of a touch player anyway, so that’s not something I seek out in a racquet. And as much as any frame I’ve demoed recently, I found the PS 16x19 adept at dictating play by changing the direction of the ball. It reminded a little of the new Head Graphene Radical Pro in that the main strings are bunched in the center of the frame, so control in those situations is that of a frame with a denser pattern. It perhaps doesn’t pack the punch of the Radical Pro, but the PS 16x19 has more flex and feel.
Another thing that impressed me about the 16x19 was that, besides getting added spin on ground strokes and kick serves, the more open pattern also made off-center hits more forgiving than the 18x20 options. A sticking point with the Tour is that when you miss the sweet spot the response can feel boardy. I find this true with all the Pure Strikes, but especially with that frame. The 16x19 is still somewhat demanding and there will be power outage and noticeable feedback on less than ideal contact. But the price paid isn’t as severe. I found it to be even less of a problem when I strung it with a softer polyester.
The one limitation I discovered when compared with the Tour—and no amount of practice would change this—is the lesser stability due to less mass. This was most apparent when trying to return a hard serve or deflect a well-struck passing shot. It’s not frail or unstable by any means. And while Pure Strikes feel more flexible than Pure Drives and Aero Drives (the Babolat for people who don’t Babolats), they still have some stiffness to them. So at the stock weight there is backbone. I just prefer it to be closer to the level of the Tour.
Could I play with the PS 16x19 as is?
With little trouble. Overall, it’s a solid all-court frame. It produces predictable power that can be controlled and directed quite effectively. The more open string pattern offers better spin generation than the 18x20 models, especially when paired with the right string. The feel at contact wavers more than I’d like, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I think advanced, aggressive baseliners who prefer frames south of 12 oz. for increased swing speed—I’m looking at you, juniors—will definitely want to try it.
If pushed, I’d probably chose it over the Tour. However, the weight and balance of the PS 16x19 makes it a pretty good platform for adding weight. I messed around by subbing in a leather grip on the handle and adding lead tape to the head, and got the weight up close to the Tour. The results were pretty nice; it became a little more demanding to maneuver, but it felt sturdier with more plow-through.
Until Babolat comes out with a Pure Strike 16x19 Tour, my beefed up version may have to suffice.
• Because he is playing forward, hitting the ball on the rise and using the ball speed from his opponent, THE FIRST STRIKER NEEDS RESPONSE. • Because he uses every centimenter of the court to move his opponent and create open angles to win points, THE FIRST STRIKER IS LOOKING FOR PRECISION. Players using the ball speed from their opponent and looking for power and spin will find the right racquet thanks to a 16x19 stringing pattern.
The soon-to-be-released model might be the gem of the line.
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