While the assessment of a racquet’s performance is clearly the most important characteristic when rating its worth, it’s hard to deny the coolness factor of the new Babolat Pure Strikes. All of our testers have been incredibly eager to try the frames out, partly because it's a brand new line and partly because they find them so attractive. The combination of the charcoal black frame and fiery red graphics give them a commanding appearance. One tester/retailer has taken to calling it his Darth Maul frame.
Which seems appropriate since the frame—due out in mid-January 2014—is intended for players who like to play with aggressive force. The racquet has a hybrid design that incorporates both a square and elliptical shape, meant to better absorb pace and allow the player to redirect it with precision to score the first strike. Hence the racquet’s name.
Fortunately, the Pure Strike is more than just a pretty face. The Tour version, with its near 12 oz. weight, tight string pattern, and low stiffness has a solid, traditional feel. It’s not powerless, but the user needs to provide plenty of swing speed to get the ball humming. Control is spot-on from the ground, and the mass and feel work perfectly together at net. I feel like it’s one of those frames that when your game is clicking you can do anything on the court.
The standard model is a half ounce lighter than the Tour. According to our readings, it's got more of its weight towards the head and packs a bigger punch. For me, the benefits were most evident when going for winners off short balls, or nailing first serves. The tradeoff is an overall lower stability than the Tour—noticeable at net or when defending hard-hit shots—but the standard is at a good weight to add some lead tape if it’s a problem.
If I had to pick one of the two, I’d side with the Tour since it’s more comparable to the frames I prefer. I would have liked it even more with a 16x19 string pattern, for better spin production and little more pop. There will be a standard model coming out in May 2014 with that configuration—which I've played with and is also worthy—and at the same customizable weight as the 18x20.
For another perspective, I’ve asked friend of The Pro Shop, Kevin Brandt—tennis director at Star Island Resort in Kissimmee, FL., and stringing operations manager at e-tennis retail shop—to offer his take on the Pure Strikes.
Kevin Brandt: Pure Strike Tour: Possibly the best player frame Babolat has ever made? This racquet just exudes coolness, from the sleek new design to the hot paint job. Before even hitting with it, everyone that has seen this racquet wants it. I had one customer try it out, found that it didn't suit his game, and then asked me if we could have a new Pure Drive painted to look just like it. Yeah, it's just that sexy.
This is a new frame for Babolat, and it's definitely not for the AeroPro or Pure Drive player. Heavier, softer flexing, with a thin, flat beam and the 98 sq. in. head, this racquet is taking a direct shot at the Wilson Blade and Head Prestige customers. It has that feeling of control and touch you can only get out of a pure player's frame and brought back memories of my years playing with the Prince Graphite Classic. Solid on the ground strokes and a soft, precise feel at the net. This isn't a recreational player's frame—it's probably best suited for a 4.5+ NTRP—but if you have solid strokes and like a frame with some weight to it, this racquet is fantastic.
Pure Strike: With the style and paint job to match its big brother, the standard Pure Strike also grabs your attention. The difference? It's still a player's frame, but a lot friendlier to the recreational player than big brother is. At 10.8 oz (unstrung), it's lighter and a little more forgiving than the Tour, but without sacrificing the feel and control that comes with this type of frame.
For my game, which I would call a little less than precise, I actually favored it over the Tour. Like the Tour, if you like the stiffer AeroPro or Pure Drive feel, it's probably not the frame for you. But if you've been playing the Blade 98, Prestige S, or are one of those people that say: "I can't play with a Babolat" (you know who you are), give it a try. This is a completely new category for Babolat, and they definitely got it right.