It can be argued that no piece of equipment embodies modern tennis more than the Babolat Pure Drive. With its firm, chunky beam tailor-made to produce heavy groundies and massive serves, the racquet has become synonymous with baseline aggression.
Its legend started when Carlos Moya used the first generation of the frame to win the 1998 Roland Garros championship. Up to that point, Babolat was primarily known for its natural gut strings. Fast forward a few years later when Andy Roddick bombed 140+ mph serves on his way to the US Open title, and the French company’s racquet prominence was cemented.
Other Grand Slam champs—Clijsters, Muguruza, Kenin—and top 10 players followed, but it’s the Pure Drive’s unusual combination of easy power and spin potential in a lighter weight, stable package that has amassed its legion of users at every level of the game.
So, when it gets updated—about every three years—there are lots of interested parties. When a racquet is as consistently popular as the Pure Drive, the DNA generally remains unchanged. That makes for a seamless transition for current players, while subtle tweaks can improve the formula to attract new followers who never connected with earlier offerings. In other words, the new Pure Drive still hits big, has impressive stability for its weight and a crisp response. For this latest generation, Babolat did some fine-tuning to make those assets even more attractive.
The most noticeable adjustment was to the feel of the frame. A Pure Drive is never going to provide an overly plush pocket, but contact in the sweet spot was about as clean and comfortable as I’ve ever encountered with the racquet. SMAC material—a thin viscoelastic rubber integrated into the lay-up—has been extended further into the shaft than the previous model. Dubbed SWX Pure Feel, the technology is intended to better disperse vibrations for a friendlier sensation at impact. It helped eliminate some of the harshness that can accompany off-center hits on such a firm racquet.
That said, few players gravitate to the Pure Drive because its warm and fuzzy; taking the cover off the ball is more the attraction. Rest assured, this latest version will aid in that pursuit. A new lay-up composition implemented in the hoop of the frame amplifies torsional stability and energy return into the subsequent shot, both coveted traits at faster swing speeds. Babolat wants to raise the “explosivity” of the frame, allowing users to be more disruptive even from defensive positions.
Indeed, there aren’t many racquets better equipped at busting open or turning the tables on a point. As a user of primarily more flexible, thinner, heavier frames with smaller head sizes, hitting with a Pure Drive is always a guilty pleasure. I simply don’t need to work as hard—or be as precise—to create the same amount of pace, depth and spin on my shots. At times, it felt like cheating.
For instance, changing the direction of the ball during a ground stroke exchange—even when combatting the unpredictable short hops of a clay court, the frame’s stability and forgiveness filled in the gaps on any mishits. And when pushed into a corner, a quick flick of the wrist was all it took to roll a deep, effective reply straight down the line. Or, I could pull the trigger and take a bigger swipe at the ball and know that, one or another, it was not coming back.
There were times when I wanted more plow through to impose during a rally. (I’m eager to try the beefier Tour version due out in a few months). But for its weight the racquet does a bang-up job turning around pace—be it a ripped serve or overhead smash—with nothing more than a block swing.
The open 16x19 string pattern produced a high launch angle and was ripe for putting tons of work on the ball. The Pure Aero may be Babolat’s spin franchise, but the Pure Drive is no slouch. Playing with an RPM/natural gut hybrid, I enjoyed peppering my opponents with lively inside-out forehands; slices, while perhaps lacking the skid and penetration of a heavier frame, stayed low enough to keep points at neutral.
Some of that spin was also needed to put the brakes on the frame’s power. It’s a racquet that begs to played with abandon—littering the stat sheet with winners and errors is part of the bargain. Flattening out shots, in particular, brought some control challenges; driving mid-court balls up the line were the most common offenders. Upping string tension could be a remedy, but something to be wary of with such a firm beam if, like me, you’ve had chronic elbow pain.
Still, as long as I applied enough safety spin and hit predominantly with arc instead of shooting arrows, it was largely dependable. Whether it was the enhanced feel or the heightened stability, I actually found better command with this Pure Drive. There were far fewer head-scratching fliers that have plagued previous experiences with the frame.
When serving, the quick acceleration and inherent power resulted in plenty of pace. Again, I think more mass towards the top of the frame would help generate even more speed and heavier deliveries. I sometimes found myself swinging too hard to make more of an impression on flat serves, which hurt consistency. However, spin serves were stellar, with tons of movement after the bounce. Starting the point with a heavy kicker above my opponent’s shoulders became my go-to serve.
At net the Pure Drive handled well and stood up capably to pace. It was in its element when I simply got the strings in front of ball and let the racquet do the rest. The ball wanted to jump off the strings and shoot deep in the court. The improved feel was a plus on volleys, but it’s never going to be magic wand in the touch department. Players that favor this type of racquet generally move forward to punctuate a point by nailing a floater or crunching an overhead.
All in all, the new Pure Drive doesn’t mess with success. The adjustments to the design have amplified its stability and enriched the comfort at contact, so players can take even bigger cuts at the ball for more explosive results. The lettering of the logo on the throat of the frame combines the designs of a sledgehammer with a lightning bolt to conjure the image of a powerful and sudden strike. It was true of the very first Pure Drive that upended the racquet world, and nothing has changed.