Recently, I asked a racquet Jedi what average players get wrong when demoing a frame. He pointed out that they lose sight that a majority of points—whether club doubles or the second week of the Australian Open—end within four strokes. However, they aren’t paying close enough attention to the racquet’s effectiveness during the first few shots of a point. If you’re the type of player who likes to mug opponents with aggressive serve/return +1 tactics, the new Babolat Pure Drive Tour would make a perfect accomplice.
Whenever I test a Pure Drive Tour it’s typically a yin and yang experience. On the one hand, the ready power and spin potential produce effective shots off of strokes and from positions that I have no business doing so. As much as any frame, it has the capacity to sizzle a winner from a defensive posture with one quick swipe; the explosivity that is imbued in the line.
However, the universe demands balance. The cost for this ability is a greater penchant to commit errors. The racquet has such horsepower that when you get it on the track it dares you to step on the pedal to see what it can do. One of the dangers is asking it to do more than you would of any other racquet. Then again, that’s part of the allure.
Yet, what impressed this time around wasn’t the frame’s affinity for theatrics, but its heightened proficiency to do the mundane. Perhaps it was the enhanced torsional stability—the throat feels like a sledgehammer couldn’t crack it—but the control of the Tour seemed a bit more dependable than the previous generation. Most notably, I felt like I could stay in rallies longer with less fear of making a premature or head-scratching error. I still favored offensive measures, but I wasn’t in quite the same rush to pull the trigger.
The expansion of the SMAC dampening material further up into the shaft of frame has also given it a more muted, comfortable feel. It had a crisp, clean response at contact—and not too jarring off-center—although the high stiffness still should give pause to players with tender wrists and elbows.
While enjoying its baseline prowess, I still made a few concessions to the frame’s power and unpredictability. Targets were a bit bigger and topspin more exaggerated on ground strokes in order to maintain steadiness. If I hit an extended patch of sloppiness I leaned on staple shots and high rollers to regain some trust.
For instance, I had a particular problem finding the range with the down the line backhand. I typically flatten out that stroke somewhat and couldn’t come to regular terms with depth and direction. The outcome was more favorable when I adopted a shortened, blocked swing, but the shots lacked enough starch to warrant the change of direction. As a result, I resorted to hitting predominantly crosscourt unless the opportunity was too inviting. There is a better long-term solution for this issue and thy name is repetition. Several rounds with the ball machine would undoubtedly help develop a down the line groove.
Serving with a Pure Drive is often an emboldening experience, and it was no different with the new Tour. Pace? Duh. Spin? Loads. Direction? Clearly 3rd place, but it still good enough to make the podium. And as long as I didn’t try to break the back fence—a temptation I succumbed to on several occasions—I could combine all three fairly consistently.
Returning serve was nearly as effective. The additional weight from the standard version stood tallest in this category. It was so sturdy and stable against pace; just get the racquet face in front of the ball and redirection was on autopilot. As with any low hanging mid-court fruit with the frame, weak second serves were ripe to be punished. The only issue was when I caught a fastball late. Where most frames struggle to get those returns deep, with the Tour that ball often sailed. But that was a minor quibble for what was otherwise a definite strength.
Volleying was a microcosm of returning—it was so adept at punching the ball deep or through the court with minimal effort that at times it almost felt like cheating. Caught in a quick reflex volley exchange—handling was reasonably nimble—and all it took was getting the strings on the ball to send it back. There was a danger of getting lazy feet and reach for the ball because the racquet provided so much help.
The only real drawback at net—somewhat expected from this type of frame—was a lack of touch. Draining pace from a pass to feather a drop volley or finessing a half-volley just over the net was guesswork. The ball jumped off the string bed so quickly and the flex so limited it was difficult to control the distance. I found that if I wanted to employ changes in pace and variety it was easier to roll an angle or use spins on full swings.
All in all, this update to the Pure Drive Tour proved to be a worthwhile evolution of the racquet. It softened a few of the edges—heightened feel and control—without abandoning its core formula. At risk of belaboring the driving metaphors—it is in its name after all—the handling has improved, but it’s more in its element at high speeds rather than cornering around tight turns. Nonetheless, for advanced aggressive baseliners who want a firm, beefy frame to provide assistance in grabbing immediate control of points the force is strong with this one.