The return of Rafael Nadal to competitive tennis has been greeted with almost universal delight from everyone connected with tennis and rightly so. The Spaniard’s presence has been sorely missed, as discussed here earlier this week. But it is also interesting to gauge the effect his absence has had on his racket manufacturer, Babolat.
According to a recent DPA report by Sebastian Fest, Nadal has once more added some extra weight to his racket in an effort to get a bit more power, taking a bit of pressure off his knees. He has also chosen strings that offer him even more topspin, which offers him the comfort he needs to go for his shots.
Nadal and Babolat go hand in hand. As a family business, Babolat has grown from its original raison d’etre as a strings manufacturer into something of a global phenomenon, especially over the last 10 years with its move into rackets and shoes, with this year its first as the official shoe brand of the Wimbledon Championships.
Take a look around many clubs in the UK, in particular, and it will immediately become clear that Babolat has cornered the market in mid-range rackets, enhancing the power that an average club player is able to produce. At the same time, with the likes of Nadal and Li Na using its rackets, their presence at elite level is equally crucial.
In an interview, Eric Babolat, the chairman and CEO of Babolat, explained why Babolat likes dealing with Nadal so much. “Rafa is fantastic,” Babolat said. “He believes in us because he knows it will bring him something and his feedback on our products is fantastic.
“But it’s more than that. He’s a great champion, obviously, but we’re very close in terms of values. He considers us part of his family and family is very important for him. We’re really happy to see how Rafa is perceived because we have known him for a long time and he is such a nice person, off court. On court, he never gives up and the players know he will not give up a point. We’re very proud of him.
“Of course he gives us leverage but we have many players, not just Rafa, and he uses a Babolat racket, it’s not just his racket. He brings a lot of young players to the game. Performance is one thing but character is important to us. Rafa is exceptional because his parents already know high level of sport so they were not crazy about money. They know what it is about.”
Babolat said Nadal’s absence had not hurt the brand’s success (though he is thankful it was relatively short-lived) and pointed to the work the company had been able to do with Toni Nadal, Rafa’s uncle and coach, who accompanied them on a tour to South America to talk to players and coaches about how to get the best out of their games.
While Nadal has been away, Babolat has been stepping up the testing of its new “Play and Connect” a revolutionary piece of technology that puts a chip inside rackets and allows players and coaches to look at detailed statistics, specific to their game. “It has data so you can see what’s happening, how much top spin you hit, etc, and how to improve the game,” Babolat said. “You can share it with your friends, compare yourself to pro players.”
Nadal was among the players who tested out an early prototype at last year’s French Open and seemed to like what he’d seen. The company now has around 200 prototypes out for testing and all being well, they hope to have the racket out there by the end of the year.
The ability to analyse your data after matches is an obvious bonus for coaches and players and the Babolat stars who have tested it so far are very much in favour, though Li Na said she wanted to keep the knowledge to herself. “She said: ‘I like it, I want to know it but I don’t want to share it’,” Babolat laughed.