Babolat Play: Review of the connected tennis racket
Alex Sharp takes a look at the Babolat Play racket and how it can help improve your game
The world of sport is increasingly being advanced by technology – and tennis is far from being left behind.
The modern game is highly powerful, extremely competitive and matches at the top level are won by the finest of margins.
However, now whether you’re a beginner, serious club player or even a pro, the technology at your disposal is ready to enhance your game.
The Babolat Play (already available in four popular Babolat models) looks like your regular racket on the outside, but sensors integrated into the handle record your data.
Impressively, the Play incorporates the ‘on’ button and a USB port inside the butt cap of the handle without changing the performance of the racket.
From one click of a button – your racket records your shots, via Bluetooth, and then enables you to analyse the data to your heart’s content on an app on your phone or tablet.
True, at £250 a pop it is expensive but if you play regularly or are a performance player, it could be quite a canny investment.
As a keen tennis enthusiast and just a club level player, I was keen to try out the Play. I got on court for a session with the Babolat Play AeroPro Drive racket, which is used by 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.
In fact, 15 professionals are using the Play technology at Roland Garros, including Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and Caroline Garcia.
Once you’re set up, the first thing you notice is the ease of use. The app is well laid out and the connectivity is quick.
Having hit for 10-15 minutes we stopped play (a recorded segment can be halted by just pressing the power button) and I assessed my practice with a Babolat representative.
So what does the Play analyse? Firstly you see statistics on rallies, duration of play and you can quantify shot breakdown. Furthermore, once you see the number of groundstrokes, serves and smashes, you can also assess the power and spin implemented on the ball, whilst seeing you impact location on the racket.
The detail is thorough and provides immediate analysis of your session. The app presents the bundles of data well and the display is instant. This is all exciting to see but you might be asking, how can this improve my game?
The Play app enables you to tailor the data to work on areas that you feel need the most practice on. For example during my first session I hit 72 forehands of which only 30 had registered decent top spin on them, with a spin effect of 2 out of 5. I also only hit my forehand with a 47 per cent racket speed (compared with top level hitters). That’s poor (I’m embarrassed to say) and I instantly had a goal to work on back on court.
So in terms of a technical development – I instantly had a new goal, a new motivation in my game.
If you play competitively obviously the data can be used for tactical implementation, where you can adjust your training to suit your goals. So take another of my stints on court, I was hitting a majority of backhands with a safe slice – which won’t challenge decent players.
I decided to see if I could attack more, add more variety to my game and the results came back positive with 66 per cent top spin or flat on the backhand side.
These hits were very quick but the results are instant. You see your goals and progress through the graphical and tabulated analysis on the app.
The Play allows you to analyse your evolution as a player, regardless of the level, as my quick sessions on court highlighted – issues, shots to work on and tactics can be highlighted within minutes.
If the data crunching is all too much of you, via the app enter the Babolat Play Community to challenge mates and even improve your world ranking!
On the other hand, if you’re a Tour player and your coach can’t travel, you’re at your home club practising, the Play can compliment your work with a coach. A player can use the app to quantify whether they are achieving the aims set out by their team, anywhere in the world and all through Bluetooth.
Again it is a heavy investment. £250 would get you two top of the range pro rackets and reliability on Bluetooth signal must be an issue but the slick conclusions derived by the Play do convince you when you wield one on court.
Accuracy might also be an issue at a higher level, for example assessing the true level of spin, but if the ‘King of Clay’ Nadal opts for the Play it’s hard to argue with that.
The Play provides tennis enthusiasts of any level the opportunity to improve their game. It highlights which areas of your game to work on, encourages technical and tactical development, whilst nudging you to compete more.
If you have the time and dedication, Babolat Play could well be your answer.