While Babolat is the only racket with built in technology there are two other gadgets on the market that monitor various aspects of your game too.
This is a real ground breaking step in the world of tennis, to the point where the ITF (the governing body of the game of tennis) has now changed its rules to allow computerised rackets be used in competitions. One point to note is, while you are allowed use the racket in competitions, you are not allowed access the data during matches.
In this article I will go through the pros and cons of each of the items.
The competitors are from Sony in association with Yonex, called the Smart Tennis Sensor, and a product called Zepp Tennis.
While Zepp tennis is available worldwide the Sony model is currently only available in Japan. Both models were also released this month.
I suppose the first notable difference between Babolat's racket and it's two competitors is the location of the technology and how this affects the racket.
Babolat's technology is built into the handle and this has being allowed for in the construction of the racket so that the balance and playability of the racket are not affected.
Where as the Smart Tennis Sensor and the Zepp Sensor need to be added to the racket externally. The problem that arises here is the balance of the racket has now being changed.
Both sensors attach, in different ways, to the butt cap of the racket. So while the racket has being made to balance at a certain point to enhance how the racket performs, these attachments now change this. This is something that a player can get used in time but it doesn't change the fact that the make up of the racket has being altered. If you're a coach who plans to use this on different clients I would imagine their hitting patterns aren't going to be too accurate initially. The Smart sensor weighs 8 grams while the Zepp sensor weighs 6 grams. These weights don't sound like much but when you consider it only takes a gram or two to change the balance point of a racket from head light to head heavy you'll understand how it can affect your swing.
Before I go on it will become obvious, if it hasn't already, that I believe the Babolat Play is the better option but there are plenty of positives about the other two options which I will be highlighting as we move through the article.
The Smart Sensor from Sony.
This sensor was launched earlier this year at one of the world sports shows and attracted a lot of attention.
The positive is definitely the feedback from this racket, it is very impressive. Covering areas like swing speed, ball impact position and type of stroke played to name just a few but its' most impressive feature has to be the live feedback.
Like I said earlier, this feature can't be used during matches, but as a coaching tool to be able to point out what speed you are swinging the racket at or where your point of contact is just after it happens will make it easier to be able to correct aspects of your game.
The negatives are, and the first is only a short term negative, it is only available on 6 Yonex frames at the minute and only in Japan. Knowing the global giant that is Sony this will be rectified very quickly so expect to see this rolled out across a much larger range in the not too distant future.
The next negative is how the sensor attaches. You will need to change\alter the butt cap on your racket so that this sensor can click in. The problem with this is the cost of a new grip, petty I know and also the putting on of a new butt cap. This sounds simple but if done wrong it can provide an uncomfortable grip or one that moves in your hand.
The bigger negative for me, and I mentioned it earlier, is how the balance is affected. Rackets are made with such precision that any alteration to the frame needs to be balanced to ensure optimum performance. You may have heard of players adding lead tape to the racket. This is always done in a way that you counter balance the weight, ie. if you put weight at 3 o clock on the frame you also put it at 9 o clock on the frame.
With this in mind to balance the sensor, in theory, because you are adding weight to the butt of the racket you should also add weight to the head of the racket. Sounds logical but now you have added 16 grams, 8 grams (sensor weight) to the butt, and balanced with 8 grams to the head. Not many people can take the addition of that much weight. To allow for this you could buy a lighter racket but now you're buying a frame that is made to perform differently to the weight category you have moved it into. Frames are made with varying degrees of stiffness, therefore giving the racket a different feel. Heavier rackets would generally be stiffer and have a more comfortable feel. I know this is sounding very negative and that you shouldn't buy these sensors but all I am looking to do is to point out that feedback, while excellent, will be affected if the dynamics of your racket is changed.
The Zepp Tennis Sensor.
This sensor has a lot of positives to offer.
The first is the feedback available through an app on your phone, ipad or computer. The good thing about an App is they can be constantly updated and this is the case with the Zepp app. Already they have added the ball impact location feature and no doubt you can expect more additions in the future.
Another positive is the flexibility of the sensor, it can be used on any racket by pulling the soft rubber housing over the butt of the racket.
The price, if you don't have €400 to spend on the Babolat Play, is €150.
The negative is the same as the Smart Tennis Sensor, the balance of the racket is affected, therefore playability is affected.
The Babolat Play Racket.
I'll start with the negatives as I believe there is only one. This is The Babolat Play is currently only available in one racket, the Pure Drive, this however is due to be increased to three in January 2015 and more again in 2016. The problem with it being in only one racket, although Babolat's best selling racket, is the weight of the racket eliminates most juniors and some ladies.
Some may say the price is a negative but for me when you look at what people pay for their Garmins or Polars it's all relative.
The positives far out weigh the negatives though.
Where to start, firstly like I said previously, the sensors are integrated into the handle so there is no extra weight and the balance of the racket is not affected. You all know how I feel about that at this stage, so no need to elaborate.
Like Babolat's rise to the top of the tennis world by producing top of the range rackets through years of testing. The sensor has being ten years in the making. All aspects of the feedback given have being tried and tested by people all over the world. Two years ago Babolat took the first steps to introducing the sensor when they changed some of their range to two piece rackets. This was to allow for the sensor being placed in the handle. Once they were satisfied this worked and all the teething problems were solved they have now rolled out the racket itself.
The features available on the App are the next big selling point. The initial feedback covers type of shot played, type of spin used, percentage of forehand versus backhand, hitting areas on the string bed and power. I have no doubt there will be more added over time as players make requests.
Another very good feature is the coach option, this allows your coach to access your session from anywhere in the world, once you have uploaded it. They can then feedback to you what areas need improving even when they are not with you.
For the competitive players amongst us the next feature could be addictive, being part of a community. With this feature you can accept and issue challenges, you can see where you rank worldwide, based on your Pulse (this is your average score based on three different aspects of the app). You can even compare yourself to Nadal, Tsonga or Li Na, they have all used the racket and are all members of the community.
There is a lot more to the Babolat Play which you can check out here, as I have only touched the surface of it.
I have tried this racket and as you can see am a big fan of it, so I hope you find the article helpful and if you would like to see it in the flesh or buy it you can do so at Maher Sports. The racket is only available in three specialist stores in Ireland and selected stores worldwide. It's definitely worth a look!