PARIS – Babolatâ€™s four marquee global ambassadors of the brand â€“ Rafael Nadal, Li Na, Kim Clijsters and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were on hand at Roland Garros on Thursday as Babolat a company which has specialized in tennis since it began in 1875 presented itâ€™s new racquet â€“ â€œPlay and Connect.â€ Media were invited to Roland Garros on Thursday in the middle of of the French Open Qualifying tournament. Babolatâ€™s President and CEO, Eric Babolat is all about innovation, observation, dedication and improvement as the necessary qualities to move the brand forward. The â€œPlay and Connectâ€ is the first interactive racket that can collect and analyze data. Babolat expects the product to change the habits of most regular or professional players.
For the first time players will be able to know and analyze their performance during a match or training session or throughout the entire year. Players will have substantial information on shots, speed or power. It will provide data that will lead to the improvement of players’ game,s with the help of their coaches. Finally players will be able to share information with friends, and other players on a dedicated social network.
The four ambassadors, along with Nadalâ€™s coach Uncle Toni Nadal and some amateur players held a demonstration of the new racquet technology on Court Suzane Lenglen in the middle of the afternoon. Media were provided a computer tablet where each shot hit by one of the players was analyzed in terms of speed, stroke type, spin and ball impact in perfect synchronization.
The on-court atmosphere was friendly and Clijsters didnâ€™t complain when the emcee asked her if she could hit some more slices to Li Na, and change from her forehand to her backhand. Both players were hitting pretty gently and you could see on the tablet the shot power going up and down according the shot played.
When Nadal and Tsongaâ€™s turn came up, the good mood continued with the emcee asking Nadal to hit flat, â€œpor favorâ€â€¦ of course that first flat backhand ended into the net and first glance of frustration with it. The difference in power was significant, especially when they tested the serve. Everyone can see it, but now there is also data that can be analyzed. Coaches and professional instructors will have a brand new way to see the improvements. And as Uncle Toni nodded when he saw the results â€œwe have some work to do on the serve, Rafa.â€ Of course Uncle Toni made himself available for the test with a young junior on the other side of the net. Right from the beginning Rafael Nadal simply refused to comment on his uncleâ€™s performance, no way he would coach him even for fun. But from the tablet one could check that the young boyâ€™s shots going wide were not properly centered.
Babolat has always been very close to the players that represent their brand, and they are part of all the improvements which have been made. This new racquet will continue with the trend. Next September 100 prototypes will be tested among various players in clubs and among professionals. Earlier this year, Rafael Nadal and his uncle had the chance to test it for the very first time. But itâ€™s still a long way to go until you find them in a store. If everything goes as planned, Babolat expects to launch it in 2013.
MJ Marugan is in Paris for Tennis Panorama.