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Family matters with Babolat

  • Location: Paris, France

“The relationship between the Babolat team and the players is all season long, so the discussion is always on and the confidence the players have in our technicians and our products is very important.”

Eric Babolat was speaking at a Babolat press conference in Paris ahead of the French Open in May, flanked on either side by Rafael Nadal, Garbiñe Muguruza, Jack Sock and Dominic Thiem. It was a chance for the media to ask probing questions around Babolat’s relationships with its contracted players and of their equipment. The big draw was Rafa, of course, who emphasised Eric’s statement in his usual humble and retiring manner.

“I have been with Babolat since I was probably 12 or 13 years old and since then we have always worked together to find the best racket and strings possible for my game. It has always been teamwork with a great group of people. Eric and Jean-Christophe always have a great relationship with all the players. He [Jean-Christophe] was very close to me all the time, so it was great to always work in that way.”

It’s a relationship that’s unsurprising to those on the receiving end of the company’s hospitality and foresight; of the hundreds of current players on the professional tour that use Babolat products, an extraordinary number were gifted their rackets as unknown juniors, which planted a fast-growing but long-lasting seed.

One of those unknown juniors was Rafael Nadal, who is one among many successful Babolat alumni, including Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters. Commercial motives accepted, enduring relationships like these can only be nurtured by, as Eric calls it, a “human-sized business”. It’s why they’ve been able to retain as senior tour players the majority of those former juniors from their early teens who refined their game with a Babolat racket.

Astonishingly, you won’t find one of those former juniors over the age of 35, despite Babolat’s 147 years in the game. The reason? Babolat only introduced its first tennis racquet to the game 23 years ago. Previous to 1994, Babolat was solely a string manufacturer, and had been since 1875.

We represent the tennis of today and invent the tennis of tomorrow.

Eric Babolat - Babolat Chairman

With Babolat at his side from his very early teens, the shy, almost socially awkward Rafael Nadal Parera went quickly from El Nino to the King of Clay. Rafa is Babolat, Babolat is Rafa; and it’s arguable that their shared success can be attributed to one another. There’s an old maxim: if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. Babolat gave Rafa that in the form of the Aeropro (now Pure Aero) and 14 Grand Slam titles later it can be used to measure the man and the company.

Babolat have been with you throughout your career, and now you’re giving back to the sport in a big way with your academy. How have they supported you with this?

I have been with Babolat since I was probably 12 or 13 years old and since then we have always worked together to find the best racket and strings possible for my game. I remember I started playing for the first time with the Soft Drive, then I turned to the Pure Drive and then finally they developed the Aeropro, so it was a big change for me and a big help. It has always been teamwork with a great group of people. Eric [Babolat] and Jean-Christophe [Verborg] always have a great relationship with all the players. He [Jean-Christophe] was very close to me all the time, so it was great to always work in that way. And now with the academy it’s important to do something that is my passion. I love the sport in general, we have a lot of kids spending time in my academy and it’s great that Babolat helps with that.

What changes have you made to your racket over the years?

We made some adjustments through the years to look for a little more power, to create more power with less effort, so we increased the weight a little bit on top of the racket a couple of times in my career. And we’re always looking for new things in terms of the strings, but we always come back to the same [laughs]. I remember playing with the yellow Duralast string in the beginning and it was a good string, but then finally we found one [Babolat RPM Blast] that in my opinion has much more feeling.

How much time do you need to feel comfortable with your racket when you test it?

I think it’s a very personal thing. Sometimes you try one thing and it helps in the beginning, and then you keep practising and say okay, it’s helping me in that way but I’m losing something in another way, so you have to analyse to see what’s going on. But, for example, with me and the string, the first day that I tried them I said okay, I have the right feeling with that, and when the days went on I never felt I was losing anything.

When you have tried new rackets, what did you take from the experience of switching?

I tried a new racket, not string, with wider, bigger holes [in the stringbed] for more power, but I lost some control. It was in 2015, and I lost control with this one, with that one, with every one, I was not playing good [laughs]. When you are playing well, all the changes are easier to make work, but when you are playing bad it’s true that it’s good to find a solution to clear your mind, but it’s tough because you want to be safe and you want to play with things you really know. When you are playing well you are calmer about trying new things and sometimes it works well. The real problem with making big changes in tennis is that there is not a lot of time, and if you know you have four months or six months to practice with one new thing you feel comfortable you’re going to adapt yourself. Normally, though, you have one month or even one week maximum, so you start with something new and after three weeks you’re not sure or 100 percent so you revert back. It’s tough.

Can you describe your relationship with your racket?

I’ve played since 2004 with the same racket, so just knowing how comfortable I feel with the racket they made for me, I feel very happy with it. The great thing for me is if there’s any issue with it and I want to make changes or add anything to the racket, I have the people [at Babolat] to do it. I have a good relationship with all the team, especially Jean-Christophe, he’s always very close to me and he’s always there when something is going on and we have an idea to do something with the racket or strings, and for me that’s the most important thing. At the end of the day, I am happy with my racket but everything becomes a personal relationship with the people that you work with, so if you have good relationships with the team then everything is much easier.

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