One of the hottest up and coming players on the ATP tour is Rafael Nadal of Spain. His athleticism, combined with amazing shot-making and shouts of "Vamos!", make him an exciting player to watch. Nadal began using the Babolat AeroPro Drive in 2004, and his ATP ranking has steadily climbed to a career high of 18 (2/1/05).Using his new AeroPro Drive, Nadal helped capture the Davis Cup for Spain in 2004 with an impressive win over fellow Babolat player, Andy Roddick, in the final. Is it the racquet...?
The AeroPro Drive is a hybrid racquet of sorts, combining Babolat's Woofer technology, which revolutionized the interactivity between the strings and the frame, and AeroModular technology, which focuses on applying laws of aerodynamics to the shape and contours of the racquet frame. The AeroPro line of racquets feature specific profiling of the frame at strategic points:
According to Babolat, "The unique shape of the AeroPro allows players to hit harder and gain more power with less effort." We tested the AeroPro Drive and AeroPro Drive Plus for 2 weeks on hard courts, and had these impressions.
The AeroPro Drive is similar to the Pure Drive from the baseline, in terms of heft and power. Both racquets weigh in at 11+ ounces and are balanced about 1/2 inch head-light. However, our playtesters did notice some differences. Chris enjoyed hitting groundies, observing, "I really liked this racquet from the baseline. There was plenty of pace to be had and good access to spin. I was able to unleash some big forehands with very little effort. The stringbed seemed to grip the ball well, and I could get my forehand to hop up with plenty of topspin. I was also able to hit some nice forehand and backhand topspin angles. The racquet also felt fast and maneuverable when taking the ball early, helping me to either whip passing shots cross court or to get good spin on approach shots. I felt like I could control the tip of the racquet better with this one than I could with the AeroPro Drive Plus, and therefore preferred it off the ground. Compared to the Pure Drive, I found slightly more power, without any loss of control. Like the Pure Drive, the AeroPro Drive felt crisp and responsive and I felt like I could gauge the depth of my shots well."
Don offers, "I liked the combination of power, control, comfort and maneuverability that the AeroPro drive provided. I found adequate power when taking smooth swings, along with excellent spin control. When given the opportunity, I could take a big swing without sacrificing much control. I was able to hit some pretty 'sticky' slice backhands too, that really bit the court. In fact, I felt very confident hitting just about any shot from the baseline with the AeroPro Drive. The racquet also had a very solid feel, and was more comfortable than the previous Aero Tour line."
Josh adds, "The AeroPro Drive was easy to hit with from every part of the court. I was really comfortable hitting deeper groundies with the spin potential of the racquet, and my backhand slice was more effective than usual. I have a tendency to get impatient from the baseline, but with the AeroPro Drive I had more confidence in my ability to grind out the longer points."
The AeroPro Drive was a natural at net. Chris found some good pop and stability. "I was able to make some nice pick-up volleys and the racquet felt very easy to get around. I volleyed well with this one, especially when punching away a high ball, but I would have liked a little more feel when going for drop and angle volleys."
Josh liked the AeroPro Drive's mobility. "The standard length AeroPro Drive felt good in my hands at net. The racquet was easy to maneuver and didn't feel cumbersome when I needed to react quickly to a passing shot. It was also easy to pick up volleys at chest level or retreat and hit overheads. The AeroPro Drive, in my opinion, offers better touch and feel than the Pure Drive Team."
Don also found the AeroPro Drive to his liking at net. "I volleyed well with this racquet, and generally found it easy to use at the net. Whether hitting routine volleys during warmup or digging out shoelace returns when serving and volleying, the AeroPro Drive worked well for me. It has a firm, yet comfortable feel. Touch and angle volleys were easy to execute, and seemed more controlled than the Pure Drive."
Our playtest team found adequate power and lots of spin potential when serving with the AeroPro Drive. Josh offered, "my serves were really consistent with the AeroPro Drive. Even when I missed my first serve, I wasn't missing by much. The pace on my serve did drop a bit in comparison to the Plus, but that was expected. The racquet did offer the same control and spin potential, and players who normally don't generate much service power will get enough from the AeroPro Drive. Doubles specialists should enjoy hitting slice serves wide to the deuce court with this racquet. I was able to hit the slice serve without sacrificing as much power as I had expected."
Don also had success serving with the AeroPro Drive. "This was a good serving racquet for me. Although I have hit harder serves with other racquets, I was able to hit consistently hard serves with the AeroPro Drive, and I could place the ball easily, too. Slice serves were a dream! I could slice out wide on the deuce court or into the body with lots of action. Similarly, second serves were easy to generate slice and/or topspin, resulting in a very 'active' ball to my opponent."
Like Don, Chris found good action on his spin serves with the AeroPro Drive. "As with my groundstrokes, I found lots of pace and spin on serves. I was able to serve with consistency and pace going flat down the T. The ease of which I could generate spin with this racquet also made it easy to slide a serve into the returning player's body or hit out wide to the deuce court. I also tended to throw in more kick serves on first serves with this racquet. I liked the action I was getting on the ball and felt confident throwing in a kick serve or going for a faster, flat serve."
The AeroPro Drive's mobility and power level provided our team with plenty of options on the return. Returning aggressively with the AeroPro Drive was Chris. "Again, the maneuverable feel allowed me to take the ball early and stay aggressive. I found a controllable amount of power that helped me hit deep and controlled returns. I also found enough spin to be able to dip the return to a serve and volleyer's feet or to mix things up with an angle."
Finding good mobility on the return was Josh. "As with groundstrokes, the AeroPro Drive felt like an easy racquet to return with because of its quickness. The only noticeable drawback with the racquet was against low, fast first serves. I lost a lot of depth against these serves if I shortened my swing or didn't follow through completely."
Don found plenty of control on aggressive second serve returns. "I was most comfortable on returns if I took a measured swing. Fortunately, the racquet is mobile enough to allow this. If I tried blocking back returns, my balls often landed short. Against second serves, I could take an aggressive swing and control the ball with spin. Here again, slice backhand returns proved very effective."
The AeroPro Drive offers some solid performance from all areas of the court. We found this one especially well suited to fast swinging, aggressive baseline play - leaving no doubt why Rafael Nadal has chosen the AeroPro Drive as his racquet of choice. Players like Nadal, who like to rip the ball with heavy spin, will find the AeroPro Drive a willing partner. What really surprised us was the mobility and punch we found at net. Combine solid volleying potential with the ability to hit fast and/or heavy spin serves, and this one also makes an attractive choice for the serve and volley player. So if you're looking for a player's stick that offers a little extra zip, you should take this one out for a playtest.
Although the AeroPro Drive Plus is only 1/2 inch longer than its standard-length sibling, our playtest team noticed some distinct differences during their on court playtesting.
Finding some added power to his baseline game was Chris. "There's the potential to hit with even more power when using this longer version of the AeroPro Drive. There was a noticeable increase in swingweight off the ground and I found some nice pop when I had time to set up and take a good cut at the ball. At first I was struggling to find the range on my approach shots, with a tendency to over-hit. After a few hitting sessions I adjusted to the power and was able to approach in a more aggressive manner. I was able to hit a heavier slice backhand with the AeroPro Drive Plus and had greater success hitting both a driving slice as well as a punch, slice approach shot. As with the standard length AeroPro Drive, I was able to generate lots of topspin, but I couldn't whip the racquet head through the contact zone quite as quickly."
Don was able to find good depth and penetration with his groundstrokes using the AeroPro Drive Plus. "I generally prefer 27-1/2" racquets, and looked forward to playtesting the AeroPro Drive Plus. From the baseline, the racquet had good heft and generated good pace with a medium-fast swing. Hitting with the racquet immediately after the standard version, it almost felt heavy. However, after a few minutes, I adjusted to the added length and swingweight and enjoyed hitting deep, penetrating shots. The racquet hit through the ball nicely, and my slice backhand had even more 'stick'. I found that when I had time to prepare, things went well. When I was pressed or was late, the racquet became a little cumbersome for me. I couldn't 'flick' it, like the standard length AeroPro Drive. In these situations, I found blocking the ball back more effective, and sometimes surprisingly so."
Josh found more control with the AeroPro Drive Plus than offered by the Pure Drive Plus when hitting groundstrokes. "The AeroPro Drive Plus was much easier to hit groundies with than the Pure Drive Plus. I was able to hit deep in a controlled manner and rarely found balls sailing long. My backhand felt just as controlled as the forehand, and I was able to hit winners cross court and down the line consistently. The few times I hit flat strokes, the ball maintained good pace, control and depth. The racquet felt great when hitting slices. I was pleased with the response I got from the racquet when I needed to drop a slice shot cross court or dig down and slice a backhand return to stay in a point."
Despite its added length and swingweight, the AeroPro Drive was fairly nimble at net, and found favor with our playtesters.
Josh found a solid and crisp response from the AeroPro Drive Plus at net. "The racquet felt really crisp at net and was easy to maneuver. The extended length wasn't a hindrance, and the AeroPro Drive Plus is heavy enough to handle any off-center shot. I was pleased with the amount of control and touch the racquet offered as well."
Chris agreed, but would have liked a little more feel on touch volleys. "At net, the AeroPro Drive Plus offered some nice pop and a solid, crisp response. I really enjoyed punching volleys with this racquet, finding good placement and depth. I would have liked a little more softness for touch and angle volleys, but I enjoyed the racquet's maneuverability and consistent power."
Don offered, "I was pleasantly surprised with how the AeroPro Drive Plus handled at net. It was easy to maneuver, yet delivered a solid, stable response. I could hit deep, penetrating volleys with ease, and the racquet didn't get pushed around against hard-hit shots. Pretty good touch and feel, considering the racquet's flex and extended length."
With some added leverage on serves, the AeroPro Drive Plus took the spin and power potential of the standard length version and kicked it up a notch.
Chris said, "my favorite shot with this racquet was the serve. I was finding lots of pace on my first serve and actually had to reign in the power a little to up my consistency. I also felt like I was getting a little more snap on my kick serve with this racquet compared to the standard length version. I really found this racquet well suited to a one-two combo of a big serve, followed by a put-a-way mid-court ball. I had a lot of fun playing with the added power and spin, and I was able to mix serves up to keep the returning player honest." Comparing the AeroPro Drive Plus to the Pure Drive Plus on serve was Josh. "The AeroPro Drive Plus didn't pack quite the same punch as the Pure Drive Plus on serve, but the control and spin potential gave me plenty of options on first and second serves. I felt the ball had more movement on second serves compared to the Pure Drive Plus, and a little more pace. The speed on first serves seemed more comparable to the Head Liquidmetal 4, but the AeroPro Drive Plus was much easier on the shoulder and elbow."
Don also found a little more action on his serve with the AeroPro Drive Plus. "I found myself hitting bigger first serves with the AeroPro Drive Plus; even a heavier serve. The racquet just seemed to hit through the ball more. On slice and kick serves, the ball had even more action than with the standard length AeroPro Drive. I could let the racquet do more of the work, and not have to wrench my shoulder out."
As from other areas of the court, our team enjoyed hitting with the AeroPro Drive Plus when it came to the return.
Noticing some added heft and stability on his block return was Don. "The added heft of the AeroPro Drive Plus allowed me to block back fast serves more effectively than with the AeroPro Drive. On second serve returns, I could take a measured swing and hit a fairly offensive return. In fact, I found my shots sailing a bit if I swung too hard."
Chris also found good weight on his block returns with the AeroPro Drive Plus. "Although the AeroPro Drive Plus is not quite as maneuverable as its standard length brother, I was still able to hit my returns aggressively. I couldn't control the tip of the racquet quite as well, making it more challenging to find a sharp angle on the return. However, I found plenty of power and a nice solid response. While I preferred the 27 inch version when ripping my returns, I found more weight and depth on my block returns with the AeroPro Drive Plus."
Josh really liked the balance of power and control he found returning with the AeroPro Drive Plus. "The racquet's design seemed to create a more whip-like feel on returns. With the faster swing speed, I was able to attack first serves more often than block them. Where the Pure Drive Plus has a little too much power against first serves, the AeroPro Drive Plus felt just right."
With some added length and a heavier swingweight, the AeroPro Drive Plus offers plenty of stability from all areas of the court. We also found that you don't have to be a big server to up your service winners with this racquet. Offering good access to spin and pace, the AeroPro Drive Plus leaves the server with a lot of options on every delivery. Off the ground, the AeroPro Drive Plus really benefits the player with a fast swing style who can utilize the racquet's spin and power potential. Our team also found good weight of shot when given time to set up and exploit this racquet's extra leverage.
|Chris||5.0 baseline player currently using a Yonex RDX 500 Midsize. Chris uses a full-western forehand grip, has a fast swing style and hits a one-handed backhand.|
|Josh||4.0 all court player currently using a Wilson ProStaff Original 85. Josh has a long, loopy swingstyle, hits with a one-handed backhand and a semi-western forehand.|
|Don||4.5 All court player currently using a Volkl Tour 9 V-Engine (16x19). Don is an aggressive player with a medium to fast swing style, using a semi-western forehand grip and a one-handed backhand.|
Review date: February 2005. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
All content copyright 2005 Tennis Warehouse.