The Babolat Pure Drive is a bestseller in every sense of the word. Not only is it Babolat’s most popular racket and the company’s big earner, but it’s one of the most popular rackets in the entire industry year after year. It’s also a unique racket in the sense that it is not irrevocably tied to any single pro player, and yet still it maintains a reputation for playability and excellence in the public eye. For this year’s update to the frame, Babolat has focused on improvements in feel, comfort and control, while still retaining the Pure Drive’s legendary ease of use.
Head size: 100 inches2
String pattern: 16×19
Balance: 320 mm
Beam width: 22-23-25-23 mm
Length: 68.6 cm
The first thing one notices about the Pure Drive 2018 is the new aesthetics. The colors are brighter than ever before – a definite nod to the GT 2011 – with a bright light blue dominating throughout. There are also black and white finishes, and thanks to the satin feel the racket is a feast from both a visual perspective as well to the touch.
The silkscreen prints are black and white, with the Babolat logo and the model name elegantly appearing at the top of the racket head and the throat respectively. There are also some mini holograms in the reliefs of the string beam, making the racket shine attractively when the light hits it from certain angles.
The Cortex vibration dampening system is still present, but much subtler and less invasive than in the past. Called “Pure Feel” this time around, the Cortex technology is directly integrated into the entire frame chassis. The grommets and strings, on the other hand, make use of FSI technology which features a special, more open string pattern and diamond grommets for more power and a larger sweet spot.
The bumper guard has been completely redesigned and is much thinner than before. For this edition it is attached to the frame in a very streamlined and visually pleasing manner. The grip, a Syntec Pro, is the usual Babolat shape, slightly squarer than other brands, and is very much usable without an overgrip, which is always nice.
On the court, the first thing one notices is a feeling of solidity to each impact. The Pure Drive 2018, in fact, with the new Cortex technology, harks back to the days of the original Pure Drive models, which were very responsive and communicative frames.
Pure Drive offers players who don’t have flawless technique the ability to hit the ball hard and with a lot of topspin. You don’t need to be an elite club player or budding pro to get the most out of this racket, which is no doubt why it enjoys such widespread popularity. Despite its stated stiffness of 72 (or test racket was closer to 70), the Pure Drive has sufficient bend to give shots a powerful, controlled feel. The new, more open string pattern also allows for the easy generation of topspin which, when combined with the generous control and significant power, makes this racket a real force to be reckoned with.
Despite the racket’s extra spin generation capabilities, Babolat has cleverly created an identity gap between the Pure Aero and Pure Drive. The Pure Drive might be able to generate more spin than ever before, but the Aero remains Babolat’s premier spin generator.
The head of the Pure Drive is rigid but not very heavy, and the frame has a balanced feel that makes it easy to control as it moves through the air. It plays with a wonderful fluidity, and the extra control in the year’s model makes the racket even more accommodating that its predecessors. The ball also stays on the strings for a satisfyingly long time on impact, and the larger sweet spot gives each shot a great feel.
The larger sweet spot is also perfectly placed to accommodate different styles of play, and every type of club player will find the racket more than capable of handling whatever they throw at it.
In general, the Pure Drive has matured into an incredible all-rounder, readier than ever to embrace intermediate players. It has more powerful than its immediate predecessor, but also more control. The power generation feels more balanced as well, and even if you really let rip on a forehand you rarely feel as if you’ve done too much. The racket reacts to full swings better than in the past, allowing you to feel in control even when you are swinging out of your shoes.
Given that the Pure Drive is a racket that caters to various play styles, it doesn’t come as a surprise that it performs equally well whether you are trying to hit very flat or with a ton of topspin. While it excels at both, it does perform at its best when you are trying to hit with at least some spin. As already mentioned, it’s not the biggest spin generator on the planet, but it does do more than enough to help you find those corners when you are being aggressive.
Shots are generally heavier with this edition of the Pure Drive, which is partly due to the fact that you can load up on full swings more easily with this frame than the last. The racket translates that extra effort into extra spin and kick off the ground, and you’ll gradually find yourself hitting slightly harder with this racket than its older sibling.
As a tool for extended rallies, the Pure Drive is wonderful. It allows you to recover from outside of the court relatively easily, turning stretch recovery shots into deep balls with enough on them to keep your opponent at bay. Aggressive rallying is also a joy, due in part to the racket’s twistweight, which promotes more stability during the impact phase.
Special mention should also be made of the racket’s ability to return serve. Whether you are blocking returns back into play or taking a full swing at them, the Pure Drive has an uncanny ability to convert the serve’s energy into an effective return. It’s extremely versatile on the return, and allows for just about every style of shot to be executed effortlessly.
On the backhand slice, the Pure Drive arguably shines at its brightest. More so that just about any racket of its kind, the Pure Drive excels at executing slices of all sorts, and makes controlling their height and power a breeze. Normal backhands also perform well with the frame, and you can expect surprising power and consistency off this wing, a rather unusual feature for an intermediate weight racket.
At the net, the racket requires a bit of finesse. Volleys are smooth overall, but you will have to really control your shot to keep the ball low, as it has a tendency to sit up if you are too casual about it. Decisive volleys are more effective than touch volleys, which can be tricky with this frame. Smashes, on the other hand, are perfectly balanced, and you won’t feel the need to overhit the ball to ensure it stays out of your opponent’s reach.
As far as the serve is concerned, the flat serve is powerful and exhibits nice control as well. Slice serves are even better, and can easily be kept low and at extreme angles. Kick serves have quite a bit of punch to them, but while they are heavy and difficult to handle, the ball does not bounce as high as with some other rackets.
Overall, Babolat has further improved upon an already excellent racket in the Pure Drive. It will certainly remain as competitive as ever in its category, with even more control, power and spin than ever before. Most importantly, none of these improvements have come at the cost of ease of use, which is still excellent. Almost anybody can pick up this racket and feel very comfortable with it in almost no time at all, which is no small accomplishment.
Flat shots 7.5
Net game 7
Value for money 8
Total 102.5 / 130
Test settings used:
Babolat RPM Blast 1.25 22/22 - 21/21 - 23/23
Babolat RPM Rough 1.25 21 / 21- 22/22
Babolat EXCel Premium 1.30 24/24 - 23/23
Hybrid RPM Blast 1.25 / Budello VS 1.30 23/24 -22/23
Hybrid RPM Rough / Ecel 22/22 - 23/23
More information on the technologies used in the Pure Drive 2018 can be found at Babolat.com