To perform at their highest level, champions need a racquet set to very precise specifications – down to the nearest millimeter and gram. Babolat has a long-standing service dedicated to racquet preparation that allows its champions to have “customized” equipment to meet their specific needs.
“Like a Formula 1 driver whose team of technicians awaits the analysis after a test lap to improve performance, our service must meet the expectations of our players who want high-performing, matching racquets during the season.” That’s how Sylvain Triquigneaux, head of the Babolat Performance Lab, summarizes the work of his team that prepares between 40 and 60 racquets each year for each Team Babolat player – more than 3,000 racquets per year.
“In fact, there are two very distinct parts of our work, one that consists of delivering racquets year round according to specificities provided by the player, and the other which involves advising the player on certain equipment parameters such as strings, balance, maneuverability and swingweight to help make improvements to his or her game.”
The first mission can be carried out in a rather short period of time, between 20 to 90 minutes per frame; understandably, the second can take a little longer. “When we have the frame specifications, each preparer is accustomed to achieving the mission. Take Rafael Nadal for example. We now know the exact parameters he requires, so we can send him a batch of eight identical racquets each time, ready for competition. On the other hand, when it is a question of a new solution like different strings or tweaking one or more of the parameters that influence frame performance, our mission is not exactly the same,” explains Triquigneaux.
But let’s go back to the first mission of preparation. For Sylvain’s team of two preparers, this is the heart of their work. “Preparing a racquet takes expertise to find the right compromise in setting several interdependent parameters that affect the racquet performance (weight, balance and swingweight) and therefore the player’s performance”.
Due to manufacturing tolerances, racquets can come out of production with slight differences in specifications. The role of the preparer is both to compensate for these differences and, more importantly, to personalize these specifications for the player in terms of the power, precision and handling.
To the nearest gram
Racquet customization is accomplished by adding weight. To do that, strips of adhesive weights (lead tape) are placed at different points of the frame and/or silicone is injected into the handle. Part of the preparers’ expertise consists of identifying where to add weight to get the desired effects, knowing that each racquet is initially slightly different. It is a meticulous job, especially as professional players are sensitive to small differences! That’s why, with the help of custom-made measuring devices, the preparers work to the nearest gram.
“I also insist on working on the ergonomics of the handle, which is essential. There, it depends on the feel sought by the players, and also their grip. The shape of the handle is thus developed with the player for perfect racquet handling,” says Triquigneaux. As players often say, the racquet is an extension of the hand. When you have well-established habits, it is difficult to change them. However, it often happens that Triquigneaux’s team is called to the court to help adjust things. “A player’s performance is at the heart of his or her success. By observing, listening, and understanding what they want to achieve, our goal is to offer ways to develop and improve performance through products and adjustments, that are also in line with their expectations. This type of support is an integral part of our mission.”
Supporting the champions
For nearly two years, we have been working regularly with Canadian hopeful Felix Auger-Aliassime to support the evolution of his game and his swing. In parallel with his physical, technical, and tactical progression, our role is to support him by proposing adjustments to his equipment that are right for his game in terms of sensation and performance. In these situations, an important dialogue takes place on court between the player, his coach, and our team. This allows us to make adjustments directly to equipment while observing what’s happening in real-time. “It’s like tuning a car just before the start of a grand prix. It’s very exciting, especially when the player is happy with the sensations and results!”
From better sensations to improved performance, racquet preparation service is there to help, reassure and supply players with equipment in record time, even in case of breakage or damage while traveling. “To send a batch of prepared racquets to the four corners of the world in record time is also part of our mission,” says Triquigneaux.
The Babolat Performance Lab customization service is reserved for the team’s players throughout the season. The French brand is also a partner of the Roland-Garros tournament offering customization service to all champions present at Porte d’Auteuil. More than just the official stringer, the Babolat Performance Lab team’s mission is to offer a unique performance-oriented service providing additional technical value to the champions.