Family means everything to Rafael Nadal.
His uncle, Toni, for example, taught him to play tennis and coached him for many years before focusing on his work as director of the Rafa Nadal Academy in the family’s home town of Manacor on the island of Mallorca. Nadal’s mother, Ana Maria Perera, his father, Sebastián, and his wife, Maria Francisca Perello, are president, vice-president and secretary respectively of the Rafa Nadal Foundation. Meanwhile a number of the academy’s personnel have long been key figures in the career of the 13-times champion of Roland Garros.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the Rafa Nadal Academy and Babolat are such successful partners. Babolat, too, are a family business. The company, which has many long-standing members of staff, is headed by Eric Babolat, whose great-great-grandfather, Pierre Babolat, founded it in 1875.
“The fact that we are both family businesses means that we understand each other,” says Carlos Costa, a board member of the Rafa Nadal Academy and a long-time member of his fellow Spaniard’s entourage. “When you are a family company, you have the same values. It’s important that you do things properly, that you respect each other. It’s all about the people. Babolat and the academy are similar in that respect. Both are organisations in which everyone knows they have a direct connection with the people who run the business.”
Nadal himself has been with Babolat ever since he signed his first international contract with the company more than 20 years ago. The relationship worked so well throughout his career that a partnership with his academy, which opened in 2016, was a natural progression.
Testing by the world’s best players
The partnership takes many forms. “We support the academy with products,” said Jean-Christophe Verborg, Babolat’s Sports Marketing Tennis Director. “We provide the academy with balls and all the coaches have Babolat equipment. We recently sent some of our innovation team to the academy to talk about a project with their coaches, who give valuable input into our research and development. We also have visibility on the courts, which is important for us because there are so many people who go there.”. In addition, all the Academy players have the opportunity to test the Babolat products in order to find the ones that best match their games.
The academy is a Centre of Excellence for Babolat and winners of Babolat tournaments around the world are regularly sent there to train. Many top players come to Manacor and use the academy facilities to prepare their season.
‘We both know where we came from’
The academy’s coaching staff all use Babolat racquets and balls, which are also stocked in the on-site shop, while the academy plays an important part in Babolat’s product testing. If you want to manufacture the best equipment in the world, who better to test it out than the world’s best players? Meanwhile coaches from the academy also travel to attend clinics organised by Babolat.
The academy has become an important tournament host, staging Challenger, ITF and Tennis Europe events. “Babolat support all those tournaments,” Costa said. “They provide balls and materials for the winners and they do promotions alongside the tournaments.”
Verborg says that Babolat and the academy have shared values. Both put an emphasis on hard work, expertise, honesty, integrity and a love of the sport. Both want to broaden the appeal of tennis and to help individuals realise their potential.
“We both know where we came from,” Verborg said. “We have our feet on the ground. We remain humble and we remain loyal. Trust and loyalty are at the heart of what we do – and that’s why we make such good partners.”