Time for a classic racquet review. I wanted to review my current match racquet, the first edition of the Babolat Soft Drive.
The Babolat Soft Drive was famously used by both Carlos Moya (for most of his career) and Rafael Nadal during some of his junior years (he later moved to the Pure Drive and after that to the Aero Pro Drive). If you want to read more about Nadal’s racquet specs and history, read this post.
The first edition of the Babolat Soft Drive has the same mold as the first edition of the Babolat Pure Drive (used by Fabio Fognini for example), but it is made with 20% fiberglass for a softer feel and comes in at a really low weight of 270 grams unstrung. This spec works well for a beginner but is not something to use for advanced players as the racquet will be a bit unstable and anemic.
The Soft Drives I use currently were all customized by a racquet customizer from Babolat (I found them used) to the following specs: 335 grams, 32 cm balance, 323 SW. They come with lead tape at 3, 9 and 12 and silicone in the handle. I thought these specs would be too light at first, but I found them pretty much perfect now. There is not a perfect racquet out there and the Soft Drive also has its flaws, but I have not found a racquet I like as much as this one yet.
As you can see below, this racquet really needs customization to play well at a higher level.
Head size:100 sq. in. / 645 sq. cm
Length:27 in. / 68.6 cm.
Unstrung weight: 9.5 oz. / 270 gr.
Unstrung balance: 34 cm
Swing weight: 270
Beam width: 22-26 mm
Composition: Graphite 80% / Fiberglass 20 %
String pattern: 16 Mains / 19 Crosses
How does it play?
I really like the first edition of the Pure Drive, but the softer, more comfortable feel of the Soft Drive is quite special. These older Babolat racquets are generally more gentle on the arm than the current racquets. Yes, the newer racquets from Babolat are pretty well-dampened, but these first editions have a raw and a connected feel that I really like. You instantly know where in the string bed you hit the ball.
The racquet plays stable (despite the softer feel). The power level is decent but not as high as with the first Pure Drive (or any Pure Drive for that matter). The racquet can generate plenty of spin thanks to the open string pattern (quite evenly open, not much tighter in the middle as many more modern tweener frames). The launch angle feels relatively controlled, although it is not a racquet if you mainly hit flat shots.
Have you tried the Soft Drive 1st edition? Thoughts?