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The Tennisnerd Racquet of Choice

by TN

Some months ago I found a used racquet for 15 euro that I had heard Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya used to play with. Nadal in his teen years and Moya during a large part of his career. It has now also become the current Tennisnerd racquet of choice.

The racquet in question is the Babolat Soft Drive (links to a post of when I first found this racquet), a racquet with a stock weight of 270 grams unstrung which is eons away from the kind of racquet I usually gravitate towards. Meaning control racquets, typically 350 grams strung and with a 95 sq inch head size. It feels strange that a 100 sq inch, light, 90s racquet is now the Tennisnerd racquet of choice.

The racquet was not in very good condition. Lots of marks and crap grip, but for me it was something I could keep in the collection just for fun. First time I took it to the court I had only replaced the grip so it was very, very light and had old gut strings on it that were about to snap. I thought I would hit it with just to snap the strings, it would probably take five shots or so. But instead I ended up playing with this old bruised racquet for the entire session.

The Tennisnerd racquet of choice – The Babolat Soft Drive

Tennisnerd racquet of choice - Babolat Soft DriveFor some reason I just felt I could do what I wanted with this racquet. It let me be more creative with my shots than with my then standard midplus racquets. The spin was intoxicating. The light feel made it easier to swing. The forgiveness with the 100 sq inch head was good too.

But I know all too well about the infamous “honeymoon period” where you think a racquet is…the one for a few sessions and then suddenly you start noticing its weaknesses. All racquets have strengths and weaknesses. Having tested, customized, bought and sold racquets for many years, I should understand this by now.

So I gave it some time. I started playing around with the specs since the ultra light racquet could not really handle heavy balls as well. I added heaps of lead tape, changed to a leather grip, tried different strings. I went back and forth in my mind whether I could really play with this racquet.

The Tennisnerd racquet of choice – Strings and spec

Tennisnerd racquet of choice - Babolat Soft DriveThere was also the classic “risk”. What if I fall in love with this racquet and I could only find one? What do I do then? Luckily, I managed to find a few Soft Drives online in various conditions (from big-time chipped to brand new)

I settled on a string too. I felt the HEAD Hawk Touch (read my review) deadened some of the power of the Soft Drive, while maintaining good feel and control. What has always been a worry about Babolat racquwets, the intoxicating power and spin that can easily lead to elbow and wrist pain created by the vibrations from the thick-beamed frame, where not there with the Soft Drive. Maybe it is the construction of 80 percent graphite and 20 percent fibre glass that makes it more comfortable than even lower stiffness Pure Drives, but so far so good in terms of arm pain.

I ended up with the spec of 330 grams and 33 cm balance, a weight and balance that maintains ease of swing, but still packs a punch and offers good stability.

The Tennisnerd racquet of choice – How it performs

Tennisnerd racquet of choice - Babolat Soft DriveI love the Soft Drive on my forehands, I can really hit flat and with lot of spin and mix up my swings. Backhand works well too, although I prefer midsize frames for my one-hander, but the healthy sweet spot helps my sometimes lazy footwork on this wing.

Serve is not Pure Drive power, and I do serve better with the Prince 93P I reviewed recently, but it is good enough. What I need to work on is my second serve kicker. Right now it kicks up right in the string zone of taller opponents and it ends up costing me a lot of points.

The slice is a little more floating than I want it to be, but I really love the forgiveness on defensive shots. With the Soft Drive I can really dig the ball out of the corners
and hit a good defensive shot. This is where I feel this racquet helps me the most compared to the racquets I used to play with.

Like I said, it is not a racquet without flaws, but for me, this makes tennis a little bit easier than a midsize racquet. And now that I have been struggling with my movement due to a lingering knee injury, that extra power and forgiveness is welcome.

The Tennisnerd racquet of choice – How long will it last?

I am not going to say I will stick with this racquet forever, but I hope for my tennis consistency’s sake that I at least stay true to it for a year. But more racquet reviews are on the way and who knows how long it takes before I find something that works even better for my game.

That is the life of a true tennis nerd I guess.

On a sidenote, I am looking forward to testing the new HEAD Graphene 360 Speed Pro.

What is your current racquet of choice and how is that working for you? Please comment below!

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23 comments

Vedran July 21, 2018 - 11:16 am

Hi,

I would like to see more of 100″ head racquets, 16×18 or 16×19 with ra63-65. I love to play with tweener racquets but they are all to stiff.

Such a shame

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Tennisnerd July 22, 2018 - 10:21 am

Agree! The Angell and Prince 100 sq inch racquets are good options however!

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Paul July 22, 2018 - 11:20 am

Hi,
I see from your reply to the previous comment that you mention the Angell 100sq in.
I have just watched your video on this racket and was struck by how many of your comments and in fact the final weight set up that you have gone for are similar to your Angell K7 review.
How would you compare the Soft Drive and the K7 and hasn’t your experience with this racket reminded you of the comfort and spin of the K7.
Thanks,
Paul

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Tennisnerd July 22, 2018 - 12:02 pm

Hi Paul,
Really good point. Maybe I am just reverting back to the K7 Red in a bigger head size? There are definitely similarities here. I get a little more power on the Soft Drive I believe, but otherwise they play quite similar. The K7 actually swings faster too so that is a plus.

Maybe I am just fooling myself and I am really back at the K7!

Regards / Jonas

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Vedran July 22, 2018 - 12:02 pm

I’ve had TC100 63ra and I find it to be very firm im the hoop. It bothered by shoulder. Also the SW was to high for me (330).

My racquet of choice is Phantom 100P Pro. Great racquet! I crave for little more power however.

I wonder if Textreme Warrior 100 would be to stiff with 66ra?

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Paul July 22, 2018 - 12:32 pm

I now use K7 although I’ve previously used TC90 TC95 and my other favourite the TC97.
I find more comfort, power and spin with the K7.
I use a hybrid of gut poly, Babolat Tonic Feel mains and Ytex Quadro Twist crosses at 55 53.
I recommend it but I guess Quadro Twist too lively and powerful for your preference!

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Tennisnerd July 22, 2018 - 7:13 pm

Yes, the K7 and TC97 are both great racquets. Interesting combo, might be a little bit lively for me though, yes 🙂

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John July 23, 2018 - 1:34 am

Hello..i found your racket article very informative, and especially your own customization of this racquet.
I would like to let you know about a very new way of customizing lenght if racquets,it’s the XTP tennis butt cap,and by removing factory butt cap and installing the XTP players can now EASILY add extra lenght to a frame..
Just thought i would mention this since your article was how you customized this racquet to work best for you..thx.john

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E.J. July 23, 2018 - 3:48 pm

Hi there,

How does the Soft Drive compare to the Pure Drive Swirly model?

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Tennisnerd July 23, 2018 - 9:01 pm

Hi Eduardo,
The Swirly is quite a bit stiffer so I feel the Soft Drive has a more responsive and flexible string bed. I actually felt a difference also with the Pure Drive Original that has the same mold as the Soft Drive. Maybe it is the 20% of fibreglass in the construction.

The Swirly is a nice racquet however, just a little too much power for my taste.

Cheers / J

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ed seymour July 23, 2018 - 4:49 pm

Hi Racquetnerd
Any chance of checking the Donnay new racquets. They looked and sounded ok from the description?
thanks ed

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Tennisnerd July 23, 2018 - 9:00 pm

Hi,
My hitting partner here in Marbella uses the Donnay Pentacore (he is a Futures player so good level), I might have a hit with it tomorrow and report back. He has added lots of lead tape to it however! It does look and feel really nice from shadow-swinging it.

Regards / Jonas

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Steven Howie July 25, 2018 - 8:35 am

Jonas,

What type of tennis balls do you typically use? And do you change manufacturer on any certain surface?
I use slazenger Wimbledon or Dunlop forte as they’re the easiest to purchase in shops. Do you recommend any others there’s so many e.g Penn, soderling’s new ones, Wilson. In your opinion is there a big difference?

Thanks
Steve

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Tennisnerd July 26, 2018 - 8:30 am

Hi Steve,
I mostly play with Wilson US Open balls. I have gotten used to them and think they provide a nice hit on hard courts where I play 90% of the time.

The RS (Soderling) balls are great too, a little heavier for that extra control. Dunlop Forte is quite decent too.

There is a difference between different balls and different conditions for sure. But I have not find a magical formula. I know that for pro players it can make a relatively big difference what is the official ball of a tournament.

Might be overdue with some tennis ball reviews haha.

Cheers / J

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Viorel July 28, 2018 - 9:37 pm

Hi Jonas,

What is your opinion about the Babolat Pure Aero Tour racquet (315 g)? Did you hit with it? I think it has the closest specs (weight) and the most appropiate racquet on market with Rafa’s racquet (Babolat APD Original with lead tape)…by the way which are the current specs on Rafa’s racquet (I know that he added about 3 more grams lead tape at 12 before 2017 season)? What about the racquet balance?
I’m looking forward to your reply.
Thank you!

Cheers,
Viorel

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Joe July 30, 2018 - 4:18 am

Hi Jonas – love your site. Hey – the racquet you are describing in the Soft Drive sounds like what Prince has tried in Textreme Tour 100T and 100P. Are they in fact similar?

I recently changed to the 100P from traditional players racquet types (Redondo MP, C10 Pro etc). Like you say there are only pluses and minuses with racquets but this is helping me in the direction I think I want to go – harder spin groundies to compete with strong club players. Of course at some stage I may bail for a thin beam, flexi player spec again and focus on placement. But let’s see.

Let me know your thoughts on comparison of Textreme Tour 100s and the Soft Drive.

Cheers, Joe

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Tennisnerd July 30, 2018 - 9:11 am

Hi Joe,
That’s very kind of you, thanks.

I have tried the Textreme Tour 100P and really liked it, but it does offer less spin than the Soft Drive, I feel. I think it is however, a bit easier to control and you won’t need to string it as tight. Both racquets however require lead tape to really shine in my opinion.

I will keep some thin-framed flexible racquets in my bag for when I want to work on my technique. Hitting with a racquet that gives you some free power can make you a little lazy. It is easier, but your mechanics can get lost…

The Tour T I haven’t played so I can’t say. Regarding the Redondo and the C10 Pro – great sticks!

Cheers / J

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Joe August 2, 2018 - 8:12 am

Hi Jonas – thank you for the reply. I mentioned the 100T because it has a 16/19 string pattern like the Soft Drive. Thanks for the comparison with the 100P – interesting that you find more access to spin in the Soft Drive but surmise the 100P could have better control. I value control more than spin – so I seem to be well set up.

I have put just under 2 grams at 12 o’clock on the 100P and my essential PS O dampener in with a Tourna overgrip and I’m comparing Tourna Black Zone v Tourna Big Red at around 50#s. I actually feel that I could go down to 48#s with this racquet and still have control. All in all a great stick which I was lucky to get for a cheap price

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Eduardo August 21, 2018 - 9:41 am

Hi Jonas,
One of the best ATP players in Andalucia is playing with a german made version of the Soft Drive. This guy was Rafael Nadal pre season hitting partner for a few years. He suffered a serious elbow injurie that required extreme surgery and relocated tendons and nervs.
At the moment he returned to competition, he was playing with a custom made frame made in germany. It was the shape of a Pure Drive but with the flexibility of a frame with fiberglass. It was an entire black frame that you can order in Germany. They create the racket with your own specs.
I can give you the contac.
The year he returned became Andalucia Champion singles, doubles, teams and Portugal teams Champion too.
Congrats for your website.

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Eduardo Gavira Crespillo August 21, 2018 - 9:42 am

Hi Jonas,
One of the best ATP players in Andalucia is playing with a german made version of the Soft Drive. This guy was Rafael Nadal pre season hitting partner for a few years. He suffered a serious elbow injurie that required extreme surgery and relocated tendons and nervs.
At the moment he returned to competition, he was playing with a custom made frame made in germany. It was the shape of a Pure Drive but with the flexibility of a frame with fiberglass. It was an entire black frame that you can order in Germany. They create the racket with your own specs.
I can give you the contac.
The year he returned became Andalucia Champion singles, doubles, teams and Portugal teams Champion too.
Congrats for your website.

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Tennisnerd August 21, 2018 - 12:42 pm

Hola Eduardo,
Another interesting story. I would very much like to get information about this blacked-out frame from Germany. Intriguing!

Gracias! / Jonas

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Eduardo Gavira Crespillo August 21, 2018 - 10:10 am

As a TV tennis commentator, I’d had the chance to receive a lot of information about tennis equipment.
Regarding the rackets that contain fiberglass, tell you that Babolat chose to sell that line at the moment they started selling racquets by releasing their Soft Drive ald Soft Control rackets (Pure Drive and Pure Control), in anticipation that the German market would appreciate the existence of that range. They were aware that the German market consumed many Völkl and Fisher rackets, which both have in common, which have a high percentage of fiberglass.
In contrast, these rackets frames have the problem of fatigue of materials (they loose power progressively faster than 100% graphite) and they are more flexible, they require more power at the moment to hit the ball to match the game of someone who plays with a frame 100% graphite.
By the way, I have come to see exact replicas of the Pure Drive in almost all brands and among them was Donnay. The racquet in question was not for sale and lacked identifiers, being completely black.
I was a Völkl fanatic until they started to make rackets in China. Even being sponsorized by Head, I used to play with a Völkl with Head stencil.

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Tennisnerd August 21, 2018 - 12:41 pm

Hi Eduardo,
Very interesting information. Thanks a lot for sharing. I really enjoy the feel of the fiberglass in racquets, both in the Soft Drive but also in Fischer and Völkl racquets. It did not know that it had a much higher material fatigue than for example graphite. I agree that I also lost some faith in Völkl products after the moved the production, I think this has been an issue for several manufacturers. Quality control has definitely decreased and it is definitely a game of cutting corners when it comes to cost to develop better margins, not necessarily better products.

Regards / Jonas

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