If you asked Eric Babolat who he credits with helping turn his great-great-grandfather's company into a global tennis brand, he'd give you one name: Rafael Nadal.
The 20 time Grand Slam Champion has used Babolat frames ever since he burst onto the tour in 2004 and is solely responsible for Babolat's popularity increasing significantly across the world since the early 2000s.
But which racquet in their lineup does Nadal actually use? Is it a Pure Aero? Did he ever use the Babolat Play Sensor in matches? Let's take a look.
What Racquet Does Rafael Nadal Actually Use?
Nadal is the poster boy for the Babolat Pure Aero, one of the best selling racquets currently on the market. Take a trip to any public tennis courts on a summer's day, and you will see at least one of them in use.
However, like most top players, while Nadal's racquet might sport the same design as the latest Pure Aero, he's actually using a pro stock racquet, the Babolat AeroPro Drive Original.
Nadal has used this racquet since 2004 and the only changes he has made to it over the years have been the addition of some weight, which we'll talk about below.
Does Nadal Use Babolat Connected Play Racquets?
In 2014, Babolat launched their connected racquets which came with a sensor built into the butt cap. This sensor collected all sorts of data that could be used to analyse a player's game, and I thought it was a pretty cool idea.
Nadal was heavily involved in the marketing, but he never used this sensor in a tour-level match as far as I'm aware.
That was seven years ago, so how is it going? It isn't. Babolat no longer uses this technology, and it's been condemned to the rubbish bin of history.
Why? While massively hyped, it never really took off due to the hefty price tag and firmware issues for those that did purchase. While the data it came up with was useful, it quickly got boring for most players and was essentially a fad.
What Specification is Nadal's Aero Pro Drive Original Racquet?
Nadal has used the AeroPro Drive Original since 2004, but he has made a couple of changes over the years. His current racquet specification is as follows:
|Head Size||100 in²|
|Strung Weight||343 grams|
|Balance||33.5cm (3pts HL)|
|String Pattern||16 x 19|
|Grip Style||Babolat Syntec Pro Black + Babolat VS Original White Overgrip|
|Grip Size||4 1/4″ (L2) + Overgrip|
How Has Nadal Changed Racquet Specs During His Career?
Nadal played with the Soft Drive, then with a Pure Drive during his early years as a player, but in 2004, Babolat launched the Aeropro Drive which was essentially designed for him.
The racquet remained unchanged for eight years, but in 2012 after Djokovic had started to dominate, Nadal decided that had to put more on the ball to compete. The result was the addition of 3 grams into the head of the racquet.
Then in 2017, another additional 2 grams were added to the same place, at the top of the frame and Nadal continues with that specification today.
In that five year gap between the changes, Nadal also attempted to switch racquets. In 2015, the Spaniard played the clay season's start with a Pure Aero prototype frame with the FSI drill pattern. However, he switched back to his old racquet before the French Open.
Apart from these strips of lead at the top of the frame, there is almost no intervention on his racket. In addition, Rafa doesn’t go through that many rackets: he uses a maximum of thirty per year. Guillaume Cambon, Racquet Technician
What Size Grip Does Nadal Use?
Nadal uses an L2 grip size, and although he adds an overgrip to his racquet, this is still relatively small for a guy who stands at 6ft tall.
The reason here is due to how the game has changed. If you pick up a wooden racquet used by Bjorn Borg in the 1970s, the grips were much thicker, and this is because the continental grip works well on a chunkier handle.
However, with spin taking over, a thinner grip size aids topspin generation and allows the racquet to be manipulated in the hand easier.
The only real downside of a thinner grip is on the volleys, and you'll see how Nadal holds the racquet much further up towards throat when he's at the net.
On average, Rafa is given 6-8 racquets four times a year. Nadal will use these 6-8 frames until the grips begin to mold to the shape of his hand and this is when he gets the best feeling. Especially for Rafa who, because of his rather unique grip, it’s important for him to work the grip until it is perfectly adapted to his hand. Jean-Christophe Verborg, Director of Competition at Babolat
Why Does Nadal Use The Aero Pro Drive?
Nadal's game is based on heavy spin, his technique and grip both lend themselves to imparting significant RPM's on the ball.
The Aero Pro Drive was designed to aid that purpose further; it's an aerodynamic frame designed to cut through the air with an open, spin-friendly 16 x 19 string pattern.
There's really no other real consideration in this racquet design apart from spin. Touch and feel are not something you will find in an Aero Pro Drive, and given Nadal's game only really takes him forward for the easy put-away nor does he use drop shots or slice frequently, it's not needed.
What Strings Does Nadal Use?
Since 2010, Nadal has used Babolat RPM blast 15L gauge/1.35mm which is a shaped polyester string. Before that, he had used Duralast and Pro Hurricane Tour.
However, at the 2022 Australian Open, he started using 1.30mm gauge of his Babolat string, a slightly thinner string that offers a bit more power at the expense of some durability. Whether he sticks with his throughout the year on his beloved clay remains to be seen.
Prior to that Nadal had also experimented with thinner gauge string, back in 2016, Nadal briefly switched to Luxilon Big Banger Original 130 which was done to obtain more power.
While the string did provide more power, Nadal felt he had less control due to the strings moving more (becoming more spaced out), and it didn't take long for him to move back to the Babolat RPM Blast setup.
Unlike most players, Nadal doesn't really alter his tension throughout the year or for the conditions, opting to string both his mains and crosses at 55 pounds.
Aside from the lead tape, there are no other customisations on his frame like power pads, silicone or string savers etc.
Can You Buy Rafael Nadal’s Racquet?
If you're looking for an Aero Pro Drive that was launched back in the early 2000s, then you will have to do some hunting on eBay, ProStockTennis, or the tennis forum classifieds.
The Aero Pro Drive racquets have long been out of production so at best you will find a ‘new old stock' frame, or have to make do with a used one.
You'll of course never have the latest paint job a la Rafa, but with some lead tape, an overgrip and a set of RPM Blast, then matching Nadal's specs is fairly easy given he doesn't customise the stock frame too heavily.
The other alternative would be to buy and customise the latest Babolat Pure Aero which isn't too dissimilar to the original. You can compare the specs below:
|Nadal's Racquet||Babolat Pure Aero|
|Head Size||100 in² / 645.16 cm²||100 in² / 645.16 cm²|
|Length||27in / 68.58cm||27in / 68.58cm|
|Balance||13.19in / 33.5cm / 3pts HL||12.99in / 32.99cm / 4 pts HL|
|String Pattern||16 x 19||16 x 19|
|Grip Style||Babolat Syntec Pro Black + Babolat VS Original White Overgrip||Babolat Syntec Pro|
What do you think of Nadal's real racquet? Do the specs make it sound hard to handle? Let me know in the comments.