In January, the 31st rule of tennis hit the books, stating that players can now record data during a match. It's no coincidence that Babolat just released a new racquet, the Babolat Play Pure Drive, which is wired with an accelerometer and gyroscope.
It's weighted and balanced like its analog predecessor, but is able to record an impressive amount of data players can analyze via smartphone, tablet, or computer.
"The racquet is not a coach," says its lead designer, Pierre Macé. "But it generates data that can be used by a coach." That data includes where the ball strikes the racquet, service percentages, power, and type of stroke (i.e., forehand versus backhand). "It's a great tool," says Brad Gilbert, former coach to Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. "This can show players, 'Hey, you have a weak backhand, and 75 percent of the shots you hit were backhands – why do you think you lost?' " Similarly, the ability to track ball strikes can help players better understand what they're doing wrong when working on big kick serves or a more deadly forehand.
It's far from perfect – power, for example, is measured on a spectrum, as opposed to the more useful miles per hour. Nor can the Pure Drive track the difference between a forehand groundstroke and a forehand volley. But it's important to remember that this is only the beginning. Babolat is looking into new features, such as the ability to record ball speed and even racquet motion. "Look at what the military can do," says Roman Prokes, an expert racquet technician who works with many top pros. "It's easy to imagine companies attaching cameras to the racquets – this is just the starting stage."
Meantime, Sony and a startup called Zepp Labs are creating devices that players can attach to their racquets to deliver much of the same information as Babolat's stick. Zepp's next version will be able to track the racquet's movement, says Zepp CEO Jason Fass. So you'll be able to troubleshoot your serve by studying the actual motion of your swing rather than the ball strike. Sony's device, which does not yet have a U.S. release date, can record the speed of each shot. Armed with this kind of information, players will be able to determine their strongest strokes and strategize accordingly. It's easy to see how players might get addicted. Just imagine how many shoulders may get blown out by club players trying to ratchet their serves up into the triple digits.