We all know the brands of racquets used by the best players on the tour. However, the relationship between the players and their object is more obscure. Guided tour backstage.
Roger Federer has been talked about this summer. For his seesawing results, for his ranking on the decline, but also for his change of racquet. After more than a decade reigning over the tennis world with his Wilson BLX Pro Staff Six One Tour, the Swiss has indeed temporarily opted for a Wilson prototype with a larger screen. A way to increase his comfort zone, to be more powerful and to have a few extra inches to compensate for his slower legwork. Only now, after two premature defeats against Daniel Brands (world 55th) and Federico Delbonis (world 114th) in Gstaad and Hamburg, King Roger has finally decided to return to his first love. Because you just can't leave your playing partner for ten years like that.
Nadal unhappy for 0,08 inches
According to Jean-Christophe Verborg, International Sports Marketing Director at Babolat, players have first and foremost, a symbiotic relationship with their fetish object. "Three years ago, we took advantage of the winter season, after the Australian Open, to run tests on several racquets with Rafael Nadal. We were especially working on the handle and on the shape. Rafa was given a racquet with a handle, which was 0,08, or 0,1 inches longer than his usual one, without telling him. He tried it, hit two balls then stopped short and asked for his racquet back. For 0,1 inches... At that level of play and accuracy, racquets become a true extension of the athlete’s arm" he says.
And like in any relationship, it's the ups and downs that dictate the tempo and duration of the story. "When you have good results, you tend to keep your racquet, says French player Florent Serra. There’s a real relationship of trust that develops between the player and the object. But when you lose, you suddenly want a change. Or you risk violent outbursts... Me for example, I have changed racquet only once." If the former 36th player in the world says that he never tortured his equipment as Marat Safin (biggest racquet-breaker in history with 1,055 broken racquets in his career) or Goran Ivanisevic, he admits having swapped his Babolat for a Wilson in 2009. Not without nostalgia: "I thought we had a quite a good time together..." At the point of eventually going back to it two years later, in 2011. But the player denies being an exception: "We often see players going back to an older model abandoned earlier in their career." The trick of the ex that you can never really forget...
Contrary to what you might think or see, players actually very rarely change racquets. According to Florent Serra "brands often disguise the players' racquets with a new design for marketing purposes, to promote them. But at the end the day, players often play with the same racquet for years. It happened to me with my Babolat." Many players have, in fact, used the same racquet during their entire careers, sometimes hidden behind different designs. And not the least. Among them, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt, Mark Philippoussis and even Pete Sampras.
The King of Swing indeed confessed in his autobiography to have played with the same Wilson Pro Staff during his entire career, even if it meant missing out on many technological innovations... Finally, the tennis player is a human being like any other. Sometimes he's wrong, sometimes he changes his mind and the result is always the same: he spends a lot of time looking for the racquet of his life. And when he thinks that he’s found it, he never let it go. For better or for worse.