It’s nearly impossible not to love Rafael Nadal. He has inspired an entire generation of young players with his huge topspin forehand, ruthless fighting spirit, and humility on and off the court.
He burst onto the scene as a teenager, winning the 2005 French Open a few days after his nineteenth birthday and winning a rubber in Spain’s 2004 Davis Cup victory over the United States. He has dominated the ATP tour since, especially on Clay.
The undisputed King of Clay owns fourteen titles at the French Open and eight between the other three majors for a grand total of twenty-two, an all-time record on the men’s side.
When it comes to equipment, Rafa’s racquet matches his style of play almost perfectly, and his success with the AeroPro Drive/Pure Aero line has made Babolat’s spin monster a top-selling frame worldwide since the mid-2000s.
- Endorsed Racquet: Babolat Pure Aero RAFA (check price here)
- Actual Racquet: Babolat AeroPro Drive Original
- Strings: Babolat RPM Blast 15L at 55 pounds
What’s Under The Paint?
Rafa started his pro career with the Babolat Soft Drive but moved to the AeroPro Drive Original early on.
Effectively a Pure Drive with a more aerodynamic beam and slightly softer layup, the AeroPro Drive (APD for short) was designed to facilitate faster racquet head speed and thus more spin.
Rafa found near-immediate success with it. He has stuck with the AeroPro Drive Original for his entire career under various paintjobs, though he did play official matches with the Babolat Pure Aero before it was released and eventually switched back to his trusty APD.
We can see the woofer grommets, especially in the throat, that differ from the Pure Aero mold. And his old “Cortex” paintjobs lacked the cortex pieces: they were painted on.
Somewhat notably, Rafa uses a 4-1/4” (L2) grip size which is considered small for somebody of his size. This fact along with Roger Federer’s use of an L3 grip spurned the use of smaller grips at the recreational level.
These days, larger grip sizes are harder and harder to find, with some brands electing not to produce 4-5/8” (L5) handles on some or all racquets in their lineups.
For what seemed like forever, Nadal used Babolat Duralast in gold. Though he endorsed Babolat’s Pro Hurricane Tour, that string was an opaque yellow, not the translucent gold color of Duralast.
This is generally accepted to have been a marketing tactic by Babolat because Duralast gold was not offered in the US market, and Pro Hurricane Tour was a much more advanced, marketable, and playable string in its time.
Some of Rafa’s strings were even labeled as “Pro Hurricane Tour Nadal” not “Duralast.” Around the time of the 2010 Australian Open, Rafa showed up with a black string.
This is the now best-selling Babolat RPM Blast. Rafa still uses RPM Blast in the 15L gauge offering at 55 pounds, regardless of surface or conditions.
Early on in his career, many tennis commentators credited Rafa’s insane topspin and racquet head speed to his “light” racquet; however, as his personal frames ended up in the hands of racquet nerds and spec geeks around the globe, his personal specifications became public.
Babolat even has published his specs a few times. Currently, Rafa’s specs (Unstrung|Strung w/ OG & dampener) are as follows:
- Mass: 317g | 340g
- Balance: 32.8 cm | 33.8 cm
- Swingweight: 330 | 360
As we can see, Rafa’s racquet is far from “light” like the stock AeroPro Drive at about 320g strung with an overgrip. The swingweight and balance are especially demanding, even for professionals. We often see setups like this from clay court specialists.
The high swingweight and balance put loads of mass in the hoop of the racquet, so even though the static weight is a bit low, there is more “effective mass” where the ball impacts the stringbed, resulting in a heavy weight of shot for a lighter racquet.
He also gets the maneuverability benefit of a relatively lower total mass along with a forgiving 100 square inch head size and thicker, stiffer beam.
The open 16×19 string pattern rewards vertical strokes with easy access to topspin. As we can see, this racquet is perfect for Rafa’s game AND he has tweaked it to suit his preferences throughout his career.
If a recreational player wanted to replicate Nadal’s racquet, simply adding 8g of lead spread evenly under the bumper would get you quite close, depending on which APD or Pure Aero iteration you use and how close it is to target specs from the factory.
It appears Rafa does not add weight to the handle to counterbalance based on these specifications.
Rafa is no stranger to experimenting with his equipment. Whenever his racquet is tweaked, the tennis world seems to know. He has added weight under the bumper of his racquet multiple times, seeking more depth and power on various shots like the volley and serve.
He also used Luxilon Big Banger Original during the early part of the 2016 season but eventually transitioned back to RPM Blast. He’s tried the 16 gauge RPM for parts of recent seasons as well but usually seems to land on the 15L.
As we can see, Rafa has chosen and modified his racquet to suit his game that so many know and love. He is not afraid to adapt as his career progresses but generally comes back to what he knows, something many of us could learn from.
He singlehandedly inspired a generation of players who use Pure Aeros and AeroPro Drives, propelling the Yellow Babolat to one of the top spots in global racquet sales. Because of Rafa, the Pure Aero will forever be a topspin baseline grinder’s dream.
If you’re interested in other ATP players’ racquets, I listed all the top 100 players’ racquets in this post.