Putting the smartest racket in tennis to the test

CNBC Jo-Wilfried Tsonga tries out Babolat’s Play smart racket on the court with CNBC’s Robert Frank.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga tries out Babolat’s Play smart racket on the court with CNBC’s Robert Frank.

Technology has radically changed the game of tennis—from the rackets and strings to the data used to analyze opponents. Now, a new “smart racket” may take the tennis tech battle to a whole new level.

Babolat recently introduced a $399 racket called Play that has built-in sensors and software to connect it to an Apple iPhone or other mobile device. It can measure your swing speed, spin, power, shot selection and even where you’re hitting the ball on your racket.

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“We are developing a whole new market. This is the first connected product in tennis. People have to experience it for the first time to understand how it can actually help,” said Susan DiBiase, marketing director for Babolat USA.

To test it out, I took to the court against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 10th-ranked player in the world and one of the most powerful hitters in the game. Needless to say, Tsonga crushed me during our points. But the matchup became far more interesting and instructive when we compared the data from our Play rackets.

Our power ratings were not too dissimilar—we had around half the maximum benchmark set for the racket. Our spin rating was also in the same range. But the big difference was the sweet spot. Tsonga hit the sweet spot of the racket 90 percent of the time. I hit it less than half the time.

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That tells me that I need to improve my footwork, timing and strike zone—easier said than done against a player like Tsonga.

Babolat said all this data, while sometimes frustrating for a player, can be instructive.

“It’s motivating even when the data is bad,” DiBiase said. “For most tennis players that are very competitive, it challenges most players to get better. It’s really addicting. “You see your data, you want to compete with your friends.”

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In fact, Babolat is already collecting so much player data from the rackets it’s already sold that it is using the information to create its next line of rackets.

“We have learned a lot of things about where people hit on their sweet spot that were maybe different than what we thought before, so we are using this in our development,” DiBiase said.

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