CEO of tennis equipment Babolat, Eric Babolat, has announced he has designed the world’s first ‘connected racquet’ after a decade in development.
Although the new Babolat ‘Play’ looks and feels like a typical tennis racquet, within the handle hides a tiny ground-breaking gadget.
Hidden chips and sensors will record numerous types of information including the power of shots, the angle at which the ball is struck, the number of strokes, the level of spin, total play time, endurance, technique, consistency, energy and rallies.
The data collected by the racquet will be transferable via Bluetooth, allowing players and coaches to examine information on smartphones or tablets and share their information with colleagues and online communities.
The new racquet has been tested by a handful of Babolat-sponsored stars including World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, Li Na, Sam Stosur and Jo Wilfried Tsonga.
Despite approval from the International Tennis Federation making the new technology legal since 1 January 2014, Mr Babolat expects to see more top players using the racquet at the upcoming French Open.
In a sport where millions are spent trying to attain the edge on the competition through coaching, the Babolat CEO says the breakthrough technology will finally address the need for tennis players to be able to analyse and review their performance with computer-based accuracy.
"For me it was incredible, that you can take the number one tennis player in the world (Rafa Nadal) and see that he doesn't really know anything about what is happening in his racquet, apart from his feel. He has no data about anything, and it is incredible to imagine,” he said to reporters.
"It is like you are a Formula One driver and you don't know how fast you are driving. It is a bit unbelievable, but it is like that. No longer."
Former coach of Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and ex-professional Mark Petchey believes the new Babolat ‘Play’ could revolutionise the current approach to coaching players.
"It has the potential to change the way we think about coaching," he said.
"From analysing the data, in one match or over several, you can analyse your player's shot selection, you can see if your player is playing with too much variety or not enough variety, or maybe not playing to their strengths, maybe being a little too defensive."
Babolat is currently the only manufacturer using the technology, and the company’s chief expects all racquets will be ‘smart’ racquets in the very near future.
"In 10 years you won't have any racquets that are not connected,” Mr Babolat said.
The product becomes the first major technological advancement the sport since Hawk-Eye after 10 years of development by more than 50 technicians, scientists and researchers.
Hawk-Eye is a computer-based system that aids tennis umpires and linesmen by tracking the trajectory of a ball and its landing position.
Adidas has previously developed a similar program for footballers called Micoach. The principle is identical – a player conceals a data-collecting computer chip in his or her boot and transmits the information back to their computer, smartphone or tablet.
With a coaching app also in the pipeline for Babolat ‘Play’ users, the ‘smart’ racquet is designed for both professionals and amateurs.
Players will be able to share data and compete against their friends as well as professionals through the in-app community.
The high-tech gizmo can be snapped up for a cool £325 from 15 May onwards in Europe.
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