EXCLUSIVE – The inside story on the racket that fired Dominic Thiem to US Open glory

Kevin Palmer
Dominic Thiem with US Open trophy

After a host of near misses and no little heartache along the way, Dominic Thiem finally made his Grand Slam breakthrough as he won the US Open in September. 

The tension that flooded out of our TV screens as the Thiem beat Germany’s Alexander Zverev in an agonising fifth-set tie break served up one of the most dramatic moments of a confused 2020 tennis year, with Thiem’s relief as he fell to the court at the end offering emotional evidence to all.

The journey from his home town of Wiener Neustadt in Austria to that moment on Arthur Ashe Stadium as he lifted the US Open trophy saw many hurdles tossed before him, yet one factor in his success may have been more crucial than most.

While the hours on the practice court helped to turn his dream into a reality and the support staff around him were part of his winning package, the racket he has used to reach the top of the game played a pivotal role in his success.

Thiem used as a Babolat Pure Strike racket with an 18×20 string configuration and if that sounds complicated for the non-tennis expert, Tennis365 are here to answer some of the questions.

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We spoke to Olivier Carlier, Babolat’s Global Marketing Manager, who gave us an insight into what makes a perfect racket, with the players playing a big role in ensuring they get the weapon they want in their hands when they take to the court.

“Babolat pro athletes’ feedback is key in our development process,” Oliver told us. “Top players are highly skilled and can articulate what they are feeling with accuracy. 

“Some of them can feel a 2g (0.07 oz) difference between two racquets. Players express their needs in term of feeling, power, control, spin etc…

“We also discuss the game evolution with their coaches, and what solutions we can make to the gear (i.e. racquet-string combination). We experiment with many options during pro demo sessions, such as different stiffness options, string patterns, technologies, etc.  We learn a lot from our discussions with players and coaches and demo test outcomes that lead to the development of a new prototype.

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“With a player like Dominic, we start with an exchange with his coach and our performance teams in the lab on the characteristics of the current racket. We discuss the situation together and notably the evolution to be made on the racquet according to the orientation of the style of play or certain technical adjustments.

“Depending on the answers, we provide solutions, without forgetting, of course, the impact of the stringing (50% of the racquet’s performance comes from the frame and 50% from the string).”

Thiem’s specific requirements were taken into account before Babolat produced their eye-catching Pure Strike racket, with this brand of racket coming in two string configurations that offer different characteristics depending on playing style.

“In Dominic’s case, we brought more stability at impact to allow him to play the ball earlier after the rebound,” added Oliver. “The evolution of the racquet’s frame has allowed us to change the customization, lowering the weight added. As a result, the racket has greater manoeuvrability while maintaining the control-power ratio. This improved manoeuvrability allows the racquet to generate more spin and confidence on impact with the ball.

“The string pattern has an impact on the control level. An 18×20 string pattern will reduce the string bed flexibility and therefore provide more control. We call this the trampoline effect. The larger and more open the string pattern is the bigger the trampoline effect, so, providing more power.”

THE TENNIS 365 VERDICT by Kevin Palmer

Tennis365’s Kevin Palmer testing the range of Babolat rackets

I tested the Babolat Pure Strike racket and there is no doubt that the version with the 18×20 string pattern offers the trampoline bounce off the strings.

So it you are a player who hits the ball flat, the 18×20 version of the Pure Strike is the one to go for and the difference it made to my game was hugely impressive and instant.

The 16×19 string pattern on the alternative version of the Pure Strike on enhancing feel and control using new material technologies to cement the rackets identity as one of the leading choices for advanced players. This 16×19 version will appeal to players hitting with spin, in addition to the accuracy and control that the frame provides.

Essentially, you need to decide which style of play will suit your racket before making a pick on the Babolat Pure Strike that will work for you.

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