As of January 26, 2023, 30% of the ATP’s Top 10 are playing with the Pure Aero 98. For any brand — other than having your racket swung by Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic — that has to be the best endorsement ever.
The three players in question are Holger Rune (10), Felix Auger-Aliassime (7), and, of course, world number one, Carlos Alcaraz. Babolat should offer a course in player endorsement acquisition. They got aboard the Nadal train as soon as they realized his talent potential, and saying that that relationship bore its fruit would be the understatement of the year. Now, at the tail end of his career, they’ve got hold of the three best U23 players in the world. That’s ridiculous.
Babolat’s success with these young players goes beyond good marketing strategy. In the Pure Aero line, they’ve constructed rackets that perform so well for the modern game that many juniors naturally gravitate to one of the frames. More on why later.
The Pure Aero 98 is the natural successor to the Pure Aero VS and specs out identically. It weighs 305 grams, with a 98 square inch head size, 16 x 20 string pattern, and an oscillating 21/23/22 mm beam. The mold is untouched compared to the previous version, and the big change comes in the actual layup of the racket. Babolat has added their NF2-TECH flax inserts to remove unfriendly vibrations and stabilize the frame.
I tested the Pure Aero 98 with Babolat RPM Rough 17, strung at 52 pounds. A spin racket with one of the most spin-friendly strings. Let’s see what it gives.
Unique Swing Characteristic
Every time I hit with a member of the Aero family, I remember just how bizarre the racket initially feels flying through the air. It’s what I felt when I reviewed the standard Aero a few months ago, and the sensation came right back with the 98. The shape of these frames is so different from anything else out there that I have to tweak my naturally flat technique to get the most out of the racket. The beam is aerodynamically molded so that the racket feels incredibly quick when swung parallel to the ground but sluggish when perpendicular. Think of it like an airplane wing. Because of this, the Pure Aero 98 almost begs you to hit with topspin.
Ok, the Aero 100 has been around for so long that I’ve sort of gotten used to its swing pattern, but why does it still feel so strange on the Aero 98? That’s because this racket has the balance, maneuverability, and feel of a midplus player’s frame, and none of those rackets swing like this. That sort of hybrid movement is what makes it quite strange at first.
It’s also what makes the Aero 98 so unique and so well-loved by the younger pros.
You watch Alcaraz, Rune and Felix hit forehands, and it’s different from a classic spin guy like Nadal. The strokes may look similar, but the resulting shots aren’t as loopy and have more penetration because they aren’t brushing up as much on contact. They’re still swinging with their racket heads parallel to the ground but then hitting through the ball more, and that’s where the Aero 98 excels.
The racket combines the swing and spin characteristics of an Aero 100 with the directional control and precision of rackets with a smaller head size. It’ll still perform exceedingly well if you get into a tight baseline spin fest but then feels much more stable and precise when you want to push on the gas for more powerful and directional shots.
That extra control comes down to the racket’s smaller head size, heavier weight, and tighter string pattern. Keep in mind that those characteristics also contribute to the Aero 98 being a little less forgiving than the standard Aero — but that’s to be expected when you want more control.
Having said that, the Aero 98 isn’t a traditional “control” racket. The fairly thick beam and stiff flex make it feel more powerful than most other rackets with its head size. You need to tap into all that spin to get the most control out of this racket.
The good news? If you swing with the face parallel to the ground, that higher racket head speed will just naturally generate more spin on contact.
The string pattern might be a 16 x 20, but it feels more like a 16 x 19. The low stringbed density and the FSI SPIN technology allow for plenty of movement and snapback, and it’s easy to generate loads of RPMs. It’s the most spin-friendly 98 on the market (although the Extreme Tour does give it a run for its money) and is only really outperformed in this category by the 100-square-inch spin monsters like the Aero or the Extreme. Compared to those frames, though, it feels much more solid on contact, again lending itself to that control.
Much improved feel
It’s becoming a bit of a fad in the industry to update a racket while leaving most things the same and just “upgrading feel.” It’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as the outgoing racket performed well, and that’s the case here.
The introduction of that NF2-TECH has changed the way the Aero 98 pockets the ball. Feel was fine on the VS, but nothing to write home about, and I never felt super dialed into that racket. On the Aero 98 there is a plush sensation that makes me feel much more connected to the ball.
The racket is also more forgiving outside of the sweet spot. The flax inserts that make up that NF2-TECH are placed around the hoop to try and make the racket flex more in areas that usually make it flutter. It works, and I found this racket more stable and forgiving without losing precision.
It’s also a much more comfortable racket than the VS. Babolat claims its stiffness is around 71 RA, which is high compared to our RDC readings (69 RA), but the racket isn’t uncomfortable. Usually, I’d be pretty impressed with a racket company achieving stiffness without discomfort, but nowadays, everyone can do that. These different layup technologies are getting really advanced.
Who is it for?
I’m going to compare 19-year-old Nadal and 2022 Alcaraz as an example of who could benefit from the Aero 98.
That version of Nadal was a baseline grinder who waited for his opponent’s mistake, and he used the original 100 square-inch Aero. Alcaraz can play like that as well but also varies his game to finish points early with powerful groundstrokes, volleys, or touch shots. He’s got a much more diverse game than young Nadal, and his racket complements that to a tee. There Aero 98 can do most of what the standard Aero does so well, but it responds much better to a wider variety of shot selection.
If you’re a high percentage baseline grinder but want to try and diversify your game with a more rewarding frame, the Aero 98 is worth a demo. On the other hand, if you play a more classic, flat game but want to modernize your style and hit with more spin, the Aero 98 will help you do so without sacrificing too much on a classic racket’s playability.
I would only stay away from this racket if you’ve got a flat game and plan to keep it that way. You must play with spin to get the most out of the Aero 98.
Felix, Rune, and Alcaraz are the perfect flag bearers for the Aero 98. Their game styles represent the frame perfectly, and it’s no surprise they like it so much.
It’s such a unique racket and that makes it difficult to categorize, but if I had to summarize it in one sentence, I’d actually use the old “VS” naming system, which implied that the racket was more “pro” than non-VS frames. It’s a more “pro” version of the standard Aero: more difficult to use but more nuanced and varied in its performance. If that seems like the racket for you, come in to grab a demo or check it out on our website.