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2023 Babolat Pure Aero Rafa vs. Pure Aero 100

Babolat has had a very streamlined line-up for several years, but the French brand created mass confusion by adding a couple of totally new models to the very successful Aero line. Here's our head-to-head comparison of the 2023 Aero Standard and brand new Aero Rafa.
2023 Babolat Pure Aero Rafa vs. Pure Aero 100 Featured Image

Whereas Head (and now even Wilson) have a cacophony of silos, Babolat has always had three well-defined models.

The Pure Drive is for power, the Pure Strike is for control, and the Pure Aero is for spin. But they've just messed it up by introducing the Aero Rafa and Rafa Origin. Well, not really.

The Rafa rackets are actually quite simple.

They will complement the Aero line as Nadal's signature series. They are easy to distinguish with their crazy cotton candy paint job, whereas the "normal" Aeros feature a more mellow yellow and black colour scheme.

The Standard Aero will remain Babolat's most innovative and technologically modern model, whereas the Rafas won't. They are modeled after the original Aero: the Aero Pro Drive, so their playability will be much more old-school. The Origin — the heavier of the two — mirrors Nadal's setup one-to-one. But it has a ridiculously high swing weight; in steps, the much more user-friendly 290-gram Rafa. 

It's 10 grams lighter than the standard Aero but features the same mold as Nadal's Origin, albeit with a more open string bed.

That begs the question, what is the difference between the standard, in-line 2023 Aero and the 290-gram Rafa? They are the closest in spec, so comparing them head to head is essential to understand which works better for you.

Beyond the specs, there are plenty of key differences in nearly every metric, and after an extensive testing period, here is what we have to say.

Moving forward, for simplicity, we will refer to the 300-gram 2023 Pure Aero as the "Standard" and the 290-gram Pure Aero Rafa as the "Rafa."

To see a more detailed breakdown of the full Aero line-up, read our review of the Aero Rafa, or watch the video below.




Let's start with spin because it's synonymous with the Aero name. As you would expect, the Standard and the Rafa are incredible at producing spin, but they accomplish it differently.

As its name would suggest, the 2023 Pure Aero Standard is more "standard" in its spin production. It represents years of evolution in the line and provides a classic Aero spin experience, thanks to its Aeromodular throat, 300-gram weight, 320-millimetre balance, and 320 swing weight. The aerodynamic beam makes this racket incredibly whippy through the air and the fastest 100-square-inch frame on the market today. Those of you who have used a Pure Aero in the past will feel most at home with the Standard's swing pattern. Being able to generate this much racket head speed is one of the main reasons why Pure Aeros are so spin-friendly, and in swing speed, the Standard pretty much blows the Rafa out of the water.

The Aero Rafa has nearly the same Aeromodular beam design, but its 330-millimetre balance and 332 swing weight concentrate much more weight in the hoop. This makes for a racket that is noticeably more sluggish through the air. It feels different from the Standard Aero, but that slower swing speed doesn't necessarily take away from its spin potential.


Weight in the hoop has the most consequential effect on spin production, so even though the racket may not swing as fast, that weight naturally produces more spin. Since the Rafa swings slower than the Aero, the two rackets are more or less even out. Scientifically, in the force equals mass times acceleration (F=ma) equation, the Standard has more acceleration (a), and the Rafa has more mass (m). But one characteristic tips spin into the Rafa's favour.

Babolat decided to tighten up the stringed density on the Aero, going away from the two main skips of the previous couple of generations in favour of the tighter, one main skip of older Aeros. On the Rafa, Babolat kept the two main skips, meaning it has significantly more space between the strings than the Standard. More space means more string movement and, therefore, more spin. Point, Rafa.

Although the Rafa is supposed to represent the old guard, it has nearly the same spin technology as the Standard. That's because the Standard 2023 Aero's spin tech was toned back a few generations. Babolat removed the enormous, rectangular spin grommets from the 2016 and 2019 Aeros, replacing them with much smaller, classic, round grommets. The grommets on the Rafa look the same as the ones on the Standard, which makes the two rackets identical in terms of spin generated by technology. 

It's a close call, but the Rafa just edges it in spin potential. Its combination of a more open string bed and head-heavy weight distribution pushes it past the Standard's quicker overall speed.


Control is interesting because no Aero has ever been known for it, but it sort of pioneered a new style of control. Spin is the reason we hit harder than before the 21st century, and the original Aero Pro Drive helped change the game from that flatter, slower style to this fast-paced spin fest we see today. Spin allows balls to dip before going out, but there are other important metrics in determining control, so even though the Rafa might be more spin-friendly than the Standard, it's definitely not more controlled.

With its more open string bed, the Rafa has a significantly higher launch angle. That makes for a much more wild and less solid response, which is most noticeable when flattening out a shot. 

Tightening up the string bed on the 2023 Aero was a controversial decision, but it sacrificed so little spin in exchange for so much more directional control that I think it was a great one.

It's been a long time since I felt this solid of a response off of an Aero's string bed, and while it's not going to compete with true player's frames (like the Gravity Pro or Pro Staff 97), the Standard has the best control in the tweener spin racket category. 

The Rafa's weight distribution also plays a significant role in making it less controlled than the Standard. The racket is lighter (only 290 grams vs. 300), so it is naturally less stable. This lower stability is most noticeable on volleys, slices, and when trying to counter-punch high-paced shots. There might be more weight in the hoop but less weight, in general, to push back on the ball.

Also, with this more sluggish and top-heavy balance, you have less control over the racket's face. It's tough to bring through contact, and any slight error in your swing can send the ball anywhere. On the standard, you have much more manoeuvrability in general, especially mid-swing, to compensate for any mechanical mistakes you've made.


Control isn't close between the two, and neither is power. The Aero Rafa is significantly more powerful than the Standard, and most of what took away from the Rafa's control also makes it more powerful.

Earlier, I mentioned that a higher distribution of weight in the hoop helps generate more spin, and it also helps generate more power. More weight adds more everything on the ball — remember F=ma — so with its lower balance and swing weight, the Standard Aero can't compete with the Rafa's top-end power.

Also, the Rafa's more open string bed might make for a more wild response, but the extra string movement also makes for more purchase on the ball and more of the trampoline effect.

To top it off, the Pure Aero Rafa is significantly stiffer (70 RA) than the Standard (65 RA). Stiffer rackets maintain more energy during ball pocketing, adding to the Rafa's more powerful profile.


The two rackets' stiffnesses also play an essential part in determining their comfort levels. Stiffer rackets feel harsher than softer ones, but there are other reasons why the Rafa is less comfortable than the Standard.

The most significant technological difference between the two comes within the graphite's actual layup. The Rafa is bare bones since it's modelled after the Aero Pro Drive, which had little to no dampening technology.

The Standard Aero, on the other hand, has Babolat's top-of-the-line dampening tech: NF2-Tech inserts in the graphite. Over time, Babolat has developed effective dampening technology to combat their tweener's "uncomfortable" label, and the most recent Aero accomplishes that to near perfection. The graphite's NF2-Tech inserts do a great job of absorbing impact.

It's unfortunate, but the Rafa is directly modelled after one of the very reasons why Babolat developed that "uncomfortable" notoriety. While I think too much fuss is made about these frames' discomfort, there is no denying that the Rafa is significantly less comfortable than the Standard.


You might think, "Less tech means better feel!" but I preferred the feel of the Standard Aero.

Because there is so little tech in the Rafa, it has that classic stiff Babolat tweener response. While some like it, I would call it an "acquired taste." It feels a little hollow, and the sweet spot is really big, but at least you can rest assured, knowing that nothing is coming between the graphite's response and what you feel in your hand.

The Standard Aero might have dampening tech, but I didn't find the NF2-Tech inserts nearly as intrusive as older Babolat dampening technologies. In fact, I felt very connected to the ball with the Standard Aero, and it's one of the best-feeling Aeros I've tried. 



Which one's for you?

The Rafa and the Standard are perfect for players who hit with spin. Because the difference in spin generation is so marginal, you shouldn't pick based on that metric but rather on their power-to-control ratio.

These two rackets perfectly exemplify the dichotomy between tennis' power and control. What you gain in one, you lose with the other, and both rackets represent one side of that coin. The Rafa is only slightly better in spin generation, but the difference between their power and control profiles could not be more apparent – Rafa for power, Standard for control. 

Determining which characteristic you value more will be vital in picking between the two.

I do think the Standard is a more well-rounded racket. Even though it may be noticeably less powerful than the Rafa, it's still a thick-beamed, 16x19 tweener, so it's more powerful than average. The frame's better control and comfort tips it over the edge in overall performance.


Final Thoughts

These are two fantastic frames from the Babolat brand, and while they may seem similar on paper, they are a lot more different than they look. To set the records straight, adding the Rafa has nothing to do with Babolat trying to milk their most successful line's popularity but rather a chance to let us pick between two classic spin rackets that are different in almost every other way.

Come into the store to take out these two rackets for demo, or check them out online.

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