The ultimate precision that your game requires. R&R's Luca Berg gives his full review on the Pure Strike VS.
I’m not a huge fan of white rackets.
Sure they look good on the wall, and stand out compared to other frames, but out on court, they bother my field of vision through the swing, and certainly don’t look aesthetically pleasing on camera. (I’m not a pro so the latter doesn’t really matter).
All that is unfortunate, because I absolutely love the Babolat Pure Strike line. So when I saw that the VS, Babolat’s “pro” version of that silo, was predominantly charcoal, I was more than excited.
VS represents the premier quality, with the brand cutting no corners and sacrificing no expense.
But it wasn’t just the stunning paint job that caught my eye. When Babolat releases a thin beamed, control racket, they usually do it right. Sure, they are more well known for their tweener style of Pure Drive and Pure Aero, but their players’ frames are some of my favorites of the past 15 years. Needless to say, I was itching to get on court as soon as that VS container arrived in the store.
The last couple Pure Strike VSs were all made from a similar mold. Originally, the VS was a racket designed for Babolat to maintain their beloved Pure Storm and Pure Control designs; they were more or less the same racket. With this generation, they have decided to drastically change the frame. They brought down the head size from 98 sq. inches to 97, and thickened up the beam in the lower hoop to 22 mm.
The Pure Strike VS 2022 feels so very sweet on contact. We may have treated ourselves by putting VS Touch into the VS racket, but it was obvious from the first few groundstrokes that the frame was a precision and feel scalpel. I knew exactly where my ball was going each time I made clean contact with the sweet spot, and the feedback was like those buttery soft Babolat’s of old. Much of this fantastic feel can be attributed to the frame's lack of overbearing technological features. Gone is the SMAC technology from the standard Pure Strike 16 x 19, and, compared to that frame, the VS feels much more “pure” on contact; certainly a bit more jarring and unforgiving when hit wrong, but much more responsive when hit right.
Compared to the Strikes 16 x 19 and 18 x 20, while the static weight is higher, the swing weight is drastically lower. This might make the VS feel slightly less solid, and certainly doesn’t give it quite as much plough through as those in-line frames, but it makes the racket more maneuverable, whippy, and also gives us the ability to customize the VS to a certain spec. Babolat have managed to maintain excellent stability for a racket with such a low swingweight, by adding what they call a Bumper Shield, bumper guard. The protective part of the bumper comes much farther down the head than it does on most rackets; not quite as low as the CAP grommets of the Head Prestige, but somewhere around the 3/9 position of the racket. Not only does this protect more of that expensive VS graphite, it also adds stability to the outer areas of the frame, without increasing swing weight.
By adding a 20th cross to the VS’s string pattern, Babolat have lowered the launch angle compared to the Pure Strike 16 x 19. The string bed is visibly tighter, especially in the centre. This might make the VS feel slightly less spin friendly, but also much more controlled, especially on flatter hits. It won’t feel quite as solid as the Strike 18 x 20, but lying somewhere in the middle, it has the best of both worlds. Main strings account for about 75% of the playability of a racket, so naturally, being a 16 mainer, the VS has plenty of spin potential. It’s no Pure Aero, but compared to racket’s in its class, it will hold its own in a spin-fest.
When it comes to slicing, I have always preferred 18 x 20 rackets. They let you push into the ball with a solid response rather than scrape at the ball with a big open string bed. My slice always hangs lower and deeper and feels significantly more consistent. The Pure Strike VS may not have 18 mains, but it has a tighter stringbed than most rackets with only 16 main strings. This goes back to what I was saying about the lower launch angle; it’s true for groundstrokes, as well as the slice. You might not get that top end confidence of an 18 x 20, but it’s nearly there, and you certainly won’t be avoiding the slice.
Before adding a bit of lead to the tip of my demo VS, I found the racket too unstable at the net. A swingweight of 315 is simply too low for me to feel confident in pushing my volleys deep to put them away consistently. Once I did add that lead, you can imagine how the Strike performed (especially with natural gut strings). A soft, thin beamed, heavy and stable racket is the holy grail for a volley specialist (which I am not). Add the fact that the VS already comes with a leather grip, and you have a racket that feels every volley, and you know exactly where the ball is going to go as you control it at the net.
Thanks to the racket’s headlight balance and whippy feel, you can bring the VS quickly through the service motion, and produce loads of jump on the ball, especially on second serves. On first serves, the racket could do with a bit more weight to really pummel the ball and bounce it off your opponent’s court, but that added margin for error on second serve makes up for its lackluster ace potential.
The return is a similar story. You can really get at the ball and attack it with racket head speed when the serve is slower. On big, powerful serves, however, the VS does lack some stability and plow through to hold its own.
I want to point out that when I added weight to the hoop of my demo VS, the racket became a machine on both serves and returns. It was an extremely stable racket and packed a huge punch when swung properly through the air. It requires a bit of work to tap into the racket’s full potential, but once you get that spec right, it’s hard to find many faults.
Frames like the VS that scream “feel” and “precision” and “control” are simply my favourite. I can’t deny that. So sometimes I can get caught up in the romanticism of my personal preference and overlook some objective performance characteristics. The racket isn’t perfect, but the way it flexes on contact, giving instant feedback and a split second of point and shoot, puts it firmly in that category of rackets with the “addiction factor”. To me, those are rackets that you look forward to hitting the ball with. The feeling of hitting a perfect shot is why we all fell in love with tennis in the first place, and this racket complements that sensation to a tee, while still performing remarkably well in most technical metrics.