The Pure Aero has changed. Some might see it as regressing; I consider it a huge step in solidifying. With the release of the 2023 Pure Aero, Babolat has decided to drastically overhaul the direction of its flagship "spin" line.
Over the last few generations, the Aero had evolved into a more and more spin-friendly, baseline beast. This version takes a step back in what may be one of the boldest decisions from a brand that has consistently modernized at every opportunity. The glossy, darker paint job even reminds us of the less in-your-face Aero Pro Drive designs of old, leading me to believe that Babolat knows exactly what they are doing.
So what exactly has changed with the 2023 Aero? The answer: about all that could, while keeping the line true to its name. The Aero's overall shape and specs are similar to what they were previously, and for much of the racket's history. At 300 grams, with a 16 x 19 string pattern and a beam thickness identical to its predecessor, you would be forgiven for thinking the racket will be the same. But that's not the case.
String pattern density
The most noticeable difference came before I even hit a shot while stringing up the racket. When I got to my outer mains, I noticed only one skipped grommet; on the previous versions, there had been two. I cracked a little smile, knowing what that meant: the string pattern had tightened significantly. Sure enough, when I tied it off and compared it side by side with its 2019 predecessor, the difference was astonishing. Especially in the middle of the stringbed, the pattern is much tighter, reminiscent of the Aero Pro Drive generations (2013 and older).
Control control control
My on-court experience reflected what I had observed in store and then some.
I had the 2019 Aero strung up the same way, on the same day as the new version, to keep the playtest consistent. Hitting my first full-pace groundstroke, I instantly felt the difference. That first forehand almost bounced before the net.
The launch angle of the 2023 Aero is drastically lower than the 2019's. Due to that string pattern change, the racket feels so much more controlled and so much less wild than at least the last two versions.
Many original Aero users had struggled with the recent Pure Aeros. Babolat had made the rackets more spin oriented, but, as a consequence, the ball would spray, and they were difficult to control if you weren't hitting almost artificially spinny shots. That is not the case with this version. The racket feels much more solid on contact, and I can press on the gas and vary up my shots with less fear of the ball flying all over the place. Consistency is key in tennis, especially at the higher levels, and this version is levels beyond the predecessor in that regard.
You will lose some spin potential with a tighter string pattern, but it's a sacrifice I am more than happy to make in exchange for that much more consistent response. Curiously, Babolat has gone even further in an attempt to lower the crazy amounts of spin produced by the last two generations. While "Spin Grommets" are advertised on the 2023 Aero's frame, the holes are round and narrow compared to the wide, rectangular ones found on the predecessor. Because the strings had so much space to move in those grommets, you could really feel the snapback from your mains. That helped make the racket so spin-friendly but also hurt the racket's control and gave it that wild, unpredictable feel.
There's no denying it; the 2023 Pure Aero is much less spin-friendly than the last two versions. It's a design change that could have many questioning the French manufacturer's decision, but Babolat knows what they are doing. They are opening the Pure Aero back up to those who couldn't use the frame due to its lackluster control characteristics.
For those of you worried about spin, don't be. It's still an Aero. Compared to the rest of the industry, it is very spinny. It just doesn't have that extra manufactured spin feel.
Soft: that's one word generally not associated with Babolat. Although there is more to the brand than its stiff, powerful rackets (i.e., Pure Control, Pure Storm, Pure Strike VS), it's a characteristic that has followed the French tennis giant throughout most of its history and most of its success.
The 2019 Pure Aero was very stiff. At 70 RA, it was sometimes uncomfortable but also returned loads of the energy generated through the swing, giving it an extra powerful response.
With the 2023 edition (according to our diagnostic machine), Babolat has lowered the stiffness by a whopping 4 points, to 66 RA. Discomfort is now a much less of an issue on this racket, and that softness further reinforces the control "vibe" that Babolat is going for with this new release. The racket pockets the ball longer than most of the previous versions. That extra dwell time provides players with a split second extra to control the direction of their shots and can become quite an addicting sensation as it's also associated with a better feel.
Beyond the baseline
Talking about feel, that's another word many tennis purists have scoffed at with Babolat; a condescending air that has often annoyed me. But they sort of had a point with the Aeros of old. The Pure Aero was usually that racket that performed very well from the baseline in modern, grindy slugfests, but fell behind the curve in touch, slicing, and volleying.
With its tighter pattern, the 2023 Aero launches a far more consistent slice off the stringbed. Open patterns are sometimes guilty of over-cutting the ball and spinning it wildly rather than punching it deep and low. That was the case on the previous Aero but certainly isn't on the new one. I enjoyed slicing with this racket; I'll always prefer my 18 x 20, thin beamed frames for a beautiful, low-hanging slice, but this was still a pleasant experience.
In terms of touch, the 2023 Aero has taken a significant step in the right direction. Mostly due to the softness, you are more connected to the ball. Babolat has also changed some of the dampening materials in the Aero. NF2 Tech flax inserts are wrapped strategically throughout the frame to dampen vibrations and supposedly improve "feel". In practice, I found this racket less muted and artificially dampened than the last generation, giving it a more pure feel.
Volleying is the one area where the Pure Aero 2023 might falter a bit. It's a light racket with a lower swing weight than the last generation, so it lacks a bit of the top-end stability I appreciate from heavier players' frames. That said, the thick beam and 100 square inch head size help it perform well, but not perfectly, at the net. It's also important to remember that the Pure Aero will always feel more maneuverable than other rackets in its spec. The Aerodynamic throat design might seem like a bit of a gimmick, but in reality, it helps the racket slice through the air quicker than anything else out there. Not only does the racket whip through contact extra fast on groundstrokes, but it is also more maneuverable at the net.
You may have gathered that I absolutely love this racket. I am such a big fan that demoing it out to the general public today has been extremely difficult. I will eventually get my hands on a couple.
The previous generations of the Aero were fantastic, but didn't work for my play style. If you are like me and prefer a tighter stringbed, softer flexing players' stick but have always wanted to reap the benefits of the Aero's unique swing and spin characteristics, this racket is the perfect one to try. It takes a step back in time but aligns itself with where the game is going. Spin and power will always be at the Pure Aero's core, but touch, feel and control, added to such a popular line, will make this racket hard to beat.