An Ever Expanding Category

Babolat and Roland Garros, the ‘Ultimate Tennis Experience’.

As exercises in synergy go, a partnership between a tennis tournament and a manufacturer of tennis equipment is not a bad fit, especially if they’re both ‘driven by a unifying, common value: passion for tennis’. Nevertheless, to the ever-expanding category named Stuff That Only Makes Sense When Viewed Cynically, we can now add the decision by the French Tennis Federation to replace the venerably worthy Dunlop balls at the French Open with Babolats. If nothing else, it ensures that the inevitable winner – Rafael Nadal – won’t have to soil his strings with a rival company’s equipment. Indeed, if Nike persists in kitting him out in oiled vinyl, we may see him sporting Babolat duds, too – a clean sweep.

The old Dunlop ball was by all accounts heavier than the ‘new’ Babolat. It is also used in every substantial clay event preceding the French Open. Players take this kind of differential pretty seriously – some claim ball dynamics are as essential as surface variation – and they will now be arriving in Paris to strikingly different conditions. This is something they have complained about before, and was the primary reason why so much money and effort was devoted to switching the Rome and Madrid Masters events. Madrid was considered an inadequate warm-up, since its altitude means it plays much faster. Unlike Paris, which on a cool damp day plays like treacle, shots in Madrid tend to fly on the players, which is an interesting effect, one that can be partially simulated by using lighter balls. Like Babolats.

As I say, the decision makes ample sense if viewed cynically. Money talks, a fact that was sufficiently clear already, but is rendered in searing clarity when viewed within the context of Babolat’s rather shyly titled ‘Ultimate Tennis Experience’, which sounds like bad news for those us hoping to experience tennis again at a later date. In practical terms, it means that, in addition to the balls, Babolat will be providing stringing services and a range of Roland Garros badged clothing. Advertising featuring Nadal will be even more prominent than before, if only that were possible.

The full press release – apparently translated from French by a not very bright robot – is available here. It showcases the usual eagerness to cram as many broadly synonymous terms into as short a space as possible. Thus we discover that Babolat will deliver ‘know-how and expertise’, presumably gained through its passionate commitment to ‘inventing, innovating and designing’. Brilliant.

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