Babolat made it's name from making strings, natural gut to be exact, and they started this a long long time ago.. They are also more well known for their tennis rackets, but fairly recently they have started making badminton rackets. Their rackets are distinguished by the two stripes on the lower part of the head. Babolat have gained a cult following in the tennis world for their rackets, with around a quarter of the world's top 100 using them.
The big coup for them was signing Rafa Nadal and Roddick, because no matter how good your product is, you need to market it to the masses, and what better way to do this than by having successful players using your stuff. Just ask Yonex, they have all the top players using their stuff, although i don't think some of the Asian players have much choice in the matter, their national team is sponsored by Yonex, so they use their gear.
The question is can Babolat transfer the success of tennis into badminton? It's a similar situation to the likes of Wilson, Head and Prince. All are the big players in tennis, but they are starting from behind when they enter the badminton world because of the domination of Yonex. What they do have going for them is that they are not trying to copy anyone else, they have their own ranges, with their own little variations of technology. There must come a point when these companies will exhaust the amount of variables you can do to a badminton racket.
All manufacturers must look at a badminton racket and sit down to see what can we change? how can we make it better, or different from the rest? The head shape has changed from a conventional oval shape to isometric, and Prince tried to Axis shape a few years ago. Are there any other shapes the head could be? The aerodynamics of the head have been looked at, remember the wide body rackets? The edges of the head have been curved to cut through the air better, with the promise of extra power. I bet the manufacturers would really like to make a racket head that had sharp edges, like a wedge shape, which would be even more aerodynamic, but in reality you would have players being sliced up by their partners if they get hit.
So what have Babolat done to make them stand out from the rest? Well in the UK there are two ranges to choose from, the Satellite and the Booster Max. Where do they think up these names from? Most manufacturers have names that conjour up thoughts of power, speed and movement. We have the ArcSaber, the Airblade, the Aeroblade, Powerflow, Muscle Power, Nanospeed, K strike, EdgeSaber, Armortec, Fireblade, Super Wave, Ripple Power, Nano Power, Quad Power etc. Some badminton racket makers now add "tour" to their products, which gives us the impression that these rackets are used by the touring professionals, so they must be good enough for us. You get the impression that you would be part of an exclusive club if you use a tour racket.
So Babolat have chosen the term Satellite for their most expensive range. It immediately makes me think of something going round in circles (movement), orbiting around the earth (out of this world!) and moving very fast (speed). Babolat have covered the power problem with the "booster max" range. I guess these racquets will boost your power to the maximum.
The big daddy of the Satellite range is the Satellite Nitro 09. Now why have they brought out the 09 range in 2008? Looking at the online store i am at, they also sell the Satellite Nitro 08, which happens to be £12 cheaper. You may be able to guess that the Satellite range features Babolat's new Satellite technology. The marketing slogan is "may the power be with you", says it all really. This technology will give you increased power and added responsiveness. And it does this because it has cone shaped grommets. Yep, that is the big deal here, the grommets are a different shape. Babolat have also made the frame slimmer, and have a revolutionary new stringing pattern which will cut stringing time by 30%. I can see all the stringers rubbing their hands with glee on this one.
Yet more amazing technology can be seen at the t-joint where the shaft meets the head. Babolat have turned this joint into a v-shape, with Kevlar positioned around this v, to reduce torsion. And the final bit of good news is that Babolat have designed the "pilot system" which is basically two strips of plastic placed on the cone, which will help you to grip the cone better, and act as a marker for playing drop shots, serves and drives. Most players just tend to put their overgrips over the cone to help with this, but now you don't need to, because of these "strategically positioned elastomer strips".
The Satellite Nitro has a medium flex and is slightly head heavy. It weighs 86g and has a "power head size". This means it has an isometric head shape. It is made from hot melt graphite, with a bit of Kevlar and Zylon thrown in as well. Price for the 09Nitro is £101.99, the price for the 08 is £89.99. The difference between the two is the paint job, and the 09 version has a thinner shaft, oh and the price as well. You may as well just buy the 08 version, i am sure you will not notice the 3mm reduction in the shaft that much.
By the way, how do you spell Satellite? Is that correct, or is it "satelite"? the online store spells it satelite, with only one "l" in it. What the hell, i will just spell it both ways, a bit like racket and racquet i suppose.
Now the price for this Nitro is very expensive, and when Babolat hit the tennis market they kept a close watch on the dealers to make sure they didn't devalue the Babolat brand by cutting prices, a bit like Yonex do. So i suppose this is why prices are high. However, the very fact that they are selling next years models in this year, and also offering small discounts on this years models, which are in fact now last years models? Confusing ain't it? leads me to believe they are not selling well. The fact that they are new on the scene would account for this, and they are not exactly flooding all the online retailers with their rackets.
On the plus side, Babolat have taken the tennis world by storm over the last few years, so they must know how to make good stuff, perhaps they can repeat this feat in badminton. I must admit i have never used any Babolat badminton rackets, nor have i even seen anyone else using them so i can't comment on how good or bad they are. It may be a different story in other parts of the world, but in the UK they have yet to catch on.
Next up in price is the Babolat Satelite Solar 08, which is £82.99. It has the same technology as the Nitro but this one weighs 82g and has a very flexible rating, it is also slightly more head heavy than the Nitro. This kind of breaks the mould a bit as far as top end models go because they are usually very stiff.
At £74.99 we have the Satelite Energy 08, with the same technology as the others, but this time we have a medium flex and slightly less head heavy balance. The weight is 86g. Also at £74.99 is the Satelite Star 09, which has the same balance and stiffness as the Solar, but weighs 84g.
Also in the Satelite range is the Comet. Now i have found another online retailer who sells Babolat gear and there is a quite a big difference in price between the two. One sells the Comet for £39.99 and the other is selling it for £76.49. The cheaper one is an 07 model, but they are basically the same except for the price. The Comet weighs in at 92g and is very head heavy, with a medium flex. This would probably feel very sluggish.
Finally we have the Satellite Chrono and Synchro which are the same apart from the weight, with the Chrono being 89g and the Synchro at 85g. They cost around £55.
OOPS, there is one more, the Babolat Satelite Brio. This costs £39.99, has a medium flex, weighs 89g and is head heavy. It also has an oval head shape, not isometric like the others in the range.
The next range is the Booster Max series, which is the economy range. This series does not have all the bells and whistles that the Satelite series has. The Booster Shock 09 costs £41.99, it has a medium flex, weighs 86g and has a more even balance. It is made from high modulus graphite, and you do get the revolution that is the pilot system, ie, two plastic strips on the cone. It is also isometric.
The Booster Ti 09 is next up, and this baby weighs in at 90g with a medium/stiff flex. It is also has the same balance as the Shock. Price is £33.99.
The Babolat Booster Force is from the same range, but i have had to look at a different online store to find any more Babolat offerings. What i can see is that it pays to shop around for the cheaper rackets because this Babolat Force costs £50.99, and this is much more than on other websites. There is not much info either, but it weighs 89g and has the isometric head shape. Finally there is the Booster Lite at around £34.99, with a more even balance, 87g and a medium to flexible flex rating.
So there you have it. Time will tell if Babolat can make it in badminton, and it is fiercely competitive. The prices on the top end rackets are around the same as Forza, Carlton and Head badminton rackets, so i guess this is who they are competing against. But the market is huge as there are so many of us badminton players sbout so perhaps they have a chance.