|Wilson Blade 98 16x19 2015 Racquet Scores|
Just as we found when we reviewed its 18x20 counterpart, the Blade 98 16x19 offered a more forgiving and responsive feel than the racquet it replaces (2013 Blade 98 16x19). The new graphite and basalt layup in the frame makes it feel noticeably plusher, while the Parallel Drilling opens up the sweetspot and makes the new Blade 98 16x19 more forgiving on off-center shots. Two of our playtesters found a very favorable blend of power and control while the other two found the response to be a bit too erratic at times. The two playtesters who liked the response felt very comfortable swinging big and going for their shots, while the others didn't have the confidence to constantly go for their shots. However, all agreed that this Blade improves upon its predecessor and continues to be a versatile weapon for the modern player. We encourage you to read on to find out how this racquet performs for various playing styles.
There were mixed feelings from our playtesters when it came to striking groundstrokes with the Blade 98 16x19. Andy explained, "I really liked the feel and responsiveness I felt on my groundstrokes, and I felt very connected to the ball as it left the strings. However, I found the response off the stringbed to be a tad inconsistent, and I never got totally dialed in from the baseline. The ball would fly on me unexpectedly, and I didn't really feel completely confident going for my shots. I liked the spin potential and livelier feel of this open-patterned version of the Blade, but I'll opt for the more precise feel of the 18x20 version."
Michelle had a similar experience. She shared, "I need to preface my comments by saying I've never been a huge fan of the Blade line of racquets. I see players who play similar to me (e.g. Madison Keys) using the Blades, and I don't get it -- the feel just isn't my favorite. With that being said, I had a bit of an erratic experience with this racquet. Whenever I hit bigger my shots flew. It was weird; I almost felt like I was hitting with a Spin Effect racquet. I prefer a stiffer racquet, so the lower RA was throwing me off a bit, too. My game is based on finding a ball to attack, and if I can't consistently hit a deep ball to push my opponent back and gain the offensive in the point I get in trouble. I wasn't able to consistently do that with this racquet. I also struggled with it on slices. It was lacking that solid plow through that I love with the Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph. It just felt like my slice became ineffective when I was slightly off. I noticed a lack of stability when I had to lunge for the ball to get back into the point, which resulted in a short ball for my opponent. However, I was able to access tons of spin and power, and I hit one of my faster forehands (90 mph) with this racquet. I was surprised when I was told the swingweight was in the 330s. Because I've become accustomed to the solid feel of the RF97, the more flexible Blade 98 just isn't the feel I prefer. I usually gravitate toward the 16x19 string patterns, but if I had to choose between the Blade 98 16x19 or 18x20, I might go with the 18x20 based on the more predictable response, precision and control."
Having a slightly different experience, our new big hitting playtester, Marco, enjoyed the blend of power and control, but he didn't quite find the spin potential he was hoping for from the baseline. He said, "I really liked the feel and pop this 16x19 string pattern provided from the baseline. I noticed how forgiving this racquet was when I got stretched out in the corners of the court, which put turning defense into offense more in my control. I found generating spin required more effort than other 16x19 string patterns, particularly when compared to the Babolat Pure Drive Plus I've been playing with. However, this racquet was a pleasure to play with from the baseline."
Sebastian also liked the blend of attributes, especially when he was hitting offensive groundstrokes. He said, "When playing with the Blade 98 16x19 from the back of the court I enjoyed its exceptional comfort and great precision. The combination of superior power and control stuck out to me during the test. This racquet felt most comfortable when I had time to set up my groundstrokes, but it also gave me a great deal of stability when hitting the ball on the move. However, while it felt easy to generate power, it was challenging at times to put sufficient spin on the ball."
Our testers had a similar experience at the net with the Blade 98 16x19. Everyone appreciated the plush, responsive feel, but not everyone found enough control. Michelle wished for a little more heft to help her with placing her volleys. She offered, "I appreciated the touch I could access with this softer racquet. I tend to like stiffer setups, but when it comes to volleying, I could appreciate the flex from this racquet. It felt pretty light up at the net to me as well, but I think that led to me getting a little sloppy at times. I felt like I could hit hard, but I felt erratic and I wasn't getting the depth I needed."
Marco liked the Blade 98 16x19 for shots that required a bit more finesse around the net. He praised, "Up at net I liked the added ability to pick up a low ball and place it with sharper precision. It might require a bit more effort if you're looking to really stick the ball, but for those seeking some added feel and craft around the net, this is a racquet you want to check out!"
Sebastian also loved the control around the net, and he raved, "I enjoyed this racquet a lot when hitting volleys, particularly because of its great feel and exceptional precision. I felt that I was in total control."
On the contrary, Andy found the racquet to be a little unpredictable on his volleys. He critiqued, "I had the same issue at net that I had from the baseline. For the most part I felt connected and in control of my volleys, but there were times when I just lost the ball off the stringbed and it would fly long. Once again I'd opt for the more precise, lower-powered response of the 18x20 version."
The open string pattern of the Blade 98 16x19 allowed our testers to access some nice pace while preserving enough control for their serves to be effective. Marco was able to utilize the control of the Blade 98 to keep his opponents on the defensive. He said, "I enjoyed the precision on first serves, and the ability to really swing my serve out wide or into the body. My serve wasn't quite jumping off the court, but the trade-off between pace and control wasn't big enough to mark that as a significant drawback. I noticed there was a bit less action on kick serves since it was harder to put the necessary work on the ball. However, the placement this racquet provided made me feel in complete control."
Michelle enjoyed the nice blend of attributes on her serves. She said, "I found ample power and spin when I found the sweetspot. I could rev up my flat first serve and hit it well. I could also get some good kick and slice serves going. Again, the racquet did not offer the stiffer feel that I like, but it wasn't too unstable on serves."
Echoing Michelle's sentiments was Andy, who raved, "I found good control along with plenty of pop and spin, which made the serve my favorite shot to hit with the Blade 98 16x19. I could locate my serves well and get my kicks and slices moving off the court. With the livelier feel of the open pattern I felt I could get a bit more pace and spin on my serves than I could with the 18x20 version."
Sebastian enjoyed a slight boost in power, and he found it easy to generate racquet head speed. He offered, "When hitting first serves I really enjoyed the racquet's maneuverability. It gave me a little bit of extra power, though not as much as I hoped. Overall, I felt the 16x19 gave me a bit more power than its 18x20 counterpart. While I enjoyed its power and comfortable feel, getting the desired spin on my serves was probably the biggest challenge during the test."
Once again our playtesters had a wide range of opinions on returning serve with the Blade 98 16x19. Sebastian, whose return game is a strength, found it easy to step in and return effectively from inside the baseline with this racquet. He said, "I felt this racquet was great for hitting serve returns, particularly when I stepped into the court and blocked them back. With a short backswing it was easy to use my opponents' service speed to generate a great deal of power myself. I really liked hitting serve returns with this racquet because of its solid and stable feel at contact."
Marco noticed the forgiving sweetspot the most when returning serve, and he started dialing in one type of return in particular. He shared, "The new Parallel Drilling technology provides a relatively large sweetspot, which made returning serve a pleasure, particularly compared to what I've been used to with the Pure Drive Plus. I found the Blade 98 16x19 to be very stable, and again, the control was extremely noticeable, even when I was stretched. Using the slice return is a great option with this racquet."
Michelle liked the heft in the hoop of the Blade 98, but she ultimately found herself longing for a stiffer, more forgiving racquet for her returns. She said, "I can't blame the racquet too much because I knew the RA was lower than what I really like. Because of the lower RA I had some slight issues with the feel when I was attacking the ball off returns. The higher swingweight helped do some damage, but I never felt like I was hitting consistently solid returns, and I felt some instability if I wasn't hitting exactly in the sweetspot."
Andy couldn't find any predictability in his return game. He critiqued, "Like on my groundstrokes and volleys, the response off the stringbed was a bit inconsistent on my returns. The ball would fly when I didn't want it to and drop short when I swung too slowly. I wasn't totally confident going after my returns aggressively and I never got totally dialed in."
Andy- "The Blade 98 16x19 has great feel and is more flexible than the previous Blade 98 16x19. Very nice spin potential as well."
Michelle- "I could access a lot of power and spin. The cosmetics look hot -- I love the lime green head guard!"
Marco- "The weight and balance, along with the large sweetspot, really make this an all-court racquet, especially for the advanced player."
Sebastian- "Overall, this is a great racquet for the advanced tournament player whose playing style is rather flat and powerful. Being able to generate power while maintaining stability and control were some of my favorite features."
Andy- "An inconsistent response off the stringbed resulted in a lack of control at times."
Michelle- "I felt really erratic playing with this racquet. I appreciated the spin and power, but I never really found a consistent response."
Marco- "A lot of effort was required to generate the spin I am used to getting."
Sebastian- "Generating sufficient spin was a challenge for me, especially when hitting groundstrokes and second serves."
Andy- "The new graphite/basalt layup results in a softer, yet more solid, feel when compared to the previous Blade 98 16x19. I'd compare it to the Head Graphene Prestige Pro and Yonex EZONE Ai 98, but with not quite as much control."
Michelle- "Compared to the version it replaces, I'd say there was a bit more feel and a more powerful sweetspot. I'd also compare it to the Babolat Pure Strike 16x19, although I think the Pure Strike feels a bit more solid."
Marco- "The Blade 16x19 is one of the most well-rounded racquets I've played with. Its maneuverability and precise control make it a very nice racquet to swing. The Blade might not offer the same power as the Pure Drive Plus, but it makes up for that with its forgiving feel. For even more control over the trajectory of your shots I'd recommend trying the denser Blade 98 18x20 string pattern, which gave me more consistent depth from the baseline. In saying that, the 18x20 doesn't suit my game as well as the 16x19 and didn't offer quite the same pop off the stringbed."
Sebastian- "Compared to the Blade 98 18x20, I felt the 16x19 made it was easier to generate power while maintaining most of its control. While the 16x19 version seemed to be a little less forgiving than its 18x20 counterpart, I feel like a tournament player will appreciate the extra power that comes with this racquet. I felt it quite challenging to generate a lot of spin with both racquets, so I'd recommend the 16x19 to hard-hitting players who prefer to hit the ball flatly and without a lot of spin."
(Scores are determined by averaging individual play test scores)
Andy: Open level all court player with a semi-western forehand grip and a two handed backhand. Andy is currently using the Yonex EZONE Ai 98.
Michelle: Open level baseline player with a semi-western forehand and a two handed backhand. She currently plays with the Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph.
Marco: Open level lefty aggressive baseliner with a semi-western forehand and a one-handed backhand. He currently plays with a Babolat Pure Drive Plus.
Sebastian: Open level baseline player with a semi-western forehand and a two handed backhand. Sebastian currently plays with a Wilson Blade 98 16x19.
Review date: February 2015. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
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