Wilson K Factor KPro Staff 88 Racquet Review
Few racquets become as legendary as the player or players that use them. The Wilson Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 was one exception.
The racquet of choice for Pete Sampras, the Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 accompanied him to 14 Grand Slam titles. While that was an historic achievement, many (including Sampras himself) wondered whether he would have captured a few more grand slams with a slightly larger racquet -- perhaps even the French Open title, the only Grand Slam crown Sampras failed to claim.
Enter the Wilson [K]Pro Staff 88, Sampras' new racquet of choice. Taking design qualities from both the Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 and Pro Staff Tour 90 series of racquets (used by Sampras during exhibition play since retirement), the [K]Pro Staff 88 offers its own unique feel and playing qualities.
With a Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 and a [K]Six-One Tour 90 riding shotgun for comparison purposes, we hit the courts for a month-long playtest of the [K]Pro Staff 88. About midway through the playtesting of the [K]Pro Staff 88, our TW Professor got his hands on one of our test racquets. Putting the [K]Pro Staff 88 through his rigorous testing program, he discovered the racquet offered the kind of power and plow-through usually reserved for racquets with much larger headsizes.
To find out if we found the [K]Pro Staff 88 to perform on court as exceptionally as it did in the lab, read on.
Groundstrokes - Score: 79
The [K]Pro Staff 88 impressed our testers from the baseline with its stability, comfort and ability to hit through the contact zone. Chris was amazed with the power and stability. "Wow! This racquet offered some serious plow-through off the ground. My first time out, I had the racquet strung way too loosely. With all the weight and frame stiffness, I found this racquet just crushed the ball, and I had to string it near the top of the tension range to rein in all the power. I also switched to a co-polyester string (Luxilon M2 Plus), which added more control. Stability was awesome and I enjoyed the solid feel of this racquet. The racquet is heavy, but I found all I had to do was keep my shots out in front to hit with a lot of pace and depth. Both the [K]Six-One Tour 90 and ProStaff Original 6.0 85 felt maneuverable in comparison. Out of the three I'd go with the Tour 90, as I found most of the power and spin of the 88, but with improved mobility."
Spencer enjoyed the mass and ability to crush the ball from the baseline. "This racquet has tremendous plow-through and is extremely stable. From the baseline it was certainly a fun hit when rallying -- meaning, when warming up and being able to set-up, have proper footwork and prepare early enough to put a nice smooth swing on the ball. With the same general feel of the Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 and [K]Six-One Tour 90, this stick offered the most stability, as well as the most power. However, I felt the least margin of error with the [K]Pro Staff 88. I felt the other two racquets had an ever-so-slight advantage in terms of control. With the 88, I garnered the best results when I was able to prepare early and focus on letting the mass of the racquet do the work. If I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, like when I was on the run in a heated point, I struggled to get the racquet head around and often times sprayed balls. I wasn't able to muscle this stick as a last resort when caught late."
Hitting some big forehands with the [K]Pro Staff 88 was Danny. "The racquet felt great from the baseline. The soft and solid feel was enjoyable. I had more success from my forehand side than my backhand side. My forehand was more consistent and my precision was noticeably better, too. Accuracy and timing was harder to find with my backhand. I assumed that the 12.8 oz weight was the reason. Overall, I thought the racquet was good from the baseline, but when I don't think it was quite as good as the Pro Staff 6.0 Original 85 and the KSix-One Tour 90."
Taking a walk down memory lane was Granville. "Nice! Like an old friend. Reliable. Needless to say, at 12.8 ounces this racquet is not for everyone. But for those that remember the 85, or simply enjoy their 6.1's, or want to get a glimpse of the stick that Sampras won 14 slams with, this new 88 is worth a test drive. I'll stop with all the prerequisites (weight, ability and preparation) and get on with it -- kapow, thwap thwap thwap! I love this stick! I admit it took me about 60 minutes before I was really comfortable with it. It retains the sense of pocketing and touch I remember from my old Pro Staff 85. After some acclimation I had forgotten completely about the new racquet in my hand and it became an extension of my arm. However, I was awakened again to the 88 in my hand on a dead run on the forehand side when it came time to get the racquet around the ball, the weight was evident as it took just a moment longer to get the racquet where it needed to be. It did not affect the shot as I just wrapped the string around the ball and it screamed down the line for a clean winner - the ball passing my opponent before he had time to react. It was memorable. There is something about this racquet, it gets inside your head and becomes part of your persona."
Volleys - Score: 90
The [K]Pro Staff 88 turned in a rock solid performance at net. Our testers found themselves continuing to be amazed by both the punch and soft touch they were finding with the racquet. Danny was volleying with lots of confidence. "Not surprisingly, I loved the [K]Pro Staff 88 at net. This is a serve and volleyer's racquet. My touch, feel, consistency and stick was at an all time high. I think the [K]Pro Staff 88 was better at the net compared to both the ProStaff original 6.0 85 original and the KSix-One Tour 90."
Granville felt as confident as the Clint Eastwood character, Dirty Harry, when at net. "Whoah! Deja-vu all over again. Crisp, yet soft on the touch. Scalpel-like. Having a tool so well adapted to my game gives me a sense of invincibility. I was thinking 'go ahead, try to pass me; make my day!' Additionally, the soft touch afforded by this 88 is really something special. I was picking up shoelace volleys and half volleys simply by having the racquet in the right position. In many ways it's easier to play with these heavy sticks. When it comes to crisp decisive volleys, the 88 seems to be waiting for that moment to pounce. With the slightest fraction of additional wrist, the volleys became decisive winners. In retrospect, this racquet has two personalities: the cat-like cradling and teasing of the ball, and the explosive power and precision of a lion."
Spencer had to rein in his zeal up at net. "It took me awhile to adjust to the power of this stick on volleys. I really had to focus on pulling back the reins, as it doesn't take a whole lot to put away volleys when at net. This racquet is very precise, getting a lot out of just a little movement both with punch and direction. There really isn't much more needed beyond getting the racquet in position, as it will do the work for you. Like I said, it took awhile to get used to not swinging through the ball as much on my volleys, as a lot of them sailed long when I did. When at net, I preferred the ProStaff Original 6.0 85 because of its maneuverability and depth control compared to the other two, though the KSix-One Tour 90 was close."
Thrilled with the effortless punch and control when volleying was Chris. "This is the area where the racquet just blew me away. This stick is just so, so solid on volleys -- even more so than the Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 and the [K]Six-One Tour 90. I was amazed at how much punch I could get, as well as depth, with no effort. With this stick all I had to do was keep the racquet out in front and it did the rest. I found excellent results on touch volleys, too. There was absolutely no flutter at impact from this stick, which enabled me to grip the handle very lightly and get lots of feel."
Serves - Score: 78
When it came to finding power from the mass of the [K]Pro Staff 88 on serve, our testers were evenly divided. Loving the production of a heavy ball on serve was Spencer. "Though I didn't have stellar consistency, I found this to be my favorite part of this playtest. My serves came in heavy. Like groundstrokes, if I focused on a smooth swing and let the stick do most of the work, I was pretty successful. It was an amazingly good feel to put such a smooth swing on the ball and see the ball really jump off the court like it did. I strongly preferred the [K]Pro Staff 88 over the others when serving."
Chris enjoyed the penetration and the kick he produced on serve with the racquet. "Once I got used to the swingweight, I served well. Again, the weight and stiffness of the racquet seemed to help me get lots of power. My serves were penetrating the court very well and I was getting some increased height on the ball as it was reaching my opponent. I was impressed by the stability of the racquet, and even when my timing was not perfect my serves tended to still be decent. That said, I found I could serve easier right off the bat with both the Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 and the [K]Six-One Tour 90. Out of the three, the [K]Six-One Tour 90 was my favorite, as I was getting more spin and I felt like I could control the tip of the racquet better."
Danny struggled with the mass of the racquet on serve. "The 12.8 ounce weight was hard for me to swing. It was just too much stick for me. I made a slight adjustment to my serving technique, which helped, but I took it slow with the [K]Pro Staff 88. Of the three racquets, I thought the this one was the hardest racquet to swing on serve."
Feeling that the weight hindered his power was Granville. "On the one hand, I was serving as I always do, taking a bit off the top end and placing the ball for optimum penetration. At this point in my game (more accurately age), I am simply not strong enough to take all the weight of the racquet and direct it into the ball. I do enjoy the very precise feel of the ball coming off the racquet and can still place the ball on a dime. I just do not have the strength to crush the ball with the [K]Pro Staff 88."
Serve Returns - Score: 79
Again, the solid and stable response of the [K]Pro Staff 88 impressed our testers when returning serve. Chris was most successful when taking shorter backswings on returns. "The more compact I stayed with my backswing on returns, the better the results. This racquet excelled when I could keep everything out in front. Even when stretched wide I was able to chip the ball back with depth thanks to the very stable response of the racquet. I felt like I was hitting the ball a little flatter, and I would need to spend some additional time before I developed the required adjustment to whip this racquet around like I do with my lighter, regular racquet. Again, it felt more solid and had more potential for power than both the Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 and the [K]Six-One Tour 90. When playing against Spencer, who was absolutely crushing serves with the [K]Pro Staff 88, I was glad to have one in my hand so I had something stable enough to get the ball back."
Danny enjoyed the way the racquet came through the contact zone on returns. "I had more success with my service returns than I did with my groundstrokes. My accuracy and plow-through was most noticeable when I was returning from the deuce court."
Not being able to find a weakness in this racquet on return was Granville. "Oh yeah! If there is one shot that best demonstrates the benefit of mass in a racquet it would be the serve return. When playing against a big server, the [K]Pro Staff 88 is an ideal racquet to have in my hand. When I had time to take a big swing I found I was able to direct the ball with ease. When forced to be defensive against a big serve, I found the stability of the 88 an enormous benefit, getting depth and precision I did not know was possible. It opens up new possibilities... The feedback from the racquet at impact is almost simplistic; no torsion, solid impact."
Spencer felt hindered with the weight of the racquet. "I misfired the most in this aspect of the playtest. I had a low return percentage against a hard server. The harder serves didn't find the middle of my racquet often enough, as I struggled to get the racquet in the proper position. The [K]Pro Staff 88 did handle spin and kick serves very well, though. It was the Pro Staff Original 6.0 85 where I had the most success overall on returns. The combination of maneuverability and solid feel helped me get balls back with decent placement and decent pace against a variety of serves."
Overall - Score: 82
Yes, the [K]Pro Staff 88 is a hefty and fairly stiff stick at 12.8 ounces and a 69 RDC stiffness (strung). However, put the [K]Pro Staff 88 in motion and it can do amazing things to your shots. If you've ever wanted to hit that proverbial heavy ball, then this is the stick for you. A smooth swing, combined with contact out in front of the body results in lots of power and exceptional court penetration from all areas of the court. The stability offered, even outside of the sweetspot, is unrivaled in the midsize racquet category. That enhanced stability goes a long way towards making this stick more forgiving than its headsize might suggest. Consider the fact that none of our testers currently use a midsize racquet, yet none had any issues with the smaller headsize of this racquet. The mass, on the other hand, will be an adjustment for most. Just as a good pair of shoes may require a break-in period, the [K]Pro Staff 88 offers a similar experience. The difference is that the player requires the "break-in" and not the racquet. Take the [K]Pro Staff 88 out for a demo and you'll likely find that the time taken to get used to the mass of this racquet is well worth the effort, considering the rewards offered on a well struck ball.
Review date: March 2009. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
All content copyright 2009 Tennis Warehouse.