|Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph Racquet Scores|
The Pro Staff RF97 Autograph adds an impressive chapter to the iconic Pro Staff story, a story that is already crowded with Hall of Fame players and Grand Slam victories. It seems only fitting that the Pro Staff legend include a racquet engineered under the guidance of Roger Federer, the man for whom this version of the Pro Staff was made. For our playtest team, the key to this formidable beast of a racquet rested squarely upon its weight. Pushing nearly 13 ounces, the RF97 delivered the unmistakable and incalculable benefits of stability. There was also some serious power to be had when our mechanics were sound and the mass was effectively deployed. On volleys, the rock solid feel, amazing touch and controllable power were simply undeniable. Service returns were also a high point, in large part because this racquet's mass allowed us to counterpunch the biggest serves with ease. On the flip side, the higher weight posed some challenges for each playtester. It made some of us yearn for the explosive whip of our modern (lighter) player's racquets. The Pro Staff RF97 Autograph is supposed to be a little challenging for us mortals, but the payoff for wielding Federer's racquet correctly is simply as good as it gets.
From the backcourt, the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph was a tale of two racquets. It delivered truly phenomenal plow through and enabled us to hit some extremely weighty and precise balls, but there were also some issues when it came to effectively harnessing the mass. Troy explained, "I loved the plow through and stability this racquet was providing when I was hitting from the baseline; I could feel this racquet pancake the ball. Being that this racquet possesses a lot of mass, my favorite shots from the baseline were the two-handed backhand drive and my forehand when I had time to set up and take a rip. The backhand slice felt lovely with this racquet in hand, and it knifed through the ball with ease. Because this racquet weighed nearly 12.9 ounces and had a 340 swingweight (with an overgrip and dampener), I struggled at times when trying to hit a forehand while on the run. The precision, easy access to spin, rock-solid feel and a more forgiving sweetspot than the Pro Staff 90 make this racquet a gem from the baseline for advanced ball-strikers."
Having hit just about every important Pro Staff this side of the wooden Jack Kramer, Granville was like a kid in candy store. He said, "Wow. There's a deep, plush, cushy sweetspot creating groundies with that free extra power and depth -- just wow! Every time I went to the court with this racquet I was looking for new placement, better pace and more depth. It was like finding a key to a new tool box, and inside the box are bigger, better tools allowing me to create a new game. I wish this racquet was around for me in college!"
This playtest helped Mark appreciate the benefits that come with a heavier racquet. He said, "Our playtest racquet came in at close to 13 ounces (strung), with a substantial 340-ish swingweight. I took a gulp prior to my first official swing with it because I am one of the many players who have been anticipating this frame's final form and arrival. I knew I was going to like it within five minutes of exchanging groundstrokes, but I also knew I was going to have a tough time swinging it effectively. The Pro Staff RF97 Autograph personifies heritage, stability, predictability and plow through. By the third session with it I started to rethink my light racquet plans, especially against guys, like Troy, who are pushing the envelope lately with lots of pace, depth and spin on the ball. All aspects of my ground game benefited from the RF97, as long as I was on time to the bus stop, so to speak."
Chris found this racquet's weight to be a blessing and a curse on groundies. He said, "Wow! This was a hefty racquet to swing off the ground. When I had time to set up and take a crack at the ball everything was golden. Even then, though, going cross court was harder than going down the line. I was OK when I was driving through the ball, but I'm not used to handling that much heft when looking to pull a ball cross court, brush up quickly to add spin or roll a lob. I had a hard time getting the spin I like on cross court forehands, approach shots and lobs. Instead, I found the ball was leaving my racquet with more drive than I usually get and quite a bit less spin. I found a much better fit on my backhand slice. I was able to drive through the ball nicely, which resulted in a very heavy shot that was tough to return. It's what I like to call dirty, dirty slice. Maneuverability-wise, this racquet reminded me a lot of the Yonex Tour G, which also felt very hefty. Both the Pro Staff 90 and Pro Staff 6.0 85 felt faster and easier to swing. Right now, I'd play the 85 over this one simply because it's an easier racquet for me to use. While this racquet offers a much improved sweetspot and lots of free power, I can maneuver the 6.0 85 better and that gives me more options."
Whatever problems the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph posed from the backcourt quickly evaporated at net. Chris was very impressed, saying, "This racquet was a much better fit for me at net. I found I could handle the mass easier due to the more compact nature of the stroke. My punch volleys had a ton of the good stuff on them -- that being pace, depth and penetration. I loved that I could hold the handle very lightly thanks to the solid response of the racquet. With the heft supplying all the stability I needed I was able to soften my grip for sublime touch and feel. My drop volleys were working very well, and I found excellent placement on my angle volleys."
Troy was also dialed in on volleys. He said, "The stability and mass of this racquet allowed for easy depth and control on my volleys. With a short and compact punch at the ball this racquet was allowing me to take control at net. The depth on volleys came with ease, but I also found the short angles and drop volleys were enhanced with a responsive and crisp feel. I was pleased with the amount of slice I could generate, especially on backhand volleys. I was able to get the ball to skid low off the bounce with good pace. Between my Six.One 95 (18x20) and this Pro Staff RF97 Autograph, it's a toss-up which one I like more! Both are scalpels."
Although he appreciated the stability, Granville recognized the need for sound preparation. He said, "I can feel the speed and mass of the tennis ball being fully absorbed into the stringbed, into the racquet, down my arm and planting my feet into the court -- rock solid. The court looks bigger with this racquet in my hand, or am I just seeing extra inches inside the lines that I have never noticed before? With such a high swingweight you'll need to have this racquet out front and ready; there can be no hesitation or your racquet will be late and the ball is going, going gone!"
"The overall heft, headlight balance and firm beam made volleys a treat with the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph," said Mark, who found the specs simply ideal for volleying. "Anything on the stretch was met with confidence and with a good result off the stringbed."
Our playtest team was able to hit some very effective serves with the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph. As we discovered from the baseline, though, the higher weight came with some downsides. Granville summed it up nicely, saying, "The extra weight is a double-edged sword. The extra mass allows me to really get a feel for the ball as it comes off the stringbed. I can generate all the power available in my body and game and essentially repackage it with more spin out wide or more power down the middle. I think the pocketing is really the Holy Grail as far as feel and touch. As a mere mortal, there were very few times/matches or strings of matches when I felt this confident in my game. The down side is fatigue. After several service games my shoulder got tired, and that was the end of that."
Troy got great results from the RF97 when he was able to exploit the mass. He said, "Flat serves down the middle were coming off the racquet with some nice pop. The mass of this racquet allowed me to crank up the MPH on flat serves. My slice serve out wide on the ad-court (ed. note: Troy's a lefty) was getting some nice pace and spin. The serve that was a bit difficult for me to execute consistently was the kick serve. I found that this racquet was a little less maneuverable than my Six.One 95 (12.6 oz, 332 swingweight), and it was harder to whip the racquet and get the ball to jump off the court. I loved the control when placing serves within the box, as well as the power that I could access on flat serves."
Chris found it hard to generate sufficient head speed with this racquet, saying, "I struggled to serve with this racquet for much of the test. I usually prefer the plow through of a heavier racquet, but for some reason it was tougher for me to get this one moving. I served much better with the Pro Staff 6.0 85, even though it had an almost identical strung weight and swingweight. I also found my serves were lacking some spin, as I wasn't finding the racquet head speed to really spin the ball. As the test wore on my serving improved, but this was another area where I'd need to invest more time to get the best out of the racquet. I served my best with it on the last day of the test when we shot the video. I know I can still get more out of this racquet on serve, but only time will tell how much."
Over time, Mark figured out how to get the most out of this challenging racquet. He said, "I am not known to really crush the ball on serve, but the more I served with the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph, the more effective and confident I became with it. By the time we shot the review I was loving the serve with this racquet."
On service returns, our team discovered there is no substitute for a racquet that does not get pushed around. The Pro Staff RF97 Autograph performed like a dream on blocks, chips and counter punches. Mark enjoyed that stability. He said, "This was the one area I thought the higher weight of the racquet was going to trouble me. Contrary to my initial feelings, the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph is so stable that it helped take my chip return to another level. It was a bit too heavy for me to swing through the return."
"Whoa! That felt so good!" exclaimed Granville, who had a blast returning with this stick. "I just ripped that backhand return on the ad side -- deep cross court. My opponent could only stab at it, popping it up for a sitter forehand volley as I came in behind my return. The extra mass is giving my returns more pace, which opens up more opportunities."
Troy also appreciated the extra weight, saying, "I found my return game to be consistent with this racquet in hand. With this kind of mass, blocking the return back with decent depth was an easy thing to do. On forehand returns, a short backswing and good timing allowed for an offensive shot. My favorite return with this racquet, and one that Roger utilizes often, was the backhand chip. I could slice the backhand return deep in the court and keep the ball low at the server's feet, making it an effective shot for me."
"Keeping a solid and compact swing on returns was paramount with this racquet," said Chris. "When I made contact out in front I could drive through the ball, hit a heavy return and push my opponents off the baseline. My slice backhand return was on fire, and I could hit a very heavy and nasty slice with this racquet. When hitting a topspin return I found it easier to drive through the ball rather than try and roll it with a lot of spin. Again, it was tough for me to whip this racquet around so I just used its mass to drive the ball deep with pace."
Granville - "Great new cosmetics (getting tired of white). It's a better spec for my game -- as opposed to the 90, where the balance did not suit my preferences."
Troy - "Tons of plow through, super stable feel, easy access to spin, and it comes stock with a leather grip!"
Chris - "I loved the plow through, solid feel and touch. This racquet was also very comfortable, with a plush feel. The sweetspot was generous, and it remained comfortable even when we installed a stiff co-poly like Luxilon 4G at a high tension."
Mark - "I like everything about it, even its stock weight. Although the Pro Staff 90, and the 85, swing faster and easier, I was amazed at what the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph did for my game. I went in to the review thinking I was just going to be humbled; not the case at all. I also liked that the racquet feels different, at least to me, from all the other heavier player's frames available. It may be the most stable racquet I have played with thus far."
Granville - "I'd prefer it to be a bit more head light, but at 12.6 oz there is little room for more weight to achieve that balance."
Troy - "Just a bit out of the spec-range (12.9 oz. and 340 swingweight with overgrip and dampener) that I am used to with my Six.One 95. If I can get my hands on one that has a swingweight closer to 330, I will definitely consider making a switch."
Chris - "Maneuverability! Or should I say a lack of maneuverability? This was a tough racquet to wield and one that I would need more time with before I could play confidently."
Mark - "I sort of preferred the monochromatic paint scheme of his earlier prototype RFs, but I cannot regard it as a dislike."
Troy - "This racquet is everything I've always wanted out of a Head Prestige Pro, but that the Prestige Pro hasn't quite delivered for me. I find comparisons to the Yonex Tour G (Wawrinka) and the old Dunlop Aerogel 4D 200 Tour, although this Pro Staff RF97 Autograph has better feel and I feel more connected to the ball. I was waiting for a long time for this release, and it did not disappoint."
Chris - "Hitting with this racquet reminded me very much of the Yonex Tour G. Just like Stan the Man's stick, this Fed racquet offers immense plow through and more heft than I really want to handle. If I get everything right, though, both racquets allow me to hit with maximum power."
Mark - "You have to mention the other really heavy stock racquets, like the Pro Kennex Ki 5 PSE, the Yonex Tour G (330), Yonex VCORE 89 and the Pro Staff 90 as similar frames. That said, I still think the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph from Wilson stands alone."
Granville - "As mentioned, the 'pancake' feel is reminiscent of the old Pro Staff 85. Other than that, this is a much friendlier Pro Staff than the 90 version."
(Scores are determined by averaging individual play test scores)
Chris: 4.5 all-court player currently using the Wilson Six.One 95 S. Chris uses a semi-western forehand grip, has a fast swing style and hits a one-handed backhand.
Granville: 5.5 all-court player currently using a Babolat Pure Drive 107. Granville is an aggressive player who uses an eastern forehand grip and goes continental on everything else, hits with a flat swing and a one-handed backhand.
Mark: 5.0 lefty all-court player with a one-handed backhand. He currently plays with the Wilson Steam 99S.
Troy: 5.0 lefty all-court player with a full Western Forehand and a two-handed backhand. Troy currently plays with a Wilson BLX Six.One 95.
Review date: August 2014. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
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