Wilson Blade 98S Racquet Review
- Spin friendly
- Has that Blade feel
- Gets pushed around against big hitters
When Wilson told us one of our favorite control-oriented racquets was getting the Spin Effect technology, our team of playtesters couldn't have been more excited. The Blade 98S weighs in slightly lighter than its Blade 98 counterparts, but nothing was sacrificed in terms of maneuverability and spin potential. With Spin Effect technology, this racquet is guaranteed to add more RPMs to your game without any changes to your swing or how you strike the ball. Players of every level who love the controlled feel of the Blade will enjoy this spin-friendly, maneuverable racquet for their game. And here is an added bonus - this Blade 98S is definitely a more string-friendly racquet, unlike the previous Spin Effect racquets, the Steam 99S and Steam 105S, which were hard on strings. Our playtest team only had to restring the 98S when wanting to test different strings and tensions.
Groundstrokes - Score: 74
It quickly became apparent that Wilson had set out to create a very spin-friendly racquet in a control-oriented package. Chris, who has spent a lot of time with all of the Blade racquets, was shocked by how light and fast this racquet felt from the first swing. "For a Blade model, the racquet felt very light -- almost to the point of being underpowered at first. But the light and fast feel meant I had to swing fast to get help with pace and depth. The result of a faster swing is more access to spin, which plays right into the Spin Effect technology. This racquet proved to be very spin-friendly when combined with a monofilament string like Luxilon 4G. I was definitely getting a bump up in both slice and topspin, and I could see the ball rotating viciously when coming off my racquet. However, my depth control was a tad off, and I was not playing as consistently as I would have liked. When rallying cross court I was fine. However, angles, down-the-line shots and passing shots were not as precise as usual. I also wasn't able to go from defense to offense as easily as I do with the Blade 98 18x20 or the Steam 99S. Both of those racquets can be point changers with one swing. I never tapped into that kind of potential with this one."
Andy, who currently plays with the Blade 98 (18x20), didn't find the same rock solid feel with this updated Blade. For him the Blade 98S was too light, and he explained, "The racquet was pushed around by big hitters and was a bit unstable outside the sweetspot. I didn't get enough control out of the open string pattern. I definitely could generate more spin, lots of it actually, but the ball didn't get through the court as well, and it would sit up for my opponent to hit."
For Karly, Wilson's Spin Effect Technology is the real deal, and she really noticed the difference in spin with the open string pattern. "Until you try it for yourself, it's hard to explain just how much more fun it is to hit with extreme spin," she said. "With the 98S, adding serious topspin was a cinch and slicing was much easier. I loved how simple it was to mix up my game with a variety of different shots. I also found that there was a nice combination of power and control; one didn't outweigh the other for me. I got great pop off my shots and the radical spin was easy to control. However, the lack of mass at the head of the frame caused me to lose momentum when making contact, which made it tough to follow-through with my stroke and drive through the ball. I also prefer a higher swingweight -- around 320 is ideal -- so I was excited about this racquet because it's in that range. I found the actual weight of the racquet tired my arm out faster than usual because the racquet was being pushed around."
Jason, who already uses a Spin Effect racquet, the Steam 99S, was torn, saying, "On the one hand I liked the racquet because it was maneuverable, especially for a racquet in the Blade family, and it did have nice access to spin. However, the spin was not mind blowing like it was with the Steam 99S or 105S. But, my forehand shots did seem to have plenty of action on them." The only negative Jason found was the lack of weight, adding, "There was not enough mass, which meant my shots fell short and heavy hitting players were pushing me around a bit. But it was an easy fix -- I added some lead to one of our playtest racquets and found that to help."
Volleys - Score: 77
The Blade 98S did a stellar job when it came to cutting the ball and adding some feel to volleys, but our playtesters did miss some mass. "Nice touch around the net, especially for drop volleys," commented Jason. "But again, the lack of weight really affected the performance. I especially missed the extra mass when I was stretching out for a volley, but it's nothing a little lead tape at 3 and 9 o'clock couldn't fix."
Being quite familiar with Blade racquets, Andy enjoyed that signature feel around the net. He said, "I was able to hit touch volleys with relative ease, but it was difficult at times to keep the racquet stable at impact. I wasn't getting enough control with the open string pattern. I preferred my 18x20 around the net because of its heft and control."
This was a fast and lively racquet at net for Chris, and he found easy access to depth and spin. He offered, "I found better control on touch volleys than I did with the previous Spin racquets I tested (Steam 99S and 105S). Again, I'd like the racquet to have a little more mass. I thought the stability was lacking a little, and I had better results at net with the racquet we had customized to a heavier spec. The good news is, since this racquet is so light and fast there's ample room to add weight without making it feel sluggish."
Finding the Blade 98S to work perfectly for her when it came to taking charge at the net was Karly. She said, "It was easy to maneuver and the lack of plow through wasn't nearly as noticeable at the net. Not to mention I found great touch and feel on my volleys. I could take a lot of pace off shots to drop a ball short, and I was able to stick a hard volley with good pop when I hit in the center of the sweetspot. Fortunately, this racquet has a decent size sweetspot, because when I hit outside of it the racquet wasn't very forgiving and felt really unstable. I spent more time up at net than I usually do because of the good mobility and touch."
Serves - Score: 82
There weren't many complaints when it came to serving with the Blade 98S. The weight, or lack there of, didn't seem to bother our playtesters when they stepped up to the baseline to start the point. "This was where I enjoyed the 98S the most," exclaimed Andy. "It was easy to generate racquet head speed to gain power and spin, and I still found enough precision to locate my serve consistently. Flat serves were going where I wanted, and spin serves were jumping and sliding off the court."
Chris found himself serving quite well with this racquet. He said, "I was getting ample pace because it was easy to generate a lot of racquet head speed. Likewise, I was finding good spin. I liked the movement I was getting on my slice serves, and I was able to swing the ball nice and wide on the deuce side. I don't hit a huge kick serve, but I was getting enough spin with this racquet to increase my margin for error, and that allowed me to be aggressive on second serves."
"I wasn't a big fan when it came to serving with the 98S frame," disagreed Karly, who found the racquet to be a little much for her arm. She struggled to start points off offensively and explained, "It was, by far, the stroke that took me the longest to adjust to. Controlling the direction of my serves was a breeze with this racquet, but that was about it for the upsides. That lack of plow through came into play and made it hard for me to drive through the ball. I was spending more energy trying to keep my racquet head speed up, which was really taxing on my arm. It also took me awhile to get used to all the spin. I was putting too much topspin on my kick serves and they were falling short or hanging in the air for too long, which gave my opponents an easier time to read the ball and hit an aggressive return."
Jason didn't mind that this racquet weighs less than 11 ounces. "Since I spin in most of my first and second serves I appreciated the spin more than the power. I found my serving percentage was higher than normal because it was so easy to spin the ball in. Just snap my wrist and follow through = 72.6 MPH 60% of the time, every time."
Serve Returns - Score: 78
The maneuverability of the Blade 98S continued to shine when it came to serve returns. Karly enjoyed returning serves because she suddenly found the plow through she had been looking for. She never felt like she was being pushed around and said, "As long as I was able to hit the ball in the sweetspot there was good pop, and I felt I was able to hit an aggressive shot back. The great access to spin and good control also helped make it easy to place the ball. When I wasn't able to put much pace on a return the spin and control helped me get an offensive shot back. I just had to make to sure to hit the center of the stringbed because the racquet wasn't as forgiving or as stable if I hit outside of it."
Chris was able to get the racquet through the contact point very quickly, and he felt confident taking the ball early and returning aggressively. He said, "I liked the amount of spin I could add to angle returns and drives, but I again struggled to control the amount of spin I was getting. The result was a slight lack of depth control. I was still able to be confidently aggressive, I just had to hit to bigger targets and allow some margin of error in case my shot went longer than anticipated."
Jason struggled with the stock weight of the Blade 98S. He thought the racquet got pushed around slightly. He said, "I returned an entire bucket of balls from fellow playtester Brittany and noticed that the lack of weight had the racquet twisting in my hand when I tried to attack one of her harder hit serves. On the upside, I enjoyed pouncing on slower second serves. It was maneuverable enough that I could easily swing away, but not so fast that I was getting ahead of the ball."
"All of the Blade racquets just feel right to me on returns, and the 98S is no different," said Andy. The stability that was lacking on groundstrokes and volleys was there for him on his returns. He sang the praises of this maneuverable racquet by saying, "I liked the added maneuverability, but I would have liked a little more control for taking returns early. Also, a little more weight would've made chip returns easier to hit."
Overall - Score: 75
Chris - "I liked serving with this racquet, and I could definitely hit with more spin from all over the court. This version of the Spin Effect pattern was not as brutal on strings, and I found the string durability to be better than the Steam S models we tested previously."
Andy - "Crazy spin potential and the signature Blade feel."
Jason - "Easy enough to swing. Nice access to spin on all my strokes from all areas of the court."
Karly - "Like the other Spin Effect racquets, the open string pattern made hitting with different varieties of spin easy and a ton of fun. I also found more control with the Blade 98S than I did with the other S racquets."
Chris - "My shot placement was a little erratic. It was too light for my playing style."
Andy - "It's lighter and has a softer feel than the 18x20 version, and because of that it doesn't feel as solid. I also didn't get quite enough control for my liking."
Jason - "It lacks weight so it occasionally gets pushed around. The feel is 'mushy,' so even with weight added the racquet felt like it was missing some pop."
Karly - "The plow through needs improvement. It's hard to hit aggressively when the racquet feels like it's being pushed around a majority of the time."
Comparing it to other racquets they've used, our testers said:
Chris - "I was really looking forward to this test as I enjoyed the Steam 99S racquet and thought a Blade racquet with Spin Effect could be the 'one' for me. However, things did not pan out. I prefer the Steam 99S over this racquet because I can hit a bigger ball with it, I find better spin consistency with it and I like the way I can go from defense to offense with one swing. I also prefer the Blade 98 18x20 over this one because I play much more consistently with it."
Andy - "It's lighter and has a softer feel than the Blade 98 18x20 and 16x19, so it's not as solid and stable. It offers a little less spin than the Steam 99S, but more than virtually any other racquet on the market. The weight and balance felt similar to the Tecnifibre TFight 315 and Dunlop F 3.0 Tour."
Jason - "It feels like a cross between the BLX Six.One Team and the BLX Blade 98 (16x19)."
Karly - "I can't help but think of the Steam 105S, and I think a lot of it has to do with the Spin Effect technology. I was able to generate so much more spin than normal. Even though the 105S was a little more spin friendly, the spin of the 98S was so much easier to control."
(Scores are determined by averaging individual play test scores)
Chris: 5.0 all-court player currently using the Volkl C10 Pro 2012. Chris uses a full-western forehand grip, has a fast swing style and hits a one-handed backhand.
Andy: Open level all court player with a semi-western forehand grip and a two handed backhand. Andy currently using a Blade 98 18x20.
Jason: 4.0 baseliner with a semi-western forehand and two handed backhand. Currently using a Wilson Steam 99 S.
Karly: 4.0 baseline player currently playing with the Wilson nCode nTour. She hits with a semi-western forehand grip and uses a two handed backhand.
Review date: August 2013. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
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