TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I understand that the 2013 Racquet Guide isn’t being posted on TENNIS.com until next month. But I thought you might give us a quick preview of the Wilson Steam 99S, which was released a few weeks back. Have you personally playtested this racquet? Does it increase spin production as Wilson claims?—IAN K.
Fair question, Ian. Back last fall, after interviewing Wilson executive John Lyons, I was quite curious myself whether the new Steams would deliver on their promise of additional spin. (There are two models: the Steam 99S and 105S.) I smelled an advantage. And like any good competitor, I wanted to know if I could benefit. Luckily, pre-holidays, I got a chance to demo the Steam 99S. It worked. While I’m not enamored with its weight and balance, that the 99S added spin to my game is undeniable: My groundstrokes were heavier, and I could hit my serve were more angle and kick.
For readers unfamiliar with the topic, the new Steams feature Spin Effect, a 16 by 15 string pattern. Basically, as Wilson explains it, a stringbed with fewer cross strings reduces friction on the mains, allowing them to displace and “snap back” farther and faster upon impact. Employing high-speed video and a Doppler-radar device called the Trackman—which can accurately measure, among other metrics, the RPMs, ball speed, trajectory, and placement of players’ shots—the company claims they’ve gathered concrete evidence that the new string pattern greatly increases spin potential. By how much? An average of 120 RPMs, in one experiment conducted by Wilson, which tested the 99S with players of various styles and ability levels.
There are caveats. Spin Effect doesn’t work properly unless you string with a monofilament. The stringbed response is distinct, and can take getting used to. String life suffers, per the extra string movement. (If you hybrid polyester and natural gut, and hit with a good amount of spin, expect that gut to fray rather quickly.) And of course, your swing must have some speed and angle to it. No racquet-head speed, no brush, no spin. That’s just the physics of it.
All that said, the Steam 99S’ results can be fantastic. As I noted earlier, my shots were about as heavy as they’ve ever been, and as high. Hitting, I was surprised to find that, in addition to extra spin, 99S also afforded my ball greater arc over the net. (Even my father, who swings a very conservative Eastern grip, noted a change of trajectory in his shots using the racquet.) Which, taken together, really amped up my consistency.
Give the sticks a shot. Only you can know if the technology will work for you. But I’d wager, if you’re a 4.0+ with a relatively quick and angled swing, that the Steam will change the action on your shots.