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 have been loyal to the Prince Exo3 Red 105 for a couple of years, but the Wilson Steam 105S has piqued my interest. How do you think these two racquets compare? Other than the Wilson’s increased spin potential, do you think the rest of the "feel" of the Wilson would be similar to my Prince?—Holee
Judging by their specifications, the Prince Red 105 and Wilson Steam 105S are definitely comparable. The heads on both are 105 square inches. Additionally, the racquets are both slightly head light (2 pts. HL vs. 4 pts. HL, respectively), weigh less than eleven ounces (10.4 oz. vs. 10.8 oz.), and have similar beam widths (~25mm vs. 26mm). If string pattern weren’t a factor, the two sticks probably would play like blood brothers. Although, relatively speaking, the Wilson should feel a tad heavier to swing, in part because it’s longer than the Prince (27.5 in. vs. 27.25 in.); and given the same reference tension, the Prince’s stringbed should play a tad softer, due to its open grommet ports.
But while they may swing similarly through the air, the two racquets will almost certainly feel different on contact, because their string patterns aren’t the same. The Red 105 is built with the typical 16x19 pattern, while the Steam 105S features a more unorthodox 16x15 pattern.
It’s surprising how different the 16x15 pattern feels; scrapping three cross strings really does change things up. Hitting with a 16x19 or 18x20 pattern, the feedback is familiar, solid. But I’ve found that with the 16x15—and a monofilament string—hits can feel like glancing blows; even connecting with the sweet spot, it doesn’t always feel like I’ve hit the ball dead on. (This feeling is present in both the Steam 99S and 105, but more noticeable in the 105S.) Surely, this is due to the extra space between the strings, as well as the strings’ additional movement (i.e., deflection and snap-back) upon impact, which supposedly is what increases the racquet’s spin potential. (Hitting with both the Steam 99S and 105S, I even heard the strings tick and move.)
Indeed, when handed the 99S and 105S, some of our playtesters with more traditional games—especially those accustomed to tighter, 18x20 string patterns—interpreted those glancing sensations as “flimsy.” To be honest, during my initial playtest, I also thought the Steams played a bit unstable and strange. But after a few more outings, that feeling started to subside—still a bit weird, yes, but not dramatically so, and certainly worth the extra spin added to my game.
Long story short, Holee: I’d encourage you to demo the 105S, especially if you’re open to trying a new feel. Having said that, if you’re in love with your Prince’s feedback, anticipate a learning curve. The Steam’s extra spin potential has its costs.