Imagine the height of the net being two inches shorter. Imagine the baseline on your opponent’s side of the court being a foot longer. That’s the benefit of hitting with increased topspin; it allows players to hit harder with more control and margin for error. In the racquet world, spin has become the new power.
And that’s the thinking behind Wilson’s Spin Effect Technology. By constructing racquets with fewer cross strings than main strings, players can increase the amount of topspin on their strokes by upwards of 200+ RPMs without altering their swings. It’s the main strings that put spin on the ball and with fewer cross strings to restrict the mains movement, there can be greater string snapback for enhanced spin.Wilson's popular Steam 99S and 105S frames, with their 16x15 string patterns, introduced the technology and are now joined by the Blade 98S and its 18x16 configuration. In addition to these two models, several other of the Wilson racquet families have received the Spin Effect treatment and will be released later this year and in early 2014.
Does the technology deliver on its promise? Wilson set up a media playtest demonstration at the U.S. Open American Express Experience on the grounds of Flushing Meadows. Participants hit balls fed by a ball machine and with the help of a Doppler radar—the same used in meteorological forecasting—the velocity, RPMs, net clearance and angle of shots were measured.
I started out using the Steam 99S. It’s stiffer and lighter than I prefer and it took me a few strokes to get acclimated. After a series of crosscourt forehands I switched to the soon-to-be-released SixOne 95S. I currently use the SixOne 95 BLX with a 16x18 string pattern, so this frame—with its reverse 18x16 pattern—was more to my liking. I felt like my strokes had good power—the Spin Effect is supposed to increase pace on the shot as well—and plenty of tight spin. When I finished the radar averaged my shots at about 72 M.P.H., or 2100 RPMs, with almost three feet of net clearance. (It also predicted my morning haze would burn off with afternoon sun.) For a professional reference, when Rafael Nadal starts cranking his forehand he can top out well over 3000 RPMs.
As the numbers indicate, I put a fair amount of topspin on my forehand. So it was difficult to tell if the string pattern made a noticeable difference. I don’t know how many RPMs I generate with my own frame, and it would have been helpful had Wilson provided the previous SixOne or similar to use as a control racquet. A bump of 100 RPMs to my forehand is probably not a huge percentage, and may not have an obvious impact on my ball flight, but it could result in a heavier, more difficult shot for my opponent to handle.
But for those recreational players who hit flatter balls that hover below 1000 RPMs, adding another 10-20 percent can have more easily recognizable results. That’s the audience that may truly appreciate and benefit from Spin Effect technology. A New York Times writer at the demo learned to play during Jimmy Connors’s heyday; he has more traditional grips and a fairly level swing plane. After several rounds with the Steam 105S he seemed fairly convinced that his shots were getting better lift and spin. He felt he'd now stand a better chance taking on his teenage sons and their topspin-heavy games.
It will be interesting to see if any of Wilson’s touring pros switch to a Spin Effect racquet. Simona Halep stopped by the demonstration to give a few of the frames a test run. Without letting loose on her forehand it still averaged around 1700 RPMs with great depth and control. She gave the frames a thumbs-up and said it’s something she would consider trying in the future. However, given the comfort level pros develop with their equipment, it’s more likely a junior would adopt the racquet now and stick with it into the pro ranks.
And those wondering if Roger Federer would ever consider a Spin Effect model, Wilson says his racquet search is still ongoing. Even though Federer went back to his old reliable Pro Staff for the U.S. hard courts after his two-tournament trial of a midplus frame, he hasn’t given up on the idea of making a permanent change. He just felt the timing for such a transition wasn’t right and he wanted to focus solely on his tennis, not his equipment, heading into the year’s final Slam.
There are several original prototypes Federer is testing—he never tried out a blacked-out Blade 98 as was largely speculated—and he continues to work with Wilson on making tweaks. If Federer does settle on a replacement, that could mean an entirely new frame line from Wilson, undoubtedly with a Spin Effect member of the family.