Racquet Revisited: Wilson Steam 99S
Head Size: 99 sq. in.
Length: 27 in.
Weight (strung): 11.3 oz.
Balance: 2 pts. HL
Beam Width: 22.5 mm / 24 mm / 23.5 mm
String Pattern: 16x15
Probably the most prevalent theme throughout the tennis equipment industry at the moment is that more spin = more win. The selling points for increased spin are better consistency thanks to a higher margin for error, and a heavier ball for an opponent to handle. Both are true and worthwhile pursuits. While stroke mechanics will always be the primary reason for hitting with heavy spin, it doesn’t hurt to get a little boost from the frame.
Wilson was one of the first companies to configure racquets with extremely open string patterns to promote better spin production; and one of its first offerings was the Steam 99S and its 16x15 string pattern. The Spin Effect frames have fewer cross strings than mains, allowing for a greater string “snap back” effect at contact. During the U.S. Open I got to demo a few of the frames while having my spin numbers measured by a Doppler radar. At the time, I lamented not having my own racquet (or something similar) in order to see how marked the spin difference.
That wasn’t the case for another friend of The Pro Shop, Kevin Brandt. Kevin is involved with almost all aspects of the tennis industry. He’s the tennis director at Star Island Resort in Kissimmee, FL; a manager at e-tennis retail shop where he oversees all stringing operations; and the Flex League Coordinator for the Central Florida Tennis Association. When he had the chance to have his spin numbers calculated when using the Wilson Steam 99S, he brought along his Babolat AeroPro Drive for a comparison. Here’s what Kevin discovered:
I recently had the opportunity to test out the Wilson Steam 99S at a TrackMan Radar demo event. As someone who likes to take advantage of my lefty spins (yes, I can hear the groans), I was enticed by the idea of the open string pattern and even more spin. As a frequent string breaker (typically 4 - 6 hour of use with a poly hybrid) I was a little concerned that it would only contribute more to my costly habit.
After warming up with my current racquet, the 2013 Babolat AeroPro Drive, I pulled out the Steam 99S. It had a similar weight, balance, and frame flex to the AeroPro, and they were both strung with a poly hybrid at 55 lbs. So there was a minimal adjustment to swinging the racquet itself. I quickly began to see the effects of the 16x15 string pattern; there was a noticeable increase in both power and spin. My first few shots were flying a little longer than I expected, so I made a slight swing adjustment to bring the ball higher over the net and let the added spin do the rest of the work for me.
The TrackMan confirmed these results, as my spin rate with the Steam was around 300 RPMs higher than it was with the Babolat. The results on my serve were very similar, again an increase of roughly 300 RPMs. The reasonably stiff frame made it very lively on volleys as well. Overall, the open string pattern did exactly what it was supposed to do: More power, more spin. I was hoping it would also be the miracle cure for my errant backhands, but it's looking more and more like I may actually have to start moving my feet and setting up properly to solve that problem!
Moving past my personal shortcomings, I think this will be a great racquet for someone who's looking to increase spin without having to make a dramatic change to the swing. Through personal experience and customer results in our shop, we did find that the strings will break faster, so the use of a thicker or more durable string is highly recommended. Also, increasing the string tension a few pounds may be helpful in offsetting the added trampoline effect.