Racquet Revisited: Yonex EZone Xi 98
Head Size: 98 sq. in.
Length: 27 in.
Weight (strung): 11.5 oz.
Balance: 6 pts. HL
Beam Width: 23.5mm / 24.5 mm / 20.5mm
String Pattern: 16x19
Perhaps it’s the unmistakable square-shaped head, but there’s something about Yonex frames that creates a unique following. I don’t know many players who have dabbled with a Yonex frame for a few years and then moved on to something else. They either don’t bother with the racquets at all, or they’re in it for the long haul. It’s like Breaking Bad viewers; nobody sits through the first couple of seasons and then decides they’re not following Walter White to the bullet-riddled end.
We originally reviewed the Yonex EZone Xi 98 back in March 2012. Since that time it has grabbed its share of fans, one of which is friend of The Pro Shop, James Golden. After playing tennis in high school and college, James spent time teaching the game as well as tuning and stringing racquets. He has since moved on to earn a Ph.D. and become a Professor and Chair of the Social Sciences Division of Hilbert College in Hamburg, NY. Still an avid recreational player, James found the EZone Xi 98 to be his answer to a vexing evolutionary equipment problem. Here’s his assessment of the frame:
Like many who honed their tennis game in the era of heavy small-headed racquets, short shorts, and sneakers that were made for tennis in form rather than function, a return to today’s game requires many adjustments. While it’s an easy and welcome transition to the comfortable and stylish clothing and footwear of today, many of us would like to cling to the nostalgia and comfort of the battle-axes of yore. However, nostalgia wanes when one struggles to serve with that 12.5 ounce racquet and is being hit off the court by a teenager for whom facial hair and a driver’s license are many years off.
Thankfully, racquet manufacturers have brought to the market several racquets that bridge the gap between the old and new—often referred to as “modern players’ racquets.” These racquets offer controlled power, great spin, and racquet faces sufficiently large to provide enough margin for error to cope with an opponent’s polyester-induced 2,000 rpm topspin forehand.
Survey the racquet landscape of your local club or pro shop and you’ll see two of the top selling modern players’ racquets: the Wilson BLX Pro Staff 95 and Babolat Pure Drive. The BLX Pro Staff 95 is the purest incarnation of a players’ stick for the modern game and the one that will feel the most familiar to those of us in our third decade of playing the sport—smaller headsize (95 square inches) and very flexible (a stiffness rating of 62), but lighter (11.5 ounces) and with an open string pattern (16x19) providing some free pop. The Pure Drive is a racquet for the millennials—very light (11.1 ounces), 100 sq in. head, and one of the stiffest racquets on the market, with a stiffness rating of 72. Where the BLX Pro Staff 95 massages the ball, the Pure Drive pummels it. Where the BLX Pro Staff 95’s 18mm shaft will feel like the 1980s in your hand, the Pure Drive’s tapered 26mm shaft will make you feel like you’ve surrendered your dignity. Where the feel of the Pro Staff 95 is sublime, the power of the Pure Drive is intoxicating. Surely there’s a compromise.
Enter the Yonex Ezone Xi 98, which combines the familiar feel of the Pro Staff 95 with the power of the Pure Drive necessary for today’s game, all within a manageable package. Weighing in at 11.5 ounces strung, a swingweight (how heavy it feels when you hold/swing it) of 324, a stiffness rating of 65, and a 16 x 19 string pattern, it is a nice blend of old and new. The racquet is light compared to traditional players’ racquets, but its swingweight belies its weight and offers ample mass to win the collision between racquet and ball.
It’s easy to settle into a nice rhythm with this racquet, sending rally balls five feet over the net, eight feet from the baseline and with enough heft to keep your opponent on their heels—this is the “old.” However, a neutral rally can quickly transition to first strike tennis, as the racquet’s lighter weight, open string pattern, and moderate stiffness allow for comfortable and predictable power with minimal effort—this is the “new.” Slice backhands drive through the court barely above your opponent’s ankles, and the point-ending volleys are crisp and effortless.
The only area I struggled with in play-testing this racquet was the first serve. While I was able to generate ample spin, height and weight on second serves, I had a difficult time controlling wide slice first serves in the deuce court or slice 1st serves up the “T” in the ad court. To be fair, though, my serve is the weakest part of my game, so some of the variance in the Yonex’s performance can surely be attributed to user error.
All told, the Yonex Ezone Xi 98 is an impressive attempt to offer modern playability with traditional comfort. Racquets such as this are a blessing to those of us wishing to adapt our racquets to our game rather than our game to our racquets.