Racquet Review: Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

by: Jon Levey | September 04, 2014

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Price: $219
Head Size: 97 sq. in.
Length: 27 in.
Weight: 12.5 oz.
Balance: 8 pts. HL
Swingweight: 348
RA Rating: 68
Beam Width: 21.5 mm
String Pattern: 16x19
NTRP: 4.5+

It’s difficult to remember a more eagerly anticipated frame than Wilson’s Pro Staff RF97 Autograph. From the speculation about the head size to opinions about the cosmetics, tennis fans, especially those Roger Federer-philes and Pro Staff loyalists, have been buzzing about the racquet’s arrival. I won’t traffic in the discussion of whether this is actually Federer’s frame; professionals always tweak their sticks. But like the one Federer is using on tour, the stock version that carries his name has been modernized with a bigger head size, thicker beam, firmer response, and a redistribution of mass that clearly separate it from the most recent Pro Staffs.

When you first pick up the RF97 Autograph it’s impossible not to notice how substantial it feels in your hand. The snap judgment anybody I’ve given this frame to has been: Wow, it’s heavy. (Then usually something about the cosmetics actually being pretty attractive). Some racquets are more maneuverable and swing lighter than their static weight would indicate, but the RF97 Autograph feels every bit it’s 12.5 oz measurement. Not only do you have to be technically sound to use it, but fit enough to wield it around for several sets. While the prospect of handling the mass will be an instant turn-off to many casual players, it will be of great benefit to serious competitors.

I was recently talking touring pro frames with an executive at a major brand. He revealed that one of their sponsored pros uses a racquet that weighs north of 370 grams, even though he stands at a generous 5-foot-9. When asked why he prefers such a heavy frame, the player responded that he actually finds it to be less work than lighter models. With the pace of ball he faces, all he has to do is swing with reasonable speed and the mass of the racquet dominates contact. A lighter frame requires a bigger swing to turn the shot around with authority.

This is where the RF 97 Autograph excels. It takes a certain level of strength to swing the frame, and to do so consistently over the course of a match, but when it arrives on-time at contact it’s masterful at absorbing pace and returning it with interest. Instead of getting pushed around, you do the pushing—and it’s where it separates itself from the most recent Pro Staff 90. The thinness and extreme head light balance of that frame make it easier to maneuver. It performs well when attacking shots are called for, but takes almost perfect execution to recover from defensive situations. Once you’re hurt in a point, it’s usually curtains.

The RF97 Autograph has the same static weight as its predecessor, but the thicker, stiffer frame, along with the bigger head with more mass in the hoop give it added forgiveness and decidedly more punch. Where you sometimes had to come out of your shoes to crack a penetrating ball with the previous Pro Staff, this frame will carry more of the burden. And when retrieving a wide ball or returning a blistering serve—absolutely loved it on returns—all it takes is an easy slice or blocked swing to send the ball back deep and on even terms. So, while it retains and improves its capabilities in offensive situations, it’s also much better-suited for playing defense and turning the tables in points.

While these traits make it more user-friendly, it’s still an advanced player’s frame. And even in that subset it seems particularly appropriate for aggressive all-courters. The mass, manageable power level and large sweet spot are all invitations to give ground strokes a ride. And the 16x19 string pattern offers a nice balance of spin and control to accurately direct the shots.

When the opening is presented, moving up to net to finish the point is probably the frame’s best attribute. It’s not super maneuverable, but it’s just such a rock on volleys. All you have to do is set the frame in front of the ball and direct it to the open court. I also found it quite adept at digging out low balls. Given the dependability at net, and how solid it is returning serve, I could see this racquet being attractive to high-level doubles players.

The one area I wasn’t thrilled with was serving. I actually found a high level of accuracy and consistency—maybe even more so than my usual frame—but couldn’t generate as much pop as I’m accustomed. Since the ball is hit out of the hand, with no pace from the opponent’s shot, it’s all on the server to produce ball speed. For me, this is where the mass proved to be a bit of a detriment. It felt like more work to get my fastball to top speed.

With all these additions do come some subtractions. As stated earlier, the more head heavy balance can make it a chore to swing. Beyond that, though, are the differences in feel and versatility. The RF97 Autograph is so sturdy that almost all hits feel plush and solid. But the firmness takes away from that trademark Pro Staff buttery response. It also doesn’t have quite the same playfulness as previous iterations. It’s far from a club, but it’s not as adept at creating short angles, drop shots/volleys, and the more nuanced shots. It’s easier to hit a heavy, penetrating ball with lots of plow through, but the tradeoff comes when subtlety is called for. On the performance scale it has probably moved away from the traditional Pro Staff and closer to the Six.One.

All in all, though, this update is a much welcomed addition to the Pro Staff line. The bigger face and increased power puts it squarely in the modern power game, where its predecessors were in danger of becoming relics. I suspect that it is still too heavy and challenging for most recreational players (yet many will attempt to use it anyway). But for those skilled and strong enough to tame it, the RF97 Autograph can be a real beast.

To buy, demo, or learn more about this racquet, go to: 


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