Gear Q&A: Weight a Minute

by: Jon Levey | November 29, 2016

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Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to email your question, or send him a tweet @72unforced.


Hi Jon, 

I read your review of the Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph and would be thankful for some racquet advice. I am 54 years old, 5-foot-6, and 64 kgs (140 lbs). I have played tennis for a long time. My fave longtime racquet was the Dunlop Max 200G. I changed to the Wilson Pro Staff 95 about 1.5 years back. I was ok with it. Lately I am not happy with the way my tennis is going. I find myself exerting to get good depth and power and often am not able to finish points that I should be doing easily and also get a bit pushed by hard shots from the other end. I have assessed that I need more power, more plow-through and larger sweet spot. I did have a chance to briefly (15 mins) play with the Pro Staff 97RF and liked it, much better than the PS 95. I did not have any issue with the weight. I don’t have any place here to try demos before buying and hence would like some clear and sharp advice/suggestion before buying a racquet. I am kind of keen on the RF97 after the tryout and the ratings online, but have some hesitation due to every review adding a big 'if' about the weight. What would be your take?Prem Palanivel

Prem,

Since the new Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph is a cosmetic change only—the specs and playability remain intact from the original—perhaps the best way to “review” the update is to determine its audience. Because of its high static weight—there aren’t many frames produced that hit 12 oz., let alone 12.6—there seems to be a caveat attached to the racquet: Only the strong need apply. Sure, the frame feels like a rock and delivers great plow-through when you first start swinging it, but your shoulder may not be singing its praises deep in the third set. What's good for Roger Federer may not be appropriate for the average recreational player. 

And given your age, height and weight, the knee-jerk answer would be to say the RF97 might be too much racquet for you. On the other hand, your previous frames of choice all possessed significant mass and produced your best tennis. Plus, if you’re in the market for a frame that won’t get pushed around by incoming pace and delivers serious put-away power, the RF97 scores two big checks in those boxes. 

The key will be generating the requisite swing speed. The RF97 has around a 335 swingweight, which is heavier than most, but shouldn’t be classified as unmanageable—especially if you’ve got solid technique. (I do think someone who has grown to prefer playing with lighter frames would find it a difficult adjustment). Short, choppy or muscled strokes won’t produce much magic with this frame. 

Players gravitate toward lighter, stiff frames because they’re (generally) easier to generate racquet head speed, which can translate into added pace and spin. This is particularly attractive when forced to play defense and must produce a quality return with abbreviated swings and footwork. The downside is because the frame lacks mass it can take a bigger swing to harness finishing power. The larger and faster the swing, the better the chance something might go wrong, causing an error. Also, the more mass, the more stability against incoming pace, and ability to absorb shock rather than passing it on the hitting arm.

For those reasons I’ve always been a proponent of players using the heaviest racquet that they can comfortably handle. Even though they’re not considered “power” frames, I find them more adept at producing deep, purposeful shots with only a medium-paced, rally swing—the coveted plow-through players seek. And, for the most part, tend to be more comfortable.

Which brings me to my caveat with the RF97: It’s a little firm. Racquets of its weight tend to have more flex, which heightens the plushness. I have found it to be a little jarring outside the sweetspot, and unkind to my elbow with extended use. If you don’t mind such a flex, and have healthy joints, it shouldn’t be a problem. But more than the weight, or the amount of time you spend in the gym, that would be my warning when it comes to this racquet.

That stiffness also contributes to a fair amount of pop. Sometimes a little too much—certainly more than I expected—if you’re not putting enough spin on the ball. There’s a good level of control, but I have fought bouts of overhitting with the racquet. Again, because the frame dominates contact, you don’t have to work that hard to hit a penetrating shot—which I find a less exhausting experience than swinging from my heels every shot to put something on the ball. 

So, in my opinion, if you’re:

1. Relatively healthy and fit
2. Accustomed to heavier frames
3. Possess long, fluid strokes

The mass of the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph will be much more of an asset than a burden. 

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