For fans of the Prince EXO3 Rebel comes the new Tour 98. It still has the distinctive black/yellow cosmetic and the trademark ports—there’s also a Pro version with traditional grommets—which gives the frame a remarkably soft feeling at impact. Most midplus racquets around the 11 oz. range tend to be stiffer, power frames, but the Tour 98 is extremely flexible with a greater emphasis on spin and control. Between the low flex and weight and the ports, the racquet offers a unique feel in the “tweener” category that took our tester, Max Callahan, some time to get comfortable with. Here’s his take on the Prince Tour 98:
Max Callahan: Reviewing racquets is difficult, at least compared to reviewing strings. Seems like you can string up just about anything in your preferred frame and get a sufficient test of its strengths and weaknesses. But testing a racquet that significantly differs from your preferred specs is an entirely different animal. So as the Prince Tour 98 is nearly two ounces lighter and about 3.5 points less head-light than my leaded-up Head Prestige Pro, I had to slow my groundstroke swings a bit more than I'm accustomed to in order to give this frame a fair test-drive.
The Prince Tour 98 is a very flexible stick and it was the 59 RA rating that I found most intriguing. I strung it with Head Sonic Pro 17 at 56lbs/55lbs, a few pounds heavier than I normally would for a full string bed of polys because of the frame’s purported flexibility. The EXO3 ports took a little getting used to, as this was my first attempt at stringing a Prince frame with this feature. So I decided to use an old set of strings I had lying around in case I messed up and had to start over. But the stringing experience didn’t end up presenting any troubles that a little more attentiveness didn’t easily solve, and it was quickly ready to take out to the courts.
Ground strokes: This was where I had the most difficulty with the lower weight of the Tour 98, and I suspect 4.5+ hitters would need to add some lead tape to wield it effectively. But the upside is that it’s a really nice set of specs for customization, because at 10.6 oz unstrung you can add a lot of lead tape or even silicone to the handle without the weight getting out of hand.
At first I couldn’t keep my topspin groundies in the court, and such a high degree of flexibility necessitates more overall heft in the frame to work for me. I used to hit with the old Wilson Pro Staff 85, and while that frame is actually listed as slightly stiffer than the Prince Tour 98, that racquet was the most flexible feel I ever experienced. But it was significantly heavier than the Tour 98, and it was that marriage between flexibility and mass that made that Pro Staff work so well.
But once I slowed my swing speed a bit I was able to get into a groove with the Prince Tour 98, and I think 3.5-4.0 players, in particular, would find this to be an engaging racquet for baseline play. The head-light balance allows for plenty of whip, and the open string pattern, along with the increased energy from the EXO3 technology, provides access to solid topspin off both wings. Off-center shots were problematic to control at times, likely due to some combination of the light weight and high flexibility, but I was able to produce a consistently biting backhand slice with this frame.
Volleys: This was where the merits of the low stiffness rating really showed. I was able to control all of my volleys beautifully, particularly on low balls, and drop volleys and drop shots seem to kiss off the strings with supple feel. So if you're even a part-time net rusher and you’ve bemoaned how today’s stiffer frames can sometimes feel like a frying pan on touch volleys, I’d put the Tour 98 on your demo shortlist.
Serves: The low weight of this racquet wasn’t a factor on slice or topspin serves, and I was able to get plenty of movement after the bounce. However, flat serves felt a bit tinny, and I had to muscle through the pronation more than I'm accustomed to offset the lack of heft and stiffness. But again, I suspect that with enough lead tape this could become a solid serving stick for most players, and if you value spin over power on the serve, you can coax more than enough spin from the Tour 98 at its stock weight.
Overall Performance: The Prince Tour 98 owns an enticing set of specs amongst the current crop of stiffer frames, and it’s a perfect template for customization if you're an advanced player looking for a flexible, light racquet to which you can add weight in your favorite spots. And for intermediate players that know how to use spin from the backcourt and aren’t afraid to venture to the net, this racquet offers a unique experience on both ground strokes and volleys. For anyone in the market for a softer-feeling, control-oriented 98 sq. in. racquet, the Prince Tour 98 is definitely worth a test drive.
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