The Countervail edition marks the 6th incarnation of the Blade franchise. The name refers to a carbon fiber—first popularized in cycling—designed to absorb shock and vibration at impact, meaning less of it transfers to the body. Over the course of a long match this makes for a stronger, healthier hitting arm; over the course of a long season, the lessened fatigue could add up to better performance. Instead of promising an immediate boost in power, spin or control, Countervail’s benefits are more cumulative in nature.
That’s difficult to assess in a review, as initial reactions form the bulk of the evaluation. After hitting with the racquet, my first impression was one I generally affix to any Blade 98—it has a clean, comfortable and highly desirable feel at contact. According to our measurements, it’s slightly stiffer and more head-light than the previous version, but when combined with the Countervail the result is perhaps an even more muted response. If you like a crisp feeling racquet, the Blade 98 CV could potentially be too deadened. However, count me a fan of the minimal feedback and overall forgiveness.
This made baseline play with the racquet a real pleasure. It possesses an effective level of controllable power that can be directed relatively accurately. I didn’t find the total command I’d like, but I had range enough to deliver some heavy ground strokes. Any control problems—and problems in general with the frame—probably stem from adjustments needed to accommodate its balance.
Even though more head-light than the previous model, I still found the concentration of weight more toward the hoop an acquired taste. It gives the frame better than expected stability for its static weight, and can be real asset when returning shots when stretched, but it loses some quickness through the hitting zone. There were times when I was late to the ball or didn’t get enough brush through contact, and the resulting shots took off.
This was most true when serving. I felt comfortable going after the ball and generated sufficient ball speed and direction, but was missing long more often than usual. On flat serves I sometimes struggled to get “on top” of the ball at contact and didn’t find the box enough for my liking; kick serves had good life, but required a concerted brush to bring them down into the court. Some of this, as it was with baseline play, was clearly familiarity—my customary frame is much more head-light.
It was much less of an issue at net, where shorter strokes are required. The Blade 98 was maneuverable enough, and once in position had the mass, stability and control to carve out effective volleys. The muted response can rob some feel from finesse shots, but playing with touch isn’t out of the question; especially when compared to similarly weighted frames in this category.
Whether or not the Countervail technology will work in the long term, it doesn’t take much court time to see why the Blade has become such a popular frame. It possesses the power and spin potential coveted in the modern game, with an arm-friendly response that so many of its contemporaries lack. Fans of previous models will have to decide if the more dampened feel is to their liking. It works from my perspective, but I’d have to add weight to the handle to create a whippier, more head-light balance, and make a stable frame even sturdier. With or without tinkering, the Blade 98 CV (16x19) is a comfortable, versatile racquet that should appeal to a wide array of players and styles.