“Is that the Spin version?” Anybody walking on court with a new Wilson racquet will undoubtedly get asked that question. I did when I took the Blade 98S out for playtest. Unlike the standard Blade 98, with its 16x19 or 18x20 string patterns, the newer spin model sports a 18x16 configuration. Having fewer cross strings is designed to allow for greater string movement and spin potential. The spin version is also slightly lighter—less string will do that—which promotes greater racquet head speed, another ingredient for increased spin.
Even with less on the scale, the Blade 98S felt surprisingly sturdy. Shots hit around the top of the string bed didn’t result in much twisting or power outage. And the wide open string pattern offers a pretty forgiving feel. It also gives the ball a little extra lift and rotation, which could really benefit players who need a boost in the spin department.
The one caveat I would offer potential users is to sample it as you would any other frame. There’s a golf technique axiom: Let the club head do the work. The instruction is meant to encourage players to take a relaxed, fluid swing that will result in solid contact. Because the prime directive of this frame is increased spin, there’s a temptation to exaggerate swing paths to see how much of it can be generated. I found myself doing this on a few forehands and kick serves and the results were predictably flawed. The racquet is not a magic wand that will grant you Nadal-like topspin. But when allowed to do its job properly, the Blade 98S definitely has its rewards.
Those are a few quick reactions I had to my hitting sessions with the frame. For a more thorough, in-depth review, I’m going to turn The Pro Shop over to Mitch Case. Mitch is a certified PTR Professional, USRSA Master Racquet Technician, Etcheberry Fitness Coach, and the Director of Tennis at Woodridge Lake in Goshen, CT. He’s also an accomplished player and, most importantly, a racquet junkie. Here’s Mitch's take on the Blade 98S:
The Wilson Blade 98S measures in as the most maneuverable of the Blade series at 1 point HL, 11 ounces, and with a swingweight of 321. The frame is quick through the air on ground strokes, allowing the player to take full advantage of the 18x16 string pattern on both topspin and slice shots. While I prefer heavier sticks, any additional mass in this frame, especially in the head, would have made the racquet too powerful for the target audience. And though the frame may be lacking the plowthrough of other player’s racquets, the stability of the hoop keeps it from feeling too flimsy. The soft string bed, in combination with the weight and the medium stiffness of the head, blend perfectly to produce a frame that is powerful, yet controllable.
On ground strokes, the Blade lived up to its namesake. It effortlessly accelerates through the stroke, making it easy to cut through the air and whip up on the ball. Though there is a slight learning curve when it comes to extremely open patterned frames, the racquet itself is fairly consistent. The open pattern launches the ball slightly higher than usual, but the additional spin drops the ball into the court much faster. On flat shots and passing shots, the ball would sink deeply into the strings before exploding passed the net player. The majority of slices came off the racquet with aggressive spin and skidded low, though an occasional ball would float long. When hitting with the top of the hoop on defensive shots, the feel is a bit jarring, but the racquet is just stiff enough to get the ball back over the net.
For me, the frame really shines on flat serves. Even with a medium-speed swing, I was able to produce a consistently fast ball. The softness of the string bed allows the ball to pocket nicely, before sending the ball screaming towards the opponent. To my dismay, however, I did not notice a dramatic increase in rotation or kick on spin serves. In fact, I felt as if I needed to work harder to produce the same amount of kick that I achieve with my 12+ ounce, 18x20 racquet.
The Blade is lightning quick at the net. It’s incredibly easy to get around and into position on standard volleys, as well as reflex volleys. I had no problem dialing-in my forehand volley, but my backhand volley tended to float long and/or sit up. Once I closed down the racquet face, I was able to knife through the ball, though I had to swing more than usual. Due to the light weight, off-center hits were manageable, but less than pleasant. The feel on the volleys was good enough, not great. It was like listening to a really good song through a cheap pair of headphones: I was just missing that little bit of nuance that differentiates a great shot from an exceptional shot.
Overall, the Wilson Blade 98S is a solid performer. It has many of the great characteristics of a player’s frame, while being maneuverable and fast enough for less experienced players. It’s speed and “whip-i-ness” make it a blast to play with. While not the softest racquet on the market, the open pattern plays very comfortably and should allow more sensitive arms to try full poly or poly hybrids. The frame would be a great choice for advancing junior players, as well and strong intermediate to advanced adult players (3.5 and up). Advanced players looking for a little more heft or control can look towards the 16x19 and 18x20 Blade models.