Anyone wondering whether Serena Williams would actually play with the new Autograph frame that bears her name need only to swing it. After just a few strokes with the Blade SW104 the racquet’s prime directive becomes abundantly clear: no quarter. Faithful to Serena’s aggressive style, the frame’s raw power is designed to hammer serves and batter groundies that give opponents whiplash.
A racquet made for one of the singular players in the sport’s history, it probably shouldn’t surprise that the specs of the SW104 are rather unique. A 104 square-inch head size, 28-inch length, tight-ish 18x19 string pattern and 342 swingweight add up to a substantial, powerful stick that takes some effort to get around. The players it will appeal to are likely to comprise a small community. But for that select audience, it’s sure to please.
(At the moment, the maximum grip size for the racquet is 4 3/8. While grip sizes are trending smaller—and undoubtedly the audience for the frame will skew female—the demands of the racquet would seem to befit bigger, stronger players. Until such time as larger grips are available, players needing a fatter handle may have to double-up on overgrip.)
For just about any player, the frame will require a courtship. I generally get along with extended length frames, and I still encountered an adjustment period. Most notably, I couldn’t find a level of steadiness with my forehand. The longer racquet coupled with a longer swing, resulted in timing issues. Once more in sync, though, I did enjoy the benefits such construction affords. Serves picked up extra angle and mph, I could quickly tear open a point with a swipe of my forehand and my two-handed backhand elevated from rally shot to potential weapon.
This was especially true when I gave myself extra time by playing a few feet behind the baseline, promoting ideal contact more frequently. I’m sure repetitions would go a long way toward better success taking the ball earlier—especially on returns of serve, which really required more margin for error. Regardless, when things were working properly, the racquet plowed through the ball, delivering great offense.
The frame responded with a comfortable, slightly muted feel at contact. I tested it with a Luxilon 4G/Wilson NXT hybrid which was friendly, and I think there’s enough inherent dampening in the racquet to be likewise with full polyester. As with the new Blade 98s, the SW104 possesses Countervail—a shock absorbing carbon fiber—but it’s a bit firmer and livelier than its siblings. The 18x19 string pattern provides good directional control and a respectable spin window.
However, both attributes can be dominated by the power, which can be both intoxicating and unruly. The lure of nailing aces and screaming winners—the latter from almost any position on the court—can draw some wild swings. Given the power potential, errors can pile up. But where it becomes most troublesome to tame is when trying to employ finesse. Hitting through the court (and opponents)? Brilliant. Creating sharper angles and touch shots? More of a C student. So, again, to experience the most success, I took up space behind the baseline and gave the ball a ride. And, admittedly, it was enjoyably effective.
When I did move forward, volleying was of the meat-and-potatoes variety: deep into the open court. The frame was mostly solid against pace and redirected passes quite well. The extra length and larger racquet face does exact a toll in terms of preparation, and if you’re lazy in setting up you will be punished. The pedestrian handling and touch also made it tougher to play short in the court. But attacking volleys—such as the swinging variety in transition—and smashing overheads were perfectly in the frame’s wheelhouse.
Because the DNA of the SW104, much like the player it’s named after, is rooted in baseline aggression. Players with a preference for grinding rallies or sleight of hand need not apply. This one is for those who want to dictate from the first strike and finish the point (quickly) on their terms. If that’s your game, you’ll want to sign up for this Autograph.