There are two noticeable changes to the new Pro Staff 97 Countervail. The first—and most overt—is the conversion to the stylish, all-black tuxedo cosmetic that debuted on the Roger Federer Autograph. It’s the third look for the frame in its short existence since transitioning to a 97 square-inch with a thicker beam. Now all the Pro Staff models, except for the Grigor Dimitrov-backed 97S—a niche frame with a unique string pattern and thinner beam—share the sharp-looking paint job.
The next alteration is the institution of Countervail to strategic parts of the frame. The vibration and shock-reducing carbon fiber is engineered to lessen arm fatigue. Rather than deliver an immediate playability upgrade, such as a conspicuous boost in power, the technology aids in keeping the player healthier, thus promoting freer swings and better performance deeper into a match. In a sense, it’s addition by subtraction.
However, perhaps the biggest knock on Countervail is it can dull some of connection to the ball at contact. This new PS 97 has a bit more flex and the feel is indeed slightly more muted than previous versions. I didn’t have any real issues with it, but I could see Pro Staff disciples thinking otherwise, finding the response somewhat inauthentic. The filtering gives it refinement and added comfort, but the connection is less vital. Sort of like the sonic differences between digital and vinyl.
It caused me no consternation from the baseline as ground strokes were largely reliable. Full swings were rewarded with a nice balance of pace and lively spin. The Pro Staff offers a boost in the power department, but it’s well short of nuclear. There was a fair amount of wind on one of the days I tested the frame, and when hitting into it I felt as though I was playing uphill, especially on my backhand. Otherwise I was able to find my targets with acceptable regularity. It perhaps didn’t have the razor-sharp precision of classic Pro Staff models, but the control was better than many current offerings.
So was serving, probably my favorite stroke to hit with the PS 97. The frame moves easily through the hitting zone and whatever extra pop it does pack seemed to transfer into my serves. Flat bombs jetted through the court and the 16x19 string pattern tightly gripped the ball for bouncy kicks and tailing sliders. I put the frame in the hands of a friend who regularly uses the heavier and more demanding RF 97 and he was smitten with the easier handling and power he discovered on his serve. (His balky shoulder approved of the performance in other areas of the court as well).
Pro Staffs have a well-earned reputation for being effective all-court frames and this one was no exception. Volleys were dependable and productive, encouraging confident forays inside the court. The head-light balance fostered quick handling at net, with enough heft for stability against hard-hit passes. Even with the dampened feedback, touch shots and drop volleys were still accessible and on the right side of average.
Which is more or less how I would describe my overall experience with the frame. I enjoyed serving with it and it’s certainly a good-looking racquet—I’m sure many players will buy it for its appearance alone—but nothing about it dropped my jaw. I felt it did everything reasonably well—which is no small feat for any racquet—without having an overtly exceptional quality. I think players fond of the performance and direction of recent Pro Staffs will not be disappointed with this latest effort, especially if they’ve longed for a model with a more dampened, friendlier feel.