When Wilson launched its Spin Effect technology last year, the Steam was the flagship frame line. Whether it was the concept, or the merits of the frame, it gained quite a following; through the first half of last year, the Steam 99S was the third best-selling racquet at specialty stores, and second among frames introduced in the last 12 months.
It seems inevitable that when a racquet is popular, it's not long before a lighter-weight sibling is rolled out. But while the frames may look identical, oftentimes the playing characteristics don't come close to comparing.
Thankfully that's not the case with the Steam 99LS. It's lighter and softer than it's beefier brother, but still has enough pop and spin to push opponents deep in the court. It's probably too light to stand up to advanced competition, but it still has enough substance for aspiring juniors who like to hit with spin, or intermediate adults looking to apply more of it to their strokes. And if you add a little weight to the frame, it's capable of doing the job at higher levels of play. If you found the Steam 99S too heavy or stiff, the 99LS is definitely an improvement.
One of our testers, Kin Roseborough, head stringer at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, SC, even preferred it. Here's his review:
Kin Roseborough: Having long been a 95-98 sq/in, 12 oz., flexy frame kinda guy, I looked at the specs of the Steam 99LS and shook my head. No way was this a racquet for me; I'm only testing this to give feedback for the players in the 99LS target market.
Wrong! Not only is it a frame I can play with, I don't want to give my playtest demo back.
To my surprise, I was able to pick up the 99LS and get dialed in right away. I felt connected and able to rally with depth and pace from the first ball. Remarkably maneuverable and a spin demon—as advertised—I found the Wilson 99LS capable of producing solid groundstrokes off both my forehand and one-handed backhand. The sweet spot is large, but surprisingly controllable. I also found the LS to be much softer and less jarring than its 99S sibling I demoed last summer.
The very first ball I served with the Steam 99LS landed in the box, just inside the service line, and hopped over the back fence. While this was due in part to the ball striking the front edge of the tape on the clay court, it was only because of the massive spin from the 16x15 string pattern that the ball kicked that high. The remainder of my serves stayed inside the ballpark, but hitting heavy spin or flat bombs was effortless with the Steam 99LS.
At the net, the Steam is lightning quick and remarkably stable for a sub-11oz frame. I found it easy to put away volleys and overheads off weak shots, but the 99LS was solid even against heavy balls coming with pace. There was enough flex and feel that I also felt confident in attempting drop volleys and touch half-volleys.
Having hit the 99S last summer and not enjoyed the experience, I was thinking that a lighter version of the same frame would be a “one-and-done” hitting session. Instead, the 99LS was my favorite racquet from a demo group that included some well-reviewed and coveted frames. By making a more flexible, much more head light, and simply better feeling all-around frame, Wilson has sold me on the benefits of the spin effects. If I were to switch to the 99LS, I would add a leather grip and make judicious use of lead tape to get the set-up a little more in line with my preferences. But honestly, I think I could play 4.5, 45-and-over doubles with it stock.
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