Savvy players know all about hybrid strings. You pair two different strings in the same frame trying to maximize the best qualities of each, while minimizing their drawbacks. Put a polyester in the mains and a soft multifilament in the crosses, and you get some of the control and spin properties of a poly with a more forgiving string bed. Reverse the combo and you get more spin, control and firmness than you would from all multifilament. It’s rarely a perfect marriage—a strength exhibited in a full string bed is often tempered—but to many players it’s a worthwhile compromise.
Yonex’s EZONE DR 98 struck me as a type of hybrid racquet. It’s not quite a true player’s frame, yet it has enough of the feel and control typical of those types of racquets to appeal to players seeking those traits. It doesn’t produce the unbridled power and spin potential of some of the “modern” baseline sluggers available, but there’s enough of each to easily compete in today’s game. In other words, it’s an exceedingly user-friendly frame with an impressive blend of playing attributes.
The first thing that jumped out about the DR 98 was it’s feel at contact. I’d stop short of saying it was pure “classic”, but it’s as close as you’ll get from frames in this category. Impact in the sweet spot results in a very comfortable and plush response. This was only heightened by the hybrid set-up I demoed it with—gut in the mains/Yonex PolyTour Pro in the crosses. I didn’t feel quite as connected as I typically do from more thinner beam frames, but it was far from a problem. I also tried the DR 98 with a full bed of PolyTour Pro which did firm it up and give a crisper feel at contact, although less comfortable, particularly on off-center hits.
The smooth feel contributed to steady and effective baseline play. Strung, with an overgrip and vibration dampener my test frame weighed in at 11.8 oz., far from a lightweight. Yet it whipped quickly through the hitting zone, resulting in good pace with a healthy level of control. A few shots took off on me, but nothing like I experience from firmer, lighter tweener frames. I’ve been playing a lot recently with the Yonex VCORE Duel G 97 (330g) and appreciated the easier power and greater forgiveness of the DR 98. It doesn’t have the plow through or thump that the beefy Duel G can provide, but you don’t have to exert as much energy to hit a working shot, especially when on the defensive.
It was also a big perk on serves, which jumped off the frame. Exploded was more like it. If there was one shot I noticed extra power it was on flat serves. However, I did struggle at times to control the juice I was generating. I think added time and dialing in string selection and tension would go a long way in upping the precision. Kick serves had plenty of life, but I couldn’t find a wicked level. The racquet in general is not a spin monster, not a huge surprise given the eight main strings running through the throat in its down-the-middle 16x19 pattern. Still, players who have little difficulty applying spin to the ball will have no trouble doing so with this frame.
Net play was another area where the hybrid nature of the DR 98 reared its head. Typically I find volleying with some of the firmer, thicker-beamed frames to be almost like cheating. All you need to do is get the racquet in front of the ball and the result is a volley deep into the opponent’s court. The DR 98 requires a little more effort than that, but it’s not tough putting volleys back to the baseline with authority. Yet, the feel, control and stability—perhaps not at the level of a heavier, thinner player’s frame—are all high enough to balance punching away sitters with dropping touch volleys; both executed with relative ease. Hard-core volleyers may want a touch more weight, but otherwise it’s very much a can-do racquet at net.
And that pretty much sums up the EZONE DR 98’s performance from all areas of the court. There wasn’t one aspect from stroke production to comfort and feedback, where it didn’t earn some stripes. It’s a must try for players looking to move away from—or not quite ready for—the rigors of a traditional player’s frame, but don’t want to sacrifice too much feel and command in the process. Some frames are more solid and controllable, and others pack a bigger, spin-laden punch. But few, if any, manage to live in both worlds as successfully as the DR 98. It’s definitely a compromise worth making.