I admit it: I’ve got a soft spot for extended length racquets. As someone who likes to dictate play, there’s something seductive about the added pace and weight of shot that come from a longer frame. Especially since by changing this dimension, it’s possible to raise the power quotient without elevating stiffness; the racquet packs a bigger punch while still maintaining a respectable level of comfort and feel. And when it works, like it does with the new VCORE 98+, it’s a lot of fun and oh so effective.
The racquet updates and replaces the VCORE SV 98+, and I found it a marked improvement in terms of playability and feel. The previous generation was a blast to play with and more of a bruiser, but a bit wild at heart. It was also tougher on the arm, with a crisp response at impact that was borderline harsh outside the sweet spot. Like all the new VCOREs, the 98+ has a softer flex and additions to enhance spin—new Aero Fins around the hoop, a wider 16x19 string pattern and flexible graphite (Namd) in the throat—which give them better feel, control and versatility. It does cost a few mphs when compared to its predecessor, but it was a tradeoff I was happy to make.
When compared to the current lineup, the half-inch addition causes the racquet to play like the standard VCORE 98 on steroids. As someone who likes to lean on his first serve to pick up free points, the extra length is a difference-maker. During the warmup, my playing partner immediately commented how my serve had more zip and was heavier to return. The rhythm took a little to develop, and I didn’t always find my spots, but when everything clicked I felt ready for the (seniors) tour. Kickers also had a higher jump and could provide offense rather than just keeping things at neutral. Big servers, and those aspiring to become more of one, will certainly appreciate what this racquet does for their delivery.
The power, spin and plow-through on ground strokes are also all increased—and probably the errors, too—thanks to the extra leverage and swing weight. The static weight is the same as the standard model, but the 98+ plays heavier. And while the extra “bulk” gives the frame more substance, it does have drawbacks in the speed and handling departments. It felt sturdy and was capable at the net, but not overly quick. If I wasn’t alert on a fast pass, I could easily be late to contact. Controlling the frame on touch shots and lobs, or when scrambling up to return a difficult short ball could also feel a bit awkward. Although only a half-inch, it felt like I could fit three hands on the grip.
This means unless you’re currently playing with an extended racquet, the 98+ will cause some growing pains. When I missed shots, they could be quite ugly. As much as it’s naturally more demanding to get the racquet through contact—it has swing weight to burn—proper footwork and spacing can be greater challenges. For instance, when I would run around my backhand to hit an inside-out forehand, it required an additional step and more work to get into position. Otherwise I got a little jammed up and smothered the shot; same went for several down-the-line backhands when I didn’t give myself enough room to fully extend through impact.
In fact, I felt at all areas of the court—and perhaps this is indicative of extended frames—the racquet was a magnifier. When I was sharp with my footwork and my intentions, my ground strokes were penetrating and making trouble. On the other hand, when I was a little lazy and thoughtless with my tactics, errors started piling up. It was streaky play at the extremes, with a much narrower middle ground.
But much of that could be chalked up to user unfamiliarity. I’m sure with more time I would get adjusted to the dimensions and characteristics of the frame and my consistency would rise. Still, like most longer racquets, I’m not sure it’s best-suited to grinders and counterpunchers who rely on their steadiness and quickness to wear down opponents. Those players who crack the ball with heavy pace, spin and abandon and don’t mind trickier handling to do it—undoubtedly a more select group—will welcome what this racquet can do. If you’re a fan of extended length frames, or are curious what they could add to your game, the VCORE 98+ does the category justice.