Just about every racquet franchise has a headliner. It’s the model that carries the identity of the line and the most appeal to the largest section of the playing public. If it were a movie, this frame would be the name above the marquee. Alongside it, there are usually a few different versions to satisfy more specific playing styles. Perhaps a model with more weight to suit advanced players, or a lighter one to fit up-and-comers.

But after the featured player and its co-stars, lie the more unique offerings. Call these the character actors. They frequently have an unusual spec or design element, and are released several months after the launch of the flagship model. Their distinctiveness often narrows their allure to a niche audience, which can keep them out of local pro shops and off player radar. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth investigating. Here are two such hidden gems.

Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 100 v13

Price: $219
Head Size: 100 sq. in.
Length: 27 in.
Weight: 11.4 oz.
Balance: 5 pts. HL
Swingweight: 325
RA: 65
Beam Width: 22.5 mm

A user-friendly Pro Staff? It may sound like an oxymoron, but the Six.One 100 v13 is about as welcoming a Pro Staff as there’s been in quite some time. The Six.One branch of the Pro Staff tree was pruned several years ago, deemed a demanding relic. It still takes skill to wield this updated version effectively, and there are certainly other 100s that do more of the work. But it hit many of the right notes for players looking for a more modern control frame.

From a design standpoint, the head size is bigger, beam width wider and static weight lighter than the standard Pro Staff 97. These modifications gave the frame more forgiveness and ground strokes easier depth. The handling was smooth and speedy through the hitting zone, capable of putting good pace and plenty of spin on the ball. It’s not a power stick—I’d say the heavier PS 97s pack more plow through and put-away prowess—but there was not as much penalty for user error. It also managed to maintain much of the line’s lauded feel and control.

Meaning it carried many of the traits that make a Pro Staff such a dependable all-court performer. At net it was quick to the ball, with just enough clout to put a sitter in its place. Short angles, half and touch volleys were all right in the racquet’s wheelhouse. Stability was good for its weight, but players facing elevated ball speeds may require a bit more heft. Fortunately the specs make it a frame ripe for customization, and a little lead tape applied to the head should go a long way to solving that problem.

All in all, the Pro Staff Six.One 100 v13 is a savvy addition to the line. Ex-college players and skilled veterans who want more help from a more control-oriented frame? Give this one a shot. Rising junior tournament player not quite ready to handle the rigors of the standard Pro Staff? This could be your landing spot.


Yonex VCORE 98+

Price: $239
Head Size: 98 sq. in.
Length: 27.5 in.
Weight: 11.4 oz.
Balance: 5 pts. HL
Swingweight: 334
RA: 65
Beam Width: 22.5 mm / 23 mm / 21 mm

Extended length racquets are an acquired tasted. Playing with an extra half-inch—pretty much the standard in longer frames—generally causes adjustment issues. Whether it’s modifying the contact point or reining in the added power, some sort of transition is usually required. One of the bigger hang-ups is the lessened maneuverability brought on by the extra size and higher swingweight. It can make playing defense or quick reactions more challenging.

However, I found the Yonex VCORE 98+ hid it’s length better than most. It wasn’t an extension of my arm, but it was smooth enough that I didn’t feel overly clumsy or inept in those situations. And the tradeoff was the extra oomph on my strokes. It may not seem like much, but that little extra half-inch is like a turbo button for serves and ground strokes.

True, it could be unruly at times, especially when trying to flatten out a ball, and targeting wasn’t laser-focused. But being the spin franchise in the Yonex arsenal, it was easy to put heavy rotation on the ball to keep shots from sailing. For this generation that includes changes in frame geometry to promote faster swings, thin grommet nozzles at 6 and 12 o’clock for more string movement and an updated graphite in the upper throat and lower hoop to encourage the racquet to quickly flex and snap back.

The feel of the racquet could best be described as—cue the Pink Floyd—comfortably numb. It was firm and solid without being brassy or arm-unfriendly. The Vibration Dampening Mesh in the handle did an admirable job of filtering out unwanted shock. Depending on your preferred level of feedback, it could potentially be too muted. There wasn’t a great connection to the ball on the strings, but the line wasn’t dead, either. Besides, players tend not to gravitate toward extended length frames for their touch and feel.

They’re looking to play with bombast; first strike tennis that puts aggressive baseliners in control of a point within an imposing serve or heavy ground stroke. Which the VCORE 98+ does to great effect. That said, it was no slouch at the net, either. Again, not spry, but decent enough handling to get into position to stick the volley. It had the necessary stability to stand up to hard passes and block the ball back with easy depth. No magic wand when subtlety was required, but punished anything soft and above the shoulders.

There may be some growing pains, but those players who crack the ball with heavy pace, spin and abandon, littering up the stat sheet with winners and errors, will welcome what this racquet can do. Yet, it’s not so wild that it can’t engage in occasional grinding or counterpunching.  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 proud.