The Clash has made quite a splash for Wilson. The combination of a highly flexible and comfortable frame that doesn’t compromise on power or stability has proven a welcome change for players seeking a respite from the shock of the stiffer models populating the marketplace. The most recent edition to the family is the Clash 98, designed for accomplished players who seek more control than the 100 models in the line. And it certainly works to that end, although it’s not foremost on the racquet’s list of strengths.
Even though the specs are different, from the baseline the Clash 98 reminded me of a cuddly Pure Drive with a bit better command. It produced effortless pace, spin and depth from nothing more than a third-gear swing, and offered extra help on off-center contact. It also proved remarkably stable when redirecting pace—I was particularly fond of shop-hopping deep shots from just inside the baseline with an abbreviated swing. The beam is a little chunky, but it’s offset by the head-light balance, resulting in reasonably good handling to provide assistance in difficult defensive situations.
The draw of the Clash when compared to many of the power-brokers available is it brings all these assets to the court without being overly stiff. Or stiff in slightest. Rather than a backboard response, the racquet is designed to slingshot the ball off the string bed. The FreeFlex technology allows it to bend at unique angles, and the result is a flexible frame that seems to know when it needs to stiffen up to provide more stability and power. So, while the measurements would indicate an unusually soft and potentially unstable frame—especially out of the strike zone—it doesn’t play like one.
Nor did it play with the restraint generally associated with its dimensions. The Clash 98 is the most control-oriented of the family, but that’s grading on a curve. Sort of like labeling someone the most sensible skydiver. The biggest hurdle I encountered with the frame was tempering its propensity to launch the ball. It performed admirably during meat-and-potatoes rallying, but when I tried to up the ante on an opportunity ball with a more purposeful swing, the results weren’t predictable enough for my liking. I had to pick broad targets or slow down my swing if I wanted to find my marks with repeated consistency.
This was most apparent for me on serve. When I went for flatter, higher paced deliveries I was able to generate plenty of speed. However, the reliability in terms of distance and direction wasn’t a high enough standard. If I didn’t temper my aggression or apply extra spin to stay inside the lines it was too much of a feast-or-famine proposition.
However, I do think that upping the tension with a deader string could make a difference. I demoed the frame with a loosely strung, softer poly which undoubtedly didn’t help rein in the power. And because of the flex and arm-friendliness of the Clash, it’s a good candidate for using a firm, control-oriented polyester strung at higher tensions.
This might benefit volleys as well. When I was first given an introduction to Clash by Wilson, one of the images they used to describe its playability was a lacrosse stick. They wanted to create a frame in which the ball sunk into the string bed, and then could be catapulted back into the court with precision. Which was a welcomed trait from the baseline, but caused some bouts springiness at net. On the plus side, it had a solid feel at impact, blocking passing shots back to the baseline rather routinely. The only issue was, while it did cradle the ball effectively, I struggled to control how it came off the strings on short angles and drop volleys. But I sensed the frame did have the makings of decent touch—it would just take some time to develop it.
Ultimately, most opinions on the Clash 98 will probably come down to its unique feel. Fans will find it comfortable and quite attractive—its plushness at contact and forgiving nature is a rare combination—while those accustomed to a stiffer, crisper response may conclude it’s too drastic a departure. It does offer more control than the other offerings in the line, but that trait could still use more refinement, especially for players who prefer to supply most of their own power. I’d love to see a future model with a bit tighter handling. But for those who do want more of a boost, and a frame that performs unlike any of its competitors, this Clash will not disappoint.