With its 13th installment, the venerable Wilson Pro Staff is a little like the James Bond of tennis racquet franchises. And like high-tech gadgets, femme fatales, vodka martinis and pompous villains there are certain requirements we’ve come to expect from every edition of a Pro Staff. Things like perimeter weighting and graphite and para-aramid fiber braid composition meshing to create a heightened level of feel and control in a somewhat demanding and precise package. Formulaic, perhaps, but undeniably effective.
Which makes one of the noteworthy changes to the newest Pro Staff what’s actually been taken out of the recipe. The Countervail dampening technology from the previous version has been jettisoned. For many, this will serve as addition by subtraction as there was criticism it robbed the frame of some of its trademark response.
To amplify that characteristic even further, Wilson has arranged its graphite braid at 45-degree angles (dubbed Braid 45) to improve ball pocketing and feel at contact. The tip of the frame even has a glossy layer exposing its carbon weave. String Mapping has also been instituted—a denser pattern in the strike zone for more control, and wider spacing toward the edges for more forgiveness. The sleek, retro cosmetic with its red and yellow heritage striping harkening back to the original 1983 model, being an attractive bonus.
The combination of changes should sit well with Pro Staff users. The frame had a solid, connected feel that would please the most discerning touch players. It played firm and stable, yet still comfortable. There was no muting or mystery where the ball hit the string bed; when I strung the racquet, it seemed like the grommets practically squeezed the string for maximum feedback. Contact outside the sweet spot could be punishing in terms of results, but not from a physical standpoint.
From the baseline, this resulted in ground strokes with radar control and respectable pace when mechanics were pure. It’s more user-friendly than its heavier sibling, the RF97 Autograph, but it still requires proficient strokes. So, it was not a powerbroker, nor did it offer much assistance when off-center or late to contact. In other words, a Pro Staff. Even the most recent Wilson Blade seemed more forgiving on inadequate technique.
That’s not to say the Pro Staff was incapable of applying aggression. It has heft, but the head light balance made it fairly easy to generate plenty of swing speed. When opportunities presented, that could be translated into busting open a point with a heavy forehand, or finishing a short ball. It was also quite adept at changing the direction of a rally. Ripping a backhand up the line is a confidence barometer for me, and I had a lot of success controlling that shot with the Pro Staff. No doubt, the fine stability played a significant role.
Like the power level, spin was somewhat restrained. When I whipped up on the ball I could produce enough top for specialty shots such as short angles and lobs. However, it didn’t strike me as particularly suited for creating the dive-bomber groundies coveted by spin-centric baseliners. It was more disposed to provide adequate safety to drive the ball through the court.
This was particularly true on slices. The frame felt great on this stroke, carving through the ball like butter. Shots skidded low and were highly reproducible. Aspiring Federers will be inspired to hit those short, tight slices that draw opponents off the baseline and create gaps in the court.
Serving was another chance to exploit the Pro Staff’s creativity. Just as with ground strokes, it wasn’t a natural rocket launcher or spin-monster, but it had command to spare and did everything well enough to keep opponents guessing with a variety of attacks. Whether stepping on a flat serve to go for an ace, or cutting a slider out wide, the frame presented several effective options to get the point started on the right foot.
But the net was my happy place with the Pro Staff. On volleys, the frame felt substantial against in coming pace, yet never suffered from a lack of quickness. The top-notch control meant I could be greedy with my targets, be that nailing a floater or playing short in the court. The touch and superb feel was particularly magnified when I tried the racquet with a gut/poly hybrid. That combination really seemed to magnify the frame’s best qualities at net, the proverbial extension of the arm.
Overall, this latest Pro Staff delivers on what longstanding users and high-performance players have come to expect. The enhanced feel and precision improve upon the previous model and play up the strengths of the frame. It’s a racquet conversant in many languages—power, spin, finesse—and performs best when speaking all of them. It will appeal to players who like to attack all areas of the court with a broad range of tactics. Leaving their opponents shaken and stirred.