Updating a racquet line can be a tricky proposition. On the one hand, it makes business sense for a manufacturer not to deviate drastically from the proven formula that has garnered the frame’s following. On the other hand, it can be necessary to tinker with the matrix to create improvements and adapt with the changing demands in the game. The goal is to not offend the current audience while potentially cultivating new members. As updates go Yonex’s new VCORE Pro 97 is a conservative retelling of the frame, but it does have a few new tricks up its sleeve.
When compared to the most recent model, there are two noteworthy tweaks to the racquet. The first is a modified throat design intended to improve torque during swings and, consequently, spin production. The second, which Yonex has promoted more vigorously, is vibration dampening mesh (VDM) wrapped around the graphite within the grip to enhance feel. Yonex felt strongly enough about the merits of VDM, that it seems to have fast-tracked the VC Pro. Typically, a racquet line will be updated every 2-3 years, but the previous VC Pro has been on the market for just about a year. On a purely superficial front, the frame also has gone to an elegant matte green cosmetic with gold lettering.
That said, if you’re currently using a VC Pro 97 and are worried if the update is a noticeable departure, fear not—the past and present are virtually kissing cousins. A player could easily transition from the previous generation into the new one without a hiccup. However, if you’re currently using a VC Pro 97—or recently purchased several—and are worried that the update possesses must-have innovations that will significantly elevate playing experience and performance, you can probably rest easy in that regard as well. If anything, the alterations are refinements rather than significant changes.
None of that is meant to disparage the playability of the racquet. There are three returning 97s: the heavier HG (330g), the more manageable G (310g) and spry LG (290g)—and a brand-new 97 HD. For the purposes of this review, I’m focusing more on the HG with references to the G since those two perform and feel similarly, with weight being the primary difference. Both offer excellent feel and precision for players who bring their own power to the court and want a frame they can trust to direct it properly.
One of the things I appreciate about the HG model is that Yonex continues to make it. There simply aren’t many options on the market for a constant 20 mm beam frame in its weight class. It’s definitely more a throwback for players who seek a solid, demanding racquet. When you set up properly and mechanics are on point, the racquet simply owns contact. There’s a thud sound and a penetration to ground strokes that aren’t as achievable with lighter frames. Serves have great directional control, and if you can get the racquet head moving it will do likewise to the ball. It’s not as inherently forceful as some thicker, stiffer, lighter options, but there’s a rich enough power supply to thump the ball through the court.
However, if you prefer to employ whippier strokes that impart heavy spin, the easier swinging G model will probably be more in your wheelhouse. It also provides a better platform for customization. At its advanced weight, the HG is more of a finished product; but if you like to add lead tape or swap in a leather grip, the G gives you more room to manipulate some of the specs without turning the racquet into an unwieldy club. It’s also just ever so more flexible if that’s attractive to you.
Because where the stock weight of the HG can be problematic is on defense. If your opponent rockets a serve or forehand and you simply want to chip or block it back, there are few racquets better equipped. However, if one of those shots happens to put you on the run and you need to stretch out to return to sender, it takes some effort. And the VC Pro 97 is anything if not honest—when you’re late to contact, or off-center, it will let you know about it. Not to mention the racquet won’t do much to bail you out.
But that’s true to the racquet’s DNA. It has always been designed for control and aimed at better players. The new dampening mesh is only meant to enhance that. And the racquet does have great feel at contact. It’s not as plush as some racquets with a lower flex, but it’s still quite comfortable and arm-friendly. It’s one of those frames that works with multiple string combinations. I tried it with full poly strung in the high 40s and a gut/poly combo (my favorite) and still found an excellent connection to the ball. It helped make the frame a great all-court racquet.
Up at net, the HG in particular is a tremendous asset. It never gets pushed around and punishes careless passing shots. Yet it still has enough give to play with touch and angles. The confidence it gave me had me hunting down and creating opportunity balls to move forward. Did the better dampening and elevated feel make a marked difference? All I’ll say is it didn’t hurt. It certainly remained a strength of the frame, and stood out in this regard when compared to much of its competition.
Overall, the new Yonex VCORE Pro 97 reminded me of when bands used to put out a greatest hits album, and added a couple of fresh tracks as sweeteners. It’s not much of a tactic anymore in the age of downloadable content, but at the time it was an enticement for those fans who already had all the band’s previous material. Perhaps the improvements to the latest model are enough to impress long-time users. Perhaps they’re too subtle. Regardless, both the familiar and the uninitiated shouldn’t hesitate to give this one a try. The racquet remains a great choice for advanced players looking for a solid, controllable, versatile and—above all else—honest frame.