Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "Pro Staff RF97". Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "Pro Staff RF97". Sort by date Show all posts

RF97 Autograph long term review

After about half a year of playing and North of 100,000 ball contacts with the RF, it's probably a good time to post an in-depth review. Remember that Wilson has been stating that the racquet was co-developed with Roger, and that he is actually playing with what you can buy. So here's your chance to feel like Roger, at least a little :) So how does his racquet feel, actually?



Length: 68.58 cm (official spec - more on this below...)
Head size: 626 cm² / 97 in²
Beam width: 21.5 mm
String pattern: 16 x 19

Measured on true-to-naked-spec frames:

Strung weight: 358 g
Strung balance: 314 mm
Strung swing weight: 330 kg cm²

Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph with orange Völkl Cyclone string

The 2nd generation RF97 is supposed to only be a cosmetic update, i.e. new paintjob. I have played both back to back, however not with exactly the same string and grip setup. The official specs are identical though:

Thoughts on specs, and some benchmarking

I put together a quick comparison between memorable Pro Staff models, and as you can see most of the specs are not that different:

Pro Staff RF97Six.One 95 16x18Pro Staff Tour 90Pro Staff 6.1 Original
Strung weight356349354356
Strung balance314316314315
Strung swing weight330330336326
Head size626613581613
Beam width21.5221821
Main strings16161618
Cross strings19181820
Even string spacing around sweet spot?YesNoYesNo

Most notably, head size and beam width have increased, mostly resulting in more power (and less backhand shanks for Roger :P).

It probably makes most sense to compare the RF97 and the SixOne 95 a bit more, as those 2 are the most recent racquets in the lineup. The RF97 is even a bit heavier, by ~7 grams. There are only a handful of racquets in that weight range on the market, however for both racquets the official head light balance leads to a manageable swing weight.

The RF97s racquet head is a bit wider and starts a bit lower in the throat. Compared to the 16x18 SixOne 95 you get 1 extra cross string. I can't help but think I would have preferred a 16x18 bed, but hard to tell without trying it out... The string spacing is pretty even around the sweet spot, which I do like as it helps with both power and spin.

I currently don't have a precise enough measurement tool at hand, but by placing both beams side by side they *seem* almost identical in width, at around 21.5 mm. These days that's a good compromise between feel and power. If you hit with Roger's previous racquet, the Tour 90, or the current 95S, you'll appreciate the speedy feel and precision of an 18 mm frame, but you'll likely find that it's tough to hit the ball through the court.

With current Wilson frames, I'm right between grip sizes 2 and 3 (4 1/4 and 4 3/8). I changed my set of grip size 3 RFs to size ~2.5 by replacing the leather grip with the Babolat Skin Feel. That took ~10 grams off the frame and moved the balance point by ~6 mm towards the head, making it now a tad lighter but also a tad less head light than my SixOne 95. Overall still in very close range.

Warning: Wilson's generous manufacturing tolerances lead to very different racquets carrying the same name. In addition to the weight / balance / swing weight issues, I now found that 2 of my 6 frames are actually ~0.4 cm shorter (!). Never seen or heard of that before, so it didn't even occur for me to order and check for length. So ask for what you want and measure what you get. More info here.

Playing impressions

The mass and relatively open string pattern help produce a heavy, decently spinny ball. If you end up with a frame with higher swing weight than the official spec, your shots will get even heavier, but it will also be tough to get the racquet around. If you end up with a lighter swing weight version, the RF transforms into more of a serve and volley racquet. I found a true to spec frame to be a nice all-court racquet. I've had the pleasure (pain?) to hit with all 3 variants, and insisted on receiving the all-court spec that's printed on the frame.

Product-design-wise, I am still somewhat bothered by the relatively low-sitting throat and racquet head, and the throat being a tad longer than the SixOne 95. I blame that combo for the sometimes wobbly response I receive on hits outside the sweet spot.

I've also been struggling with my topspin backhand a bit. For the backswing, I put the supporting hand's index finger inside the frame and on the strings. On the SixOne, it ends up resting between the 6th and 7th hole. Playing with the RF, I found that my finger rests a tiny bit higher, which after a few million backhands might have some impact on the rest of the kinetic chain...

Comparing the RF97 and SixOne 95 side by side, the 97 produces more spin and a higher launch angle, however the 95 is both noticeably more stable and more maneuverable. The SixOne's benefits become obvious when returning fast serves, and especially on volleys. If I was exclusively playing serve and volley, I'd stick to the 95, still probably the best racquet on the planet for that purpose. However, the 97 better suits the modern baseline game while doing well enough on serves and volleys. Hence the RF97 is probably the better all-year, all-surface racquet.

Both the RF97 and the SixOne 95 can feel a bit planky - I've had similar a similar impression hitting with the Babolat Pure Controls, or even the Yonex Ezone DR 98.

And - as common amongst today's mass-produced frames - both feel quite stiff, making it hard on the arm to use stiffer strings. I'd love to pair the RF with the 1.25 Tour Bite, but even around 20 kg / 44 lbs I end up in pain after a while.

I have a video hitting with the RF here, which you might have seen in another post on the stick.


Player type: All-court players who have (or want to develop) refined long swings, want to feel some heft in their hand, and aim to produce a heavy ball.

String: I've been playing the RF with the orange Cyclone 1.25, strung at 21/20 kgs in the summer, adding a few kgs in the winter. The 1.25 mm Tour Bite was a great fit too, but caused some arm pain. I would generally lean towards a softer but still grippy string. If money is no issue, Roger's Champion's Choice string job works nicely too.

Closing thoughts

Despite the manufacturing tolerance issues and sometimes wobbly response, the RF97 Autograph turned out to be a really nice racquet. Subjectively I'd say it's still one of the 5 most interesting frames on the market. There's not much competition in that weight range, and despite the high gram count it's much more playable than you might think. If you have - or want to develop - smooth swings, and like the thought of producing a heavy ball with a good amount of spin, give it a go.

Völkl Cyclone color comparsion (2018 update)

Opinions seem differ on this, but I found that string color can significantly affect string performance. For example, the Kirschbaum Pro Line 2 feels nice and plush in red, but pretty stiff in black. So how about the Völkl Cyclone, one of the most popular polys out there, and (again) my current string of choice?

In general, the Cyclone has been considered a great half-priced alternative to the (overpriced?) Babolat RPM Blast. You probably came across this post since you appreciate its spin to price ratio, while being pretty well rounded otherwise as well (as opposed to the spin chart topping Ultra Cable, for example).

Ironically, despite making a gear shaped string, that's been on the market for years, while most players have been looking for spin strings... Volkl is still not saying anything in regards to spin on the packaging!

The Cyclone is still available in black, yellow, and orange. Serious players would probably choose by playing characteristics, but then there's also aesthetics, and price.

Between the different colors, I found that prices can differ up to about 30%. So for example, should one just buy the cheapest one?

Volkl Cyclone on Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph in yellow, black, and orange

Here's a quick comparison of playing characteristics of the available colors - but first, the setup:

Racquet: Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

Tension: 23/22 kgs (~51 / 49 lbs) via a Wise Tension Head, constant pull

Gauge: 1.25mm / 17, which has always been my top choice.

Black Cyclone - Surprisingly the softest of the bunch. Playing-feel-wise, it's probably the most similar to the RPM Blast, even though the Blast is much stiffer. Does not snap back as loudly as the other 2. Seemed like the most powerful too.

Yellow Cyclone - To me, the most generic feeling - I remember nothing really stood out to me. When I tested, it seemed to sit right between the comfort and power of the black and the spin of the orange Cyclone. If you want an allrounder, this might be worth a try.

Orange Cyclone - Most audible snapback, suggesting it's the most spin friendly, and feels like it to. Still appears somewhat plasticky to me, maybe the least powerful of the 3. Combined, that makes it the most predictable, which is why I stuck with orange for a while (and came back to it in 2018 after playing the Hyper-G for a couple of seasons).

Price-wise, around $100 / €100 for a 200m reel seems fair. I've seen some colors offered for as low as €90. In the US, the current market price seems to be ~$120. That's still only half of what the RPM costs over there, however starts to creep up on other popular choices such as the Solinco Tour Bite
or Hyper-G (~ $160). So if I was Völkl I'd probably make sure to keep that gap...

Compared to some of the competition, I'd say less spin but more power and comfort than the Tour Bite, a bit more spin but less pop and worse long-time playability compared to the Hyper-G, and softer playing than the black Moto and certainly the Black Widow.

Finally, quick note that a review and comparison of the V-Torque, V-Torque Tour, and V-Star is next on the list, probably happening sometime later this summer (2018). Also, I had already tried the Cyclone Tour a few times, and found it softer, less spinny, but mostly sucking a bunch of power on impact!

More regarding other stings in this comparison.

If you'd like to dig into the Cyclone topic some more, you can take a look at my 50+ Cyclone stringjobs with ratings and commentary...

Why you might not have bought Roger's racquet

Alright, good news first. The Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph generally turned out to be an amazing racquet. Official weight and balance combo is spot on, head size seems right, spacing between the cross strings around the sweet spot is even (as opposed to many other PWS frames), it's got plenty of power but also provides good touch, and I like the graphic design too. And it's probably a collector's item.

Between different interviews, Roger has indicated that he has been playing his previous racquet, the Tour 90, close to stock spec. Maybe sometimes a slightly stiffer or softer frame, depending on playing conditions, but that was supposed to be it. After 127 prototypes and about a year of testing, Wilson and Roger came up with the RF97. He committed to the switch and has been playing great since. More power, better serving, less backhand framers - and maybe one can even give the racquet partial credit for the SABR :)

The RF97 was "meticulously play tested and developed by the greatest tennis player of all time", Wilson claims.  It gets better: according to the NY Times, both Wilson and Roger confirmed that the RF97 is what he's actually playing with. Amongst the top 100 players or so, who mostly use custom frames, that would be quite a rarity. And a treat for us consumers. Between the Tour 90 and RF97, weight, balance, and swing weight are actually pretty close - Roger probably wouldn't want to adjust his swings to a new racquet.

I first experienced the RF at the 2014 US Open. I didn't get a chance to hit with it, but holding and swinging it felt right. Very exciting! However, the racquet was almost impossible get a hold of after the official launch. Roger was playing well, and for the first few months it was *the* racquet on the market.

A few months later at a Wilson demo event at Stanford, I finally got a chance to hit with it. It felt rock solid, but I just couldn't get the racquet head around. Very disappointing! The racquet just seemed too heavy.

Most prominent resources found the same. for example tested a frame with 348 kg cm² swing weight. That's significantly higher than the ~330 I've seen resulting from the official specs (including string). Not surprisingly, the author wrote "Wow, it’s heavy.", "...the RF97 Autograph feels every bit it’s 12.5 oz measurement", and it was "a chore to swing". For comparison, Midwest lists 336 and Tennis Warehouse 335This guy was lucky though and ended up with 331.

After that Stanford hit, I dismissed the racquet. Fast forward a year, I took part in a PBI Camp at Stanglwirt, Austria. That gave me a chance to give the frame another go. Between coaches and participants (but not provided by PBI sponsor Wilson!), there were 3 racquets to try. And they all seemed very different...

During the camp, I got about 30 hours of demo time in. I found that I really enjoyed the lighter swinging frames. So I made a trip to the closest Tennis-Point store in Munich and sacrificed a Champion's Choice string job to get the naked specs of the racquet I liked. Turned out that it was slightly below the official spec of 340 grams and 305 balance, which result in a 299 kg cm² swing weight.

In the case of the RF97 (and similar "player" racquets), a true to spec frame does feel substantial and heavy when held, but due to its headlight balance it's supposed to whip around quite easily. With a true to spec RF97, I even find myself making contact or abandoning a swing path too early. For example, I couldn't see players like DelPo or Ana enjoying this frame - the racquet head would probably come around too soon for their long-arm swings.

Based on what I've seen, it's quite likely that folks have been demoing heavy-feeling versions of the RF97. Between the 20 or so frames I measured, the weight range was 6 grams, and balance differed by up to 11 mm. Put those 2 together, and you end up with a swing weight spectrum of over 20 points (measured in kg cm²). That basically means you could get a racquet that swings as light as the non-Autograph Pro Staff 97 or the 95S, or almost as heavy as an old-school Dunlop 200G.

All in all the situation is a bit unfortunate:
  • I probably spent more than 50 hours and more than a grand to figure all that out, just to end up with 3 racquets that match the specs that are printed on the frame.
  • In the process, I also (kindly) tortured 2 local tennis stores and put the folks at to work. That also puts retailers in a funny spot, as they have to balance sales, customer experience, and cost on their end.
  • Many of us won't enjoy the fruits of the labor that Wilson and Roger put in to develop a spot-on racquet.
  • Wilson, who has such a winner on their hands, could be selling many more racquets and gain more excited fans and brand ambassadors. 
  • Roger, who has gone through the whole process and given his name and autograph for the racquet, probably wouldn't enjoy hitting with most of the racquets that end up on the shelves.

So what to do? Ideally the problem would be fixed at the source, by tightening up the manufacturing tolerances. If that's too costly and/or tricky for some brands, they could provide a spec range (as Technifibre does). And maybe print the actual specs on the frame, at least for higher-end models. Might also be worth thinking about charging more for more precision, and/or less for less precision. That way players who don't care can save some money, and players who do can spend a little more to save themselves a lot of hassle.

In the meantime, serious players should pay attention to the actual weight, balance, and swing weight of the racquets we're demoing, so that we make the right judgment and purchasing decision. I recommend asking for measures and/or measuring yourself. That'll educate you more about what you like, and create further demand in the marketplace for supplying racquets how they were meant to be. Your racquet should not be a blocker, but an enabler for your performance and development - right?

If you're ready to walk the walk, I have a few posts on measuring and getting matching racquets on this blog that may help you.

Keep enjoying game and gear, and try a true to spec RF97 sometime :)

Update: on a related note, here's my long-term review of the racquet.

Tecnifibre Black Code 4S review

Gauge: 1.25mm / 17

Tension: 21/20 kgs (~46 / 44 lbs) for clay court at moderate temperature, via Wise Tension Head, slowest speed, constant pull

Racquet: Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

Estimated number of ball contacts to date: 750

Stringing: String feels quite soft, not as edgy as the Dunlop Black Widow, somewhat similar to the WEISSCannon Black5Edge, not as soft as the red Kirschbaum Pro Line II.

Playing: Stiffer than expected after the stringing experience. String did settle in after a couple of weeks on the racquet, making it a bit softer. Good ball grip, but not too crazy. Subjectively less spin production than the Tour Bite or Cyclone, but more than the RPM Blast. 

Personal takeaway: In the current setup still too stiff for me. Will stick with the orange Cyclone for now, and might give the 4S another try @ 20/19 kgs sometime. 

General recommendation: Might do well in a powerful frame, such as the Babolat Pure Drive or the Yonex Ai or DR series, strung in the low 20 kgs / high 40 lbs. A dampener should take some of that stiffness away. Do note that you pay a ~50% premium over the Cyclone, which may be offset to some extend by better tension maintenance. 

Related: Comparison including benchmarking of interesting strings (from 2016, but still seems relevant in 2018 as I haven't seen a real step change yet!)

Solinco Hyper-G review

I've now used the Hyper-G for the last couple of seasons in practice and 100+ competitive matches, so I thought a quick long-term review is in order:

I remember at first, I didn't believe the hype. Supposedly Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, and active pros like Sam Querrey, Donald Young were quite excited about the Hyper-G and were using it voluntarily.

Initially, when I tried the string short after its launch, it felt like a mixture of muted and plasticky. After a few more tries later on I started getting used to it, and gave it a go at a clay court season prep tournament. Despite slow, uncomfortable conditions (wet, cold, windy), the string produced good pop and pretty sound all-around results.

Switching back and forth with the Tour Bite for a while, it was apparent that the Hyper-G by couldn't get close to the Bite's grab on the ball, but was much more powerful. Over the years, I've tried stringing up the Tour Bite very loosely to make up for its lack of power, but always felt I had trouble getting the ball through the court.

Also, the Tour Bite reaches a point where it gets tough on the arm - maybe over 22 kgs string bed tension (so ~ >24 kgs pulled). The Hyper-G stiffens up too, but maybe around 1 lbs higher, but does not hurt as much :)

Compared to the average string, the Hyper-G can produce a good amount of spin, so that ended up being the compromise for the last year.

Wilson Pro Staff RF97 with Solinco Hyper-G

The biggest positive surprise came when I picked up Hyper-G racquets that I hadn't used for months. They still played very nicely, subjectively sometimes even better than fresher string jobs. So while I cut out any other poly after 5 hits max, the Hyper-G can probably stay in twice as long. If you don't play as much and/or are not as picky, you might be happy getting it restrung once per season (so 4 times a year).

Bottom line, the Hyper-G is still in my top 3, along with the Cyclone and the Tour Bite. At the end, the orange Cyclone still wins for me since it grabs the ball better. When it comes to matchplay, you trade that off with a quickly degrading life span, both in terms of tension and ball grab. So after 2 competitive matches, it's due for a match-day restring.

How to think about price? Well, depending on the market, there seems to be a ~20 - ~50% premium compared to the Cyclone or comparable strings like the Gamma Moto. Its priced similarly to comparable Tecnifibre strings and the oldie (and for some goldie) RPM Blast... unless you're e.g. in the US. If you intend to keep the Hyper-G in your racquet for a while, your "cost per decent-feeling hit" might come out cheaper than most of the competition.

For more thoughts around strings, click the "string" label below.

You can also dive into my string jobs over the last ~10 years, including ratings and impressions, here.

WeissCANNON Ultra Cable review

Gauge: 1.23mm

Tension: 21/20 kgs (~46 / 44 lbs) for clay court at moderate temperature, strung with Wise Tension Head, slowest speed, constant pull

Racquet: Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

Estimated number of ball contacts to date: 1,000

: Tough! String is so edgy it would slip through the clamps (despite tightening), and at times even through the tension head. Also cut into the fingers a bit. The sharpness reminded me a bit of the Dunlop Black Widow, which however wouldn't slip, and seemed stiffer.

Playing: Spin is pretty good, but not as extreme as the rating would suggest. It did feel like the string eats up a good amount of power on impact. That made it somewhat comfortable, but didn't allow me to hit a heavy ball. I switched back to racquets strung with the Tour Bite and the Cyclone for comparison, and found both strings to deliver more power, provide more solid feedback, and produce a similar amount of spin.

Personal takeaway: Switching to the Ultra Cable would sacrifice too much power without overcompensating that with additional spin. Wouldn't enjoy stringing it frequently either. Will stick with the orange Cyclone for now. 

General thoughts: I can't shake the impression that the Ultra Cable might have been developed to top the "spin potential" list. Tennis Warehouse calculates spin potential using string-to-string friction and ball grab, both of which seem to be very high - subjectively as well. I'm not sure whether many players would stick to the string for the long run. Appreciate the effort though - the Ultra Cable is probably going to push other manufacturers to come up with competitors, and maybe WeissCANNON's next iteration will be a long-term winner...

Too see how this string performs in context, check out my comparison of interesting strings in 2016.

Do I need the latest tennis racquet?

New tennis racquets are flooding the market each year. On the one hand that's quite exciting, but on the other their appearance triggers a cycle that reminds me a bit of Groundhog Day. The vast majority of racquets haven't shown to be breakthroughs over what's already been out there. So once the excitement wears off, we're mostly back to looking at the good old specs that we think best support our natural style and create effective strokes.

For example, the Wilson Pro Staff Classic's specs have lasted a quarter century, being reincarnated in the SixOne series along the way. A true-to-spec RF97 Autograph is not that different either. Material, grommets, grip dampening etc keep undergoing changes too - but they don't necessarily lead to better playing racquets, and most changes don't seem to stand the test of time. My favorite material for example still is Wilson's HyperCarbon, which came out around the turn of the millennium.

Tennis pros tend to stick to proven gear as well. Many pros play racquets based on a handful of stock frames, which are then tweaked to their liking. Ana for example confirmed that she hasn't changed her setup much over her career. At first sight, Roger's change from the Tour 90 to the RF97 seems quite drastic, however it's worth noting that both racquets are quite similar in terms of weight, balance, and swing weight. So often times, when a new racquet comes out, the pros stick to the old frame that gets a new paint job - unfortunately.

So what does that mean for us? Well, once we figure out what specs we like we can narrow down what's on the market from a few hundred to 20 or so frames. Or if you have an all-time favorite you go from there and demo similarly spec'ed frames, and maybe change 1 variable at a time. Either way, you don't necessarily need the latest and greatest.

From time to time though, I'd still try something different - maybe even extreme -  to question your assumptions, avoid missing out on the occasional step change, develop your game, or just get more excited about playing. For example, that crazy big, long, and swingweight-heavy Gamma Bubba found a surprising number of fans when it came out.

To help understand racquets are out there and what has and hasn't changed, I created a bit of an overview. And if you'd like to dig deeper, you can find plenty more about racquet specs here.