Players looking for a larger head size racquet that doesn’t skimp on power, control and spin may have found what they are looking for with the new Wilson Blade 104. Along with a sleek new cosmetic, Wilson has made a few key tweaks to this new version. It sports an increased swingweight and stiffness for more pop off the ground. Wilson also added in Parallel Drilling for improved shock absorption and additional power and spin. I hit the court with the new Blade 104 recently to see how these incremental improvements measure up during play.
The Blade 104 was a very powerful weapon off the ground for me. While retaining the previous 10.8oz strung weight, the boost in swingweight gave the frame the ability to hit a heavier ball than before. I was able to hit deep, penetrating shots from both wings. The 104 inch head size had a large sweet spot and helped provide a solid power level even when contact was made off center. The increase in rigidity also seemed to provide a boost in pop in groundstrokes over previous versions. The extra half inch of length proved very useful on my backhand side. I was able to really get over the ball and drive it through the court and it helped me ensure my crosscourt backhand was effective. The manageable weight and somewhat headlight balance allowed me to whip the frame through contact for additional pace and spin. Directional accuracy was nice as the 18x19 string pattern did a great job controlling the ball and taming the power of the frame. I was able to pick aggressive targets and attack short balls with confidence. Spin production was good but not great. The tight pattern made it a bit more difficult to generate the same levels of spin that more open patterns can produce. The reduced spin made me focus on finding short balls that I could step into and flatten out in order to dictate play. The increased swingweight also provided improved stability of old models. I felt less flutter in the frame when redirecting high pace balls and was able block back shots on defense effectively enough to extend points and transition back to offense.
Volleys & Serves
Net play with the Blade 104 had some highs and lows for me. The ample power and generous sweet spot made it easy for me to finish off anything left up high with ease. I was rewarded consistently for aggressive volleying. The large head and extended length hindered the frame’s mobility at the net. I struggled to stay on top of quick exchanges and it was a bit harder to position than I would like. The directional control on volleys with the racquet was excellent. The tight string pattern made it easy to control the ball and pick spots and angles that would make my opponents miserable. The crisp response of the frame also gave me confidence to mix in some touch volleys but I lacked the precision execution on those shots that I get from a smaller head size.
Serving was a bright spot with the Blade 104. The manageable mass and swingweight put plenty of pop in my first serve. The extended length also helped me drive the ball into the court from the top of my motion, ensuring my flat serve had a deadly mix of both pace and penetration. Slice serves also proved very effective for me, especially on the ad side. I was able to swing the ball out wide and low and then attack behind it on the first ball. Spin on my kick serve was slightly lacking in comparison to other models. While there was enough head speed for spin, I felt the 18x19 pattern limited the action on my kick serve and I had a harder time keeping it out of returners’ strike zones. Ultimately I relied on hitting the big first serve and backing it up with a slice second when I needed to.
As with the 98L, Wilson decided not to incorporate Countervail into the new Blade 104. On top of that, I found the new version to play noticeably stiffer than the last iteration. The racquet had a crisp, firm feel on contact with less of a pocketing effect compared to the old 104. There was a bit of vibration off center but the feel was relatively consistent across the string bed and I did not find any major hot spots. While it does not have the same dampened feel of the Countervail Blades, I found the 104 to play with a cleaner more solid feel than many of the modern oversize frames it competes with. Players looking to maximize comfort should have no problem pairing the frame with a softer string choice and varying their tension accordingly.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, Wilson has elected to make some incremental changes to the new Blade 104. It adds more power and penetration off the ground while retaining its accuracy and speed. The frame now offers a crisper response and is a strong serving weapon. Players looking for a frame with generous, controllable power, moderate spin and enough feel to execute a variety of shots should look at giving the new Wilson Blade 104 a test drive.
About the Reviewer: Matt Locke currently serves as the Junior Programs & Development Coordinator for USTA-Idaho and is an active USTA League and Tournament player.