Looking to sharpen its racquet line, Wilson has revamped its vaunted Blade line of frames. The biggest feature is the introduction of Countervail material to the racquet’s construction. This unique dampening material, with roots in NASA and road bikes, transfers less vibration to the player, allowing them to expend less energy on each shot. The material also gives the frame a more comfortable, muted feel. Wilson has also added Parallel Drilling to provide additional shock absorption and improve energy return to the ball. The 18x20 pattern version of the frame looks to maximize precision and control for players with its dense pattern. I took the court recently with this new version of one of Wilson’s best sellers to see how it measured up.
Off the ground, the Blade CV 18x20 hit a very powerful ball. The firm construction and 21mm beam width provided plenty of power without sacrificing control. The frame also had a substantial swingweight that allowed me to hit penetrating, heavy shots from both wings. My biggest struggle off the ground was getting my timing down. I felt the frame was very sluggish through contact. At the end of my playtest I weighed the racquet and found it was 7g over the spec weight. This likely contributed to the slow feel as I tried to bring the head through contact. Since the Blade is already closer to even balance, having additional mass was going to make it more challenging to generate adequate racquet head speed. The result was that while my shots were deep, I noticed a bit of a drop in pace. The sweet spot was adequate for a 98 inch head and there was not a significant loss in power outside the center. Accuracy was very high and when I was timing the ball right, I felt confident that I could target any area of the court successfully. Spin production was limited by the tight pattern as well as the challenge I faced generating head speed. There was enough spin to create some margin but the frame shined when flattening out transition balls. The one area the additional mass helped with was stability. The frame stood up to the biggest hitters and redirected pace with ease.
Volleys & Serves
At net, the Blade 18x20 had a bit of a “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” persona. The inherent power and mass made quick work of any volley left high for me to finish. The outstanding control also allowed to direct volleys to aggressive targets and really apply pressure to my opponents. The compromised maneuverability made it challenging for me to stay ahead of quick exchanges at the net. I found the racquet to be slow to respond and position when trying to handle reaction volleys. The dampened feedback of the racquet provided a bit of touch for volleys but at times it was a bit too disconnected feeling for me to feel confident that I could drop the ball short the way I wanted to.
Serving with this frame was an exercise in patience and control. The extra mass overall and especially in the head initially had to trying to over swing on my first serve. The result was a lot of missed serves and some fatigue in my shoulder. Once I relaxed and let the frame do the work, my first serve percentage climbed. There was not as much free pace as some other frames possess but the solid weight made my flat serve penetrate the court, especially heavy serves I directed at the body. The accuracy of the racquet again impressed on serve. I attacked the corners of the box easily and kept opponents guessing on the direction of the serve. My second serve was a bit vulnerable as I couldn’t get the same amount of spin I usually have. The dense pattern and higher swingweight made it a little slow through the top of contact and the result was that my kick serve was closer to the returners strike zones. I found stronger results switching to a slice second serve and letting the weight force the ball to stay low and skid away from opponents.
Countervail performed as advertised when it came to absorbing vibration on contact. The frame played with an interesting blend of crisp response and muted feel. You could tell it was still a firm frame, but the construction greatly limited how much vibration made it to your arm. Much like similar feel in the Burn FST and new Head Speed models, this type of response will probably be a love it or hate it proposition. I appreciated the additional dampening but I also found the frame to have a bit of a disconnected feel on contact. It was hard for me to utilize feedback to know what the ball was doing as it left the string bed. The racquet played with outstanding comfort. The string bed had a uniform feel and even shots from outside the sweet spot were easy on the arm. Players concerned about comfort should have no problems with the new Countervail Blade, especially if they pair it with a softer string choice.
Wilson has made some substantial changes to this latest version of the Blade line. The addition of Countervail adds in a very unique, dampened feel that players will want to test drive. While my sample was a slow to get through the zone, the racquet is capable of punching above its weight from the back of the court and can easily transition its power and control to the front of the court. Players looking for a mix of control, heavy shot making and arm friendliness should take a close look at the new Blade 98 Countervail 18x20 if they want to bring some edge to their game.
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.