The Blade series has steadily become one of the most popular lines in Wilson’s racquet collection. The only thing missing in previous years was a lighter weight option for developing players and those who wanted something easier to swing. Wilson has given those players their answer in the new Blade 98L. Sporting the same matte black and bright green cosmetic as the rest of the line, this new model brings extra maneuverability to the lineup. Wilson has also incorporated Parallel Drilling for additional comfort and power. Recently I got to see how this new addition to the Blade family measures up on the court.
Off the ground, I instantly noticed the 98L’s lighter weight. The 10.6oz strung weight made it easy to accelerate the frame through contact for extra pace. The firm construction and 21mm beam width produced a healthy amount of power from both sides. The sweet spot was adequate for a 98 inch head but I found the power level to drop off noticeably outside the center of the string bed. The 98L definitely did not hit the same kind of heavy ball that the standard model Blades do and I missed that heavyweight punching capability. The faster feel did pay dividends when I needed to flick winners on the run and it was especially effective when I was stretched out on my backhand side as I could whip the head through with ease. While I struggled with timing on the regular Blades because of the mass in the head, I didn’t mind the 98L’s near even balance. The extra mass gave the frame some extra punch and helped keep it relatively stable when defending against heavy hitters. Overall I would have preferred a bit more weight but intermediate level players should find plenty of stability for their needs. Spin production was easy to come by with the 16x19 string pattern. The open string spacing and lighter weight made it easy for me to create spin for getting the ball a bit deeper in the court. As is typical with the Blade line, the 98L had solid control and accuracy. The manageable power level allowed me to pick aggressive targets and pounce on short balls knowing that I could keep them in the court and direct them where I wanted.
Volleys & Serves
The Blade 98L made a smooth transition up to net during my time with it. Despite the even balance, the reduced overall weight kept the frame maneuverable. I could position the racquet quickly during exchanges and snap off reaction volleys. The lack of mass limited the put away power of this model compared to the heavier versions but if I took the ball aggressively, I was still able to finish points. Like the 98S, I found that the 98L tended to float volleys if I did not proactively attack them. While not as precise as an 18x20 frame, I found a fair amount of directional accuracy. There was enough control for me to create challenging angles but I had a harder time driving the ball into the corners of the court accurately. I preferred the crisper response of this model for executing touch and drop volleys at the net. I felt more connected to the ball and that gave me the confidence to work touch volleys in more frequently at net.
On serve, the Blade 98L offered me a lot of options to pick from. The lower weight provided smoother acceleration through contact, yielding a healthy amount of pace on my first serve. While it didn’t have the same court penetration of heavier models, there was still enough overall speed to make it challenging for opponents. I was also able to move the ball around the service box effectively. It wasn’t as pinpoint accurate as a tighter string pattern, but there was enough directional control for me to move the ball around to larger targets. My kick serve proved to be effective as the easy head speed and open pattern produced healthy spin levels on my second serve. The lack of mass hindered my slice serve a bit and it didn’t stay as low or skid away as much on the ad side of the court. I found more effect using the slice serve as a change of pace first serve when opponents were locked into returning my flat serve.
Although the 98L is a brand-new addition to the Blade family, Wilson chose not to include Countervail in the construction of this frame. The result was that the frame played with a crisper response closer to the previous model of Blade. The sweet spot had a clean, responsive feel on contact but I did notice a bit more vibration on off center shots and that was when I could feel the frame’s stiff nature. The benefit of the 98L for me was that I felt more connected to the ball. The Countervail models eliminate so much vibration that it was hard for me to get any feedback from them. With the 98L, I could feel the ball on the string bed and had confidence that I knew what the ball was going to do. On the comfort front, the 98L did play as a firm racquet. While it limited a fair amount of shock, there was a bit more vibration and twisting against big hitters. Players with sensitive arms would most likely want to pair this frame with a softer string choice to mitigate any potential issues.
Wilson has opened up the Blade family to a wider audience with the introduction of the Blade 98L. Its lighter weight allows it to swing faster and produce the pace and spin that developing players are looking for. While it doesn’t have all the technology advances of the main Blade line, the 98L offers players a crisp, responsive frame that is fast enough to play from anywhere on court and has enough control and spin to suit a variety of play styles.
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.