Spin fans who want to experience the latest improvements to Wilson’s racquet line will have an excellent choice with the all new Wilson Blade 98S Countervail. Countervail started out has an energy absorbing aerospace material and has now found its way into tennis racquets. It provides players with improved energy and reduced fatigue by minimizing the amount of energy sent through the racquet to the player’s arm. Wilson has also added Parallel Drilling to the racquet for improved power and spin as well as increased shock absorption. This model also has a Spin Effect string pattern for generating spin off the ground. Here’s a closer look at the on court performance of the new Blade 98S.
At 10.9oz unstrung, the 98S is significantly lighter than its traditional string pattern counterparts in the Blade lineup. This made it easier to accelerate through contact for me, resulting in easier pace from both wings. It still had a substantial swing weight and an almost even balance, both of which helped it punch well above its weight from the back of the court. I was able to hit penetrating shots from both sides and control points. The Spin Effect 18x16 string pattern did result in a slight loss of control compared to other versions. The higher launch angle of this model made it a bit easier to send the ball long. I tended to hit at more conservative targets than I had with the other string patterns. The extra boost in spin did add a lot of variety to my ground game. I easily switched between more driving balls and balls with more loop on them that drove my opponents off the baseline. Playing defense was also aided by the ability I had to put more air under the ball and keep myself in points. While this model fluttered a bit more against heavy pace, I still found the stability solid enough to keep up in extended points.
Volleys & Serves
Out of all the Blade models with Countervail, the 98S was the most nimble performer at the net. The reduction in static weight made it easier to maneuver into position and handle rapid exchanges. The racquet still had enough mass in the head to finish high volleys and power the ball through the court. I found I had to maintain an aggressive mentality at the net in order to get the most out of this racquet. Shots that I let come to me tended to float because of the launch angle of the 18x16 string pattern and this allowed my opponents to stay in the point too frequently. There was also a bit less control on volleys with this model. I was less comfortable creating aggressive angles as the ball tended to drift too wide. The 98S was most effective at net when I was charging forward and trying to drive volleys through the court.
The variety of serves the 98S could hit was a welcome addition to its arsenal. The lower weight made it easier for me to accelerate at the top of my motion and add pace to my first serve. While not as heavy a ball as the 18x20 model, there was enough overall speed on the ball to win me free points. I hit a lot of body serves with this version as I found brute force on the first serve to be more effective than precision. This model just did not have the same level of pinpoint accuracy to target the corners of the box aggressively. On second serve, the 98S was a lot of fun to use. It’s open string pattern yielded great movement on my kick serves. I left more than one opponent lunging for a serve that was aggressively spinning away from them.
Countervail is the latest in a trend in the racquet market to improve the feel and comfort of modern frames. The material did almost too good of a job eliminating vibration from the racquet. While it effectively muted out harsh frequencies and gave the entire string bed a uniform response, I found it to be a bit too disconnected for my liking. There just was no feedback of any kind when the ball left the string bed. Some players are bound to love it while others will be turned off by it. Feedback aside, the comfort benefits of adding Countervail to the layup of the racquet were undeniable. This racquet played firm but managed to retain a comfortable feel. While the other models and their hefty swing weight left me feeling fatigued, the 98S made me feel like I could go 5 sets with it without a problem. Players should be able to fine tune their desired comfort and response level by adjusting the type of string and tension they are using.
Wilson continues to provide players looking for spin with solid options. The new Blade 98S has ample spin on tap while retaining enough control and power to hit winners from all over the court. The high level of comfort and more manageable weight make it accessible to a wide variety of players. Anyone who wants to maximize spin and craves a muted, dampened response from their frame should look to have a new Wilson Blade 98S Countervail in their bag when they take the court.
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.