WILSON STEAM 96 Tennis Racquet Review
The Wilson Steam 100 debuted to rave reviews last year, and everyone was waiting to see what Wilson would do with the line next. While the buzz has been generated by the Spin Effect pattern frames (Steam 99S and Steam 105S), the BLX Steam 96 is quietly making a name for itself as an advanced player’s weapon of choice.
The Steam 96 gives players who now use the BLX Tour or BLX Pro Tour a new choice in lighter-weight, smaller-headed frames. As its name states, the head size is 96 square inches, quite small these days but, along with the narrow 22mm beams, it should provide precision control. Weighting is a little light for this type of frame, coming in at 10.2 oz. (289g), but the strong swingweight of 330 should impart a solid feel and allow strong players to wield it with confidence. The static balance is 1 point head heavy (strung), which gets enough mass into the racquet hoop to stabilize it. A strong flex of 70 further stabilizes the frame and adds power.
The Steam 96 has a little added length, measuring 27 ¼ inches from stem to stern, and should provide a little more leverage and power without being bothersome. Its 16x20 string pattern is fairly common for this type of Wilson frame, and should give the player a solid, controllable feel.
From the Baseline
While the Steam 96 isn’t as spin-friendly as its larger-headed siblings, the high swingweight allows for extra power and depth from the baseline, and you can generate as much topspin as your swing will produce. Control is immaculate, as the narrow beams provide a controlled flex for pinpoint placement of any groundstroke. The power you can generate is exactly what you’ll get; don’t expect much help, but do expect much-improved control.
The sweetspot is well-centered in the string face, and balls hit in the center take off with excellent speed. Shots hit high on the hoop are less powerful, and you can feel the head bend on high mis-hits. Even though you may not like this, the feedback is outstanding.
Net Play and Serving
The head weighting and high swingweight negate the low weight and make the Steam 96 a bit slow in fast net exchanges. Depth on volleys is excellent when you have time, and the sweetspot, being a bit low, is in a prime volleying location. It’s more at home on swinging volleys than traditional ones, as the swingweight drives them away nicely.
Getting the racquet up on overheads is a little difficult, but the power reward makes them worth the effort. The mass in the racquet head will give you more than adequate power if you hit the shot correctly, and the narrow beams, once again, aid in control and feedback.
Serving provides some interesting points with the Steam 96. The head weight provided strong power and good stability, and spin was surprisingly easy to generate. Depth and placement were once again strong suits. But, the high swingweight means you better be pretty strong to serve well for an extended period of time.
The Wilson Sublime grip is soft and comfortable, with just enough perforations to stay dry on all but the most humid days, and the bumper guard has a nice string groove depth to protect the strings from the rigors of hard court play. The paint job is, like almost all current Wilson frames, quite bright, so everyone will see you coming.
The customization options on the Steam 96 are abundant for stronger players. It would be simple to add weight to the handle to change the balance point for added maneuverability at net, or to add more weight all around the frame to make it a big, heavy weapon for a baseline brute.
Wilson has made a worthwhile addition to their Steam series of frames with the new BLX Steam 96. Players wanting Steam feel and performance with added stability will love the higher swingweight of this frame, and the well-centered sweetspot combines with the narrow beams and small head size to give solid swings good power, depth and control. Feedback on all shots is superb, and it can be customized to make it play better at net. All in all, strong-swinging baseline players looking for solid feel and control should demo the Wilson BLX Steam 96.