It’s not very often I say a new racquet technology actually does what it says it’s going to do, but Wilson’s countervail technology on the Blade 98 16 x 19, most certainly does.
For those of you, like me, who try to look past the marketing mumbo jumbo, the Wilson countervail technology claims to dampen the shock through the racquet on impact without detracting from the feel the racquet gives the player.
When trying the Wilson Blade 98 I was extremely impressed with the dampened feel, but even more impressed with the amount of feel and feedback I received off my shots.
Racquet brands always seem to find a new piece of “amazing” technology to sell each year that completely eclipses the old version of the racquet and will make your tennis move to that next level without you doing anything! It really is remarkable!
The problem is, the new, revolutionary technology is rarely any more advanced than last years and it often feels as though all they’ve changed is the colour scheme.
However, before you dismiss the new Blade 98 16 x 19 as just another marketing ploy by Wilson, take the time to give it a try, as I for one have bought into the Wilson Countervail technology.
Personally, I’ve had a lot of injury issues during my tennis career in my elbow and shoulder and so I like the idea of a vibration friendly racquet. However, having tried many of the other brands efforts at dampening the impact the racquet gives off, I was left less than enthused with the performance.
Racquets that try to dampen the shock the impact of striking the ball gives you normally make me feel as though I’m playing with a plank of wood.
The Wilson Blade 98 was not like that at all. I felt extremely confident on my groundstrokes right from the off and although I could feel the ‘disconnected’ feel so many talk about with a dampened racquet, this did not detract from my control over touch shots or the understanding of where I was making contact on the strings.
The 320 grams unstrung weight of the racquet is not too disconnected from the swing weight that sits at 326g; the combination giving you plenty of power. Combine this with the great feel the racquet gives and the ‘body friendly’ muted shock and it’s easy to see why this racquet’s popularity has skyrocketed.
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and find out what each shot was like!
Groundstrokes – 8/10
I’ve touched on this already, but I felt completely in control of my groundstrokes when starting the practice off. Hitting down the middle was a pleasure and I personally felt I was given a lot of feedback from the racquet.
I was getting good, consistent length without swinging too hard and the manoeuvrability of the racquet was also good. I had no issue with receiving shots fired at me as shortening the swing and making quick movements was a breeze.
There was no better example of this than when returning serve. Will was on a good serving day and was bombing some down at me. Normally I struggle returning the body serve as I can find it tricky to give myself enough space and swing my racquet quick enough to make good contact on the return.
With the Wilson Blade 98, shortening up my swing and manoeuvring it into position was quite natural. Better yet, although the racquet gave you the dampened shock it says it will, it made no difference to the natural power of the racquet. The manoeuvrability and the power combined well to give me a lot of confidence off my returns, especially on the backhand side.
Everything great so far right!?
Everything was great until we started to hit crosscourt forehands and when we moved into some points afterwards. When you’re warming up, this racquet gives you everything you need, stability, power, manoeuvrability, control; but when you’re in a more competitive situation, and you’re trying to push your opponent back with an aggressive topspin shot, I found the racquet slightly lacking.
Those of you who’ve read a few of my reviews before are probably thinking, ‘this guy always has an issue with generating spin on his forehand.’ In short, you’d be absolutely right!
I do find it difficult to generate spin on my forehand side, and that’s exactly why I’m attuned to racquets that make it easy to generate spin. This is not one of those racquets.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t generate any spin with the racquet; my issue came when I was trying hard to hit an aggressive topspin shot.
On my backhand side, I naturally hit a slightly flatter shot and it was not so much of an issue, but I could definitely feel the difference when playing points, as I found myself second best early in the point.
For those of you who have a more western forehand grip and generate good spin on the groundstrokes, this could be a fantastic racquet for you as it most certainly makes flattening the ball out and finishing points easier.
Overall, I would give this racquet an 8 out of 10 for groundstrokes. It only dropped from a 9 because of my struggle to generate topspin. But what this racquet slightly lacks in spin ability it most certainly made up for at the net and on the first serve.
Volleys – 9.5/10
It was a dream to volley with this racquet – that really is the only word that comes to mind. I absolutely loved the soft feel of impact on my volleys and the stability and manoeuvrability up at the net.
I’m not a great volleyer; my reaction volleys can be okay, but I lack the feel on first volleys or floating balls that need to be put away.
With this racquet however, I felt a supreme amount of confidence up at the net. It would have been interesting to have played a full doubles match with the racquet to really test it out, but I spent about 15 minutes playing different volley drills. Will even made a point of saying he’d never seen me volley so well.
A lot of reviews suggest the racquet lacks feel or offers a disconnected feel, which make it difficult to gauge where you hit the ball on the strings. I understand where players are coming from when they say this as you can definitely feel the dampened response, but the racquet still gives you plenty of touch and feel.
I could feel this at the net on my volleys, at the back of the court on my groundstrokes and especially on my slice which also felt heavenly!
My 15-minute volleying masterclass could have been just a result of blind luck, but the racquet did feel great. The fact I could make more than 5 in a row means I give this racquet a 9.5 out of 10 on the volleys.
With such a strong score on the groundstrokes and volleys, I was looking forward to cracking some serves down with the Wilson Blade 98.
Serves – 9/10
The racquet didn’t disappoint. The combination of strong power but muted shock made for very comfortable serves and a great noise off the racquet, which I always think is an overlooked attribute! It’s always great to hear a heavy thud off your strings whilst playing!
I had plenty of power on my first serves and soon got the feeling I could stay there all day and all night without my arm getting tired. It was at this point where I was really becoming impressed with the Wilson Blade 98 and with the new countervail technology.
Unfortunately, my second serve was not as successful. I again struggled to gain top spin on my second serve. But having said this, the control the racket gave me made it easy for me to swing a little bigger. Therefore, the slight lack of top spin didn’t disadvantage me a lot.
My slice serves were as expected – I could easily generate slice. The easy power and control I received really shone through on the slice out wide serve and the swinger down the tee serve as well.
In terms of flattening the serve out to hit down the line or to hit cross court, I again felt at ease in generating the power I wanted, but also felt an overwhelming amount of confidence in placement and consistency as a result of the feel the Wilson Blade 98 gave me.
The combination of power and control made this racquet an easy 9/10 on serving. My only personal wish with the racquet in general is that it was easier to generate spin with. One of my most used tactics is the kick serve out wide to the players backhand followed by the inside out forehand down the line. Choosing this racquet as my racquet of choice would weaken my ability to do this. However, don’t let this put you off as this is only a personal thing to me!
Conclusion – 9/10
The Wilson Blade 98 16 x 19 string pattern with countervail technology is most certainly one hell of a racquet. It’s not hard to see why so many players have adopted it as their racquet of choice in recent times.
It’s a very flexible racket in terms of style as it’s a truly all-round racket. The serve is a 9/10 the groundstrokes an 8.5 and the volleys a 9.5. I really found it hard to criticise the racquet in any way.
Personally, if I was considering the racquet as my primary racquet of choice, I would be a little bit worried about the difficulty to generate spin but what I lacked in easy spin generation, the racquet more than rewarded me in other areas of the game.
For example, coming into the net I felt extremely comfortable which is a huge rarity for me, I also felt comfortable in long rallies as I gained a lot of feel from the racquet.
If I had to pick a style of player this racquet suits most, I would go with an all-rounder who’s not afraid to come into the net and finish the points. I wouldn’t class myself as this player, but I don’t think I would do badly with this racquet if it were my racquet of choice. I think this says a lot about the overall quality of the racquet which is why I would give it a 9/10.
If you’re thinking of purchasing a new tennis racquet, then give this a try at the very least!
Review by: Lawrence