The legendary Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph is unmistakable for its association with the likes of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer and is one of the most recognizable rackets on the planet.
The RF 97 Autograph is a pro style racket with a hefty 340g weight and a medium sized 97sq. inch head, which gives you good plow through and pinpoint control. It is not a racket that is going to suit everyone, so the vast majority of people should count it out due to the heavy weight.
But there are people out there who will swear by this racket and couldn’t imagine playing with anything else. It’s easy to see why there is such fanfare about this racket. Not only is it the racket of choice of two of the greatest icons of all time, but it is just such a pure tennis racket.
It looks exactly how we think a tennis racket should look. Smooth lines, a small, round shaped head, and an extremely minimal black paint job. If we could design a racket ourselves then it would look like this one!
This particular version has been specially designed for Roger Federer, so you will be forever trying to recreate the great man’s shots if you opt for the RF 97!
The balance is extremely head light at 9PTS HL, which means you get great racket head speed for such a heavy racket, and as you bring the racket forward it just wants to keep going, plowing through the ball and giving you a seriously heavy contact with the ball.
The Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph maintains all the classic Pro Staff technology, which has kept this racket as the classic pro style racket for so long. As with past Pro Staff rackets it is going to suit players who are playing at an advanced level.
You have to be extremely confident with your technique with the Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph and need to be able to generate a lot of your own power without relying on the racket. If you’re not hitting through the ball with a lot of racket head speed, then you’re unlikely to get great results with the Pro Staff RF 97.
If you’re someone who’s a very experienced tennis player though, and you love a stable racket with great plow through then this racket is a dream. It’s not the easiest racket to find the sweet spot with, but when you do, it feels perfect on contact.
I had a lot of problems in the first ten minutes or so with the Pro Staff 97. I have been testing a lot of the lighter rackets recently, so switching over to the Pro Staff took a little bit of time to get used to.
The balance of the racket felt brilliant from the beginning. Although it is 340g, the swing weight is 336g, which isn’t too extreme, and I didn’t feel like it was overly heavy. I’m prone to wrist injuries though, so this would be something to look out for if I was playing more often with the Pro Staff.
Once I settled down with the Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph it started to feel very comfortable and it became clear that this racket delivers an unbelievably heavy ball. To me, it wasn’t a super powerful racket, or a crazy control racket, but everything combined to make what I call a heavy ball, a vicious mix of spin and power that is ideal for bullying your opponent.
Eventually, we started a few drills and I was excited to see what it could do for my individual strokes.
Groundstrokes – 8.5/10
We started off with my worst stroke, the backhand! If I’m honest, it can sometimes take me quite a long time to get a good enough rally to put on the film off this side! This wasn’t the case with the Pro Staff RF 97 though, as we got the take first time. This is something that normally only happens on my forehand side!
The stability and plow through of the racket really helped my backhand out. The Pro Staff RF 97 has an unbelievable ability to transfer all the energy you transfer directly through the ball. I was getting good spin, and a considerably improved flight path. This resulted in a great depth of shot and I felt like my backhand was much more of an attacking threat than it is with a lighter racket.
With this racket, it is important to remember that as soon as you stop swinging through quickly the racket is not going to give you much help in generating pace. Therefore, it’s vital that even if you get tired you continue to hit through the ball as if it was the first shot of the day.
On the forehand side I had a few more difficulties than the backhand side. I get a lot more racket head speed on the forehand side so the Pro Staff 97’s head light balance made it a little bit difficult to get as much control on the ball as I would have liked.
When the stars aligned, I managed to hit an unbelievably heavy ball, with great flight path over the net. When you’re hitting the ball on the stretch, the stability of the frame and great plow through allow you to hit incredible shots, even under pressure.
I felt we had our Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph strung a little bit looser than I would ideally have liked, and if I was to go back again, I would string it much tighter to see the effects on my forehand. For me personally, too many balls sailed long with this racket, and that makes me wonder if it is too headlight for my forehand.
This is a unique racket and it’s not going to suit everyone. That is for certain. If you play have great technique, it does give you some very helpful benefits on the groundstrokes and the stability throughout the stroke is most enjoyable.
In terms of rating, I gave the Wilson Pro Staff 97 an 8.5 out of 10 on groundstrokes. It takes a bit of getting used to and I would worry about the effects of lugging around 340g racket all day -every day. However, it truly feels brilliant when you are on top of your game.
Volleys – 9.5/10
I didn’t need to hit a volley to know what this racket was going to feel like at the net. It has dreamy stability and fast maneuverability and that just makes for a good volleying racket.
During testing, the Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph turned out to be everything I thought it would at the net. Its certainly up there within my top two favorite rackets to volley with of all time (the other being the Head Prestige). We only needed one to take for volleys during filming. I didn’t feel like I would every miss!
The Pro Staff RF 97 just absorbs the power coming at you with ease and pops it back in the other direction exactly where you want it to go! Whether you need to take pace of the ball or add power to it, the stability and buttery levels of feel this racket possesses makes volleying easy.
If you love to rock up off the net regularly then this is a great racket. It has phenomenal maneuverability, so you can get into position quickly and redirect power wonderfully.
I had great fun volleying with the Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph and would have stayed at the net all practice if I could. I don’t really give out 10 scores, so this racket gets a 9.5 at the net. I’m sure there’s room for improvement somewhere, hence no 10, but I couldn’t begin to tell you where.
Serve – 8/10
I think the serve was probably the weakest area with the Pro Staff 97. I’m not really a massive fan of big plow through on the serve, but having said that I did hit some reasonable serves with this racket, and made a lot of 1st serves in points.
Just as it is with the groundstrokes, the Pro Staff 97 is like a train on the serve, once you start the motion it just gathers steam and is impossible to stop, unloading all your energy through the ball.
Sometimes this can lead to the feeling that you’re not 100% in charge of what’s going on, and I didn’t love that aspect. What you do get though is a good blend of power and spin that allows you to go after your targets without dropping MPH.
Although I did complain a bit about the plow through it can be quite beneficial on the second serve, as it encourages you (you can’t really stop it) to hit through the ball. If you’re nervous it can often lead to you losing racket head speed on the second serve, but the Wilson Pro Staff 97 pretty much swings itself so less need to worry about that!
The Wilson Pro Staff 97 is still a very good racket for serving. It wasn’t perfect for me, and I don’t think it is as good on the serve as it is on groundstrokes and volleys, but it still merits an 8 out of 10 on the serve.
Conclusion – 8.5/10
The Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 hasn’t been revered in tennis circles for generation after generation for no reason. Pure is like a magical word that gets used for all kinds of things, but there is something about this racket that is just pure. It typifies tennis and preserves the integrity of the game.
You’ll have to search high and low to find a racket that feels better at the net than this one. Its headlight balance and wonderful stability make it a volleyer’s dream, and it would be ideal for anyone that loves doubles or serving and volleying in singles.
On groundstrokes, you must take full swings at the ball to benefit from this racket, as it doesn’t supply easy power. In fact, the heavy weight of the racket will actually slow your swing down to promote control. However, if you are confident enough in your technique to stay on the gas and consistently find the sweet spot then you’re going to be rewarded with an extremely heavy ball and laser like precision.
On the serve, the Wilson Pro Staff 97 gives you a good blend of power and control, and the crazy plow through of this racket will force you to accelerate through the ball.
The one thing that you must remember with this racket, however, is that it’s a pro style “players” racket. You must possess very sound technique in order to wield it effectively. The consequences of a 340g racket are not to be underestimated, and we would certainly not recommend it for anyone who’s body is not yet fully developed. You must be physically strong in order to get the benefit of the Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph
For me, the RF 97 is another racket that I’d love to be able to play with, but it’s not quite the right fit for my game. Firstly, it is a bit too heavy. I’ve played with heavier rackets for many years and they take their toll on my body. Being a little injury prone in the wrists, this racket probably isn’t best suited to me.
The RF 97 and I didn’t connect on the forehand, but on all the other strokes it felt great and played well. I wouldn’t want to take anything off my best shot and main weapon though, so that’s what would stop me buying the Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph.
It is an absolutely unbelievable racket though, and for the right style of player it is a must try. It got an 8.5 out of 10 overall from me; a remarkable racket in every sense and I loved having the opportunity to give it a whirl!
Review by: Will