Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Tech - ESPN Playbook [Print without images]

Thursday, November 29, 2012
Gear Test: Wilson Steam 99S tennis racket

By Igor Guryashkin
ESPN The Magazine

Rackets
Wilson's new spin-friendly racket will be seen on the ATP & WTA Professional Tennis Tours in 2013.
Every tennis manufacturer out there claims to use the newest technology to give the best results.

Thus, every new racket is the "best yet" -- more spin, more control and certainly more power.

But do they deliver?

Well, the Steam 99S from Wilson is the latest innovative racket on the scene, with new tech designed to help players put better spin on the ball.

In this Gear Test, ESPN Playbook enlisted Andrew Carter, the University of Louisville’s three-time Big East champ and current pro, to put the new Steam through its paces and see if the hype is at all justified.

PRODUCT: Wilson Steam 99S, $219.99; available January 2013

WHAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO DO: Using Doppler radar technology, Wilson was able to accurately measure the spin placed on a tennis ball when hit.

By putting fewer strings on the Steam 99S -- the string pattern is a spread-out 16 x 15, as opposed to the more common 16 x 18 or 19 x 18 -- the company believes the racket can boost spin by up to 200 RPM.

More spin means more room to work the ball. Wilson claims the added spin effectively lengthens the court by a foot while making the net up to two inches lower. In theory.

What does this mean? Well, pros using the Steam will become spin wizards, and your average club regulars will start hitting shots they never dreamed they could.

DOES IT WORK? Here’s the good news: Wilson has made one heck of a racket.

For starters, for a racket that weighs only 10.7 oz., the Steam 99S has oodles of power -- something Carter found when he pummeled some balls.

“The racket produces a lot more pop,” Carter said. “Much more than usual on a Wilson racket. When you hit it in the sweet spot, it has a lot of pop.”

Wilson typically makes rackets with smaller head sizes that come with smaller sweet spots -- but everything is that much bigger with the 99S. For players who trade backcourt bombs, the 99S will be a powerful weapon.

It also delivers slice shots that Carter described as “unbelievable." They’ll stay so low your opponent will be scraping his racket along the floor the whole match, hopefully throwing in plenty of McEnroe-esque cursing to boot.

But here’s the less good news: It's that spin again. While the 99S definitely generates extra spin, for the elite player it could be the unwanted kind.

“When Nadal hits the ball, he hits rockets,” Carter explains. “With this [99S], it’s like hitting balloons. When Nadal hits it, the ball goes straight through, but this ball sits up.”

Translation: You'll get plenty of spin, but the ball may spin up at a higher vertical angle, which could give your opponent more time to hit the ball back. Against a casual player, this effect might be negligible, but against a pro it could make a big difference.

Another small complaint from Carter about the 99S is that while power isn’t lost because of the light weight, control can be. When hitting off-center shots, the racket can feel unstable.

“On volleys, if you don’t hit it exactly in the sweet spot, it’s going to twist in your hand because it’s too light,” Carter says. "Someone of a higher ability would probably need to start digging out their lead-weight tape."

PRODUCT 2.0: Wilson wants you to get oodles of spin using the 99S, and it wants you to use Luxilon strings (made by Wilson) to achieve this.

Ideally, buyers of the 99S will get it strung with Luxilon strings in lieu of the cheaper generic Wilson strings. Most people buy racquets and yet rarely restring them, but if you want to maximize your Steam experience, make sure you get the strings to do it.

In conclusion: Wilson has made a very, very good racquet, but like all things in life it isn’t quite perfect -- yet.