The Pro Staff line is a legend; if you want to read up a bit on its history, check out our review of the X or our testament to Roger Federer’s illustrious career through the eyes of his rackets. Quick synopsis: it’s the most iconic line in tennis history.
So when Wilson releases a new one, it had better be good.
I was a huge fan of the Pro Staff V13 and constantly returned to the frame throughout its lifespan. Whenever I did, I would ask myself, “Why don’t you play with this racket again?” The answer is simple enough: a Pro Staff is a Pro Staff. It’s not meant to be easy to swing, and the V13 was no exception. It felt incredible to hit with when I was in the zone, but as soon as the going got tough, the racket was tough.
Wilson has gone for a subtle but noticeable redesign with the release of the V14. They’ve added a technology called Paradigm Bending which is supposed to cause the racket to flex more in the throat and less in the hoop compared to the previous version. When Wilson released the Paradigm Bending marketing package, they went big on the fact that this technology was supposed to bring the flex pattern of the Pro Staff 97 closer to the one on their Pro Staff 90s. That should tell you how popular those rackets were.
I wish I had had a Pro Staff 90 to confirm my thinking, but this feels nothing like those. They were fighting a losing battle, trying to mimic the feel of a racket 7 square inches smaller, with a significantly thinner beam, but I digress.
They’ve kept most specs the same coming from the V13. It weighs 315 grams, has a 16x19 string pattern, and a constant 21.5-millimeter beam. The balance is also the same, at 10 points headlight. However, the swing weight is slightly higher; my demo swung at 333, whereas the previous version hovered between 326 and 329.
I tested the brand new Pro Staff 97 V14 first with ALU Power then with RPM Rough 17 at 53 pounds.
The biggest change from the V13 to the 14 is in the feel department, likely due to Paradigm Bending. I say that because the stiffness reads pretty much the same (64 RA), but the racket feels softer. Because Paradigm Bending makes the throat flex more, you get a much more plush feel on impact. This is a stark contrast from the crisp response on the V13 and goes away from what I’ve generally experienced with Pro Staffs.
Pro Staffs are usually firm, with a well-defined sweet spot and a sort of “crack” when you make perfect contact. Here, the flexible response feels closer to what you get on something like a Prestige. It’s quite interesting to feel this on a Pro Staff, and changes the feeling of control compared to the previous version.
Control and Precision
Pro Staffs have always felt incredibly precise on impact. The sweet spot is small, but you always know where the ball will go. It's part of what makes them so incredible at the net. That being said, Pro Staffs have never had that mid-contact adjustability that those ultra-soft, ultra-controlled rackets have, where you feel like you can grab the ball mid-swing and deposit it anywhere on the court.
Because the Pro Staff V14 flexes so much more on impact, there is a longer dwell time, allowing you to control your shot mid-contact. There is a defined flex in the throat, so for those of you who like to feel the ball sink into the frame, this could be just what the doctor ordered.
It’s also a bit more stable than its predecessor. This makes sense because Paradigm Bending increases flex in the throat and decreases it in the hoop. The hoop stays firmer on impact, so it has less potential to flutter. The increase in swing weight also plays a role in increasing stability.
The racket is also more stable because the sweet spot is slightly bigger. That helps make the racket more forgiving but does come at the expense of top-end precision. Whereas the V13 was an absolute scalpel, here, there isn’t that same crackle when you make perfect contact, but it’s a sensible sacrifice considering how much more stable it is.
The softer feel makes the V14 a more comfortable Pro Staff. While I never had any issues with the V13, it was a firm racket. When you hit it in the sweet spot, that crisp feel could lead to some discomfort, and it had a reputation for being harsh outside the sweet spot.
Now that the sweet spot is bigger and the racket is more stable, there is very little in the way of uncomfortable flutters. It’s one of the most comfortable Pro Staffs I have used, and I’m glad that Wilson has achieved this without muting the frame like they did on the Countervail rackets.
It’s also important to mention that this is not a “mushy” racket. I’ve eluded to it being soft, but that’s because it’s noticeably plusher than its predecessor, however, it’s not a pillow like the Clash. It still has quite a bit of that Pro Staff “umph” on contact, albeit less, and certainly not enough to make it uncomfortable.
While Pro Staffs aren’t power rackets, they pack more punch than most frames around this spec. That’s definitely the case again on the V14. The increased stability and bigger sweet spot make for a racket that is noticeably more powerful and forgiving than its predecessor. The launch angle is similar, maybe just a touch higher, but it does feel easier to generate depth on your shots.
You don’t usually think of spin when looking at the Pro Staff, but it’s actually a pretty spin-friendly racket. It has a 16x19 string pattern, and it has that classic Pro Staff whippy feel. That’s a sensation I had lost when reviewing the X, but I was happy to see it still there on the 97.
The String Mapping tech in the racket tightens up the stringbed in the middle of the sweet spot. That keeps spin potential from reaching true spin-racket heights but it's a necessary tradeoff because it gives the Pro Staff 97 its signature stability, solidity, and consistency. Compared to the V13, I think the new Pro Staff is a little less spin-friendly, although we’re really splitting hairs here. Because it’s softer, the strings don't snapback as efficiently, but it’s barely noticeable.
Who is it for?
The power-to-spin ratio on the Pro Staff has helped it last the test of time. So many classic frames are going extinct because they are too low in those categories, but that’s never been the case with this line and certainly isn’t here. It’s ideal for modern players who need access to power and spin but are still addicted to that classic Pro Staff feel you can’t get with newer-style rackets.
If you liked the V13, switching to the V14 will be easy after a short acclimatization period, and it’s still very much Pro Staff in its DNA.
The Pro Staff v14 is a great replacement for one of the best versions in recent times. It’s following the industry trend of going a bit softer, more stable, and more flexible in the throat. It should open itself up to a wider variety of people, especially those who have avoided the line for fear of discomfort but does so without alienating its loyal followers. Give the Pro Staff 97 v14 a demo, or check it out online.