The prototype Shift was extremely popular, selling out within a month of hitting the Rackets & Runners' shelf, and that popularity was more than warranted. Letting consumers in on the ground floor of product development was always going to be a great decision, but it also helped that the Shift 300 prototype was an incredible racket.
Fast forward a few months, and we've finally gotten the full release, but how does it compare to the prototype? What changes has Wilson made? And most importantly, is it still just as good?
The Shift 99 still weighs 300 grams, has a 99 square inch head size, 23.5-millimetre beam, and 16x20 string pattern. On paper, not much has changed, but digging deeper, there have been two major developments.
For one, quality control is significantly better. Giving us access to a prototype was a great idea, but with the price as high as it was, it's unfortunate that the quality control was so lacking. Some Shifts were coming in up to 10 grams off spec with swing weights, sometimes even 20 points off.
Luckily for us, correcting that was a major focus point with the general release, and while it was difficult to tell what the prototype's target swing weight was, they raised it to 315 strung on the final release.
The other major change isn't quite so noticeable; in fact, you need Wilson's brand new Baiardo Tune Pro to test for it, but it's a significant feature on the Shift because it has everything to do with its vertical bending.
We all know about a racket's flex. It's a key characteristic in determining comfort and control, but we've only measured flex on the horizontal plane. Flex on the vertical access has been largely overlooked until now, but it's the most important feature on the Shift and why it's such a unique frame.
It's no coincidence that Wilson released a machine that can test for vertical flex around the same time they released a racket where that very spec plays an essential role in overall performance. To amplify the Shift's spin potential, Wilson designed the racket to have a drastically lower vertical flex than most other rackets. We compared the Shift 99 to a ton of other frames, and its vertical flex consistently came in at least 10 points lower.
Wilson has raised the vertical flex by three points compared to the prototype, bringing it ever so slightly closer to the norm, but it still has a huge bearing on the Shift's unique playability.
Wilson tactically released the prototype with very little technical information. Naturally, rumours started circling about what was going on inside the racket, but one thing was for sure, when you hit a modern, spinny groundstroke, you could feel more snapback coming from the strings and frame. When we received more marketing information and threw the frame on the Tune Pro, it became evident that its spin-friendly feel had everything to do with that low vertical flex.
The Shift 99 has extremely high spin potential; it's up there with the Babolat Pure Aero, Head Extreme MP, and Yonex VCORE 100, and yet it doesn't have an artificially spinny feel like some of those rackets. That artificial feel usually comes from spin tech like spin grommets because you lose solidity to get that more spinny response off the string bed.
With the Shift, it still feels like you're hitting against a solid platform, but the extra snapback is very much there.
This is a fantastic sensation, especially when hitting groundstrokes with plenty of spin. You can feel the graphite "shifting" in and out of position, propelling the ball out with undeniably higher amounts of spin than what should be natural.
The Shift is also shaped aerodynamically to accelerate quicker through contact when swung parallel to the ground. It's not as extreme a shape as the Aero or, well, the Extreme, but it is a point of emphasis and, again, lends itself to a racket that's optimized for spin.
Feel and Stability
In our review of the Shift prototype, I waxed lyrical about the racket's amazing "feel." To a certain extent, I maintain that, although looking at it with a bit more hindsight, it's a little more complicated than that.
When you hit a proper topspin groundstroke, the sensation of graphite snapping in and out of position for extra spin becomes extremely addictive. You start wanting to feel that positive response every time you hit a groundstroke, and that's why I maintain that the feel is excellent when hitting with spin.
When hitting flatter shots, however, the feel could be better. You only tap into the racket's addictive vertical bending when hitting with the racket face parallel to the ground. When you hit a flat, perpendicular shot, the response is much more muted and slightly jarring.
The Shift's vertical bending may be low, but its horizontal bending (traditional flex) is very high. It's a stiff 68 RA, and Wilson intentionally over-dampened the racket to reduce the risk of discomfort that would come with that high stiffness. That gives it a muted feel, and the jarring response comes from the relatively low static and swing weight.
The racket could do with a bit more weight in the handle to boost stability, and adding lead at 3 and 9 will help expand that very small sweet spot and make the overall response less jarring when you don't make perfect contact.
You'll never get rid of that muted feel when you're not engaging the vertical bending, but adding weight will certainly help make the sweet spot more plush, less jarring, and give the racket a more solid feel altogether.
Of course, when a racket lacks stability and feels muted on flatter shots, it's not going to have the best directional control, and that's certainly the case with the Shift 99. There are better rackets out there for put-aways, volleys, and touch shots.
Then you look at the combination of a stiff flex, thick beam, and high launch angle, and it's no surprise that the Shift has a wild side, but it's not all doom and gloom there.
Because it has a small and precise sweet spot, your feel and connection to the ball are excellent when hitting those spin-friendly groundstrokes. Especially once I got used to that vertical bending sensation, I started looking to feel it on every spin shot, which allowed me to get dialled into the Shift.
It's extremely rewarding when you make good contact and a true spin racket in the sense that every performance aspect gets better when you crank up the RPMs. It's easy to say the racket lacks in the control and feel department because it does in the traditional, flat sense, but as long as you're hitting with spin, the control is excellent.
"Power-generating potential" is a frame's inherent ability to generate pace and depth regardless of who is swinging it. Many players (especially advanced ones) can hit powerful shots with a frame that doesn't have high power-generating potential, but that's contingent on the player rather than the frame itself.
This Shift has high power-generating potential. It's stiff and has a thick beam; the two main ingredients for power, but you must make proper contact; otherwise, the ball can fly. It's a very demanding racket that can quickly become inconsistent when not used properly.
It's powerful, but unlike the Pure Drive, where most of the string bed is forgiving and easy to generate depth with, if you hit outside the sweet spot with the Shift, the ball is going somewhere, but probably not in. When you make proper contact, though, you can launch the ball, and I appreciated that extra pop on serve, especially after I added the lead tape.
Who is it for?
If you have a flat style and rely on a racket's flex for control, the Shift 99 isn't going to feel great, so I would look elsewhere. If you're a beginner or intermediate player still learning proper technique, I would say the same thing; it'll just be too hard to control.
The Shift is an advanced, modern players' racket whose negative characteristics only stick out when it's misused or hit with improper technique. For advanced players willing to take the time to adjust to its quirks, the upside in terms of feel, power, spin, and control will become highly addictive in the long run.
The Shift 99 is a bit too light in stock form, especially when it's a racket made for advanced players. Add some weight to the hoop and the handle; the added stability and solidity are almost a must when trying to counter the faster pace from playing at a higher level.
Overall though, Wilson has knocked it out of the park. The Chicago-based brand has developed quite a reputation for innovation over the last several years, with both the Clash and the Shift revolutionizing the industry, especially in graphite layup technologies. It's different from anything I've ever tried, and playing with it has been an extremely positive experience up to this point.