Just one year after the Pro Staff 97 was launched, Wilson has unveiled a new version of the racket which, far from being a simple restyling, offers real changes to one of its most popular frames. The Pro Staff 97 Countervail, alongside the Pro Staff 97 Countervail L, are two unexpected but welcome additions to Wilson’s ever-growing product line.
Head size: 97 sq. inches
Unstrung weight: 315 g
Balance: 310 mm/7 pts HL
String pattern: 16x19
Beam width: 21.5-21.5-21.5 mm
Length: 27 inches
The aesthetics of the new Pro Staff 97 Countervail are clearly inspired by the popular, and truly appealing, RF97 Autograph. It’s a simple frame dominated by deep blacks, with very few aesthetic frills, but with classy touches such as a rubberized coating in some places. The silky gloss is gorgeous, and the dark greys perfectly complement the black overtones. The large “Pro Staff” engraving that runs down the side of the racket’s throat sports an elegant, straightforward font, and on the inside is a black and grey impression of Federer’s face.
The racket is shaped very much like the RF97: tapered with a strong throat and grip, as is Wilson’s tradition. The shape of the grip itself is unchanged, though the grip cap is now an eye-catching red. The grip is of the Wilson Pro Performance variety and, while very comfortable, is slightly on the cushy side.
On the court, the Counterveil feels tangibly different from a “standard” Pro Staff. Its different balance, for starters, makes it feel more maneuverable, especially when driving towards the ball. It’s simpler to handle and less technically demanding, but will still reward advanced players for their finesse. It’s also less stiff than the rest of the Pro Staff lineup, which means the contact phase is slightly extended. In this aspect it feels similar to the RF97, even though that version is stiffer on paper. The lesser stiffness results in slightly more pop off the strings, which is something less advanced players will appreciate. Indeed, the racket in general will appeal to a wider audience than its predecessors.
So power is good, though the ball will not fly off the racket as with frames aimed at the intermediary market. Generating power ultimately rests with the player in the case of the Counterveil, though it is not as unforgiving as its Pro Staff brethren. But what there is certainly plenty of is control, and a big part of that is the significant spin that the racket generates. For the most part, if you handle the racket correctly, the ball is going to go where you want it to. Indeed, the lighter touch of this racket combined with its control and spin profile can make other versions of the Pro Staff feel slightly mechanical by comparison. You don’t need a big swing to generate spin either, which means you have a lot of flexibility in your shot selection. There is a very distinct sensation when the ball hits the strings, further lending to the sensation of touch and control.
In this new configuration, the Countervail feels more flexible than some of the other models in the Pro Staff lineup. The racket particularly shines during long exchanges, and counter-punchers will love it for its ability to generate spin on short swings. But if you really want to get the most out of the Countervail, you should be taking big cuts at the ball to maximize its spin generation. From the back of the court, you really can generate a wide variety of spin types, and if you really follow through with your strokes you will easily be able to get good depth while putting a lot of pop on the ball. Players leaning more towards the intermediate side of the spectrum will appreciate this characteristic, as the racket does give you a fair margin for error. It plays more freely and easily than other Pro Staff models, and you are rarely afraid that you will ruin a shot because your technique is not good enough for the racket.
That is not to say that this racket can be effortless used by every type of player. Good technique is still amply rewarded, and if you aren’t confident in following through with your strokes you may find it difficult to generate power, but this is certainly one of the most accessible Pro Staff frames ever made.
If you prefer to hit the ball with a flatter trajectory, the Countervail will still serve you well despite what we have said about its tendency to generate lots of spin. Indeed, you will quickly learn how to use just enough spin land your shots without sacrificing much speed. This of course means that the racket shines on faster surface just as much as it does on slower ones, where maximum spin is the order of the day.
When in a defensive position, the Countervail will keep you in the fight thanks to its ability to generate spin, but a more aggressive posture is best suited to this frame. Extreme angles are definitely an option when using this racket, meaning there will be plenty of opportunities to turn defensive situations into offensive ones.
At the net, the Countervail is no slouch, and is generally responsive and precise. However, given its lesser weight, you will have to use your body weight effectively to get the most out of your volleys. This is perhaps the phase where the Countervail is at its most unforgiving, but with some practice most players will be able to express themselves fully at the net.
As far as the serve goes, the Countervail performs at its best when you are trying to hit flat and hard. It also lends itself to a mean slice, however, and it’s not all that hard to generate some incredible angles with the racket. The kick serve can be equally devastating, but it requires some work and you will have to put your legs into the shot. If you just mail in the kick serve it tends to sit up a bit, giving the returner a nice opportunity.
Ultimately, this surprising update of a popular frame has been well handled by Wilson. It is aesthetically gorgeous and maintains a lot of the positive aspects of the RF97, while making the overall experience more accessible for less technically inclined players. The Countervail is a complete frame that will suite a wide variety of players, and while it is certainly not meant for beginners it’s perhaps the most forgiving Pro Staff that Wilson has ever made.
Test carried out with:
String Project Armor 1.25 21 / 21-22 / 22 kg
String Project Magic 1.26 22 / 22-23 / 22- 21/21 kg
String Project Hexa Pro 1.25 21 / 21-23 / 22-22 / 22 kg
String Project Gold (multifilament) 23 / 23-24 / 24 kg
Hybrid Hexa Pro 1.25 / Gold 22 / 22-23 / 23- 22/23 kg
Hybrid Armor / Gold 22 / 22-21 / 22-23 / 23
Flat shots 8
Net game 7.5
Value for money 8