Tennis Racquet Reviews for 3.5-4.5 NTRP players @ 98 or 100 sq in.

It's March and time to demo the new Spring line of tennis rackets!

Coming out of Winter, it's a great time to invest in new tennis frames and/or fresh strings.

We spent 30 days, Feb 1 - March 1, demoing 21 fan-favorite frames for 2021 to bring you this comprehensive review. Whew!

We chose the most popular frames from these top manufacturers: Babolat, Head, Wilson, Yonex.

This year, we decided to review 98 and 100 sq. inch models. Tweener and Player Frames for 3.5-4.5 players.

The La Jolla Tennis Workshop was our choice for their demo program. It's our way to support a local small business and a community favorite here in Southern California during a tough 12 months of lockdowns.

Challenge: 30 Days to demo 20 Racquets for only $20?!

Most online shops let you try 3-4 racquets for 2 weeks at $25. A local tennis workshop offers more options and key qualities you can't get online: in-person service that cares about the small details and puts customers first. After getting feedback from a few "secret shoppers" and interviewing their staff, everyone I spoke to was knowledgeable, helpful, efficient, and customer-friendly.

Their main highlight is an excellent demo program of $20/month (4 weeks) to take out 3 racquets at a time for up to 5 days each. You can exchange demos as often as you like. If you buy from them, the purchase price is reduced by the amount of the demo cost. I purchased two racquets, and they gave me an additional $10 off for the pair. Please just mention Jacky sent you from Tennis-Bargains.

Mark, the owner, is very fair and knowledgeable about the subtle differences. After my feedback, he was the one who customized a recommendation for the final racquets I'll be using in the next few years. I only switch racquets every 4-6 years, so with this important decision, I did a very thorough playtest with as many popular comparison models back-to-back

Jason was very good about notifying customers when a racquet on the waitlist might be available again. The La Jolla Tennis Workshop is right across from the La Jolla Library. Please visit if you're in San Diego.

How we tested and compared our 98 and 100 frames

All frame sizes tested were 98 or 100 square inches this year. All fit into two general categories:

The "Tweener" (10.5oz-11.5oz) is intended for rising juniors or players in the 3.5-4.0+ levels, usually at 100 sq. inches. Extra power is given from the frame and launch trajectory.

The "Player Frame" (11.5+ oz) category is for high intermediate to advanced adults at the 4.0-4.5+ levels and generally have <100 sq inches. Generally, good technique is required, along with good timing.

Playtests and feedback:

We compared 3 similar models in each round with reference string tension at around 53 lbs. The strings used were the recommended poly/hybrid provided by the manufacturer. The racquets were used against 3-5 players ranging between 3.5-4.5 levels of different playing styles with feedback given as the "weight of my shot" and observations from the receiving end.

All of the top frames listed below were also used in match-play situations with both feeds and serve to start the point. Every 4 games, I would change a racquet and record my observations and results. Photos were taken of each racquet

Full Demo List

Babolat: Pure Strike 3rd gen 18x20/98/100; Aero MP/Tour; Pure Drive VS/100/Tour;
Wilson: Blade 18x20, Clash Pro, Burn 100, Ultra 100;
Yonex: Ezone 98/Tour, VCore 98;
Head: Radical MP/Pro, Extreme MP/Pro, Speed MP/Pro.

Best of Breeds

Tournament Player Frames - Yonex Ezone Tour, Head Gravity Pro
Spin-Friendly - Babolat Pure Aero, Head Extreme
Lighter, rally-friendly - Wilson Clash/Burn/Ultra, Head Extreme MP
18x20 String Pattern - Babolat Pure Stike 18x20, Wilson Blade 18x20, Head Gravity Tour/Pro (100)

Top Picks by Size and Play Style

Top Tweener 100 sq inches: Babolat Pure Aero
Top Player's 100 sq inches: Babolat Pure Drive Tour, Head Gravity Pro
Top Tweener 98 sq inches: Babolat Pure Strike, Yonex VCore
Top Player's 98 sq inches: Yonex Ezone Tour, Head Radical

Post-covid Tennis Racquets - Reviews and Prices

The breakthrough designs

Yonex - VCore and Ezone Designs

Some of the best quality control and 4.0+ player-friendly designs for strikers. The newest versions of both Yonex lines were standouts and best-sellers. We immediately understood why.

The Ezone premiered last year and is a very popular 2020 frame for the control player who demands quality and precision in their specs.

The Ezone (as featured by Krygios and Osaka) offers a classic feel and precision. For a heavier version, we also enjoyed the Ezone Tour for the added weight and plow-through. We recommend trying both.

The VCore line (red) is actually just a small adjustment made to the mold of the Ezone to allow for a bit more spin and a little less stiffness.

VCore adds slightly more spin potential on a slightly more forgiving frame in terms of stiffness. I felt the Vcore 98 was superior in class among the other 98 frames.

The Vcore 100 felt too light and lost a lot of the magical qualities in the 98 that we were so impressed with.

Head Racquets - Top Picks: Extreme, Gravity, and Radical

The Gravity Pro (5-star rating), Tour, and MP lines are all worth trying. Head has the most variants among all the manufacturers. Every player should be able to find a weight and balance in their wide range.

The Head Gravity Tour and heavier Pro models offer the 18x20 pattern on a 100 sq. inch head that we have missed since the Liquidmetal Instinct days.

We recommend getting the 2019 colors (shown on the left) at a discount. It is the same as the 2021 version, except with different colors, but you should save at least $60!

I have enjoyed the Head Speed, Radical, and Instinct models for tournament play for over 10 years in past demo reviews. This year's improvements were the most noticeable on the Extreme and Radical lines. Players should appreciate the newly updated improvements.

WTA Pros: Ash Barty (retired former #1) used the Gravity just before retiring. In 2023, even WTA pro-Bethanie Mattek-Sands explained why she officially switched to this model too.

ATP Pros: Alexander Zverev and Andre Rublev both sport the Head Gravity.

Most Arm-friendly

The control and comfort of all Head racquets compared with the latest generation were very apparent. Now they have added Arytix. They have consistently made some of the softest frames with any manufacturer's lowest stiffness ratings (RA), allowing the body many more hours of hitting per week.

Wilson Clash

Pros: Lots of flex. Perfect for the baseline rally. Most arm-friendly frame with a RA rating of 55! Most frames have 60+ RA. Anything above 65 is considered stiff. The Clash Pro offers slightly more weight.

Cons: Against fast serves and strong volleys, the flex on these frames can work against you. Many players have added lead on the frames.

Head Gravity

Pros: The heavier Pro version feels very solid with amazing plow-through yet in an 18x20 closed pattern and a 100 sq. inch head size with a thinner 20 mm beam.

The Tour model is slightly lighter and more spin-friendly. It has a larger sweet spot than most other 100 sq. inch frames due to the "teardrop" shape.

Cons: Slightly less maneuverable at the net with the higher swing weight. Must have good preparation and technique for quality shots.

New Edition of Best Sellers (Babolat):

Babolat Pure Aero (the new 2020-21 "Banana" yellow)

Babolat's Pure Aero (endorsed by Nadal) continues to wow fans. It keeps all the classic Rafa spin and looping abilities. The one downside is that you may burn through more strings. The spin potential from wider center mains and the potential to snap strings quicker.

But if the spin game and loop shots are your game - there is nothing better. Paired with RPM Blast, it creates easy spin, power, and depth access.

Simply choose the weight that is most appropriate for your swing and abilities (Lite < Team < Base < Tour).

Babolat Pure Strike (3rd Gen in Red and Black)
Pure Strike has added more weight and better plow through with slightly more dampening technology to help with stiffness.

I used this racquet in the Project One-7 (2nd Gen) version for almost 4 years. The reason I needed to switch was because of shoulder pain last summer. It was aggravated by a stiff string with a thicker gauge poly strung too high.

Babolat Pure Drive (Metalic Blue) - the 2021 versions felt very solid and the Tour is one of the most improved lines for Babolat. With previous models, my game style did not particularly work with the Pure Drive even since the Roddick days. The post-2021 models feel much more approachable.

I also tried the VS 98 version but it requires a much faster and full swing with lots of racquet head speed. I typically generate a topspin shot for most groundstrokes.

However, after trying the new Pure Drives, I was impressed by how well they accommodate hitting a flatter ball and has a lot of control through contact. Rumor is that the swing weight can be slightly higher than the specifications.

If you want a true Tweener, ensure your racquet has the right weight and balance.  The metallic blue color scheme also impressed other reviewers.

Frame Stiffness and Injury Prevention - Frames and Strings

A word to anyone with pain, try to use as thin of a string as possible and lower the tension by a few pounds. By the time you lose tension enough to restring, the mains should be nearly breaking too. If your strings last forever and you have arm problems, I suggest putting fresh strings at a thinner gauge. 

Happy Playtesting!

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