Intimate. Roger Federer uses that word when describing his relationship with the development of his new Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph racket.
“I need to feel the racket,” Federer tells EDGE. “When I was play-testing I would relay how the racket felt to Wilson and they would make changes to the racket based on my feelings and comments.” To get the racket right, Federer had to feel it right.
Federer had played with a 90-inch head Wilson Pro Staff since winning Wimbledon Juniors in 1998. But his new signature piece, which he secretly played with earlier this season and became available to the public on Oct. 1, goes to 97 inches. Getting there wasn’t quick and it wasn’t without Federer’s input.
“Over the years, I had conversations with Wilson about switching rackets and in 2013 I finally felt it was the right time,” he says. “For me, switching rackets was not only about a larger racket head, I was looking for a racket that was more forgiving and could provide me with easy power.”
To arrive at the final iteration, Federer worked in tandem with Wilson Labs in Chicago from the start of the initial testing. Then he spent over a week play-testing, trying dozens of frames. From there, Federer says he narrowed down the choices to a final few. The Swiss star held follow-up meetings, additional play tests and phone calls to ensure the final choice in frame encased the perfect fit for Federer.
While willingly starting with a clean slate, Federer says he wanted to maintain the same feel as the racket he had been using. So, while the re-engineered frame features a 26 percent wider racket beam for more power and a larger head offering a bigger sweet spot, Federer made sure it still felt right.
“To ensure my new racket would have the same great feel we continued the use of braided graphite and Kevlar," says Federer.
While Federer says he was most involved in the on-court part of the racket-design process, he didn’t shy away from the technical discussions and ability to dive into data to mold his new racket.
When in the lab, Federer says it was “remarkable” to see, with technology, how Wilson could measure a variety of data points for any given shot, showing him the effects different frames had on his game.
“Some factors I looked closely at were spin, ball speed, racket head speed and ball impact at the sweet spot,” he says. Seeing the data in front of him—a major evolution over his 16-year professional career, he admits—gave him “more confidence” when it came time to make decisions on his new racket’s attributes.
All the while, sifting through the data and testing the feel allowed Federer to stay “intimately involved in the process.” A good thing because the new Wilson Pro Staff 97 does have his autograph on it, and not just in name.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
Rare Photos of Roger Federer
A very young Roger Federer takes to the court.
A 16-year-old Roger Federer holds up his trophy after winning the boys' singles title at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in London on July 5, 1998.
A 17-year-old Roger Federer poses with Obie, the Orange Bowl mascot, after winning the boys' singles title at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Dec. 20, 1998.
Roger Federer poses on the beach for a feature shoot during the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., on March 27, 2000.
Roger Federer relaxes on the beach for a feature shoot during the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., on March 27, 2000.
Roger Federer makes a public appearance at Federation Square before the Davis Cup games in Melbourne, Australia, on Sept. 12, 2003.
Jackie Chan and Roger Federer share a laugh on the ''Wetten Dass...?'' television entertainment show at the Messehalle in Nuremburg, Germany, on Dec. 11 2004.
Roger Federer holds a tennis racquet like a guitar during an SI photo shoot in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 21 2004.
Roger Federer poses like a statue during an SI photo shoot in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 21 2004.
Roger Federer and Mirka Vavrinec arrive for the 6th Annual White Tie & Tiara Ball to Benefit the Elton John Aids Foundation in London on June 24, 2004.
Roger Federer signs autographs for fans outside the Ed Sullivan Theater after appearing on the ''Late Show with David Letterman'' in New York City on Sept. 12, 2005.
Gavin Rossdale and Roger Federer walk through the Chelsea area of New York City on Sept. 1, 2006.
Pierce Brosnan meets Roger Federer during an interview for the BBC on day eleven of Wimbledon in London on July 6, 2007.
Roger Federer talks with WWE pro wrestler John Cena during the U.S. Open in the Queens borough of New York City on Aug. 25, 2007.
Roger Federer walks off the field before Super Bowl XLII between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 3, 2008.
Roger Federer is introduced before his match with the then-most decorated Grand Slam player ever, Pete Sampras, in the NetJets Showdown at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 10, 2008.
Roger Federer visits children at a school funded by his charity, the Roger Federer Foundation, in Kore Roba, Ethiopia, on Feb. 12, 2010.
Roger Federer plays table tennis with local school children during his visit to a school funded by his charity, the Roger Federer Foundation, in Kore Roba, Ethiopia, on Feb. 12, 2010.
Roger Federer laughs with Pete Sampras as they attend a game between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 4, 2011.
Roger Federer meets with Prince Charles on day three of Wimbledon in London on June 27, 2012.