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.