2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13: Indepth Review & Playtest + Video

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13

In-depth Review & Playtest + Video

We hope you love this article. Just so you know, TennisCompanion may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page to help keep this site running. Disclosure: Wilson gave me this frame to evaluate, but they did not pay me to produce this review or influence its contents.

Few tennis racquets deserve or have been around long enough to consider them legendary, but the Pro Staff franchise, including the latest release of the 2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13, demands it.

Throughout its storied 37 year history, the Pro Staff has helped some of the world’s elite tennis players, including Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Stefi Graf, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier, and Chris Evert, win an astounding 117 grand slam titles.

In this guide, I’ll explore the RF97 Autograph v13, Roger Federer’s signature model tennis racquet, including its specs and the iconic technologies that make it a Pro Staff. I’ll also put the racquet to the test and share why it’s one of my picks for the best tennis racquets, but just as important, who should avoid buying it.

Pro Staff Models
Wilson Pro Staff RF97
Wilson Pro Staff 97
Wilson Pro Staff 97L
Wilson Pro Staff 97UL

Note: through 9/27/20, you’ll need to sign up as a Wilson Insider to gain early access to the racquet.

Article Contents

New to TennisCompanion?

Explore and get to know us

Join our community of tennis players and participate in the conversation.

Improve your game with premium instruction that provides you with step-by-step video training.

Receive our brief weekly recap of the 5 most interesting things we dig up in the world of tennis.

Pro Staff RF97 v13 Video Review & Playtest

For a visual walkthrough and guide, check out my video review and playtest of the 2020 Pro Staff RF97 v13.

If you’re seriously considering purchasing the racquet, it’s an excellent resource to get an up-close look at the racquet along with some footage of me hitting with it to see how the racquet performs.

I cover a lot of ground in this review, so please reference the time stamps below if you’d prefer to jump to a specific section.

Intro

0:30: Intro

Specs

0:50: Spec Start
1:14: Length, Head Size, String Pattern
1:23: Weight
1:38: Balance
1:49: Swingweight & Stiffness
2:02: Beam

Technologies

2:22: Technologies Start
2:50: Braided Graphite & Kevlar
3:21: Perimeter Weighting System

Design & Aesthetics

3:42: Aesthetics Start

Strings & Tension

4:56: Recommended Tension Range
5:04: Playtest String Setup

Playtest

6:06: Playtest Start
6:22: Playtest Notes
6:28: Groundstrokes
7:05: Volleys
7:36: Serves
8:11: Returns

8:37: Summary
9:20: Pro Staff 97 Sneak Peak
9:49: Wrapping Up

I wrote this guide in tandem with the article to serve as a companion to the video with photos, descriptions, and extra detail. Keep scrolling to learn more – I hope you enjoy its contents.

About the 2020 Pro Staff RF97 v13

About the 2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13

Born in 1983, the Pro Staff debuted as an oversized racquet with a 110 square inch head size. Shortly after, Wilson adapted the design to the now-iconic 85 square inch head size, a.k.a., the Pro Staff Original 6.0.

The all-black Pro Staff Original 6.0 with it’s bold red and yellow stripes featured the same core technologies you’ll find in today’s RF97, including braided graphite and kevlar and Wilson’s Perimeter Weighting System. Add its heavier weight, extreme head light balance, ultra-thin 17mm box beam with squared-off edges, and you complete the recipe for the original Pro Staff.

Pete Sampras used the Pro Staff Original 6.0 exclusively throughout his dominant career in the 90s. For that reason, it seems fair to attribute the racquet’s massive popularity to his success on the court.

However, as tennis evolved with the sport transitioning heavily toward a baseline game, we saw Wilson use an iterative approach to adapt the Pro Staff to the modern game, and Federer, who’s pro career started in 1998, picked up where Sampras left off to continue the racquet’s legacy.

Federer has used the Pro Staff throughout his entire career, and the RF97 Autograph v13 is the culmination of a close partnership between Roger Federer and Wilson to create a racquet that has played a significant role in helping him maintain his dominance.

What Makes the RF97 Autograph Unique?

What Makes the RF97 Autograph Unique

The vast majority of professional players, especially those who’ve been around the game for years, play with pro stock racquets.

Typically, these are older retail models of tennis racquets that are customized to meet exact player specifications. Suppose a player endorses a specific model, such as Rafael Nadal and the Babolat Pure Aero. In that case, he’ll have his painted to look like the latest generation, but he’ll be using an older racquet, as is the case with Rafa, who uses the original Aeropro Drive released in 2004.

It makes sense because you wouldn’t expect all of the world’s best tennis players to change their racquets every time a new model comes out. It’s true, some change, modify and update their racquets more than others, but many abide by the adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

However, what makes the RF97 Autograph unique is that it’s the same racquet and specifications that Roger Federer uses. There are likely some tiny tweaks, including racquet matching, to ensure all of his racquets are identical. However, a signature model is the closest off-the-shelf experience you’re going to find to what a player is using.

For many, the thrill of using his exact model racquet is more than enough to justify the purchase, but there’s a caveat. What works for Roger Federer may not work for you because the racquet was customized to meet his specific needs, which are likely different than yours.

Of course, the racquet could work well for you – it’s all about personal preference, and many players will enjoy its specs.

Pro Staff vs. Blade, Ultra, Clash

The Pro Staff is one of a handful of racquet lines available from Wilson, which can take some time to wrap your head around. Let’s look at how the Pro Staff fits into the mix of their most popular lines.

Pro Staff

The Pro Staff line targets intermediate to advanced tennis players who desire mid to low-end power and topspin with a considerable emphasis control, precision, and excellent feel.

As we’ll review in this guide, multiple Pro Staff models are available to appeal to a broader range of players. However, generally speaking, these racquets are the heaviest of the bunch with a stiffness rating that sits between the Blade and Ultra.

Blade

The Wilson Blade line is a close relative to the Pro Staff. These racquets offer greater flex giving them exceptional feel, lower power, and solid comfort while placing a greater emphasis on topspin.

Like the Pro Staff, there are various models to choose from within the Blade family of racquets.

Ultra

Players that desire a high-powered tennis racquet with more generous head sizes loaded with topspin and well-suited for modern baseline tennis will likely find what they’re looking for with the Ultra.

These frames fall on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Blade and are lighter, stiffer, and require players to hit with aggressive topspin to effectively manage their power.

Clash

The Wilson family’s newest member is the Clash, which seeks to blend the power of a racquet like the Ultra with the control and precision that you find in the Pro Staff or Blade lines.

However, what makes it unique is that it does so while maintaining an incredibly low stiffness rating for maximum comfort. Although you won’t find ultimate control or power with this racquet, you will find a well-balanced racquet that provides excellent all-around performance.

Check out my full review and playtest of the Wilson Clash 100 to learn more about this super unique racquet.

2020 RF97 v13 Specs & Technologies

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Specs & Technologies

A tennis racquet’s specs can serve as a useful point of comparison against your existing racquet or when comparing racquets.

However, specs only tell part of the story and don’t always translate as you’d expect to real-world play. With that said, I’d encourage you to use them to get a baseline understanding of what to expect, but if possible, to demo or try a racquet to get a feel for how it performs before buying.

Here’s a look at the specs for the 2020 Pro Staff RF97 v13.

SpecMeasurement
Head Size97 in² / 625.81 cm²
Length27 in / 68.58c m
Strung Weight12.6 oz / 358 g
Unstrung Weight12 oz / 340 g
Strung Balance9 pts HL / 31.5 cm
Unstrung Balance12 pts HL / 30.5 cm
Swingweight335
Stiffness68
Beam Width21.5 mm / 21.5 mm / 21.5 mm
CompositionGraphite & Kevlar
String Pattern16 Mains / 19 Crosses
String Tension50-60 pounds / 22.68-27.22 kg

As you might expect, the specs for the latest RF97 v13 haven’t changed. Federer has these dialed in, and they’re still doing the trick for him, so you wouldn’t expect him to make a change.

For starters, the Pro Staff RF97 has a standard 27-inch length and features a smaller 97 square inch head size with a 16×19 string pattern.

Wilson quotes the racquet at a hefty 12 ounces or 340 grams for its weight, but as you’d expect, there’s a bit of variance as the frame I have weighs in at just over 12 ounces or 344 grams.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Weight

You can add roughly 18 grams for the strung weight, which depends on the type of string and its gauge or thickness.

As for the racquet’s swingweight, it’s 335.

The Pro Staff RF97 has a 12 pt head light balance at 30.5 cm unstrung, which drops down to 9 pts head light at 31.5 cm when strung.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Balance

When it comes to the racquet’s stiffness, it sits on the mid to upper end of the spectrum with an RA rating of 68.

Last but not least, the RF97 has a thin 21.5 mm beam all the way around.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Beam

RF97 Technologies

The latest generation of the RF97 retains some of the key ingredients that made the original Pro Staff popular while evolving and refining the formula to better suit the modern game and, in particular, Roger Federer’s style of play.

Braided Graphite + Kevlar

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Braided Graphite and Kevlar

First up, the Pro Staff RF97 is composed of braided graphite and Kevlar.

The braided construction means continuous graphite and kevlar fibers run throughout the frame vs. the more common layup where many smaller sheets of material are stitched together in a single direction, as found in many other racquets.

The result is a unique feel loved by Pro Staff enthusiasts, especially when combined with Kevlar’s natural dampening characteristics.

Perimeter Weighted System (PWS)

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Perimeter Weighting System

Next up, the racquet features Wilson’s Perimeter Weighting System or extra weight placed at the 3 and 9 o’clock on the racquet’s head to reduce twisting and improve control.

It’s a reasonably straightforward technology made visible by the subtle yet distinct bums on the head’s inner edge.

Weight, Balance, and Beam

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Weight, Balance, and Beam

Although they’re not distinct technologies, the braided graphite and kevlar and the PWS combine with the racquet’s dramatic head light balance, heavier weight, and thin beam result in a hitting experience that emphasizes precision and control.

2020 Pro Staff v13 Models

2020 Wilson Pro Staff v13 Models

For many, the weight of Pro Staff RF97 alone puts the racquet out of reach. Recognizing this, Wilson offers players a handful of additional options with the same general profile, technologies, and look, but modified specs that make the racquet more approachable.

For the Pro Staff line, there are five different available models. If you like the Pro Staff RF97, but as an example, are concerned it’s too heavy, then it’s good to be aware of these other models.

Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

As the heaviest option in the Pro Staff lineup, the RF97 is an excellent option for intermediate to advanced players that appreciate the extra weight and feel comfortable swinging it.

Roger Federer and this racquet draw many players to explore the Pro Staff line, and since this review is about this racquet, I’ll use it as the baseline for comparing each model that follows.

Pro Staff 97

At 11.1 ounces (315g) unstrung, the Pro Staff 97 still has a higher-end weight, but it’s much more approachable than the 12 ounces (340g) of the RF97 – almost a full ounce (25g) lighter.

Everything else, from the head size and 16×19 string pattern to the head light balance and 21.5 mm beam, are consistent with the RF97.

For that reason, the Pro Staff 97 is a highly popular option, especially if the RF97 piqued your interest, but you find it too heavy.

Pro Staff 97L

As mentioned, the Pro Staff 97 is still far from lightweight. For those that still like the Pro Staff concept, but feel the weight of the 97 is a bit too much will want to check out the 97L – the ‘L’ stands for light.

The Pro Staff 97L, at 10.2 ounces unstrung, is almost a full ounce lighter than the Pro Staff 97, which makes it easier to handle and maneuver.

However, since a racquet’s weight influences power, Wilson increases this model’s beam width from 21.5mm to 23mm, which helps bring back a bit more power potential.

Pro Staff 97UL

Finally, the Wilson Pro Staff 97UL or ultralight is a fantastic option for beginners looking to take their game to the next level or intermediate players that desire a lightweight yet performance-oriented racquet.

It’s the lightest of all the Pro Staff racquets at 9.5 ounces (269g) but retains the 97 sq inch head and 16×19 string pattern. Furthermore, it uses the same 23 mm beam found on the 97L for a bit of extra pop.

All in all, this is an excellent option for players that are new to the game.

Note: The Pro Staff 97UL is only available to the European tennis market.

RF97 Design & Aesthetics

The latest version of the RF97 takes us back to the all-black version from 2016 while maintaining some of the subtle updates from the 2018 tuxedo model around the throat, and makes a few additional design tweaks that look awesome.

First up, you’ll find a new all-black butt cap at the bottom of the racquet, which looks great, but it’s worth noting it doesn’t have rounded edges that you’ll find on the red but caps on most Wilson frames.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Black Buttcap

The Pro Staff print is now tighter on the shaft to make way for a grey and silver stripe – a throwback to the original Pro Staff. There’s also a slightly modified display of RF97 with the weight and string pattern displayed too.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Engraving

Next up, the black matte finish now wraps up through 3 and 9 o’clock on the head for a more seamless paint job.

However, the racquet’s most dramatic design change is visible at the top of the hoop. The braided graphite construction of the frame is visible underneath a polished resin finish and topped off with grey and silver stripes flanking either side of the grommets.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Braided Graphite Underneath Clear Gloss

All in all, the RF97 v13 takes my top spot for the best looking racquet in tennis, which I expect will be customizable on Wilson’s website at some point if that’s something you’d like to check out.

Players Endorsing the RF97

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Players Endorsing

The 2020 Pro Staff RF97 v13 Autograph is Roger Federer’s signature model, so naturally, he’s the only player endorsing the frame.

Federer’s first signature model launched in 2014, and since then, we’ve seen the following iterations of the frame:

  • 2014: Red and black original RF97
  • 2017: Matte black RF97
  • 2018: Black and white (tuxedo) RF97
  • 2018: Red special edition for Laver Cup RF97
  • 2019: Blue special edition for Laver Cup RF97

All of them have featured the same specs, just new paint jobs.

RF97 v13 Strings & Tension

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Strings and Tension

The recommended tension range for the Wilson Pro Staff RF97 is 50-60 pounds (22.68 – 27.22kg)

For my playtest, I went with Luxilon Alu Power Rough 1.25 in the mains at 56 pounds (25.40 kg) and Wilson Natural Gut 1.30 in the crosses at 60 lbs (27.22 kg).

Federer uses the same strings, but he switches the mains and the crosses, so Luxilon Alu Power Rough in the crosses and Wilson Natural Gut in the mains. His tension is also slightly different, with 59.5 lbs (27kg) for the mains and 56.2 lbs (25.5kg) for the crosses.

For me, the natural gut in the crosses provides the racquet with some extra power and comfort for my setup. On the other hand, polyester in the mains will help elevate the racquet’s spin potential and provide extra durability, while dominating the overall feel.

Although well-suited for this racquet, it’s an expensive string setup. If you’re looking for a less expensive option, you could swap out natural gut with a powerful multifilament as a substitute with excellent results.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Review & Playtest Notes

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Review and Playtest Notes

Although the specs and technologies behind a racquet are useful, what matters is how a racquet performs and feels on the court.

For a little over a week, I had the opportunity to hit with the Pro Staff RF97 daily to share my experience with you.

Below you’ll find a few notes that you might find useful when considering my thoughts and opinions on the racquet.

Main StringsLuxilon ALU Power Rough (1.25 mm)
Cross StringsWilson Natural Gut (1.30 mm)
Mains Tension56 lbs / 25.40 kg
Crosses Tension60 lbs / 27.22 kg
Forehand GripSemi-Western
BackhandTwo-handed
Grip Size#3 – 4 3/8
GripWilson Black Leather
OvergripWilson Pro
Weight165 lbs / 74.84 kg
Height6’0″ / 1.83m

For quick reference, I’ve rated the RF97 on various criteria below. However, you’ll find my notes covering my experience with the racquet in greater detail in the following sections.

Groundstrokes 8.7
Volleys 9.1
Serves 8.5
Returns 8.4
Power 8.2
Control 9.3
Spin 8.5
Slice 8.9
Touch/Feel 9.0
Maneuverability 8.1
Stability 8.8
Comfort 8.6
Average 8.68

Groundstrokes

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Groundstrokes

On groundstrokes, the RF97 is excellent. Although it doesn’t generate as much topspin as the games most spin-friendly racquets, there’s more than enough, and I never felt it was lacking.

The Pro Staff RF97 v13 rewards early preparation and excellent timing, and if you get that right, power comes easily with the frame moving effortlessly through the ball. For slice, the racquet is buttery smooth and stable, and one of its strengths.

As someone who typically uses a lighter racquet with a 100 square inch head size for that extra spin and power, it does require a bit of adjustment, and I could sense the smaller sweet spot, but it didn’t take long to feel right at home with the racquet.

Volleys

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Volleys

Hitting at the net was hands-down my favorite part of the playtest.

The RF97 absorbs pace easily and feels incredibly precise, which combined with the hybrid string setup, was about as good as it gets

A bonus with the RF97’s heavier weight is more controlled and smooth movement, but it requires you to emphasize footwork for proper positioning.

If you’ve never experienced the benefit of customizing a racquet for added stability and plow through, demoing this racquet for thirty minutes can help you quickly gain a feel and appreciation for the value it can bring.

Serves

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Serves

On serves, the RF97 is a rock-solid performer, but I’d argue it’s where it requires the biggest adjustment for players coming from a lighter racquet.

Not only will you have to build up the stamina to swing it for a full match, but you’ll benefit from letting the racquet do more of the work for you.

Much of the RF97s power comes from its weight, so as long as you approach the serve with proper technique and reasonable racquet head speed, the pace will show up along with greater precision because you’re not trying to overhit.

Overall, the racquet will benefit players looking for accuracy over raw power on their serve.

Returns

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Returns

On returns, the RF97 is a bit of a mixed bag. Like groundstrokes, it responds well to quick preparation and great timing. However, the trick is getting the racquet into position and quickly accelerating it forward.

If you get it right, the racquet will absorb the heaviest serves’ pace, and the results are fantastic, but you have to nail the timing. All in all, it’s highly capable on returns, especially when dealing with extra pace.

Summary & Takeaways

If you’re a mid to higher-level intermediate or advanced player, the 2020 Pro Staff RF97 v13 will reward your sound technique and deliver excellent all-court performance.

However, the racquet also demands exceptional footwork and positioning to nail your timing, so you should expect the quality of your physical fitness to come into play. Overall, it’s a fantastic frame that delivers on the promise of precision and control.

With that said, I’d discourage beginners from the lure of using the exact model Roger Federer swings due to its weight and smaller head size.

Early on, new players will benefit from a lightweight racquet with a larger head that’s easier to swing, which helps facilitate learning proper technique while also affording extra margin for error.

Pro Staff 97 v13 as an Alternative

2020 Wilson Pro Staff 97 v13 as an Alterntative

If you liked what you heard in this review, but you’re looking for something a bit more approachable, then the Pro Staff 97 is likely your answer.

It’s lighter, but still features the same tried and true Pro Staff formula with an update called Braid 45, in reference to the new 45-degree angle used to braid the graphite and Kevlar.

I’ll have a full review of the Pro Staff 97 coming up in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, be sure to check out my first look and initial impressions.

Why I Love It

  • Top-notch precision and control
  • All-around stability
  • Excellent on slice
  • Playing with Roger’s racquet

Tradeoffs

  • Heavier weight
  • Less maneuverability
  • Lower overall power

Strings

Purely from a performance standpoint, I thought the hybrid string setup I selected was excellent and complimented the frame nicely. Here’s a quick look again at what I used.

  • Mains: Luxilon ALU Power Rough 1.25 at 56 lbs (25.40 kg)
  • Crosses: Wilson Natural Gut 1.30 at 60 lbs(27.22 kg)

In a heavier frame like the RF97, this is pretty much a dream setup for me. Although the tension is on the higher end of the spectrum, it doesn’t feel that way. Natural gut performs exceptionally well at higher tensions, and you don’t lose any feel, but it does help you reign in a bit of its power.

Combined with polyester in the mains, you can swing for the fences, and the frame’s weight is more than sufficient to deform and get the strings moving for added topspin, which is apparent and welcome.

However, the biggest downside I experienced is the durability of the polyester mains, which notched fast and broke after roughly three hours of play. Of course, this was painful because the expensive natural gut was still pristine, but I needed to cut them out to restring.

2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 Broken Main String

There are a few approaches I could take to bump up the durability of the mains. I could increase the mains’ gauge to 1.30 mm, go with a different and more durable polyester, or use string savers to protect them. I took the latter approach for max durability while maintaining the lower gauge’s benefits with excellent results when I restrung the racquet.

Other than that hiccup, the only other downside is the string setup cost, which is on the pricier end. If you’re like the sound of these strings but you’re looking for a more affordable option, the quickest way to reduce the cost would be to swap out the natural gut crosses with a high powered multifilament.

If you’re looking for some guidance on tennis strings, I’d encourage you to check out my resource on how to choose tennis strings.

Bottom Line

If you’re an intermediate to advanced player who’s looking for an exceptional all-court frame loaded with precision and control, then the 2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13 is a worthy consideration.

Yes, the racquet comes with a heavier weight, which you should absolutely bear in mind when considering it, but that’s part of the formula and where it derives some of it’s best qualities.

On the other hand, if you’re a huge fan of Roger Federer and considering splurging the frame to experience what he hits with or to own it as a collectible, then you won’t be disappointed.

Wrapping Up

I want to thank Wilson for providing me with early access to this racquet to produce this review for the TennisCompanion community. It was a pleasure to be one of the first to experience it.

Although the 2020 Pro Staff RF97 Autograph v13 specs remain identical to the previous generations, it’s a welcome refresh, and its new design is my favorite model to date.

I hope the contents of this review help guide your decision making about this racquet. However, if you’re seriously considering the RF97, I’d encourage you to demo the racquet to experience it first-hand and form your own opinions.

If you have any questions or you’d like to share your experience with the Pro Staff RF97, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Home > Gear > Racquets > 2020 Wilson Pro Staff RF97 v13

Play Better Tennis

Improve your game alongside our community of tennis players

Why join?

Discussion Boards
Join the conversation with other members of the community.

5 Point Friday
Read our weekly recap of the 5 most interesting things we dig up in tennis.

In-depth Resources
Learn with comprehensive resources to help you improve your game.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *