By Tucker Bowe
on 8.27.14
Photo by Henry Phillips

Roger Federer has used just one brand of tennis racket over his career. Emulating greats like Sampras and Edberg, the Swiss tennis icon rose up the ATP world tour ranks using a Wilson Pro Staff racket. With success came customization; the 17-time Grand Slam Singles Champion used an iteration of the Pro Staff BLX 90 over a 10-year stretch that canonized him in the pantheon of world tennis. But after his 2013 Wimbledon loss to 116-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round, Federer sent fissures up one of the sport’s pillars: he asked Wilson to significantly alter his racket.

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The Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph is Federer’s new on-court weapon. It evolved from over 127 prototypes and endured one of Wilson’s most public product development processes ever. And it’s not just another new racket — it’s an Autograph, reserved for tennis legends. Wilson hasn’t produced one in nearly 40 years, the last being Chris Evert’s Autograph, introduced in 1976.

Federer played an integral part in the creation of the new RF97 Autograph, which is in essence a total redesign. The racket has a 97 square inch head — the biggest Federer has ever used — with a 10 percent larger sweet spot than his Pro Staff BLX 90. As rackets go it’s still relatively heavy, weighing 340 grams unstrung, but it feels lighter because the handle has adopted most of the weight; it also sports a differently shaped butt cap, a wider 21.5mm taper system, a 26 percent wider racket beam and completely different graphics than the Pro Staff BLX 90. A commercial version of the racket, the Wilson Pro Staff RF97, will be available to customers in October.

The first major test for Federer’s racket is a big one: this year’s U.S. Open. And it’s already won its inaugural battle. Federer defeated Marinko Matosevic in three sets Tuesday night in the first round. And his next opponent will be Sam Groth, an Australian who holds the unofficial record for the world’s fastest serve (163.4 mph). It’s the perfect test for a racket that’s been a long time coming and, Wilson hopes, will be around just as long as Fed’s last one.

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