Updated: Oct 4, 2022
The third generation Yonex Astrox 99 is finally released, succeeding the first generation orange version as well as the second-generation navy version of the Astrox 99. However this time around, Yonex is launching four models of the Astrox 99 at 4 different price points, which are the Pro, Tour, Game, and Play Astrox 99 rackets. I will be taking a much closer look at the Tour, Game, Play Astrox 99 rackets in my next post and focusing on the Pro version here today.
The Astrox 99 Pro has two colour schemes, the white White Tiger and the red Cherry Sunburst. I personally love the Cherry Sunburst colour scheme but at the same time, it's also very refreshing to see a white racket.
The Astrox 99 has always been part of the top of the range of Yonex Astrox rackets which focus on head-heavy designs. The series is extremely popular with professional players and us amateurs alike. For example at the recent Tokyo Olympics, there were 71 players using Astrox rackets, out of which 11 uses the Astrox 99. Kento Momota is certainly the headline player for the Astrox 99 racket! - Check out that blog post here!
Both sample rackets that I have are in the 4UG5 spec so they are identical to what I currently use. Some of you might notice that I've recently switched from my trusty Arcsaber 10 to the Astrox 88D Pro and I really really like them! And so I'll certainly be using my Astrox 88D Pro as a benchmark for my comparisons here.
So before I get into all the details of this Astrox 99 Pro, let me tell you right now that this is the best Astrox 99 racket that I've played with compared to the previous two versions. I never got on well with the previous generations of Astrox 99 because I find it very demanding to play with, super head-heavy, sluggish for someone who isn't exceptionally strong physically like me. This Pro version of the Astrox 99 does correct some of the previous generations' issues whilst maintaining a lot of its qualities that defined it as a top-range racket.
When I received the demo Astrox 99 rackets from Yonex, they were strung at fairly low tension, so I restrung them with my usual Aerobite string at 26 x 28lbs so I could get consistent and reliable test results.
Stringing the Astrox 99 Pro rackets reminds me a lot of the Astrox 88S Pro since it has now adopted the same stringing pattern and grommet design as the Astrox 88S Pro. Yonex has removed the single-pass grommets on the Yonex 99 Pro and the strings on the central mains are now very wide apart before reducing around the edges of the racket.
You will also find a lot of the design features from the very successful and popular Astrox 88S Pro model being transferred across onto the Astrox 99 Pro with a few other additions. Besides the similar stringing pattern, other similarities include the fully recessed frame profile, the same energy boost cap as well as the enlarged grommets at the 3 and 9 o'clock sections of the racket.
If we quickly look at some of the racket measurements, the new version Astrox 99 Pro kept the same shaft length of 21.5cm, but it now has a thinner shaft compared to the last generation. Yonex calls this an 'extra slim shaft', which was also used in the Astrox 88S Pro racket.
The Astrox 99 Pro also has a slightly thicker frame compared to the last generation, with a new isometric shape frame design. Additionally, the Astrox 99 Pro has a longer wooden handle at 17.3cm compared to only 16.5cm in the last generation.
One of the biggest changes for this Astrox 99 Pro racket is the new addition of the power assist bumper. One of the design goals for the Astrox 99 Pro is increasing the power of the racket, and the power assist bumper placed at the 12 o'clock section of the racket is supposed to concentrate and focus the swing weight onto the racket's head to assist in power transfer. Yonex claims it's 55% heavier than traditional grommets over the 8 holes it covers. This feature might be familiar to those who own a Yonex Z Force 2 which has a strip of grommets at the 2 and 10 o'clock sections that have similar functions.
The second design goal of the Astrox 99 Pro is to increase the holding time of the shuttle on the racket. To achieve this, Yonex has now used its Namd material across the whole frame of the Astrox 99, pairing it with larger diameter grommets around the 3 and 9 o'clock sections of the racket. This results in an almost 10% increase in shuttle holding time according to Yonex's in-house testing compared to the previous generation of Astrox 99!
So during my multiple testing sessions of the Astrox 99 Pro, the first thing I immediately noticed was how much weight there is on the head of this racket. It really fits in the head-heavy category of badminton rackets, and so much so that it makes my Astrox 88D Pro feel less head-heavy! So keeping true to its Astrox 99 qualities, the new Astrox 99 Pro is 100% still a sledgehammer.
Besides this, you can also feel the high overall stiffness of the Astrox 99 Pro which may results in two extremely different outcomes when you play with it. If you are actively chasing the shuttle or going for a rear court, attacking clear or smashes are great. The stiffness and head weight makes power generation super easy and effortless. However, if you are in a passive situation such as reacting towards the shuttle during fast flat defensive situations or just being slightly late getting to the shuttle, this Astrox 99 Pro will do you no favours at all.
One of the biggest changes to the Astrox 99 Pro in terms of feel is the increase in sweet spot and speed. The fully recessed frame has certainly increased the speed of the Astrox 99 Pro compared to its predecessor and the sweet spot on it is huge. The gaps in between each string around the central region have been increased for this generation and I'm quite sure the bigger grommets also helped to increase the sweet spot, giving the string more movement and better shuttle hold. In my Astrox 88S Pro review, I was cautious about string durability with the increased string gaps in the central sweet spot region of the racket but this turned out to be unfounded, so Yonex has certainly gone in a good direction with this design. When I filmed my YouTube review video, I had put in around 5 hours of training time on the rackets and there had been no string breaks at all even though I made lots of mishits. Also, remember that this demo racket had survived a racket clash between Chris Adcock and myself too! So that's a thumbs up for me.
Another thing that I realize about the Astrox 99 Pro is the stability of the racket face when I'm taking a shot. Because of the amount of head weight and stiffness of the racket, the Astrox 99 Pro is one of the most stable rackets I've come across in quite a while. For players who like super head-heavy rackets and who are looking for plenty of racket face stability whilst making their shots, you can be assured that this Astrox 99 Pro will have plenty of that.
However, on the flip side, this racket is demanding and I felt tired very quickly when we were on routines repeating the same shots over and over again. Simple defensive tap-block routine, 1 minute working, 20 seconds rest, 6 sets each, and I was knackered.
I can definitely see why Kento Momota would love a racket like this and even see this racket as a perfectly tailored racket for him. It's reassuringly stable and suits players with longer strokes. If you look at how Momota hits his lifts as well as his backhand clears, he has a longer follow-through after he's made contact with the shuttle compared to some of the other players. I felt the Astrox 99 Pro is suited to that style of playing and really rewards players who have consistent technique and timing. Big power when you need it, but demanding for repeated actions.
Another small hiccup for me was net shots. I found myself struggling to get them consistently over the net especially coming in from a drop shot or just returning a net shot when I was using the Astrox 99 Pro. It's probably my technique and or timing of how I play it with my usual Astrox 88D Pro but how consistently inconsistent I was with it using the 99 Pro certainly made a point, especially at the start. Although, once I had really focussed on correcting my technique, it was all ok.
So if you are looking for a levelled-up Astrox 99 which is faster, smoother, bigger sweet spot, and more powerful, absolutely get the latest Astrox 99 Pro. It certainly is the best version of the Astrox 99 by far. I'll check out what the Tour, Game, and Play models feel like in my next post!