Last week we reviewed the new Head Graphene Extreme Pro. I was surprised at the comfort such a firm, wide-beamed racquet was able to deliver, but the real attraction to this line is the power and spin potential. And the Midplus version, with its lighter static weight, should appeal to a wider swath of aggressive baseliners. The “Professor” of the Pro Shop, Dr. James Golden, has a lot of experience with these types of frames and he gave the Extreme MP a thorough exam.
James Golden: When Babolat introduced the Pure Drive racquet in the late 1990s, it unwittingly created a new segment of racquets that defied conventional tennis wisdom. To that point, accomplished players were drawn towards heavy, flexible, low-powered racquets. The Pure Drive, a light, stiff, powerful racquet, was by every measure a game improvement racquet for recreational players.
That is, until, players like Carlos Moya, Kim Clijsters, and Andy Roddick wielded a Pure Drive to Grand Slam victories. Since that time, every major racquet manufacturer has offered its version of a Pure Drive with varying success, but never quite matching, let alone eclipsing, the appeal of the Pure Drive.
Head's Pure Drive-esque offering is the Extreme Midplus. With virtually the same specs as the Pure Drive, the Extreme MP was an unremarkable imitation that often felt a bit sluggish and lacked the playability of the Pure Drive. However, Head recently updated its entire line of racquets with Graphene, an extremely strong and light material in the throat area, allowing weight to be redistributed from the center of the racquet towards the tips, making for a more solid, stable racquet at impact. Given how much I liked the feel of the recently revised Head Graphene Radical, I was eager to see if the Graphene Extreme MP would similarly benefit from the update.
The first thing I noticed when hitting with the Head Graphene Extreme MP was how fast it felt. Gone is the sluggish feel of old, replaced with a racquet that moves quickly through the hitting zone. The frame’s measurables fall right in line with the modern, aggressive baseline game, and its performance doesn't disappoint. Off the forehand, the speed of the racquet combined with its spin friendly 16x19 string pattern made it easy to hit deep, high, and heavy rally balls. Moving forward on short forehands, I had no trouble going down the line with a flatter ball, or dipping a short cross-court roller. The more I played with the Extreme MP, the more I enjoyed hitting the latter. Backhands were similarly enjoyable, and while I often prefer a slightly heavier racquet for my one-handed backhand, I didn't notice any loss of pace or stability due to the lightness of the Extreme MP.
At the net, the Extreme MP, being light and crisp, was excellent. I played a number of sets of doubles with the frame and was able to come out on the winning end of a number of quick volley exchanges. The racquet was surprisingly stable and, despite the racquet's stiffness and my hands of stone, I was able to hit angle and drop volleys with a consistency of which I am unfamiliar.
The only area of my game that didn't seem to benefit from the Extreme MP was my serve and return. While the lower weight certainly benefited racquet speed on my ground strokes and maneuverability for my volleys, my first serve lost some of its pop compared to my usual, slightly heavier racquet. Thankfully, this was offset by the ability to hit a nice, heavy second serve, particularly out wide in the ad court.
Return of serve was another area in which the liabilities of a lighter weight racquet revealed themselves. Against players with a heavy or hard serve, the Extreme MP wasn’t quite up to the task, particularly when the ball was struck towards the hoop of the frame. Whereas with a heavier racquet, the pace/heft of the serve can be absorbed and used to block the ball back, lighter racquets like the Extreme MP, which require a full, aggressive stroke in order to reap the benefits of its specs, don't fare quite as well. However, this is the nature of "tweener" racquets such as this one, which attempt to balance the playability of "players" frames with the needs of 3.5-5.0 NTRP players.
All told, I was really impressed with the Graphene Extreme MP, and, to be honest, I was pretty sure disappointment was going to be in order. From the previous versions' sluggishness, to its head—which, as Pro Shop editor, Jon Levey, noted is shaped like a lollipop—and the fact that it was a poor copy of the Pure Drive (my racquet of choice for several years), there was little to make me think another look at the Extreme MP would be a positive one. However, the addition of Graphene seems to have given the engineers at Head the opportunity to transform this racquet into an excellent offering and worth a hit for those who enjoy the feel and playing characteristics of the Pure Drive, especially given its nearly $30 lower price tag.
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