After testing countless racquets, you come to expect certain things. Pick up a frame with a particular head size, weight, beam width, and flex and there’s going to be a preconceived notion of how it will feel and perform. Just like sizing up an opponent in the warm up—he’s tall, so he probably cranks his serve—racquets can earn a label (maneuverable, soft, control-oriented, etc.) without ever hitting a ball. However, on occasion looks can be pleasantly deceiving.
When I held the Head Graphene Extreme Pro for the first time I made my own snap judgments. I figured it would fall into the category of “modern” midplus frames: High on power, spin, and swing speed; limited in flex and feel. And while it certainly contains some of those elements, it has traits that, in a positive way, separate it from its competition.
The most noticeable for me was the level of comfort. I had just assumed that with the RA rating (69), the thicker beam, and my experience with previous Graphene frames, that this racquet would at times feel too firm and tinny.
And I was dead wrong. At contact there was a nice level of muted crispness that I haven’t found in many of the frames with similar specs. That buzzing feeling that rears its ugly head on off-center hits—which happened infrequently thanks to the expansive sweet spot—wasn’t nearly as offensive as I expected. I wouldn’t necessarily call the Extreme Pro a comfort frame, but amongst its peers it certainly can hold that distinction.
I even think it had a friendlier feel than the Graphene Radical Pro, which I happen to like a lot. Part of that could be because eight of the 16 main strings of the Rad Pro is in the center of the frame, while the Extreme Pro has only six. I found greater control and pop from the Rad Pro, but the fewer strings in the sweet spot gave the Extreme Pro a more cushioned feel at impact, and greater spin potential.
With the lollipop-shaped head, the Extreme line was conceived as spin-friendly frames and the Graphene version continues that tradition. It won’t do it for you, but players who are adept at applying spin will find plenty of jump on their shots. The frame came strung with Head’s new Lynx polyester string, which has a nice balance of control and liveliness, keeping it in a nice neighborhood between stiff and springy. It seems well-suited for players who seek a more cushioned poly. They didn’t grab the ball quite as much as I like, but I still got lots of work on my strokes.
Which was helpful, because I found myself gravitating toward heavy spin shots with the Extreme Pro. It’s well-balanced with a manageable swingweight, making it easy to take big rips. But when I tried to flatten the ball out with more aggression I sometimes struggled with directional errors, and more frequently with distance control. Playing more nuanced shots—drop shots, sharp angles, transition balls—also weren’t as natural or successful.
Once I got dialed in with my ground strokes, I found it far more effective to keep them deep with lots of topspin and net clearance. So while there’s power to be had with the Extreme Pro, I found it tempered by all the spin I needed. I couldn’t step on my shots as frequently as I normally would have, but they were plenty heavy and steady. In this regard, the Extreme Pro reminded me of the Prince Tour 100 (16x18), albeit with more pop and a little less flex and spin. And like that stick, I think the playing characteristics of the Extreme Pro will make it quite attractive to baseline counterpunchers.
In fact, while it’s not my preferred style of play, I produced some really good defense with the Extreme Pro. For me, that’s where the extra power and added stiffness showed up. Neutralizing buggy whip and squash shot forehands, and stretched out slice backhands were easy to produce with a limited swing and effort. Same was true for returns of big serves—a short backswing and solid contact was all that was needed to turn the tables.
My own serving was probably the least impressive aspect of the Extreme Pro. It wasn’t a bad experience; I just couldn’t find the right combination of pace and placement. When I ratcheted up the power, my control often wasn’t as sharp—I could hit bombs, or hit my spots, rarely both. Most frustrating was anytime I went big on the wide serve in the deuce court, my ball seemed to find the tape. However, I’m sure that would come after more time with the racquet. Kick serves, though, were easy to generate and very effective. Unless my opponent took several steps up or back, he was constantly making contact above his shoulders, resulting in passive returns.
Volleys were another aspect in which this frame surprised me. At just under 12 oz. it’s got plenty of backbone to deal with pace, and the large sweet spot, along with the comfortable response makes it very forgiving. I couldn’t be as precise as I would with a thinner, more flexible frame, but there was enough control and feel to do more than just drive the ball deep. Overall it just felt very solid at net, giving me lots of confidence to move forward to pressure my opponent.
After finishing a set in one of my testing sessions with the Extreme Pro I asked my playing partner if he’d like to give it a try. He’s a very steady baseliner with great defensive skills, but prefers lighter, more flexible frames. He picked it up, looked it over, and then rebuffed my offer, believing, like I did, the frame would be too unfriendly.
Don’t make the mistake of judging the Extreme Pro without giving it a try.
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