The Head Graphene XT Radical Pro is a confounding frame. Much like its predecessor, the Graphene Radical Pro, never before have I encountered a racquet with such a disparity between feel and performance. Generally when I struggle to embrace the response of a frame, I can’t play effectively with it. Yet, with the Rad Pro, a racquet that could feel uncomfortable and unforgiving at times, my game didn’t miss a beat. Playing with it reminded me of a sports car—the ride might be hard and unpleasant at times, but it’s what you want in a race.
And if you’re accustomed to, and enjoy, the feel of previous Graphene frames, all the better. For the uninitiated, the positioning of Graphene—an incredibly light and strong material—in the throat of the frame allows more weight to be distributed to the tip and tail of the racquet. The polarized weight keeps a manageable balance for good swing speed, while providing more mass at contact for added power.
The Rad Pro does possess a beefy swingweight, and consequently produces a weighty ball. When struck cleanly, ground strokes penetrate the court with easy pace and depth. The frame is also adept at defending incoming pace. My success at turning around my opponent’s offensive shots, especially with running forehands, was reminiscent of my recent experience with the new Babolat Pure Aero Tour. Like that frame, I never felt pushed around with the Rad Pro.
But while a mostly sturdy and stable frame overall, I did find a fair number of off-center shots to be a bit jarring. The sweetspot was an appropriate size for a player’s frame—offering a nice, crisp feel when finding it—but it can be brassy when missing the mark. The frame simply doesn’t flex much at impact. It was strung with a full bed of poly (Head Hawk Touch) and perhaps lowering the tension, or experimenting with softer strings would lessen this problem.
However, I did find the control afforded by the combination of racquet and string to be quite good. With a very limited break-in period I felt comfortable aiming my ground strokes aggressively towards the lines. The Rad Pro also has Head’s Dynamic String Pattern—eight main strings instead of six running though the throat of the frame, designed to enhance precision. Yet, it didn’t hinder spin production, which was lively for a 16x19 pattern.
I think it all came together best when serving. The frame’s inherent power provided lots of pop on deliveries, and there was enough spin to produce jumpy kick serves. Combined with the high level of accuracy, it added up to confident service games. And since I had the ball in hand and could routinely center it on the string bed, there were none of the feedback issues I might encounter during a point.
Since the ball seemed to jet off the strings so quickly, I never developed an attuned sense of touch with the frame. Taking pace of the ball was somewhat challenging, so net play was mostly punching the ball with authority into the open court. In fact, that’s how I predominantly played with the racquet—meat-and-potatoes, side-to-side tennis. Nothing terribly flashy—lots of steady crosscourt rallies—but potent, nonetheless.
After playing one of my practice sets with the Rad Pro, I put it down and played another set with a different frame of similar size and weight that I find more comfortable and versatile. When we finished, I asked my playing partner to contrast my level between the two sets. He noted the relative ease at which I won the first set compared to the second, and surmised I missed a whole lot less with the Rad Pro. Which was undeniably true.
But there’s something to be said for enjoying the process as much as the result. Because of that I'm not sure I could adopt the Rad Pro full-time. However, aggressive players who prefer firmer racquets, and more specifically the unique feel of Graphene frames, will undoubtedly find it quite capable of meeting their needs.