Andre Agassi was the original Radical flag bearer and swung the frame for most of the '90s and early 2000s before Andy Murray took over the line. In terms of athlete representation, it's at the very top, but it's a racket that dwelled in the shadows of its bigger brother, the Prestige, for most of its life. In recent years, it's overtaken the Prestige in almost every measurable success metric as it adapted better to the modern game.
Nowadays, the Radical MP represents an exceedingly popular style of racket: the modern players' frame. It competes with the Yonex Ezone 98, Wilson Blade 98, and Babolat Pure Strike 98 in a style that balances classic control with modern spin, power, and comfort. With a 98 in2 head size, a 300-gram weight, and a 16 x 19 string pattern, the frame's specs fall right in the middle of that style.
The Austrian brand has gone for an understated redesign with the release of the Radical MP 2023, keeping all external specs identical to the outgoing 360+ but changing the layup to include their now flagship Auxetic technology. Auxetic has been making its way through the head lineup for quite some time now, initially introduced on the Boom before taking over on the Prestige, Speed, and Extreme lines. Auxetic has been an overwhelming success with those rackets, complementing what was a very good technology in Graphene 360+ and simply making those rackets "feel" a little bit better. Adding it to an already successful Radical without overhauling the racket was the logical step, but how does the brand-new frame actually play?
I play-tested the new Radical MP 2023 Auxetic alongside the outgoing frame, strung with Head Lynx Tour at 50 pounds.
It's been the case with most Auxetic releases but is much more apparent with the newest Radical: the racket is much more stable than its predecessor. In the Radical MP 2023, Auxetic technology increases stability without increasing static weight or swingweight. From a physics point of view, this should be impossible. The feeling of increased stability comes down to how the ball interacts with the frame on contact. More areas on the frame are actually flexing and pocketing the ball. It's not so much that the racket is more flexible — the RA ratings are nearly identical between the new and old versions — but there is more cohesion within the actual flex of the frame.
With the added stability, the Radical has improved from the baseline, especially for big hitters. I felt much more confident hitting out on my forehand and backhand wings, knowing that the racket had a more consistent response throughout the string bed. It's more forgiving but also crushes the ball a little harder, which can help players quickly turn a rally in their favour. It has also improved at the net. More stability without sacrificing maneuverability was once impossible, but not anymore. It's quick to react and crushes volleys through the court. Auxetic technology is doing its job to perfection here.
It's a feel thing...
Whenever a brand introduces a new technology, it's bound to play around with the racket's "feel." It's a term that is nearly impossible to define and even harder to explain, but we racket reviewers have to do our best. The previous 360+ Radical was a bit jarring on impact, especially on off-center hits, but that sensation is completely gone on the Auxetic Radical 2023. It provides a much more plush feel, which helped control my previously wild baseline shots. I had a split second extra to point and shoot due to that slightly longer dwell time, and it gave me a sensation of control I never quite had on the previous Radical. The 360+ had a crispness that is gone now, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for that extra softness.
Classic Radical Spin
You might be starting to think that the Auxetic Radical MP is very different from its predecessor, but these changes are very subtle and beyond the ever-elusive "feel," it hasn't changed all that much. Spin is one area where this racket is very similar to the old one. The 16 x 19 Control Pattern is identical to what it was on the previous version, and the Sound Grommets have also carried over. For a 16 x 19, the Radical is less spin friendly and much more controlled than the industry average. The Control Pattern gets denser near the sweet spot, reducing string movement but increasing solidity and predictability. It's a racket that won't shock you with effortless RPMs in baseline slugfests but will excel for players who generate their own spin and appreciate the more solid platform of a tighter stringbed.
Control to Power Spectrum
Usually, the tennis industry looks at control and power on two opposite ends of the spectrum: you can't have both. The Radical MP Auxetic doesn't fully refute this theory, but it sure does a good job of questioning it. As I stated earlier, this racket is more forgiving than the previous version, making it more powerful. Usually, that should have me saying that the racket is less controlled, but because it also feels softer than its predecessor, it feels more controlled. It is important to point out that this is somewhat of a hybrid racket. Due to the bigger sweet spot and slightly thicker middle part of the beam (20mm, 23mm, 21mm), you get more power, but you'll sacrifice a bit of that total control felt in super soft, thin frames like the Prestige MP or VCORE Pro.
As you can imagine, a more powerful racket will help crush serves harder. It's still not as good as the most powerful rackets out there, but it's certainly better than the frame it replaces.
Top-tier precision is one area that is slightly lacking on the newest Radical. Because Head has essentially expanded the sweet spot, there is less negative feedback when hitting outside of the center. That helps it feel more powerful but also makes it blur the lines between the vibrations felt after "good" and "bad" shots. This initially bothered me on my touch shots like the slice or the drop-shot, but after an acclimatization period, I dialed them in.
Should we even still talk about comfort?
It's pretty much inexcusable in 2023 for a racket to be "uncomfortable." Technology has come so far that there is no more need for pain to get gain. In the previous version, that jarring sensation mentioned earlier could sometimes lead to a bit of arm and elbow discomfort. That is completely gone with the introduction of Auxetic tech in the 2023 frame. This Radical is comfortable; that's it.
Who is the Radical for?
Head loves to put catchy little marketing phrases on their rackets, and the Radical bears the term "Radical Diversity." It's quite an accurate way of summarizing the Radical in two words. The frame is excellent from every area of the court and lends itself to an advanced player who considers themselves a bit of a jack of all trades. But because the racket has also gotten more user-friendly, a wider variety of players will be able to appreciate it. Some would say Head has radically diversified the player pool.
The Auxetic Radical 2023 will be a big hit in the tennis community. Head has made this racket easier to use, more powerful, controlled, and more comfortable. The last Radical was that Swiss Army knife frame that does most things well but nothing to perfection. The subtle but clear improvements will help elevate it to the top of that "does it all" category; it just does most of it better than before. You can check out the racket on our website or visit us in-store to get your hands on some demos.