There’s no denying it, we were spoiled in 2023. It’s been a crazy year for racket releases with great updates and new lines coming out every which way. So an end-of-the-year award ceremony was a must, but it also means there was some tough competition.
It’s very important to lay out some criteria because talking about “the best” can be controversial, and there are bound to be a few notable omissions.
Criteria #1: The racket must be outstanding in at least one playability characteristic; so spin, power, control, feel, or variety. Of course, if it’s outstanding in more than one, then all the more reason to pick it.
Criteria #2: The racket must be unique, but also, if it’s not the first racket in its line, it must be a noticeable improvement on the racket it replaces. Sometimes, companies can get caught in the “copy and paste” model from one generation to the next; that won’t get you a spot in this Top 5.
Criteria #3: I have to like this racket. This is obvious enough, but as Rackets & Runners’ playtester if the racket didn’t mesh for me, it may still be good, but it won’t make the list.
Criteria #4: The racket must have come out in 2023. There are a lot of current rackets that didn’t come out this year, but this list will be exclusive to this year’s releases.
Without further ado, let’s start handing out some awards!
5. Yonex Vcore 95 v7
The Yonex Vcore 95 comes in at our fifth spot, and this is a great time to note that we’re only discussing individual models, not full-on racket lines. I’ll explain why I picked the 95 over the 98 and the 100 in a second, but first of all, I need to commend Yonex for absolutely nailing it with the Vcore’s new design.
It has become way too common for brands to update a racket by simply claiming it has “new technology,” but Yonex went for a daring new design for the Vcore v7. The rackets all feature a totally new head shape with a more squared-off portion of the hoop which moves the sweet spot farther up the frame and opens up the string bed in the sweet spot. A higher sweet spot moves the optimal point of contact further away from you, which means you have more leverage over the ball for power.
Of course, more leverage and more power do translate to less control, but because the string bed is also more open in the sweet spot, you end up with more spin potential. 2023 is the year that the Vcore finally became a proper spin racket, so players who like to play with plenty of spin will be able to control the more powerful launch.
With that said, a higher sweet spot and a more open string bed also make the racket a little more wild, which is why the 95 is this lineup’s golden egg. Because it has the smallest head and tightest string pattern, it also has the most precise and “solid” feel, so you still benefit from the better power and spin while sacrificing the least amount of control to achieve it.
The Vcore 95 does tick all of the boxes for our criteria. It’s a huge change and massive improvement on the racket it replaces, it’s an awesome and unique racket, and I am personally a huge fan; having this amount of power and spin on a 95 is very impressive.
4. Yonex Percept 97
If the Vcore 95 was a breath of fresh air for a line that needed some love, the Percept 97 completely saved Yonex’s control silo. The Vcore Pro 97 was so dead in the water that it didn’t just need a good update; it required a full-on rebrand and Yonex delivered.
In case there’s still some confusion, the Percept isn’t really a new line because other than the technology within the racket, everything else has stayed nearly identical coming from the last Vcore Pro. The good news is that, despite my facetious comment regarding “new tech” earlier, it has made for a massive improvement.
To put it bluntly, I was not a fan of the last Vcore Pro 97. The frame was mushy, muted, and the sweet spot didn’t feel great, and that can be forgiven if a frame has other positive characteristics, but when it’s the brand’s flagship control racket, it’s less excusable. The good news is that all of those feel and control issues were addressed on the Percept. Yonex replaced Vibration Dampening Mesh with their new dampening tech Servofilter which means the mushiness is gone, and instead the feel is much more crisp and well defined which leads to better control.
It is worth noting that, although the stiffness ratings are the same, the Percept 97 does not feel nearly as soft as the last Vcore Pro 97. You’ll get a more point-and-shoot style of control rather than the buttery, soft control of something like a Prestige. This crisper and overall stiffer feel has also helped give it more spin potential; there’s just a bit more rigidity on impact, which makes for a more one-to-one transfer of spin to the ball.
With the Percept and the Vcore, Yonex nailed it in 2023. They weren’t necessarily at risk of falling behind the industry curve because the Ezone is so darn good and incredibly popular, but their two other lines needed significant improvements, and they more than delivered. Chapeau!
3. Wilson Shift 99 v1
The last two rackets were fantastic updates to already established lines (and no, a name change does not count as a new line), but our number three is a brand new racket in the Wilson Shift 99 v1.
Any time a new Wilson racket comes out, there’s bound to be a lot of hype, and that was the case with the Shift, but I think that hype has since died down a little too much. The Shift is a unique racket; it’s a spin frame at heart but has an element of feel, power, and precision that makes for great variety you don’t get with most true spin rackets like the Aero 100 or Extreme MP.
Instead of using classic spin technology like “spin grommets” or a really open string bed, Wilson developed an interesting, new way of laying up the graphite in the frame. In the traditional sense, it’s stiff, and Wilson calls that classic flex its "Horizontal Bending.” What’s unique here is that on the vertical plane (Vertical Bending), the flex is very soft. This makes for a slightly weird sensation at first but as you get used to it when you’re hitting high-spin groundstrokes, you feel the ball pocket deep into the string bed and then shoot out with tons of spin — much more than you would expect.
This technology sets itself apart from other spin technologies because it doesn’t take away from solidity, stability, and precision the way many others do which means there are no downsides other than the slightly longer period of adaptation to the feel. It doesn’t have a traditional feel — far from it — but it feels objectively good, and even when you’re not hitting with spin, you still have a well-defined sweet spot that gives it good point-and-shoot control.
I also wanted to address the obvious comparison between the Shift and the Clash. These are two new silos that go against the grain of what’s traditional in tennis, so they were always going to be compared, but they’re actually not very similar. The Shift is much more of an advanced player’s racket made for those who are whipping their groundstrokes quickly through contact. The Clash is a comfort frame that can be played at a high level but is more so for players who prioritize comfort over anything else.
2. Babolat Pure Aero 98
The Pure Aero 98 is a phenomenal racket that has gained massive popularity since it came out in January. If you want to take a deep dive into what makes this frame so special, check out our full YouTube comparison with the Aero 100, but I’ll share some of the cliff notes here.
For one, the Aero 98 ticks all of our criteria: it’s outstanding in spin but has fantastic variety thanks to its smaller head size. Combining that 98 square-inch head with the aerodynamic beam gives it remarkable racket head speed and manoeuvrability that I’ve never felt on any other racket. This quickness also adds an element of “fun” that makes you want to hit a bunch of different shots, kind of like what we see Carlos Alcaraz doing week in and week out.
The Aero 98 is also a huge improvement on the Aero VS that it replaces. Kind of like it was with the Percept, the changes in spec and design aren’t drastic; it’s the improvement in feel that stands out. Babolat added NF2 Tech Flac inserts to the layup, which provide a better connection to the ball and an overall more solid response off of the string bed. They also removed the massive spin grommets at the 6 and 12 o’clock positions, which were great for increasing string movement but also made for a more unpredictable launch. Spin is marginally lower, but that is entirely justified, considering how much more solid the racket has become.
With the Shift 99 and Aero 98 as the two most successful “spin rackets” of the year, this style of frames is in excellent hands; these rackets are going in the right direction in terms of all-around playability.
1. Head Gravity Pro 2023 Auxetic
If you’ve followed our blog or our YouTube channel this year, it is probably no surprise that the Gravity Pro is our number one racket of the year. There is a strong emphasis on criteria number three here (I really like this racket), but even beyond my personal bias, it’s absolutely fantastic. It has an x-factor in terms of feel and fun that makes it such a joy to play with every time I take it out, and many customers and viewers feel the same way.
It’s also one of the best, if not the best, rackets for control. The amount of feel, precision, and soft control you have with it is unique, considering the more forgiving element of its bigger head. Compared to other classic players' frames, you don’t need the same level of constant perfection because the sweet spot is bigger, and yet it has none of that sloppier and less predictable feel you can sometimes get with a 100.
It’s a bit of a magical racket; most advanced players should demo it if they can, but has it improved coming from the 360+? Because that one was already a resounding success.
I’ll admit, the improvements aren’t as drastic as on some of the other rackets here, but the subtle changes are precisely what the racket needed. Adding Auxetic to the throat noticeably improved its feel, which is very important on a control racket. Head also lowered the target swing weight by around five points to make it more manoeuvrable and user-friendly so a wider variety of players could swing it. It’s definitely a less demanding frame, but it's still primarily one made for advanced players.
There you have it, the five best racket releases of 2023
It really has been one of the best years for tennis fans in a long time, and there are certainly some other rackets that could have made the list. And it’s looking like 2024 could be a great one as well.