By Mitch Case
I generally struggle with most tweener frames. My preferred specs favor racquets with thinner beams, more mass, friendlier flex and greater degree of control. I appreciate the large sweetspot and easy power these types of possess, but most of them just don’t jibe with my style of play. Which plants a racquet like the Head Graphene Touch Instinct MP firmly outside my wheelhouse. Or so I thought.
When hitting/rallying with half to three-quarter speed cuts, I had an absolute blast with the frame. I was truly surprised that I could hit as well as I did considering the power level of the Instinct lineage (and the fact that it was strung with full multifilament). Contact felt firm, but not uncomfortable, and the stability of the frame allowed me to block and defend successfully. Returning against faster serves, my preferred style of shot is a simple flat redirect, and the Instinct was a great for this style.
(I also spent some time demoing the frame with a poly/multi hybrid: Head Sonic Pro Edge in the mains, with FXP in the crosses. While this string set-up absolutely helped increase the control and spin potential, it left me feeling more disconnected from the ball, which actually diminished my overall experience. It seems that the frame is very string sensitive. My advice is to experiment and stay on the lower end of your preferred tension range.)
On the forehand side, I tended to enjoy driving the ball flat the most, followed by driving with a more moderate level of topspin. On the backhand, I preferred to roll the ball with topspin, block with no spin, and slice (surprisingly). I never got dialed in with my flat backhand drive, which I suspect is due to the distribution of mass.
However, I did suffer some control issues when I competed with the frame. I started to miss long with my usual swing—not back curtain long, thankfully, but enough to carry the baseline. Disappointing, but typically what happens when I play points with tweener frames. I ended up adjusting my swing to impart more topspin. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I would like a little more control to use my typical swing with a higher powered frame.
As such, it’s not great at subtracting pace from a ball; though, a task it performs as well as any in its category. While I could absolutely hit decent droppers with the frame, it’s still better suited for redirecting or adding energy to the ball. I could create decent angles on tight rollers, but was still more effective hitting deep lobs.
Controlling the length on flat serves also proved a little tricky. The head of the racquet didn’t move through the ball as I would have liked, and I often missed long. I did have some success after adjusting my toss, but I suspect I would see a better result with a different string set-up. Despite my issues with the depth on flat serves, I had much better results on spinners. The spin potential was good (on par with what I expected), and the hard slice was my serve of choice. The heightened command it provided allowed me to take advantage of the fine directional control.
The Instinct also performed well at net. It excelled on more aggressive shots, but I still felt confident with the frame in neutral and defensive situations. I could knife volleys without them flying long, and pick up half volleys without them sitting up. While I executed the occasional drop volley, it’s not something I would try very often with the racquet.
Generally, when it comes time to sum up my thoughts on a tweener, I often dwell on the negatives. But in the case of the Graphene Touch Instinct MP, I’m hard pressed to find a glaring weakness. Yes, I had some quibbles with a lack of precision on the serve and string sensitivity—both of which I think could be remedied with some added time and fine-tuning. If I had to come up with something more concrete, it would be the specialty shots, as it’s not great for subtracting power from the ball. However, that’s the nature of these kinds of racquets.
Considering its intended audience, it offers a good balance of power and control, feels solid without being harsh/hollow and looks great. Previously, I had equated the power level of the Instinct line with that of the Babolat Pure Drive. Though still a little higher than I prefer, I found the power level to be a little closer to my ideal range, and a better fit for players with more aggressive swings than other tweeners. As such, I feel like I could adjust the string set-up in a way that I could actually compete with the frame, which honestly shocks me.
My Instincts were wrong about this frame: It’s much better than I expected. It’s now on my radar for players wanting a little more power out of their racquets, but don’t want to lose all sense of control. Baseliners (both aggressive and defensive), have the best playing style for this type of racquet, but I could allow see aggressive doubles players finding potential in this stick.
Mitch Case tests racquets, shoes and strings for Tennis Magazine and tennis.com. He is also the tennis director at Woodridge Lake in Goshen, CT, a PTR professional, and a USRSA-certified master technician.
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