In this post we will be looking closer at Li-Ning's latest series, the AxForce 80, the ultra futuristic-looking Aeronaut 9000C and the current racket of choice for international singles players, Jonatan Christie and Srikanth Kidambi, the Tectonic 9!
This is my first time reviewing Li-Ning rackets and what pops out to me is that they have a completely different design philosophy to other big brands such as Yonex and Victor. I think Li-Ning has done really well in terms of attention to detail. All three rackets carry grommets that have the Li-Ning logo imprinted, even on the square cubic locking grommets on the Tectonic 9 and Aeronaut 9000C, and I think this looks really cool. All the grommets look of very high quality. The rackets have a lot of very futuristic flashes and angled straight lines. Lots of holographic foil as well, and incredibly, my personal favourite, matte paint all over the racket.
Oh, such beauties. Matte rackets just look so so classy!
The naming convention of Li-Ning rackets is very different to the Yonex ones. Li-Ning rackets have alphabets behind their model numbers, such as the Aeronaut 9000C that I have here. They also have other alphabets too, for example, the 9000D, 9000I and a plain 9000.
According to Li-Ning, the 'D' models are the speed variant of that racket model; the 'C' models are the power variant; the 'B' models are the balanced variant; and finally, the 'I' models are the light variant which typically comes in a 5U weight class.
The AxForce 80 is the latest flagship series by Li-Ning and was used by Chen Long at the Tokyo Olympics. It has an incredibly clean-looking, minimalist design with little dots around the racket frame which are tactile and slightly raised so you can feel them when you run your fingers around the frame. The pink really pops from the thin frame. I especially like how the copper holographic foil looks on top of the black matte main colour of the racket.
The Axforce 80 has a box type frame but there is something unique with its top half recessed frame profile which I will discuss further later on. The AxForce 80 racket that I tested was a 4U version. Although all official Li-Ning publications say it has a 6.6mm shaft and the same measurement is printed on the racket too, I measured it with my usual digital caliper and came back with 6.8mm.
Moving on to the Tectonic 9, again in 4U. The Tectonic 9 is almost a complete opposite to the Axforce 80 in terms of colour, with lots of white sections complemented with very cool looking faded yellow, blue-green holographic foil which forms the signature 'Tectonic 9' wording and logo. The Tectonic 9 doesn't have the tactile dots and has ordinary decals but it does have one special feature on its frame.
The overall thickness of the frame is reduced from 11.1mm to 9.7mm at around the 4/5 o'clock section and the 7/8 o'clock section, coinciding with where the 'Tectonic 9' wording is located. I think this is designed to aid frame flexing for better power transfer and angle production. Another unique visual property of the Tectonic 9 is the location of the square grommets around the 12 o'clock region. The recessed frame profile narrows around that area, providing a better fit for the square grommets. I’m not sure where I will be able to find these square grommets if I ever need any replacements but they certainly look high quality and well made. Again, the racket had a 6.6mm shaft measurement printed but when I measured it, I got 6.9mm.
Finally, let's take a look at the super advanced-looking spaceship, the Aeronaut 9000C. You can’t miss this racket and to be honest, it does look sick. We know that Yuta Watanabe and Ong Yew Sin play with this racket. I have seen tons of photos and videos of this racket before but the 3U model that I have here looks way better! The bright orange-red colour scheme is extremely eye-catching and modern. It also features the tactile feeling printing on the shaft, with all the letters and numbers having a tactile feel.
The most unique thing I found on the Aeronaut 9000C is the four holes or gaps on the frame at around the 4 to 8 o'clock location. It is actually quite cool to be able to see through the frame and see the grommets on the inside through the frame. I’ve never seen a racket design with holes in the frame, which I suppose are meant to reduce drag and speed up the racket as much as possible.
All Aeronaut rackets from Li Ning have these four holes on the frame. Other visible features are the square cubic locking grommets, which are used on all sections of the recessed profile at the top half of the racket frame. So instead of appearing only at the 12 o'clock position as in the Tectonic 9, the Aeronaut 9000C has these grommets from the 9 to 3 o'clock section.
One thing that I do have to say is that the original grips on the rackets, after taking off the plastic seals, were quite poor and slippery. With the production quality of the racket itself and the price of these rackets, you wouldn't expect them to have lousy grips.
In terms of stringing, all three Li-Ning rackets were really easy and solid to string with and I strung them with Yonex’s BG-66 Ultimax at 27x29lbs. I had no issues at all with any grommets and frame during the stringing process.
In terms of play, I found the AxForce 80 to be extremely lively and very responsive. In fact, a touch too responsive. It reminded me a lot of the Yonex Astrox 88S Pro but with a bit more whip and slightly more boxy feel to it, whereas the Astrox 88S Pro has more of a smooth hitting feel. Perhaps the AxForce 80 can be more accurately represented as a cross between the Yonex Astrox 88S Pro and the Astrox 77. I would categorize it as a medium to medium-high flex racket. You'll have easy hitting with this racket, easy access to power and it's quick at the same time.
However, I did have issues timing my shots with the Axforce 80. I tested this racket over multiple 2 to 3-hour sessions and arrive at the same conclusion. In the first session, I thought I was having a bad day and just needed more time to adjust to the responsiveness and flex of the racket. After a few more sessions, I realized I was still having the same issue with timing. So, if you are someone who doesn't like whippy or medium-flex rackets, this racket might not be for you.
On the other hand, the Tectonic 9 is clearly a head-heavy singles-based racket. It immediately screams Yonex Astrox 99 Pro to me. It is 100% a direct competitor too with a lot of very similar qualities. Shots feel very solid with a lot of hold which makes you feel like you have a lot of potential power with this racket. Lifts were exceptionally nice and responsive due to the racket face stability and stiffer shaft. If you are someone who likes to play power-based counter-attacking badminton, you’ll absolutely love this racket. This probably explains why Jonathan Christie plays with this, this is made exactly for players like him!
Don't get me wrong, it's certainly slower in terms of flat fast exchanges and you’ll struggle if you’re late to the shuttle as you'll feel a lot of weight around the head of the racket. However, in saying that, backhand clears were really nice and easy to time! Perhaps that little section where the frame is thinner helps with the timing requirements. This is certainly an excellent racket for singles.
Last but not least, the Aeronaut 9000C is an extremely consistent racket. Consistently solid, all the way from the shaft to the frame. It reminds me a lot of the Yonex Astrox 100ZZ but is more pliable. It is just a step down in terms of overall stiffness compared to the Astrox 100ZZ, making it extremely comfortable to play with. A stiffer version of the old but gold Yonex Arcsaber 10 also came to my mind when I was playing with it. I played with the 3U (my usual weight class is 4U), but it didn't feel significantly head-heavy. Instead, its weight is very evenly spread throughout the entire racket.
However, I do have to note that the four gaps on the frame didn't really make the racket feel exceptionally fast, it just felt normal. I also wouldn't say this is an exceptionally speedy racket too, it's just very steady and consistent.
Out of the three Li-Ning rackets I tested for this review, I would say the AxForce 80 is the fastest racket, followed by the Aeronaut 9000C and the Tectonic 9 just slightly behind.
Power-wise, all three rackets are not far apart from each other. The Tectonic 9 is certainly the most powerful out of the three, but I think if you’re able to master the timing of the AxForce 80, it would also be right up there in terms of power generation. But for me, as I struggled with the AxForce 80, it comes last on my list, with the Aeronaut 9000C being second in terms of power.
I also feel that these Li-Ning rackets have a slightly boxy and a touch more draggy swing feel compared to the current top-end Yonex Astrox and Nanoflare series. This is all down to the frame profiles, with the Yonex rackets having a fully recessed frame profile, whereas the Li-Ning rackets have a top-half recessed frame profile only.
Speaking of top-half recessed frame profiles, I find that all three Li-Ning rackets have different lengths of recession on the frames. The Aeronaut 9000C is the only one that’s truly top half recessed as it starts around the 3 o'clock section and ends around the 9 o'clock section. Next in line is the Tectonic 9 with its recessed profile starting 1 grommet below the Aeronaut 9000C, followed by the AxForce 80 going another grommet down. This explains why I felt the AxForce 80 was the fastest and smoothest out of the three rackets. I would certainly like to see how they feel if they all had fully recessed frame profiles!