There are five defined basic grips – the Eastern Forehand, Eastern Backhand, Continental, Semi-Western and Western grips. Included below is an overview of important things to know about grips.
- Grips are best referenced with two checkpoints on the hand, the base of the index knuckle and the heel pad of the hand. More specifically, the heel pad is the hypothenar eminence (the prominent, fleshy lower section of the palm directly under the base of the fifth digit or little finger). The base of the index knuckle is the section of the palm directly under the interphalangeal digital proximal crease of the index finger. If you want a more arcane/occult (palm reading) reference (which now becomes needless information), the two checkpoints are the Mount of Moon and the Mount of Jupiter. The reference points on the racquet handle are the racquet bevels numbered 1 through 8 (working clockwise for right-handed players and counter clockwise for left-handed players). In referencing the grips and numbering the racquet handle bevels, the racquet should be positioned with the racquet edge up (which aligns the racquet perpendicular to the court surface). With this alignment, the number 1 bevel or top bevel is pointing up. A common mistake with grip alignment is to “club” the grip which forces the heel of the hand to ride up on the grip in relation to the base of the index knuckle. With proper alignment (regardless of the grip), the index or “trigger” finger should be up in relation to the thumb.
- It is important to maintain soft hands (particularly in the ready and set positions). This relieves tension in the arm, allows for an easy transition from one grip alignment to another and promotes stroke fluidity and elasticity through the stretch-shortening cycle. Support the racquet with the third and fourth fingers and thumb (relaxing the top two fingers) for the groundstrokes and volleys. Loosen your hold with your third and fourth fingers (creating a gap between the racquet handle and palm of your hand) as you drop your racquet to the power position for the serve.
- The traditional starting grip for the forehand groundstroke is an Eastern Forehand grip. This grip aligns the two hand checkpoints (the base of the index knuckle and heel of the hand) on the number 3 bevel. The grip aligns the palm with the racquet face which facilitates hand-eye coordination and awareness of the position of the racquet face at the point of contact. It is a versatile grip allowing for contact below and above the strike zone. It affords players the ability to hit with varying degrees of topspin. Although not the recommended grip for hitting with other types of spin, the grip does allow players to hit with varying degrees of underspin and sidespin. The grip also promotes extension of the racquet face through the hitting zone.
- The Continental grip (which places the two hand checkpoints on bevel number 2) is the preferred and ideal grip when hitting groundstrokes (off both sides) with underspin and sidespin, when hitting forehand and backhand volleys and when hitting overheads and serves (which will be explained in more detail later). The grip opens the racquet face to the ball for the groundstrokes and volleys facilitating execution of the high-to-low, outside-in stroke pattern necessary for impartation of underspin and sidespin. The Continental grip is also the preferred grip for the two-handed backhand placement of the dominant hand (also to be explained later).
- A Semi-Western grip places the two hand checkpoints on the number 4 bevel for the forehand groundstroke or the number 6 bevel for placement of the left hand for a two-handed backhand groundstroke (right-hand dominant players). This is now the preferred grip for most professional players for the forehand groundstroke and the non-dominant hand for the two-handed backhand when hitting with topspin. As the Continental grip opens the racquet face in relation to the ball, the Semi-Western grip closes the racquet face to the ball. The grip generally promotes a higher strike zone contact in relation to your body in comparison to the Eastern and Continental grips. A more extreme extension of this grip is the Western grip which places the two hand checkpoints on the number 5 bevel. The Western grip promotes more topspin and raises the strike zone in comparison to the Semi-Western, Eastern Forehand and Eastern Backhand grips. Disadvantages are difficulty in hitting low balls and quick adjustment to the Continental and Eastern backhand grips.
- The preferred hand placement for the two-handed backhand is to set the non-dominant hand in a Semi-Western grip position and the dominant hand in a Continental grip position. This grip combination is ideal for hitting with a low to high, topspin swing pattern but is not ideal (not a good choice for hitting with underspin or sidespin. To hit with underspin and/or sidespin, it is best to drop the second hand and to hit a one-handed backhand using a Continental grip.
- The Eastern Backhand grip places the two hand checkpoints (the base of the index knuckle and the heel of the hand) on the top or number 1 bevel. This is the ideal grip for the one-handed backhand when hitting relatively flat shots or shots with topspin.
- The Continental grip is the grip of choice for hitting serves. The Continental grip promotes shoulder rotation and acceleration of the racquet head. The grip also promotes hitting both slice and topspin. The grip with minor adjustment to the swing pattern is also effective in hitting serves flat (with relatively little to no spin). Because of the grip versatility, the Continental grip is used almost exclusively by high-performance professionals. The trick in learning how to hit a serve with the Continental grip for players new to tennis is to master the shoulder rotation, extension of the elbow and pronation of the forearm to properly align the racquet face as the racquet head travels up and out to the point of contact.
- The non-dominant hand (left hand for right-handed players) plays a key role in adjusting the grip for the backhand groundstroke and backhand volley (whether hitting with one or two hands). Ideally the non-dominant hand should be positioned near the throat of the racquet in the ready position and in the unit turn takeback for one-handed backhands and at the top of the racquet handle for two-handed backhands. This support of the non-dominant hand allows for ease in adjusting and finetuning the grip for the dominant hand.
- In an emergency and adaptive response to a difficult shot or when hitting from an awkward position (above, below, behind, or ahead of your ideal strike zone), there needs to be manipulation of your hand position (and hand checkpoints) in relation to the racquet bevels outside of normal grip parameters. An example would be placing your hand checkpoints on the number 8 bevel to stretch and reach out and back to get a ball back in play with your forehand. More subtle adjustments are also necessary at times (even when not hitting from a less than ideal position). A forehand example is sliding the hand slightly under the racquet handle to hit with more topspin. Maintain soft hands (as mentioned earlier) to allow for dexterity in manipulating the angle of the racquet face at the point of contact as necessary to get a ball back in play or to hit a specific target.
In conclusion, high performance players often make subtle adjustments of these grips in finding the right fit for their game. A common adjustment is to hit the forehand groundstroke with a mild Semi-Western grip which places the hand between the Eastern Forehand and Semi-Western grips. Just as you see some players rotate their hand position underneath to a Western grip to hit forehand groundstrokes with more topspin, you will see players come over the racquet handle to place the hand checkpoints on the number 8 bevel to hit the one-handed backhand with more topspin. Another possible variation not mentioned above is the option of raising (choking up) and lowering your position on the racquet handle. Examples include choking up on the racquet handle to stabilize the racquet for the volley and lowering your hand position off the bottom of the racquet handle to gain more leverage for the serve. Although there are better ways to hit the ball off each side and standard parameters for grip variation, there is no absolute grip or set of grips that works best for all players. The important thing is to find a set of grips and versatility (as required) that allows you to control the racquet face at the point of contact for each stroke and promotes efficient transfer of power, precision, racquet head acceleration, etc.