This site features a series of articles on tennis. Each article includes 10 different observations, pointers and/or suggestions. Most article themes are instructional based. Some themes are not. Some of the content is funny. Some of the content is not funny (or at least not deliberately funny).
The Importance of “Soft Hands” and a Relaxed Grip (and How “Soft Hands” and a Relaxed Grip Translate to a More Fluid and Effortless Style of Play)
A player with skilled or “soft” hands has wrist mobility and can use wrist flexion and extension as well as ulnar and radial deviation of the wrist to generate racquet head speed, extra bite with the use of spin and sharper and more severe angles. It is ulnar and radial deviation of the wrist that helps create lag and an explosive whipping action as the body uncoils in hitting groundstrokes. It is this same wrist deviation that creates the windshield wiper motion and the ability to generate more topspin with the groundstrokes. Wrist mobility and flexibility provide the ability to maneuver the racquet face to create the sharp angles that players like Djokovic and Medvedev seem to make on a routine basis. It is wrist extension combined with forearm pronation and supination that help add that extra bite to the Federer slice forehand and backhand groundstrokes. It is a loose and relaxed wrist flexion at the beginning of the motion that initiates the whipping/cartwheel action and “snap” at contact for the Alexander Zverev serve.
A player with the ability to maneuver hand and racquet position and path is better able to disguise intent and all stroke variables (such as direction, spin, trajectory, and depth).
A player with flexibility and “soft hands” can better take advantage of the elastic energy generated through the stretch-shortening cycle. The stretch-shortening cycle is an active stretch of eccentric contraction of a muscle or muscle group followed by an immediate shortening or concentric contraction of the same muscle or muscle group. In this process of rapid stretch and eccentric contraction, the muscles and accompanying tendons experience an increase in their elastic energy. This stored elastic energy is released when the eccentric contraction is followed by an immediate concentric contraction leading to an increase in force production. The process almost by definition requires a relaxed grip and a fluid and effortless stroke pattern.
A player with “soft hands” can absorb pace (particularly important when handling pace with the volley). “Soft hands” create the ability to cushion the ball to create angles, drop the ball short and hit lob volleys when at the net. It provides the ability to deaden the drop shot so the ball drops short and sits or spins away from your opponent. “Soft hands” creates the ability to take pace of the ball with spin for the groundstrokes to disrupt rhythm and to better manage the tempo of the rally to your advantage.
A player with “soft hands” is more adaptive (can adjust to get a racquet on the ball in response to balls hit outside the strike zone) and as a result, tends to be better in retrieval skills when on the defensive.
A relaxed grip and “soft hands” leads to less fatigue. Relaxation promotes fluidity, flexibility, and elasticity through the entire kinetic chain and a more effortless stroke pattern. Maintaining a relaxed grip and “soft hands” when not hitting the ball (in support of the racquet in the ready position and when moving to the ball) also minimizes fatigue particularly over the course of a long match.
A player lacking “soft hands” and a relaxed grip tends to be more tense and rigid and is less able to generate that “pop” you see at contact with players who have a more fluid playing style. A player who is more rigid can generate arm speed but is less able to incorporate all body segments in a synchronized chain to transfer acceleration into the hand and racquet. A relaxed start to a stroke is particularly important for the serve to establish a lively arm which begins with wrist flexion at the start of the motion and to generate “pop” or racquet head speed at the point of contact. For relaxation, Pancho Gonzales (a prominent player in 50’s and 60’s) shook out his hand prior to gripping the racquet before hitting each serve.
Tension and a rigid grip can lead to muscle imbalances and injury by disrupting muscle group interactions (such as the relationship between agonist, antagonist, and synergist muscle groups) and fascial (connective tissue) lines responsible for body movement and force transmission. Players should seek to establish elasticity in the fascial system and fluid, effortless movement. Rigidity at the opposite end of the spectrum is like jumping rope while only landing on your heels (which invites stress and injury).
Soft hands” and a relaxed grip and stance enhance the ability to manipulate height, trajectory depth, bounce height and projection and direction of the ball after the bounce and provide players with variety and more shot options.
Perhaps this is more subjective but hitting and moving with fluidity and elasticity (by starting with a relaxed and grip and posture) is more aesthetically appealing and more fun. If not more aesthetically appealing, a more fluid style employing more elasticity is more functional and efficient by relying less on muscle power. This equates to being able to be able to play at a higher level of performance and sustain this high level of performance for a longer duration (which definitely is more fun).