For most players the grip they use while hitting a tennis ball is an afterthought. Players just grip the racquet with whatever grip feels natural to them. Not many players think about all the elements that go into a proper grip. Thought should be put into how low or high on the handle the hand should be placed, about where to place the hand around the circumference of the handle, about how to place the fingers around the grip, and last, how tight should the racquet be gripped. There is a lot to think about in just grabbing a tennis racquet! As Vic Braden says “no matter how many adjustments you might make in your swing, a proper grip will last a lifetime.” The key to that statement is proper grip. Unfortunately, like many things in tennis, the proper grip is not always the most comfortable, but over time it will begin to feel comfortable.
Almost every racquet, whether it is the cheapest or most expensive, have the same type of handle. These handles are octagonal shaped with 8 sides called bevels.
While holding the racquet perpendicular to the ground the top bevel is called bevel 1.
For right handed players, moving clockwise around the handle the next bevel is 2 and so forth.
For left handed players it is counterclockwise.
Since a circle is 360 degrees and there are 8 sides, each side is equal to 45 degrees (360 divided by 8). If the racquet is held on one bevel and then changes to the next bevel the racquet face will have moved 45 degrees. This is a huge change in the racquet for such a small movement of the hand. Hover over the below image to see the change in racquet head angle.
Factors Affecting Grip
Many things are affected by the grip. The most obvious is that the grip will control the angle of the racquet face. At the proper contact point for an eastern forehand grip the racquet will be vertical.
If the same contact point is used, but the grip is switched to a semi-western grip the racquet will be tilted down approximately 45 degrees.
If the grip is moved to a western grip without changing the contact point, the racquet will have moved close to 90 degrees.
The grip used will also affect the position and comfort of the wrist, knees and body. The more extreme of a grip used the more extreme the discomfort and positioning can become. In fact, extreme grips can cause injury to the joints with long term use. Extreme grips can also affect tactically how someone plays. Players who use a western grip (discussed below) tend to have a hard time coming towards the net. Whereas players at the other end of grip extremes (using the continental grip for forehands) will have a harder time hitting higher bouncing balls.
Usually when discussing grip positions everyone mentions how to hold the racquet in relation to the bevels, but they fail to mention the other factors that play into a proper grip.
Besides how the hand should be placed around the handle, the racquet must also be held in the correct position up and down the handle. To obtain the correct position place the butt of the racquet in the palm of the non-hitting hand
and then grip the racquet with the hitting hand. The bottom of the hitting hand (by the knuckles) should touch the palm of the non-hitting hand.
This will leave a space between the bottom of the racquet and the hand. Some coaches will even have their players put a little piece of electrical tape around the bottom of the handle as a reminder to not let the hand get too low.
Some players will play with their hand partly off the racquet.
Keeping the hand partially off the handle will give a greater power source as the racquet will be longer, but it will give far less control of the racquet since part of the hand is off the racquet. Since tennis is a game of whomever gets the ball in last wins, control is more important than power. A hand gripping the racquet too low can also make it easier to move the wrist before contacting the ball which will also lead to inconsistent hits.
The position of the fingers on the handle is also important. The racquet should be gripped finger, finger, finger, thumb, finger.
This gives a more relaxed hand and allows more of the hand to cover the racquet handle. This will allow for a little better touch then for a player who doesn’t use this grip. People who hold the racquet finger, finger, finger, finger, thumb, or a hammer type grip,
will tend to grip the racquet too tight and thus lose some touch. Go out and have someone throw a ball to you and notice when you catch it that your fingers will be spread apart, you will not catch a ball with a hammer type grip.
Grip tightness can vary based on what shot is being hit, but for most shots the grip needs to be loose enough so the muscles in the hand are not tense. Too tense of a hand will tend to make the whole arm and even the whole body tense which can lead to a less smooth and powerful forehand, If a player grips the racquet and their fingertips are turning white,
they are gripping the racquet too tight. The grip does need to be held tight enough so the racquet does not move in the hand or fly out of the hand as the ball is hit. Luckily the racquet bottom is always beveled out
so the grip can be held fairly loose without it flying out of the hand since the bottom is of a greater circumference then the rest of the handle.
Finding The Correct Forehand Grip Position
Finding the correct forehand grip is often confusing. I have chosen two ways to try and explain the correct hand location on the handle. One way will be to take the “v” formed between the thumb and index finger
and place that on the corresponding bevel. The other way will be taking the line that forms between the base knuckle on the index finger and the heal pad.
Follow whichever way is easiest for you.
Types of Grips
In tennis there are 4 main types of grips that are used while hitting the forehand, the continental grip, the eastern grip, the semi-western grip and the western grip. There are advantages and disadvantages to each grip and, while no grip is perfect, I like a grip that will allow the least amount of muscle recruitment, or, put another way, uses the least amount of muscles to obtain a vertical racquet face at impact. Most good players will use one of the grips as their primary grip, but in certain circumstances will use other grips as well.
The continental grip is an antiquated grip and rarely used by good tennis players to hit a forehand in today’s game. The last top level player to use a continental grip played in the early 1990’s and even by then it was outdated. To find the continental grip take the palm of your hand and place it on the second bevel, then close your hand
Or turn the racquet so bevel 1 is pointing up, this will make the racquet perpendicular to the ground. Take the “v” in your hand and place it on bevel 1.
This grip is sometimes referred to as the “hammer” grip as it is the grip used to pound a nail into the wall with a hammer.
The main advantage of the continental grip is that it allows a player to use one grip to hit every shot. It can be used to hit backhands, serves, volleys and overheads. It is also a good grip for hitting lower balls and is used by most players for hitting balls that get behind them or for defensive forehands.
This is primarily because the contact point for a forehand with a continental grip is lower and closer to the body then it is for the other forehand grips.
(Picture contact point from behind)
Unfortunately these last two “positives” are also negatives against a good player. All good players hit topspin on almost every shot. Topspin shots tend to bounce higher. A person needs to hit the ball further out in front of them on a higher bouncing ball. So a continental grip is not good against these players as the hitting zone is too low and too close to the body to effectively return topspin shots. It is for these reasons that I would never recommend using a continental grip for the forehand. Plus, switching grip is not that difficult to learn and doesn’t take very much time to do, it does take a little practice, but once it is learned players can quickly switch grips without even thinking about doing it.
Most players will naturally grip the racquet close to the eastern grip while hitting a forehand (it usually will be somewhere in between the eastern and continental). Unfortunately for most players this is the only stroke that the grip is close to being correct. It is one of the main reasons players usually become proficient in forehands well before other tennis strokes and why most people who only play tennis once in a blue moon can usually hit forehands. To find the eastern forehand grip place the palm of your hand on bevel 3 then close your hand.
Or, turn the racquet so bevel 2 is pointing up and place the “v” of your hand on it. The racquet face should be turned 45 degrees counter clockwise.
The eastern forehand grip allows the most versatility while hitting. Topspin, underspin or flat shots can easily be hit with this grip. Low balls and high balls are both equally easy to hit. Every type of forehand shot can be hit using an eastern forehand grip. Forehand groundstrokes, volleys, approach shots and returns can all be hit with an eastern grip. Several pro’s on today’s tour use the eastern grip for this reason. The contact point for the eastern forehand grip is further out in front and higher then it is for the continental grip
(Picture contact point from behind)
By being further out in front it allows for more power as more of the body is behind the ball. The eastern grip also uses the least amount of muscles throughout the body to impart a vertical racquet face at impact.
The only disadvantage of the eastern forehand grip is that really high balls can sometimes be harder to handle as the contact point is not high enough for really high balls. If you can learn to hit the ball on the rise this disadvantage goes away.
The semi-western grip is probably the most widely used grip by professional tennis players. It too (like the eastern grip) is a very versatile grip, but has the added advantage of having a higher contact point then the eastern grip which means higher balls are easier to hit. Since the pro game has developed into a topspin game, this grip is great for them. To find the semi-western grip place your palm on bevel 4 and close your hand.
Or, turn the racquet so bevel 3 is pointing up, this will turn the racquet parallel to the ground. Take the “v” of your hand and place it on bevel 3.
Not only is the hitting zone higher it is also further out in front then it is for either the continental or eastern grips.
(Picture contact point from behind)
The main disadvantages of the semi-western grip is it is harder to pick up low balls. It is not as good for put away shots as it is more difficult to hit the ball flat. Defensive forehand are tough as well and usually require a grip change and the grip must be switched when volleying.
The western grip is less versatile then the eastern or semi-western grip in the same way that the continental grip is, but in the opposite way. It is actually less versatile then even the continental grip as it requires an extreme grip change to get to the correct backhand grip. To get the proper western grip, place your palm on bevel 5 and close your hand
Or, turn the racquet so bevel 4 is facing up, the racquet will be turned 45 degrees counter clockwise from when it was parallel to the ground. Then place the “v” of your hand on bevel 4
The hitting zone for a western grip is higher and farther from your body then the other grips.
(Picture contact point from behind)
The main advantage of the western grip is that it allows you to easily hit high balls. This works really well for playing on clay court and is the reason most of the professional players using this grip would be considered clay court specialists.
It is also a grip that some teaching professionals will teach to young kids because they have a hard time hitting a normal tennis ball as it tends to bounce up closer to head level for them.
I personally would never teach this to a child, yes it can be a short cut to success, but as they get older the better players will exploit the weaknesses of the grip, especially on a hard court. Low compression balls are good to use with young children as they will not bounce as high as a regular ball.
If the child is developed enough to use a regular ball just work on feeding the ball low.
There are many disadvantages to a western grip. Low balls are virtually impossible to pick up. Plus, the lower the ball, the more stress you place on your wrist, forearm and even your legs. Over a period of time these stresses can cause injuries. The grip also requires an extreme grip change when hitting a backhand. This takes a longer time to switch which can be difficult when playing someone who hits with a lot of pace.
Composite grips are grips that fall in-between two of the standard grips. I personally use a grip that is halfway in-between in between the Eastern and the Semi-western grips.
I feel it gives me the best of everything. Although, I will admit on a really high ball that is moving slowly I will switch to a Western Forehand grip as I like the higher hitting zone that comes with a western grip. I also will use a continental grip if I am outstretched and barely able to reach the ball. It allows me to hit the ball from further behind so if I get there really late I still have a chance to at least get the ball back in play. The point being that there are advantages and times to use every forehand grip. For beginners, just starting out, I recommend the eastern grip. As a player advances it is O.K. to switch more towards a semi-western grip.