Whether you play tennis as a hobby or professionally gripping the racquet correctly is a must. Knowing how to grip a tennis racquet correctly ensures that your shots go in the direction you intended. The tennis ball will go in the direction in which the strings are facing. Pure and simple. Having the proper grip to execute a forehand, a backhand, or any other stroke is vital to the alignment of the racquet face (the strings) at contact. The proper grip helps you put the racquet face in the ideal position to produce the type of spin (topspin, backspin, slice, or sidespin) you desire.
Let’s look at the various grips and how to attain them:
Mastering the continental grip is a must for all tennis players—especially if you aspire to play at the higher levels. It was popularized by Europeans who played mostly on grass courts on which the ball traditionally bounces low. With the continental grip, handling low bouncing shots are a breeze as the racquet face is easily tilted to a slightly open position allowing the proper leverage to make a strong shot. This the first grip I teach to all my beginner students because it is the most versatile grip in tennis. Why?
- The continental grip is used to execute the volleys, the serve, the backhand, the overhead, the drop shot, the chip shot, and the lob.
- And in rare situations you can perform a forehand drive if needed.
To locate the continental grip on your racquet, hold the racquet in front of you with your non-dominant hand with the strings facing horizontally. You should see the edge of the frame in front of you. With your dominant hand, grab the racquet handle as if you’re holding a hammer. This will place your index finger knuckle on bevel 2, as shown in the photo. Relax and spread your fingers out along the handle. Your index finger will be positioned as if to squeeze the trigger on a handgun.
Eastern Forehand Grip
The traditional grip is exactly as the name implies—to execute forehands only. This popular grip was taught to a vast number of beginning students on the eastern coast of the U.S. up until the advent of the western forehand grips. It is comfortable for virtually any student and is frequently referred to as shaking hands with the racquet. Use this versatile grip for the following reasons:
- You can comfortably hit topspin, sidespin, or backspin forehands.
- Equally effective in handling medium and low bouncing shots.
- Easily orients the racquet face squarely to the ball.
To locate the eastern forehand grip on your racquet, hold the racquet in front of you with your non-dominant hand with the strings facing horizontally. With your dominant hand, simply grab the racquet as if you’re shaking a friend’s hand. The index knuckle should be toward the flat side of the handle, closer to the left edge of level 3, and the index finger is positioned as if to squeeze the trigger on a handgun.
Semi-Western Forehand Grip
Currently, the most popular grip with WTA and ATP players as it allows players to easily hit with heavy amounts of topspin using the modern windshield wiper motion. This grip arrived alongside technological advances in tennis strings, racquets, and balls. The semi-western grip accommodates medium and high bouncing shots well. The racquet face may be slightly closed at contact with the ball, encouraging an upward swing path across the back of the ball, which promotes more topspin than is capable with the eastern forehand grip.
Commonly referred to as the Frying Pan grip, the semi-western allows you to hit swing aggressively, producing the favorable combination of abundant power and generous topspin. The downsides of this grip are:
- Low shots are a bit more problematic to handle.
- Many players find it challenging to switch over the continental grip after hitting a forehand approach shot with a semi-western grip.
To find the Semi-Western forehand grip on your racquet, place your racquet flat on any surface and merely pick it up. The index knuckle should be on the flat side of the handle, on the right edge of bevel 3—like you would pick up a frying pan of a stove. And the index finger is positioned as if to squeeze the trigger on a handgun.
Like the semi-western, this grip is also popular on the WTA and ATP tours. The Western grip is first believed to have appeared in the early 1900s in California where the ball bounced high off the concrete courts. It gained popularity with elite players in the 1990s due to the increase in play on clay courts where the bounce of the ball is often shoulder high and above. In my opinion, this grip makes it easier for very young players to accomplish topspin while hitting over a regulation sized net. Players of all ages and coaches around the world favor this grip because:
- You can create massive amounts of topspin
- Your shots fly high over the net while still coming down in time inside the court
- You can be extremely aggressive with your forehand swing
The downsides to this grip are akin to the semi-western grip but perhaps more problematical:
- Changing to the continental grip after hitting an approach shot with a full western grip takes more time and will require more practice to master.
- The low, back spinning shot is an even bigger nightmare because of the angle of the face at contact with the ball.
- According to a 2009 Reuters Health article, “Non-professional tennis players should understand that “extreme grips, such as the Western, may cause ulnar-side wrist injuries,” [Dr. Albert Stefano] Tagliafico said.
To find this grip, start by holding the racquet pointing away from yourself with the left hand, orienting the strings perpendicular to the court. Place your index knuckle on bevel 4 of the racquet handle. And the index finger is again positioned as if to squeeze the trigger on a handgun.
Eastern One-handed Backhand Grip
A picture of athletic grace, elegant efficiency, and effortless power. That’s the one-handed backhand (picture Roger Federer). Used by very few men and even fewer women on the professional tour, the single-handed backhand remains the stroke in tennis that players and spectators watch in marvel and awe. To hit it well requires good timing, coordination, and the right grip. As mentioned previously, the continental grip is used to hit virtually every stroke in tennis, but the eastern one-handed backhand grip will render the following advantages to your one-fister:
- Puts the racquet face in a solid position to generate more topspin easily
- It is versatile, can be used to execute the slice and flat backhands
- Easy to locate on the racquet handle
- There are no apparent negatives to using this grip
To find this grip, start by holding the racquet pointing away from yourself with the left hand, orienting the strings horizontally to the court. Place your index knuckle on the right edge of bevel 1 on the racquet handle. Spread out your fingers comfortably, and the index finger is positioned as if to squeeze the trigger on a handgun.
Western One-handed Backhand Grip
This grip is popular with players who want to hit heavy topspin on nearly every backhand. Much like its cousin, the western forehand grip, the western one-handed grip is not well suited for executing slice or flat shots because of the positioning of the hand on the racquet handle. High bouncing shots are more easily handled using this grip, but handling low shots can be a nightmare. I advise only experienced and physically strong players to attempt using this extreme grip.
To find this grip, start by holding the racquet pointing away from yourself with the left hand, orienting the strings horizontally to the court. Place your index knuckle on the left edge of bevel 1 on the racquet handle. Spread out your fingers comfortably, and the index finger is positioned as if to squeeze the trigger on a handgun.
Two-handed Backhand Grip
Gripping the racquet with two hands surfaced in the 1930s, but gained prominence during the 1970’s tennis boom thanks to the success of superstars such as Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, and Jimmy Connors. Its popularity spawned a huge crop of early developers too scrawny to hold the adult sized racquet with one hand. The advantages were immediately evident:
- More stability and power
- Easier to produce topspin
- Better on the return of serve, particularly against a hard server
The disadvantages are seen in the loss of reach on wide and low shots, the volley, and shots aimed into the body. Two-handed players are often seen stretching for shots with one hand on the racquet.
The most common way of gripping the racquet using two hands is to place the non-dominant hand in the top position on the handle, and the dominant hand remains near the bottom. Though there can be much debate over which grips to use, the most common combination is an eastern forehand grip for the non-dominant hand and a continental for the dominant hand. Not only will this put your racquet face in a stable position at contact with the ball, but the dominant hand can easily execute a one-handed slice if needed. I recommend experimenting with various combinations to learn which is better for you.
Finding the right tennis grip is important to gain optimal feel, obtain maximum power, and experience ultimate control. Take stock of your game, your strengths, your weaknesses, and how you want to win points (serve and volley, being aggressive from the baseline, counter punching, or all-court play). This will help you determine which grip(s) will help you play your best tennis.
Once you settle on the right grips for you, practice, practice, practice until you can locate and change grips naturally and smoothly in between shots. Get into the habit of leaving your non-dominant hand on the throat of the racquet to help facilitate your grip changes—especially if you choose to play the one-handed backhand. Using the non-dominant hand helps take the tension out of the dominant hand, allowing it to move freely around the handle as you prepare for your next shot.