Some time back, I dedicated my column to grips (see my article "True Grip...No, not the Movie"). The amount of e-mail that I received about this topic was to say the least impressive. However, some writers expressed their desire to actually see the grips, contact points, stances and stroke finishes described in the aforementioned article. Well, here they are!
First, I must thank Brent Starzyk, a local teaching pro, who is finishing his last year at Providence College. I had the great pleasure of training and coaching Brent as a junior player. Kindly, Brent agreed to pose for the accompanying illustrations. Brent is a right-handed player, but for you lefties, I have flipped all of the photos to show things from your perspective. So, as you look at the accompanying photos, choose either the right or left handed versions. You can also click on any of the photos below to view an enlarged version.
The Continental Forehand Grip
At one time, this was the only grip a player needed...for forehands, backhands, volleys and serves. However, this was true during the era of wood racquets and grass surfaces. The continental forehand was last used by Stefan Edberg and before him, by John McEnroe. The modern game provides more pace and higher bouncing balls than the traditional game. It is a credit to both of these players that they could achieve so much with this particular forehand grip...however, the forehand was each player's major weakness. I do not recommend the continental forehand unless you are playing exclusively on grass. The continental (sometimes referred to as the central grip) is great, however, for serves and for volleys. Note that the palm of the hand is somewhat on top of the racquet handle.
The Eastern Forehand Grip
This is frequently referred to as the "shake hands with the racquet" grip. It puts more of the palm to the side of the racquet. This provides more natural support on the forehand stroke and takes pressure off of wrist strength. This is the forehand grip that Pete Sampras uses...and we all know what he can do with his forehand. You can impart both slice and topspin with this grip...or you can hit it flatly. Topspin may at times fly deep and out, but essentially this is a solid grip for many players on the forehand side.
The SemiWestern Forehand Grip
This is another solid forehand grip. It places a bit of the palm under the racquet's handle. This makes the pressure on wrist strength minimal. It is a great grip for hitting flatly or with topspin. Slice is not recommended with this grip. It is the most common forehand grip in the modern game...it is the one that I prefer. When I teach players who are new to the game, I always teach the semiwestern grip. Agassi is one who prefers the semiwestern forehand.
The Western Forehand Grip
This is a fairly severe grip that is preferred by many a clay court specialist. It is also common among modern players. It is great for imparting topspin and one can hit flatly with some difficulty. Slice is definitely not recommended with this grip. Bruguera uses the western forehand.
The Hammer Grip
Not many pros teach this grip. It is really a tight-fisted continental. It is called the hammer grip because you hold the racquet the same way one would hold a hammer if hitting a nail. It is a great grip for serves, volleys and overheads. Beyond these applications, I do not recommend the hammer grip. The legendary Poncho Gonzales used this grip on serves and on volleys. If you have trouble volleying, try this grip.
The Continental Backhand Grip
Really, this is the same grip as the continental forehand...except it is rotated a tiny bit left for the right-handed player and a tiny bit right for the lefty. It is a great grip for hitting slice, but flat and topspin shots are less successfully struck with this grip.
The Eastern Backhand Grip
Onehanders very commonly choose to use this grip for all backhand strokes. This grip puts the thumb a bit behind the racquet handle when hitting backhands. You can hit flatly, or impart spin (slice or topspin) using this grip. For onehanders, this is a bread and butter grip.
The Full Eastern or Western Backhand Grip (two different names for the same grip)
Onehanded clay court specialists love this grip (e.g. Muster). This grip puts more of the hand behind the racquet at contact. It is a great grip for imparting topspin, but you can still hit flatly. Slice is not very successful with this grip.
When one closely examines the twohander in the modern game, there are numerous grips used for both hands. Usually, it is best to have the non-dominant hand grip the racquet in what turns out to be an opposite hand eastern forehand grip or continental forehand grip. Combined with this, the dominant hand may grip the racquet is several distinct ways:
- The dominant hand in a full eastern backhand/western backhand position.
- The dominant hand in a continental forehand position.
- The dominant hand in an eastern forehand position.
I use a twohand backhand for most of my shots and hold the racquet as seen in # 2 of the above. However, many of the top players prefer to use #1. A few, not many, players use the third combination.
Every grip has its own unique and ideal contact point. It is imperative that a player know the ideal contact point for each grip she/he uses. These are the "strike zones"...where you can really hit out with pace and authority. When a ball is at a point that is not within a particular grip's ideal striking area, a player should play it safe and hit the ball for control, not for pace!!! Since you a very likely to be changing grips during a match myriad times, you need to be aware of the contact point for each grip you use.
Here, the strike zone is low and actually behind the front leg of the player. Players using this grip/stroke combination need to be in a closed stance. This contact point makes the continental forehand perfect for grass surfaces, but very poor for clay and higher bouncing surfaces.
The contact point for this particular grip/stroke combination is a bit higher and parallel with the front leg. The eastern forehand is good for virtually all surfaces, but a bit less effective on clay and higher bouncing surfaces. Note, that Brent is still in a closed stance...a 3/4 stance is acceptable for this grip/stroke combination.
With the semiwestern forehand, one hits the ball higher and slightly in front of the body. Normally, an open or 3/4 stance is preferred with this grip/stroke combination, but a closed stance is acceptable. The semiwestern forehand is an all surface forehand but is a bit less effective on grass and low bouncing surfaces.
The Western Forehand.
This particular grip/stroke combination's ideal contact point is high and definitely in front of the body. One needs a 3/4 or open stance to hit the western forehand. This is a great forehand grip for clay and high bouncing surfaces. However, low bouncing balls present problems. That's why this grip is terrible on grass.
The Continental Slice Backhand
The continental grip is great for hitting the slice shot. The contact point for this grip/stroke combination is best when the ball is low and slightly in front of the body. Note that Brent hits this shot with a closed stance...so should you!
The Eastern Onehand Backhand
This is the bread and butter grip/stroke combination for most players using the onehand backhand. It provides a lot of flexibility. The contact point is somewhere between the knee and the waist. One can effectively strike the ball a bit behind the front leg to slightly in front of the front leg. Thus, it has a broad contact area. Closed stances are preferred, but one can hit the eastern onehand backhand effectively from a 3/4 stance.
The Full Eastern/Western Onehand Backhand
This is basically a topspin oriented grip/stroke combination. You are best able to hit this shot from a 3/4 stance...although closed or open are possibilities. The contact point is definitely higher and in front of your body. This is Thomas Muster's favorite backhand.
Below you will see the contact point for three twohand backhand grip/stroke combination. The only difference among them is how the dominant hand holds the racquet. Brent is using his non-dominant hand in what is actually an eastern forehand position. Some players use different positions for the non-dominant hand. So, there are two many combinations between dominant and non-dominant hands to list here.
- Twohand Backhand with dominant hand in Eastern Forehand Position
Here, the contact point is between the knee and waist...and a bit behind the front leg. This is best struck from a closed stance.
- Twohand Backhand with dominant hand in Continental forehand Position
In this combination, the contact point moves a bit closer to the front leg and a bit higher. The closed or 3/4 stance works well with this grip/stroke combination.
- Twohand Backhand with dominant hand in either Eastern or Full Eastern/Western Backhand Position
This grip/stroke combination has a relatively high contact point that is definitely in front of the body. Here, the 3/4 or open stances work very well.
Although I have already referred to stances in the above descriptions, let me make certain that we are clear on what I mean. To illustrate stances, I have Brent hitting forehands. However, the principles apply to backhands, as well. In essence, you are standing sideways, 3/4 sideways or straight forward in closed, 3/4 and open stances...regardless of whether you're hitting forehands or backhands.
In this stance, your body is sideways to the net. We are viewing Brent from the net's point of view.
In this stance, Brent is standing with his body almost facing the net. I have changed the camera position to better show the position of the rear leg.
Now, Brent is facing the net directly. There is no sideways position to his body.
How one ends or finishes a stroke is of key importance. Proper finishes vary from grip/stroke combination to grip/stroke combination. Here, are some images to help you finish properly.