An Expert Guide on How to Grip a Tennis Racquet
Follow along as Tennis expert Cody V. explains the five key tennis grips, how to do them, and what stroke is best for each grip.
The first key to success in tennis is learning how to grip the racket for each stroke. There are many ways to hold your racket for each shot you’re trying to make, so it’s important to understand what shots may be accomplished with each grip.
The grip is crucial in naturally changing the angle of the racket face as you hit the ball. If you are a beginner, this will help you understand the different shots there are to make. If you have played for a while and are an intermediate player, this could help you figure out some tweaks you can make to improve your game. For both beginner and intermediate tennis players, this article will teach you the easy steps you can make to learn different types of tennis grips and apply them to different strokes that are suited for your style of play.
As we begin, please make sure you have the right grip size. This is paramount in being able to grip the racket correctly and execute your shots. The easiest way to test your racket grip size is to hold the racket naturally in your dominant hand with the Continental grip (explained below). Place the index finger of your non-dominant hand between the thumb and the pinky of your dominant hand. Your forefinger should fit there perfectly. If there isn’t room, your grip is too small. If there is a lot of extra room, it’s too large. As a rule of thumb, if you think you are between grip sizes, go with the smaller size. You can always build up the size of a smaller grip with an overgrip or two, but you cannot make it smaller if you start too large. Too large a grip can be very uncomfortable and can even lead to issues like tennis elbow. I recommend the Yonex Super Grap overgrip. It’s the perfect blend of tacky, absorbency, and it’s long enough to fit the largest handle sizes.
The 5 Tennis Grips Explained
1. Continental Grip
The Continental grip is the classic, old-school grip that was previously used for just about every shot in the game. It is still used on many shots and is a very important part of tennis fundamentals.
To use the Continental grip, take your dominant hand and place your thumb on the flat, thickest bevel of the racket handle. The bevel is a flat section of the grip; there are six bevels on a grip in total. Your thumb and index finger form a V, of sorts, on the side of the grip.
The Continental grip is used primarily on serves, volleys, slice shots, one-handed backhands, and overheads in the modern game. It will likely be the initial type of grip you are taught as a beginner, as everything else is an extension of the Continental. This is a great grip to use when learning to make contact with the ball, as it is very easy to get the ball over the net since this grip opens the racket strings. The Continental also provides maximum stability on traditional punch volleys and allows for great slices when the player starts high with the head of the racket and cuts under it. It’s not as easy to serve with this grip, which I will discuss a bit later, but this is the optimal beginning grip to serve with as you learn and improve.
2. Eastern Grip
The Eastern grip is the first grip extension of the Continental, meaning it is achieved by moving your hand one bevel to the right of the Continental grip. The Eastern is the most natural grip and one of the easiest grips to use since most people automatically pick the racket up with this grip. The Eastern grip is most classically taught as “shaking hands with the racket.” With a natural and relaxed hand, place your hand around the bottom of the handle, as if you are shaking hands with the racket. Another easy way to find this grip is to place your palm flat against the strings and slide it down the racket to the lowest part of the handle and grab once there.
The Eastern is a very easy grip to use because it’s only one spot away from the Continental, which means changing grips from your neutral position (Continental) will be easier. From the Continental, we have moved into a position that will naturally close the racket face, which will allow you to swing a bit faster and keep the ball in the court more often. Due to the closed racket face, you will have to aim higher over the net to make sure you clear it, but as long as you clear the net, it will naturally be easier to keep your shot from flying long. You are naturally creating a slightly downward angle with the racket face, which will help you keep the ball from sailing out. The Eastern grip can also be used to generate some topspin on a swinging volley, which is when you take a full, ground-stroke-like cut at high balls in the air. As you move away from the Continental into the Eastern, you will see a huge difference in control.
Most generally, this is the forehand grip, commonly known as the Eastern Forehand grip, that will be taught after a player has learned to make contact with the ball using the Continental grip. It is commonly used for beginners as they learn to serve because it’s much easier to get the ball up over the net when using this grip on a serve. The forehand gets more “closed” as you rotate the grip to the right, allowing for a faster swing and more spin, while on the serve, the grip gets more “closed” as you move it around to the left. However, the Eastern grip produces quite flat shots from the baseline compared to those that can be generated as the grip is moved further around to the right.
3. Semi-Western Grip
The Semi-Western grip is the most classic forehand grip in the modern game for intermediate and advanced players. This grip is 2 bevels to the right from the Continental grip. When using this grip, it is very important to start with the racket head well below the ball or your waist and keep your wrist loose. Since the racket head is more closed, this is crucial to getting the ball up over the net.
The Semi-Western forehand grip closes the racket even further, so as you improve and begin swinging your racquet quickly and with control, this is likely the grip you will be taught. This grip also allows the wrist to flow more freely and naturally, which will also help with topspin generation. Since the racket head is more closed and the grip creates more topspin than the Eastern, the key is to aim higher over the net. The Semi-Western is also great to use on swinging volleys when the ball comes high enough over the net. Most players tend to stop here when advancing the forehand grip because it’s a great happy medium between Continental and Full-Western.
4. Full-Western Grip
The Full-Western grip is the most advanced and hard-to-use grip of them all. This one is at least four bevels (or further) to the right from the continental, as you can see in the photo above.
This grip fully closes the racket face, making it very difficult to get the ball up over the net on low balls. With this one, it is most important to aim HIGH HIGH HIGH over the net, to relax the wrist fully on take-back, and to get the racket head well below the ball. If you’re able to do that, the result will give you maximum topspin (think Rafael Nadal). This grip is recommended for very advanced players that have already mastered the other grips and want to add extreme topspin to their games.
While the Full-Western creates a lot of margin on your shots and gives more consistency, it is difficult to learn. Furthermore, there are some disadvantages here. You give away some of the natural, easy power that comes with the less extreme grips, and with this grip, it is also much harder to change your grip since you are so far around the racket from the neutral, Continental position. You must use maximum wrist snap to get the ball to travel up over the net, and it can be difficult for the ball to go out due to the extremely closed angle of the racquet face.
5. Backhand Grip
I love to think of the backhand grip as a mirror image of the forehand for the two-handed backhand player. Everything I have said above applies here, just with the non-dominant hand. If you’re a right-handed player, the left hand should be the primary hand, holding the racket tightly to drive and control the stroke. Vice versa, the right hand should be used for the lefty two-handed backhand player. Many players make the mistake of allowing their dominant hand to drive the stroke, which results in a shorter, choppier shot. Here, the left hand should mimic the right hand of the forehand (again vice versa for the lefty), and the right hand should stay in the Continental grip position. Personally, I find it easiest for the left hand (right hand for lefty) to be in the Semi-Western backhand grip position and held tighter than the other hand. This will allow the wrist to be fully engaged to be able to generate a smooth stroke with topspin. Of course, you can use variations of the grips above with your non-dominant hand to find what feels the most comfortable for you.
It is also important to make sure you have enough room between your hands. The hands should not be tight against each other on the tennis racket but spaced comfortably apart with your non-dominant hand closer to the throat of the racket at the top of the handle so it can drive the shot.
As most players trend toward two-handed backhands, it’s also worthy to note that, for the one-handed backhand player, there are varying grips that may be used. The Continental grip is generally the go-to grip for a player just learning the one-hander because the grip does not have to be changed at all from the neutral position. Additionally, you can slice or come over the ball with that grip. As a one-handed backhand player advances, the grip can be moved further to the left from Continental, which would have the same effect as moving the forehand grip to the right on the forehand (reverse direction for lefties).
The photo above is me with the backhand two-hander in action. You can see my left hand is in the Semi-Western grip position and my right hand is in Continental. The next step in this stroke would be to drop the racket head below the ball, allowing the left hand to control the stroke to generate maximum spin.
Conclusions & Advice
Needless to say, the grip is a very important part of stroke production. If the grip is incorrect, nothing else much matters. I feel it’s important from time to time to evaluate your grips and make sure nothing has slipped on you. This is especially important for new players that have just learned the grips and started playing since it’s very easy to let things slip when you go from lessons to playing without enough repetition.
It is most important to remember that Continental is the always-ready position and that every other grip is an extension of that. It is also very important to understand what happens to the racket head as the grip changes and how you need to alter your strokes because of those shifts.
Hopefully, this guide will be helpful in simplifying the different grips as you learn and progress in your game (or simply as you learn new techniques). Ultimately, each player has to decide which grips will be the ideal fit for their shots and stroke production, since we all have different strengths, as well as muscle strength. I would encourage readers to reach out to me or another Curated Tennis Expert for further questions on these grips or any other tennis products needed for maximum success on the court!