The term “grip” refers to how you hold the racket in your hand any time you go to strike the ball. The grip is the foundation for any shot you hit in tennis, and it’s extremely important to understand the different grips, but the fact is that many tennis players just head to the court, pick up their racket, and don’t give their grip any more thought.
Your grip is so important for several reasons. How you hold the racket in your hand affects how you swing up to the tennis ball, and how you swing up to the tennis ball can influence the type of ball you hit. For example, some grips make it easier to swing directly through the ball. When you swing through the ball, you produce a shot that is hit hard but doesn’t have much topspin on it. Other grips make it easier to swing up across the back of the ball. Swinging up across the back of the tennis ball puts more topspin on the ball, but it makes it more difficult to hit hard and put the ball away for a winner. These factors make it important to know what type of grip you are using and how it might be affecting your game.
Attacking players, for example, tend to have more conservative grips that allow you to swing through the ball because the ball is flatter, they hit harder, press their opponent more, and can shorten points. But because they swing through the ball more, they can’t generate as much topspin, so players who like to extend points, or “grind them out,” generally choose more extreme grips that make it easier to swing up on the ball and get that spin. Addditionally, putting more spin on the ball lets you hit higher over the net but still have the ball pulled back down into the court, making you more consistent. So again, your choice of grip can actually heavily influence your game.
Let’s now talk about the technical definition of a grip, and exactly how you find any particular grip. To start off, we’re going to look at the butt end of the racket handle. The handle has eight sides, also called “bevels,” and the topmost bevel is Bevel 1. Bevels 2, 3, 4 etc. follow going clockwise around the handle. Bevel 5 is located on the “bottom” of the handle. As you can see on your own tennis racket, the bevels extend from the buttcap all the way up to the throat of the racket.
Let’s now talk about the hand. There are two places on the hand that you need to identify, the heel pad and the index knuckle. If you follow a line from the tip of your pinkie finger down your pinkie to your wrist, your heel pad is the fleshy area of your palm just before your wrist. Your index knuckle is the first knuckle of your index finger, where it connects to your palm. Technically, your grip is defined by which bevel (or bevels) of the tennis racket handle your heel pad and index knuckle rest on.
If you look at the bevels of the tennis racket handle again, your grip is determined by where your hand is resting on those bevels. Specific grips (ie Eastern, Semiwestern) mean that your heel pad and index knuckle are resting on specific bevels. For example, the Continental Grip, which most pros use to serve, overhead and volley, is defined by the heel pad and index knuckle resting on the second bevel (thats one over from the top, clockwise).
Let’s get back to how your grip can influence your style of play. You may have been around the clubhouse and heard someone say that “X grip is better than Y grip, so you should use X.” Well, that’s simply not true. One grip isn’t better than another, but some grips are better for certain styles of play. What you want to do when selecting a grip is think about how your choice of grip will fit into your style of play. For example, Roger Federer is an all-court, attacking player, and he uses a more conservative grip thats very close to an Eastern. This allows him to swing through the ball, drive the ball, stay on the attack and dictate play. On the other hand, Rafael Nadal uses a more extreme grip, very close to a Western. Because he swings up on the ball so much more, he generates more topspin, keeps the ball in play, and grinds opponents into the ground. Both of these forehands (and the grips that go with them) are extremely, extremely effective. But more than anything, it shows that their choice of grip is closely related to the style of tennis they play.
Your grip needs to work into the larger framework of the tennis game you are trying to build, and you need to ask yourself if it currently does. If it isn’t, you should be open to considering a change.