In the tennis grips fundamentals section of the website, we talked about how your grip is going to affect how much topspin you put on the tennis ball. For example, with an eastern forehand grip, you’re going to hit the ball relatively flat, and with a western forehand grip you’ll hit the ball with much more topspin. I want to clarify this point because your grip itself does not affect how much spin you place no the tennis ball.
What your grip does do is change the natural contact point, the height at which you make contact with the tennis ball. For an eastern forehand grip, the natural contact point is around waist high, and for a western its higher up around your shoulder. Because the grip you use influences your natural contact height, it also influences how you swing at the tennis ball. That’s important because spin is determined by how your tennis racket and the strings move across the tennis ball at contact.
For example, if I hit with an eastern grip, I drop the tennis racket down and then swing forward at the tennis ball. I pretty much swing through the tennis ball instead of up on it, and that means that I will drive the ball flatter, with less topspin. If I use a western grip, my contact point is higher up. This means that I drop the racket down and then swing forward to contact, but my swing direction is much more low to high because the racket has to get back up to about shoulder level. Because the tennis racket and strings are moving upwards much more across the back of the tennis ball, I will naturally generate more topspin.
The tradeoff, of course, is that you cannot drive the ball easily using a western grip, making it harder to hit outright winners with pace. Again, this is how your grip influences how much spin you put on the tennis ball. The grip you choose very much determines your natural, comfortable contact height with the tennis ball, and because of that it also determines the path your racket travels along as you swing. Higher contact points (more extreme grips) require that the racket end up much higher, and therefore you must swing up more, creating more topspin.
In between the eastern grip and the western grip is the semiwestern grip. This is the grip-du-jour on the men’s and women’s pro tours right now. This grip allows you to place heavy topspin on the ball while still being able to drive the ball. Most hard-hitting baseliners such as Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, and Venus Williams are using the semiwestern grip because of its versatility.