Look at the two grips above. By some definitions, both can be considered the “continental” grip, and yet the two grips are very different. One example of this is that the grip on the left is a great choice for a one-handed backhand, whereas the grip on the right will hardly work for that stroke at all.
On the one-handed backhand, the racket needs to rotate about the forearm through the hitting zone without the string angle changing while that happens. The grip on the left allows this easily, while the grip on the right does not.
Pitfalls of Imprecisely Teaching Grips
Two players who are merely taught to “use the continental grip” for their one-handed backhands might end up with starkly different results. If the player adopts the grip on the left, the stroke will work as intended, and they’ll believe that the continental grip “works” for the one-handed backhand.
If, on the other hand, the player adopts the grip on the right, they will likely find that their contact is extremely inconsistent, and they’ll have no idea as to why.
The fundamental level fix for this issue is not to simply be more specific when teaching the grip. Rather, it’s to only teach a grip in the context of why that grip is useful. For example, show the student that, if they hold the racket in the grip on the left, it’s very easy for that racket to rotate through contact and strike the ball.
When grips are taught this way, as functional, mechanical tools in service of correct contact, rather than as “the way you should hold the racket,” much of the confusion disappears.
“Continental” Means Many Things
In contrast to the one-handed backhand, the forehand volley vastly prefers the grip on the right, as it allows easier fine grained adjustment with the hand when aiming the volley, as well as more surface area contact between the fingers and handle that can be used to support the racket and prevent the head from moving during the strike.
In both of these grips, the index knuckle is resting on bevel 2. What’s different is the orientation of the handle in the hand. The knuckles on the left grip run parallel to the handle, while on the right grip they run about 45o off from the direction of the handle.
Therefore, the index knuckle’s resting spot is not the only reference defining your grip. Even when fixing index knuckle position, it’s possible to rotate the handle in your hand, leading to a starkly different alignment, and significantly different racket movement through contact.
The solution to grip confusion is not to master the exact hand orientation of every grip, and ensure that you get your student to mimic the exact hand orientation of some particular grip as you coach them.
Far from it.
The solution is to accept a different paradigm for the role of the grip altogether.
I almost wish that grips didn’t have names, as I think that would solve a lot of the unnecessary confusion surrounding them. It is my opinion that grip in tennis should be primarily discovered by the student, rather than taught as a first principle by the coach. Fundamentally, grip is not a first principle.
The first principles are contact and racket acceleration. On the forehand, for example:
- The racket must strike up and through the ball.
- The racket should be accelerated using the strong muscles of the hips, abs, and chest.
Grip is merely a means to an end; a degree of freedom the player should tweak until they find a way to hold the racket that allows them to achieve those fundamental goals best.
Some students don’t realize that the way they orient the racket in their hand is a usable degree of freedom. They’ll readily change their feet, they’ll change their legs, their chest, their arm, and yet, for whatever reason, it never occurs to them that they’re allowed to change how they’re holding the racket.
Directly Coaching a Grip
I only correct grip to fix downstream problems, and when I correct a grip, it’s always with an explanation. I’ll have a student who always hits the forehand long swing to their contact point, and then freeze. I’ll rotate the racket in their hand to fix their string angle, and explain that if they hold the racket in this new way, they’ll be able to use the natural swing they just used, but the ball will go in.
In other contexts, like the volley, I’ll also explain grip choice in the context of function: we don’t have time for large grip switches at net, and so we hold the racket in a way that allows us to quickly get the strings oriented towards the other side, no matter on which side of our body we’re forced to hit.
The underlying theme here is that each grip is meant to accomplish something, some goal external and independent from the grip itself. It’s not a critical technical component of a swing like, say, engaging the core is.
Every player, at every level, should internalize that grip is a usable degree of freedom, and should feel free to alter it in the process of exploring any of their strokes.
August 14, 2021
Very helpful I learned a lot and it change my technique
August 15, 2021
Awesome; glad you find it useful!
November 15, 2021
Hmmm, you are assuming that beginning players are going to understand how to re-rotate the ball, which is always more difficult taming that physics equation than to hit to get the ball back. I do not agree with your first picture of a continental. I grew up with eastern and continental grips the norm and no one ever taught that way of gripping. Maybe you might call that a ‘hammer’ grip for serving first flat serves.
Historically, grips have moved from western to eastern and back as instruction and style has evolved. Players are more mobile, rackets/strings allow for more creative contact with the ball and shoes now have tread on the sides as players routinely slide on hardcourts.
You mention 2 musts for every forehand and I include a third one, which is every stroke you hit starts with a hop/split step(except the serve which ends with one). That hop starts you out from the same balanced position everytime making consistency a basic tenet of the game. Now you have players who can use their strokes because they know how to get there.
If you include footwork(what a concept) at the same time these players will have more options when they are waiting to hit that equation of a yellow orb with a velocity, a rotation, a tangent and an arc. It’s a math game with geometry thrown in for fun.
November 16, 2021
I haven’t done a footwork article in a while – that’s a good idea, maybe I’ll do one soon.
October 2, 2021
Yup, far too many coaches are locked into teaching the grip, especially for the FH as step #1. However, helping a player struggling with contact and ball control understand how they hold the racket can affect ball control is hugely helpful. The context should drive the technique.
October 2, 2021
Agree 100%. It’s just a difference in philosophy. As I stated in the book, the grip is definitively not a first principle on the forehand. In fact, I like to only tweak the grip after we’ve found their natural swing path.
Once their swing looks natural, I have them pause at contact and rotate the racket in their hand to orient the string angle how we want it. Whatever that grip is, that’s the grip I recommend they use.
November 26, 2022
Excellent article. I found it after I googled “continental grip” to confirm my own discovery from today. The discovery is, and confirmed by this article, that just having the index knuckle position fixed to the 2nd bevel DOES NOT ensure continental grip and that it also is, if not primarily, about where the heel pad lands and how spread the fingers are. For the longest time I could not understand why the face of the racquet was wrong on my serve, despite what I thought was a correct continental grip. The truth is the kind of grip I had maybe looked like continental but functioned more like an easter forehand grip. This small change in heel pad position changes so many things: the optimal toss position is now more to the right, the angle between the racquet and the forearm is greater and generating more power from pronation, the racquet does not have a tendency to drop incorrectly, the body rotation is different, the kick serve has more spin, etc, etc. After tweaking my grip today I also discovered that I DON’T like it on both backhand and forehand slice NOR on a volley so for those I’ll use my old wrong continental grip!
I look forward to more articles from you!
December 2, 2022
That’s awesome; this is the exact kind of confusion this article was meant to clarify. Really glad you figured it out!
December 28, 2022
Roger Federer has always left a tiny little gap between his index and middle finger for his backhand grip, but definitely not to the extend of not leaving a gap at all or with the index finger way higher up, like the 2 pictures you’ve shown side by side.