As the sport of tennis has evolved, with courts and equipment and styles changing over the years, the way we grip our tennis rackets has too. You can’t just roll on out to the court in your Serena Williams miniskirt, fist pump the air, grab that racket and swing like a maniac (Trust me, I’ve tried it and it didn’t work).
As a beginner tennis player, knowledge of the best tennis grips for any given situation is one of the first steps towards becoming a better player. You have to know how to respond if the ball’s coming at you rightways, sideways, upside down, or with a cherry on top. There are several major grips in tennis, and different shots require different grips. The general shots are:
It's possible to perform each of these with several different grips. For a forehand alone, for example, players can use a Semi-Western, Western, Hawaiian, Continental, or Eastern grip, and those are just the main grips. Picking a grip is like trying to choose what $1.50 toppings to put on my $8.99 acai bowl. (So many ways to burn a hole through my wallet…)
There is plenty of information already online, however, about various grips and shots and how to perform each of them, so we don’t really want to waste time writing about it. Instead, we want to focus on a few general tips for working on your tennis grip, no matter the shot or situation, whether you’re on the court facing off against Andre Agassi or your next door neighbor’s 8-year-old sister.
Beginners sometimes forget about one of the principal components of the racket handle, the bevels. Each tennis racket handle is octagonal in shape, if you look at it from the butt, so there are eight angles and eight sides.
While the bevels are mostly there to increase a player’s traction on the handle, preventing the racket from spinning in your hand like a pinwheel when you swing, they’re also a useful guide to help you position your hands. We pinpoint each tennis grip via the bevels. Each side of the handle is traditionally labeled from 1-8, starting at the top, in clockwise fashion for right-handed players and counter-clockwise for left-handed players (in other words, bevel #1 is the bevel facing up if you hold the blade of your racquet perpendicular to the ground).
For example, to form the semi-western grip, which is perhaps the most common grip in modern tennis, you place the inside of your index knuckle against the fourth bevel (if right-handed) or the sixth bevel (if left-handed). Then, position the butt of the racquet’s handle at the base of the palm and wrap your fingers around the handle. Essentially, every grip is determined by the bevels that your index knuckle and heel pad lie on. Become accustomed to the feel of the bevels. You should know the feel of each bevel by heart better than you know the password to your ex’s Netflix account (which you still use, of course).
When you’re trying to learn various tennis grips, remember to focus on the bevels and use them to check your positioning. Learn how the racket feels in your hands with your knuckle and heel pad on each bevel, so you can reach any given grip in a split second.
Some coaches and instructors will tell you that such and such grip is always the best for a given shot, and such and such grip is always best for another given shot. While this is useful advice at the basic, beginner level, it’s really not all that helpful for growing players, and can be damaging to your progression in the long run. The Semi-Western grip generally works well for forehands, the Two-Handed Backhand for backhands, and the Continental for serves, but that formula isn’t true for everyone! Maybe none of those grips work well for you, while a different grip that isn’t commonly used feels great. That’s okay!
Every player is unique. The reason there are so many different grips for each shot is because some grips work better for some players and some work better for others.
Roger Federer, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, used the one-handed backhand instead of the more common two-handed backhand throughout his career. His reason? It felt more natural to him. It’s important to remember that regardless of whether a grip works for someone else, if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. Trust your gut.
This goes in line with what we talked about above. A big mistake beginner tennis players can make with regards to tennis grip is to think of grips as static placements. If slightly altering a standard grip and creating your own, unique grip is what works best for your build and playing style, don’t be afraid to do it! Even minute changes can have a huge impact on your dexterity and shot response.
If you hit better by holding your racket upside down like an Asian ping pong player, why not give it a whirl?
(That said, listen to your instructor or coach here, because while some organic modifications may feel good to an inexperienced player, they aren’t sustainable in the long run).
Perhaps the most important factor at play where any tennis grip is concerned isn’t the grip itself, but how quickly you can change between it and another grip. At a basic level, switching between your forehand grip and backhand grip quickly and effectively is critical in a fast-paced match. On a return of serve this is especially important. Richard Schonborn once noted that “50 to 70% of all points in matches depend on the quality of the return of serve,” so it’s important to prepare to respond to any serve with your chosen grip.
For instance, if you utilize the two-handed grip for your backhand, hold your forehand with your dominant hand but still hold the racquet handle with your non-dominant hand on the proper bevel for your backhand, to save time and quickly rotate to the Continental grip without swapping your non-dominant hand’s position, in case you have to go to a backhand quickly.
(The Continental grip by itself might also be of use on a return of serve, to block the ball for a defensive return.)
With any given grip, make sure to know exactly what you have to do to modify your grip to receive another type of shot, and find ways to flow between the two grips fluidly and dynamically. This will come in handy in a pinch, and give you more time to respond to a given shot without worrying about changing your grip.
Again, remember to let the bevels guide you!
We couldn’t do an article about grip without mentioning chalk, of course! Chalk isn’t used in tennis as often as other sports, but that’s starting to change as tennis players are realizing that chalk’s remarkable friction-enhancing, sweat-reducing properties (which weightlifters, gymnasts, and rock climbers have been utilizing for decades) have a remarkable impact on grip. Several of the FrictionLabs team are lifelong tennis players, and we’ve all seen firsthand how much chalk can improve our game.
Slippery hands from sweat, oil, and sunscreen are a pain in the butt to deal with on the court. Often, overgrips and sweatbands can’t get the job done.
Try putting on a light coating of Secret Stuff Liquid Chalk before you start a match! Not only will chalk prevent sweating and stop your racket from slipping in your hands, but it provides a friction layer between your skin and the racket grip, giving you more control and stability.
Trust us, once you try it, you won’t know how you ever played tennis without chalk.