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6:07 PM Sat, Dec. 15th

Column: Getting a grip on things by using the correct grips in tennis

There are four basic grips players use in the game of tennis: Eastern - Continental - Semi-Western and Western. And each one of those grips you'll want to become acquainted with over a lifetime of playing the game for various reasons, just like a piano or guitar player must make accommodations to play their instrument of choice with different hand positions.

During a point, you might begin serving with a continental grip and as you hit your first groundstroke switch to an eastern grip for a flat drive; next shot a semi-western for more top-spin and for the next hit a full western to generate even more top. As you take the net some players go to a continental so they're ready for a forehand or backhand without having to change grips - while others use an eastern forehand and backhand for their volleys which gives them a very flat racquet face to deflect the ball with. Overhead smashes are switched to continental grips in general and if you happened to have a two-handed backhand normally your dominate hand goes to one grip or another due to the shot coming your way as well as the type of surface you're playing on which creates different types of bounces and speeds to contend with.

Sound complicated? For a while it is, but before long you come to terms that the way you hold onto your racquet effects the way the ball comes off your racquet, the direction, lift, spin and pace. With the wrong grip not only will you lose control of the ball in most cases, but you could injury your hand, wrist and/or elbow.

Nick Bollettieri said that when he started teaching tennis he soon realized that each person's style and grip would be his brand and that there are all sorts of factors that come into play when selecting grips.

To find the Eastern Forehand grip: Slide your hand down from the racquet-face to the grip and shake hands with the racquet. The V of skin between your thumb and first finger will be directly in the middle of the grip and the racquet face will be straight up and down - flat to the back of the ball coming your way. The palm of your hand will be behind the bulk of the racquet facing the ball coming your way.

The Eastern Backhand grip is found by rotating your hand a quarter-inch back, bracing your thumb behind the flat part of the grip and now your knuckles will be facing the ball coming your way. There will be no contortion or bend in your wrist after you change to a one-handed backhand Eastern grip and the hit will be easy to control.

The Continental grip is between the Eastern forehand and Eastern backhand grip and used for serving, overheads and can be used for volleys.

From the Eastern Forehand grip, the Semi-Western grip is turned (for a right-hander) a little under the grip to the right and a Full-Western grip is with the palm of the hand rotated under the grip ... both are used for more and more top-spin.

Two-handed backhands in most cases have the dominate hand closer to the racquet head with the lower hand in a position to stabilize the racquet. The grips for the dominant hand are the same as above. Now and again when a shot is hit beyond what a two-handed player can reach the grip has to be quickly changed to stretch and change to a one-hander.

There has been much debate over the last 25 years about what grip should be used when at the net volleying. Many coaches say it should be the continental due to how quick the ball is upon you while in closer proximity to your opponents and a shorter time frame.

Vic Braden had this to say, "I prefer to have pros and beginners alike use their regular Eastern forehand or Eastern backhand grip when they volley. Despite what you may have been told (no time to change grips at the net) our experiments show there is sufficient time to switch grips if you will simply practice switching grips as you take your first step. Also, the rate of speed of the ball hit by many professionals is a rate you're not apt to confront for several years."

For both forehands and backhands it's much easier to keep a flat racquet-face with Eastern grips, less strain on the wrist and more pin-pointed accuracy.

He continued, "The Continental brings the palm of the hand an eight turn higher on the racquet handle, which requires you to change the wrist position as you hit in order to effect a vertical racquet head at impact ... which is destructive to consistent play for 95 percent of the people who use the grip. Jack Kramer was even more adamant. He felt the Continental grip has done more to destroy good groundstrokes than any other single factor."

The grip you use lets you help accomplish many different types of strategy with working the face of the racquet. An open racquet face will allow you to hit a lob, while a flat face will let you drive the ball, brush up and create top-spin and a slightly downward tilted face or more will allow you to impart a fast brush that really has a harsh top-spin ... much like Rafa Nadal hits and former top player Bjorn Borg.

Flat drives, top-spin, back-spin and side-spin, slice, American twist, etc., are types of rotation of the ball for all the strokes that the player needs in knowledge about grips and motion they use to help or hurt the process of what will truly take place.

Bobby Riggs wrapped up the thought on grips in a manner I like, "There is no question but that you can learn to play a fairly good game of tennis even though you use unorthodox grips. But it stands to reason that if you can play reasonably well with poor grips, you will be able to play much better with correct ones."

Chris Howard is a local USPTA tennis professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.