Tennis Grips & Stances

The basics of how to stand on court and how to hold the racket, especially when preparing to receive the ball are explained here.

Grips

Since the 1970’s at least 3 new grips have been introduced and changed the game of tennis. In the 70s and 80s, the eastern and continental grips were the most popular for all strokes, as these grips generated the most power, but did lack variety and spin. However in the 1990s players introduced a combination of power, spin, and placement, by exaggerating the grip on the racket. This produced the western, semi-western, and continental – semi-western grips. Just by changing the placement of the hand slightly on the handle gives the racket face a new angle, and creates spin on the ball. In today’s game, players use topspin when hitting the ball with power to bring the ball down faster after clearing the net. Backspin is used by the players to stop their volleys closer to the net, making it difficult for opponents to chase down and return the ball. The players can also use sidespin or slice to slow the ball down, meaning a lower bounce when it hits the court, making it difficult for the opponent to pick up and generate power.

Apart from the different hand placements, the palm and digits of the hand also have 2 ways to hold the racket which can determine which type of shot is played. If a player wants to play a sharp crosscourt shot or serve with control and placement the forefinger and thumb should tighten on the racket. However, when a player wants to play deep forehand and backhand shots in a baseline rally, the little, ring, and middle fingers should squeeze the handle harder. Learning, using, and understanding all of these grips takes much time and patience, but after all the best grip is the most comfortable grip.

Continental Semi-western

This combination of the continental and semi-western grips is usually preferred on a two-handed backhand or forehand because it allows a player to have maximum control, power, and topspin of their groundstrokes.

How: To execute this grip, players should put the strong hand in the continental grip, and then place the weaker hand above on the handle in the semi-western grip. Both hands should just touch each other on the handle. The hands should stay in position until a stroke has been fully executed.

Other players do use slightly different approaches when completing a two-handed stroke. These include the basic eastern grip, with both hands, and then other combinations such as the eastern – semi-western, and continental – eastern grip.

Semi-western Grip

Explanation: This grip is suitable for all abilities, as there is only a very slight change from the standard eastern grip. The semi-western can gain a player extra control over the ball and add topspin.

Another advantage of this grip is the allowance for quick grip changes, as the hand position is situated between the eastern and western grips a slight movement in either direction and the grip changes.

How: Start this grip as for the western grip, then turn the racket back slightly towards the eastern grip. This means back to the left for the right-handed and to the right for left-handed players, but be careful not to turn it all the way back to the standard eastern grip position.

With the semi-western grip, it is important to follow through and end with the non-playing hand (left for the right-handed) on the grip as well. This allows the non-playing hand to switch the grip if needed before the next shot reaches the player.

Western Grip

Explanation: This is another grip for the more advanced player, and is generally used on forehand and swinging volley shots.

The western grip allows for good power generation alongside topspin, but the amount of power and spin depends on how quickly players can swing and brush up the back of the ball.

The disadvantages to this grip are that the racket face is closed, meaning facing down towards the floor, which makes it harder to get the ball up and over the net. The ball must be hit from low to high to counteract the closed face.

How: Again start using the eastern grip but then turn the racket in the opposite direction to the continental grip. So for the right-handed player, the racket should be turned to the right, and to the left for the left-handed player.

Fingers should stay slightly spread, and the thumb should lie across the top of the handle. The grip should stay loose to create a smooth swing, but tighten when the racket makes contact with the ball.

Continental Grip

Explanation: This grip is often used by players who have mastered the eastern grip and want to start adding to their game. So mostly intermediate to advanced players. The advantages of this grip include creating topspin, slice, and backspin.

However it cannot be used on forehand strokes as it leaves the face of the racket open, and to try and correct this can cause injury to the wrist.

How: Start by holding the racket in the same position as the eastern grip. Then whilst keeping the hand holding the racket still, twist the racket slightly to the left (right-handed) or to the right (left-handed).

The fingers should stay spread slightly, and the thumb and forefinger V shape should still point back at the player. The forefinger should now almost be resting on top of the handle, with the thumb running the length of the handle.

Common Fault: Using this grip, players often tighten the grip at the wrong time, and as a result lose the ability to place the ball. Concentrate on tightening the grip as the forward motion of the swing begins.

Eastern Grip

Explanation: This is the most basic grip and used by the majority of beginners and amateurs, possibly because it is known as the most comfortable and easiest to use. Another advantage of this grip is that it is very versatile as it can be used for the forehand, backhand, serve, and volley.

How: For the eastern grip players hold the racket out in front of them in the non-playing hand (left hand for a right-handed player) and make sure the racket face (strings) is sideways, not facing the sky or floor.

Once in this position players can then place the playing hand (right hand for a right-handed player), on the racket face, with the palm against the strings. The next stage is to slide the playing hand down the racket shaft all the way to the bottom of the handle, then wrap the thumb and fingers around the racket making sure the fingers are spread slightly.

To ensure players are doing it correctly the forefinger and thumb should form a V shape on top of the handle, which in turn should point all the way up the arm to the same shoulder.

Stances

Groundstrokes are shots hit from baseline to baseline from either the forehand or backhand side. Executing a good groundstroke comes from how a player approaches the ball. In the past, just one hand was used to hold the racket and return the ball. Then a two-handed backhand was developed to give extra power on the groundstrokes, but now some players have reverted to using both hands on forehand and backhand shots.

When hitting a tennis ball, players use just about every part of the body, and each component must be positioned and moved correctly to execute a successful shot. If players so much as lift the head before striking the ball it is more than likely that the ball will follow the path of the head and go out of the back of the court. There are so many factors that can help decide whether a groundstroke is successful or not.

Using the best stance, moving the feet, and stepping into the ball are the first points to remember when attempting groundstrokes. The best stance for each shot is different and depends on many factors, including, a player’s position on the court, the grip, and the angle and pace of the ball coming towards the player.

4 different stances are used in the game today, these include the opensemi-openneutral, and closed stances. Just like the grip, stances have also changed since the 70s and 80s where the open stance would only be used in an emergency, but along with the semi-open, the open stance is now an essential part of tennis today. The closed stance of those years would be all but impossible to use against balls traveling at over 100mph.

The combination of the semi-open and open stances along with the semi-western and western grips has allowed players to gain more racket power and speed, contributing to the fast pace and power of the game today.

Open Backhand Stance

Adding this stance to the footwork of the backhand allows it to become an attacking shot for most players.

Explanation: Adding this stance to the footwork of the backhand allows it to become an attacking shot for most players.

How: A smooth swing is vital to any backhand shot. The backswing should be a fluent, one-motion movement. This can be gained from rotating the hips, trunk, and shoulders at exactly the same time, this also adds power and control to the shot.

For right-handed player’s the weight should be loaded onto the left foot. The shoulders should be turned before the ball crosses the net, and the weight kept on the left foot throughout the stroke to gain a strong foundation.

Extending the arm and racket towards the target will give better control and depth.

Points to remember: Keep eyes on the ball until the stroke is fully executed otherwise it can result in a loss of power and depth and in extreme cases can cause a complete miss-hit.

Closed Stance

The closed stance can be used on either forehand or backhand shots but is only recommended when a player is chasing down a ball on the run or is forced wide.

How: This stance closes the hips preventing them from rotating, and also requires extra recovery steps before any rotation from the shoulders or trunk can take place. Limited control, power, options, and slower recovery time are other drawbacks of this stance.

It involves the left foot (for the right-handed) stepping across and being the outside foot taking all of the weight, so the majority of the power has to be generated through the arms.

Points to remember: This stance often has to be used when a player has been caught off-balance, breathing relaxes the body and allows for better footwork, which lessens the chance of being off balance. So remember to breathe.

Breathing can also help with racket speed. Players should exhale as they start the forward motion as this can also reduce overall tightness.

It is also one of the best ways to combat nerves so breathing through and between points is very important.

Neutral Stance

This is the basic stance, which can be used for both forehand and backhand shots, and is also the starting point for all the other stances. 

Explanation: This is the basic stance, which can be used for both forehand and backhand shots, and is also the starting point for all the other stances. It allows beginners to learn about shifting weight and rotation of the body.

The neutral stance gives the best position to practice the follow through and recovery after shots, at least for easy returns.

This stance allows players to shift their weight towards the direction of the shot and for that reason is preferred when hitting either the one or two-handed backhand.

How: Again with this stance rotation of the hips, shoulders, and trunk is the start of the backswing. The player must then step out with the right foot and shift the weight here as well.

Players should then step forward with the left foot towards the net and shift the weight again onto the front foot before executing the forward motion of the swing. The weight should be kept on the front foot until the stroke has been completed through to the recovery.

To finish the execution the back foot (right) should be brought forward and around, helping to maintain strong and balanced.

Remember for left-handed players the opposite should occur. Points to remember: Players of all ages and abilities can use this stance to experience the shifting of weight.

Semi-open Stance

This stance is not much different from the open stance. Again it is mostly used when players lack time to prepare for the next shot. 

Explanation: This stance is not much different from the open stance. Again it is mostly used when players lack time to prepare for the next shot. The only real difference is that players open up the step slightly more to the left for a right-handed player and load all their weight onto the outside hip (right).

How: For a right-handed forehand stroke players must again begin the backswing by rotating the shoulders, hips, and trunk at the same time.

The next phase is to step to the right with the right foot and shift the weight to this foot also. The key to this stance is players stepping into the court with the left foot, which does not occur on the open stance. This step with the left foot helps to maintain a solid foundation after striking the ball.

The weight should remain on the outside foot until the stroke is completed fully.

Use opposite feet for left-handed players.

Points to remember: To start with practice hitting the ball back into the same direction that it came from to give more control. If confidence grows players can try to change direction, or add spin or speed to the ball.

Open Stance

The open stance is often best used when a player has little or no time to prepare for an oncoming ball

Explanation: The open stance is often best used when a player has little or no time to prepare for an oncoming ball, which in today’s game is fairly regularly. This is because a player has to step out, shift body weight, load the hip and turn the trunk before a ball traveling 100mph reaches them.

This stance allows players to load up on the hip and explode into the shot, producing forehand and backhand winners.

How: Players start with the backswing, which consists of rotating the shoulders and hips together, to about 90 degrees (side on), to the right for right-handed players.

The weight then needs to be shifted to the outside foot, (right for the right-handed), and remain balanced throughout the swing, follow-through, and recovery.

Back to the shoulders and hips, after the backswing players will start the forward motion along the same path with speed and try to make contact with the ball as far out in front of the body as possible to give control and power to the stroke.

Points to remember: Try and keep the non-hitting hand pointing in the direction of the target, this should help with the height and depth on the groundstrokes.

Don’t shift the weight too early, this will more than likely cause the ball to fall short.