Tennis BACKHAND – One Handed Backhand GRIPS (Tutorial)9 min read
We will dive into:
The different grip styles: Continental, Eastern, and Semi-Western.
The different grip holds: Pistol and Hammer.
How to execute the grip change properly from any grip.
For the following grip styles, I will use the index knuckle as a reference point. I will talk more about the heel pad later.
The grips on the backhand side range from bevels 2 to 8 on the index knuckle.
The different grip styles play a significant role in the shot.
They can affect the wrist orientation at impact.
They can affect the angle of your racket face at impact.
They can increase the level of potential topspin from continental to semi-western.
The Continental Grip
For the continental grip, place the index knuckle on the center of bevel 2 (bevel 8 for lefties), and the V-ridge between thumb and index finger is on bevel 1.
The continental grip is the most conservative backhand grip. To clarify, this is not the semi-western grip. We will talk about that one later.
This grip is best suited for low balls and half-volleys.
And when the ball is too low, you’re in luck because this is the most common grip for the slice.
The natural contact point is close to the body, so it is very easy to time.
James Blake and Feliciano Lopez hit backhands very close to a full continental grip. However, their backhands are considered to be weaker than other aspects of their game, and rarely hit topspin shots.
And that brings up one of the main problems with this grip.
It is not optimal for topspin because the plane of the racket is not as closed as the other grips.
As long as topspin is not a crucial part of your game (3.5 – 4.0 players), this grip is an excellent choice.
But if you do want to get more topspin, you will need a more eastern grip.
The Full Eastern Grip
Most players use some form of the eastern grip because it is capable of producing topspin while maintaining the added benefits of a forward drive. This also happens to be the grip that I use most often.
The index knuckle is on bevel 1. To get into this grip, shift your index knuckle one bevel counterclockwise (clockwise for lefties) from your continental grip.
As your grip centers your knuckles directly on top of the grip, it offers a comfortable and stable racket support on contact.
This allows you to hit very aggressive shots.
This grip is one of the more versatile grips because it allows for comfortable power and topspin drive shots but are close enough to the continental grip to hit an effective slice.
But, it is still quite difficult to hit high balls because the wrist can be in a flexed position at contact, which is a very unstable and weak position to be in.
That is why many players with the eastern grip will slice the ball above the shoulders.
Also, it is slightly challenging to meet the ball at contact, and you might find yourself hitting late.
There are 2 variations within the eastern grip: modified eastern and strong eastern.
The modified eastern, aka weak/mild eastern grip is between bevel 1 and bevel 2 (between bevel 1 and bevel 8 for lefties).
There are some noticeable changes in this millimeter difference.
You will notice that the grip is slightly weaker than the full eastern, and there is a slightly later contact point.
Regardless, you can still execute this grip comfortably with tons of power and spin.
A few players who use the modified eastern grip are Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, and Stanislas Wawrinka.
Roger Federer’s index knuckle is still on bevel 1, but is on the right edge of the bevel between modified eastern and full eastern.
The strong eastern is between bevel 1 and bevel 8 (between bevel 1 and bevel 2 for lefties)
This grip is often referred to the semi-western grip.
While it is an extreme grip, the semi-western feels very different from the strong eastern.
Richard Gasquet and Fernando Gonzales use the strong eastern grip effectively for extreme topspin and pace.
The Semi-Western Grip
For the semi-western backhand, the index knuckle is on center of bevel 8 (bevel 1 for lefties).
This is the most extreme grip on the backhand side.
Because of the closed plane of the racket, this grip offers the maximum potential for topspin.
It’s also the best suited for high balls because your wrist at shoulder height would be it allows you to hit balls well above the waist with pace and spin.
Since the natural contact point is several inches further in front than full eastern, it may be more challenging to time.
But if you practice enough to time the hit, you will be able to take more time away from your opponent.
If you stand far behind the baseline, timing becomes less of a problem, so you can have more leeway there.
Although this grip is rather rare today, there were a few players who used this grip very effectively such as Justine Henin-Hardenne and Gustavo Kuerten.
Now that I just went over the index knuckle positions on the grip, I want to emphasize that the heel pad is just as important of a factor in your grip.
The Pistol Grip
The first grip is called the pistol grip because the index finger is noticeably spread apart from the other fingers.
This grip is more conservative and therefore is ideal for slicing.
It’s held with your fingers slightly spread apart from each other.
The knuckles are at a slight angle from the grip, which is important because this affects the mobility/stability of your shot.
The racket is aligned diagonally across your index knuckle and heel pad.
While the pistol grip is more common among players for the forehand and serve, most professionals who use the one-handed backhand use the hammer grip.
The Hammer Grip
The hammer grip is held with your fingers closer together and the index finger could be further depending on your preference.
The racket is held along your index knuckle and palm, putting the knuckles are parallel with the grip.
The heel pad also affects the extremeness of the grip.
If you look at the butt cap, the heel pad is actually 1 to 1.5 bevels counter-clockwise from the index knuckle.
This makes hammer grips more extreme than the pistol grip because the heel pad is further back.
The continental grip held in pistol hold is the most conservative grip and is often used for the slice.
The semi-western grip in the hammer hold is the most extreme grip on the backhand, putting your palm almost directly behind the handle.
So which grip hold is more stable?
Try this simple test at home courtesy of adventuresintennis.com.
- Get into a pistol grip.
- Go up to your contact point and stop there.
- Have a partner use a hand or ball to lightly push your racket.
- Alternatively, you can push your racket against an object.
- Offer resistance and feel how much movement occurs.
- Then, switch to your hammer grip and do the same.
Now, if you’re a human, the hammer grip would feel more stable.
This is because the angle between your racket and forearm is smaller, which puts your wrist in a “locked” position, especially in an eastern or semi-western forehand.
For the forehand, there are 4 fingers are underneath the handle.
But for the one-handed backhand, the thumb is the only finger driving the racket upwards to the ball.
So the backhand grip needs as much support from other body parts to deliver the same power.
For all these reasons, I would humbly recommend using a hammer grip for drive shots.
The grip change starts immediately after you recognize the ball is coming to your backhand.
It starts simultaneously with the initial unit turn.
You usually start from a neutral grip position when you are in your ready position.
Depending on how extreme your grip is, it can take between 50-100 milliseconds to fully change your grip into position.
Sometimes, when you are in an extreme forehand grip, you don’t have time to reset your grip.
Would have to switch 3-4 bevels counter-clockwise to get to your backhand grip.
Instead, you only need to shift 1-2 bevels the other way to get to your backhand grip.
Pretty neat, huh?
There are several ways you can change your grip from the forehand or neutral position.
Generally, the grip shifts from either hand/wrist extending back toward your upper forearm.
Option 1: Hitting Hand
While holding the throat of the racket with your non-hitting hand, loosen the grip.
Then, rotate your hitting hand to the desired grip with wrist extension.
You can see players like Federer or Dimitrov switch this way in the unit turn.
If this doesn’t feel natural, you can try option 2.
Option 2: Non-Hitting Hand
Relax the hand and open the fingers.
Allow the non-hitting hand to shift the grip.
Non-hitting wrist will extend slightly to readjust grip.
You can see players like Justine Henin do this.
Through repetition, you will make these slight grip changes subconsciously, and will become instinctual with your game.