The Return Serve Grip

Which grip is correct?

Some players stand ready to return serve with their forehand grip.  Others wait with their backhand grip.  Which is better?

Tennis Magazine Says …

According to an article in the March/April 2020 issue of Tennis Magazine, they say this:

“Even though you’re likely to receive more serves directed to your backhand, it’s actually more advantageous to prepare to return with a forehand grip. 

It’s simply more efficient: a forehand resting grip keeps the racket face nearly perpendicular to the court, pointing straight in front of you, and in the center of your body.

“A backhand grip will tilt the frame to your non–dominant side, open the face and prove clumsier when transitioning to a forehand grip.

“Keep the non-dominant hand in the backhand grip (two-handed players), or supporting the frame by the throat (one-handed players), with the dominant hand prepped for a forehand.

“If the serve goes to the forehead, you’re all set; if it goes to the backhand, the offhand anchors the racket while the dominant hand makes the subtle group change during the shoulder turn.”

Without giving it all this analysis, I do this… primarily because I WANT TO HIT A FOREHAND.  How about YOU?

And, have your tennis courts opened?  What are the “rules”?

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11 thoughts on “The Return Serve Grip

  1. I wait with a FH grip as I find it easier to go from a FH to BH grip than the other way and can still hit a reasonable BH return with an incomplete grip change. If I’m getting crossed often then I may modify to a continental.

    Chris, i feel the same way. thanks, george

  2. While waiting for a shot during a rally (singles or doubles, not when returning serve), I believe most players wait for the shot with a forehand grip. If the shot goes to the backhand, the change of grip to the backhand is almost unconscious. If you wait for a return of serve with a backhand grip, then have to quickly change it to a forehand grip, I believe that will feel unnatural.

    Jack, and it does feel unnatural! thanks, george

  3. Sometimes I feel fortunate that I had no one to teach me when I grew up. So I have always used the forehand grip for both forehand and backhand. Maybe, ignorance is bliss. Maybe, at 80, it is time for a lesson.

    Jim, you CAN teach old dogs new tricks. Try it. george

  4. I play mostly doubles and return with a continental grip on both sides. I find that I hardly ever drive my returns in doubles. I try to keep my returns low with a slice, and try to not let the slice “sit up” so my return shot is hard to attack. I have the same philosophy with the volley-continental grip using the same grip on both the BHV and FHV. If I had a good driving forehand return, for a ball that sits up, I would switch grips and drive it with a forehand grip. I, however, can also hit a knifing forehand sliced return with a continental grip, which is just as effective for me since I am more consistent and accurate with it.

    Lynn, wow. Using one grip for all strokes sounds like a consistent winner! thanks, george

  5. First, a Happy Mother’s Day to DeDe!

    And thanks for asking your readers for the rules their clubs are opening under, if they open. I have been asked, as a past president and physician, to chair a committee to come up with protocols for as much safety as possible if and when we open (currently delayed until June 15). The USTA has, of course, published its guidelines.
    I hope you can have a link or some other way to distribute what other clubs are going to use, especially those in New Hampshire, or readers send me their club’s protocols (

    Rick, it is incredible how wide the “rules” have been for courts that have opened! In my community of Pelican Bay, i am very happy with their guidelines: in addition to all the usual “social distancing” rules, they have opened all courts; but stagger start times to limit mingling. They allow singles AND doubles, with outside guests allowed; but have limited access to the pro shop (posting court assignments on the door). Other clubs i have heard about have much stricter rules: singles only, no guests, time limited to one hour to allow disinfecting crossover table/chairs. etc. George

  6. George, I look forward to reading your blog to maintain some connection with the game. There’s still no tennis here for most of us in Northern CA, at least until the end of May. Strangely, badminton and table tennis are allowed, but tennis itself is only permitted if players are from the same household (?). My tennis buddies were thinking about all moving into one guy’s house for a while, but none of our wives thought that was a good idea. Many tennis players in the area have been appealing to the county and city officials to permit play under the each-player-serves-with-their-own-balls rules the USTA has published. We’ll see, but I’m not optimistic things will change anytime soon. In the meantime, I’ll keep hitting foam balls against the garage door. On the bright side, the early shelter in place policies here stopped the spread of Covid quite effectively. CA has twice the population of NY state and one-tenth as many deaths from the virus so far. As testing finally improves, I do think things will open up again. The Roche antibody test looks like the real deal, unlike a lot of other junk that’s been out on the market.

    As for return grips, I’ve got a two-handed backhand so I usually go with a forehand grip and keep the off-hand In the backhand position, ready to adjust the grip if needed. The exception is if I’m playing a young guy who is serving up bombs (as sometimes happens in the USTA 18+ leagues). Then I’ll go with a nearly continental grip and try my best to imitate Federer’s chip returns. It surprises me how many young guys with big serves don’t follow them in, especially in singles.

    Stay safe and be well. I’m still hoping to see you again at Newk’s this October.

    Joe, while exercising just now, i was watching LIVE tennis on Tennis Channel from Florida… singles using the Fast Four format, each players has their own serving balls, no ball kids, no audience, chair umpire. If they can do it, you can do it. Yes, see you at Newk’s!! george

  7. I wait with the forehand grip and for the reasons already mentioned. Tennis and pickle ball courts still closed in The Villages. I don’t expect them to open until the first of June. Ready for the competition and comradeship with my tennis buddies again. Glad you are back on the courts.

    Dave, i think it was the comradeship i missed most during shut down. thanks, george

  8. All of these ideas are “treating the symptoms” as far as hitting a better return of serve. How do you cure the cause? If you want to hit more returns from your stronger side (forehand or backhand)…then 1) wait with your weaker return of serve grip and turn slightly to that side of the court, making sure the server sees you waiting for that serve to come to your weaker side…2) as he goes thru his motion move forward to a neutral position like you do normally…3) get ready for about 20%-25% more serves to your your stronger side.
    As the server looks up to see you are ready to take your weaker side return of serve (say your backhand), psychologically he will automatically want to serve to the opposite side you are waiting on…he can’t help it. Over the last three years, I’ve put this into place and have been rewarded by many more serves coming to my forehand side! You are now controlling where he serves it, not just allowing him to serve where he wants. Good Luck!!

    Mark, welcome to the conversation! Nice to have your expert opinion heard. Yes, sounds like luring the server to your strength is an excellent idea. Thanks, george

  9. Well, that’s just *heinous*! So, Mark Vines doesn’t just beat you with his ridiculous skill level, but also *manipulates* your poor heiny!!

    Kevin, Skill comes in many forms! thanks, george

  10. I think it comes down to an individual choice.
    Some players wait with the forehand grip and some with the backhand. In doubles, when I play the ad side, I know I’m going to get a majority of serves to my backhand, so I wait to return with an eastern backhand grip. I usually slice or chip the return low, forcing the server to hit the ball up for me or my partner to hit a winning volley. It’s not difficult for me to make a forehand grip change for the return on that side. However, when I play the deuce side, I prefer to use a continental forehand grip, a style I was instructed in many years ago. On the deuce side, I will hit forehand and backhand returns using the continental grip.
    Then, when I approach to volley, I’m set with the same grip, to hit a forehand or backhand, depending what side the ball is coming back.
    I guess it all comes down to one’s own technique and how we learned the game. That’s what’s so unique about tennis. No one way, no set way, just your way of getting the ball back over the net.

    Glen, that sounds waaaaaaaay too logical! Thanks. George

  11. My grip selection is more complicated than most. I hit with a normal forehand grip on my right side. On the left side I hit a cross hand shot – meaning my left hand is on the butt of the racket and right hand is above it. I usually wait with my left hand on the lowest position on the racket. If the ball comes to my backhand, I simply move my right hand above the left. If the serve comes to my forehand, I must let go of the racket with my left hand and change it to my right hand. In senior tennis on soft courts I usually have time to change grips. I often tell people that I am “grip challenged”.

    Rick, wow. that is challenging to accomplish! thanks, george

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