3 Forehand Grips?

In the Old Days, many players used the Continental grip for every stroke (forehand, backhand, volley and serve); but today’s male pros have mostly switched to the full forehand Western grip for more topspin.  But what grip – or grips – should us “normal players” use?

Finding the Bevel

The standard tennis racquet handle has eight flat spots (bevels), which can be numbered 1-8 clockwise from the top of a perpendicular racquet face.  The placement of the hand on those bevels will determine which forehand grip you are using:

  • The Eastern Grip: This is the most common forehand grip for most amateur players and has the base knuckle of the index finger and the lower pad of your hand on bevel #3.

  • The Semi-Western Grip: About 7-8 years ago, I spent a New Hampshire summer teaching myself how to use this grip, which provides more topspin to the forehand.  For my way of thinking, you just rotate that base knuckle and heel pad one more bevel clockwise onto bevel #4.

  • The Continental Grip: For most players, this is the grip for the serve, volley and overhead; but many use it for the slice forehand.  The base knuckle and heel pad then move up to bevel #2 for this stroke.

How Many Grips to Use?

For me, I have become comfortable moving between the flatter Eastern grip and the increased topspin of the Semi-Western grips; but have not successfully integrated the Continental/slice forehand into my repertoire. 

Are two grips enough or should we all have the options of choosing from all three?

And when is it best to use each of these grips/shots?

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14 thoughts on “3 Forehand Grips?

  1. Over the past couple years, I’ve found the sliced forehand (continental) to have had major benefits, although it took me awhile to get it down. No matter how hard (relatively speaking) I hit topspin approach shots, good players were able to position themselves for a decent passing or lob attempt. Keeping the ball a little lower and shorter, especially for us older folks, often makes our opponents hit up on the ball, resulting in easier volleys and often “immature” lobs. Because the continental is also the volley grip, the sliced forehand approach has helped me most in doubles.

    Doug, well, i guess i should keep working on it! thanks, george

  2. (Warning: Long, boring, personal post) 🙂

    My wrist issues have forced me to explore this issue to an even *more* ridiculous degree than I normally do. 🙂 When the wrist totally crapped out about a dozen years ago, the only way I could continue to play was with a Continental grip for everything – and then only with a brace and plenty of ibuprofen on board. Ugly tennis with the slice forehands, but desperation happens.

    Since wrist bone removal in Feb. and cast removal and now permission to “abuse” the joint, have been doing crazy amounts of experimenting with forehand grips. Pain initially still limited me to the Continental, but as the pain (*very* slowly) eases, have kept moving westwardly.

    Definite advantages to each grip along the way. Hope to have the “Andrew Rae” flattish forehand someday, presumably using an eastern grip, and be able to dip a forehand passing shot with a semiwestern grip.

    BTW, even a very few degrees change in racquet face angle at contact can make the difference between hitting the ball into the net or having it land long if there’s any pace on the shot. So, when you consider that each of those bevel changes involves *45*°, then you realize that other serious changes must also occur, and much of it is related to how far ” out in front” you contact the ball. In general, the further west the grip, the further “out in front” the contact. Oh, and my key for that ugly, slice forehand is a very late contact. Never did find a decent way to hit it well off a low ball, though. 🙁

    Also, finding out how critical wrist “lay-back” is, especially as you move westwardly with the forehand grip. Since getting permission to abuse the joint, have been able to move from 0° of “extension” to now over 5°, I think. 🙂 Gonna be a while. . .

    Oddly, was able to go back to my old topspin one handed backhand almost as soon as I was allowed to start feeding balls.

    Kevin, that “small grip change” resulting in big ball movement change was why it took me a whole summer to “get a grip” on the semi-western forehand! thanks, george

  3. Should also add that the “swing” angle must also change significantly with the various forehand grips – downward with Continental, upward with western, and less upward with semiwestern.

  4. Excellent topic George and I appreciate the detailed technical explanation of the hand placement. I suffer from forehand envy of those who have successfully converted to the more powerful grip. The reality of my limited “change” work ethic frustrates me in not developing a semi-western grip forehand and a two-handed backhand just for return of serve and shoulder height backhands. Attaboy to you for putting in the effort to successfully make the semi-western grip transition.
    Having recently given up on using a players racquet (100 sq inch) and switched to the 137″ Gamma Big Bubba, the slice forehand has gotten more effective but the top spin forehand drive needs improvement. Besides needing to make contact farther away (racquet is 1 1/2 inches longer than old one), there is more need to hit on the outside of the ball to get good result. Am still using continental grip on the topspin forehand – anyone had success with the huge racquet using a semi-western? I do not even know if it is a good idea to try. The two-handed backhand for return of serve is progressing with the huge racquet but long way to go before will trust it in competition.
    Anyway, just bringing up the idea that racquet size effects optimal grip choice, just do not know what that choice should be. Always interesting to experiment with equipment, technique as well as fitness – what a great game!

    Winder, i play with Gordon Hammes (top 4 in the US in the 85s) and he recently switched to the Big Bubba and also had trouble adapting his excellent lefty, topspin forehand to the new stick. He seems now to have just about completed the transition. thanks, george

  5. In my estimation, the continental grip is good for all shots except the topspin forehand and it really works great for chip and charging. I have always used a continental but now trying to hit over the ball more often when my opponents are up at net. The best tip I’ve come across to switch out of the continental grip under pressure for the topspin forehand is to use your non playing hand to get into the eastern or semi-western grip. A work in progress and easier said than done.

    Tom, i agree … your off hand should control the racquet grip changes. thanks, george

  6. I think I would have been a better player had I not learned with the continental grip for the forehand in my early years. (But I became pretty good at squash because of it!)
    I switched to the eastern grip in my second two decades of playing, and then to a semi-western when I moved to Florida. It only took me 40 years to get a forehand as good as my backhand!
    Now I play and teach semi-western for experienced players, and the continental for shots under duress, drop shots, making gets and defensive lobs. I still think the eastern grip is best for beginners, but hope to see them evolve to semi-western…and then some of them to evolve even more to western.

    Spike, i would be impossible for you do hit your wicked, cross court forehand roller without a semi-western or at least an Eastern!! thanks, george

  7. George, when semi-western grips became popular and more players started using them,
    I thought of changing to hit with more topspin. I tried experimenting with It, but could not get a feel for its execution. I gave up after thinking that this will take a long time to learn. I was taught the continental grip for all the strokes. It wasn’t until college that my coach suggested I learn an eastern grip for more topspin, height, and depth. So, after his help, I now use the eastern grip the majority of times in hitting topspin grounstrokes for forehands and backhands. For returning serve, I use the eastern backhand slice to keep the return low which gives me or my partner a volley put away on the next shot.
    Still, I am glad I learned the continental grip.
    I employ it for a forehand slice, low bouncing balls, all volleys, lobs and some serves. Eastern backhand still my favorite service grip
    making it easier to swing the racquet around on edge, brushing up and across the back of the ball at impact for spin. There are many ways to hit the ball over the net. But , without suitable, reliable grips, spins, control, power or disguise would not be possible.

    Glenn, according the late, great Vic Braden, it takes “10,000 repetitions to own a new stroke.” thanks, george

  8. I switched from an eastern to a semi-western several years ago to get more topspin and to be able to hit short “dippers’’ when opponents approach the net. It took a lot of hitting against the wall to finally get it. Changing the swing path is the key. The semi-western grip demands a more pronounced low-to-high racquet head path, as Kevin pointed out. You’ve really got to brush up on the back of the ball. I’m now trying to master a forehand slice for variety, but this now requires using the off hand on the throat of the racquet to enable a grip change. Same story for switching from a two-handed topspin backhand to a slice.

    Joe, you and i are in the same boat! thanks, george

  9. I used the eastern forehand grip for several years. For the past 20 years or so I’ve been using a grip that’s in between eastern and semi-western. Like Spike Gonzales said, I think the eastern is the way to go for beginners with the consideration of, at the right time, making a transition to semi-western. This is what I advise my students.

    About the continental…Why this was the grip of choice among most pros back in the 50s & 60s is because most of the tournaments were played on grass and fast hard courts with low bounces. Also back in the day players served and volleyed a lot. Hence no grip change required. This made the continental a good choice. I insist that anyone who takes a lesson(s) from me on the serve use the continental for serving. And I do mean anyone, regardless of how long they’ve been playing or how resistant they are. Almost always, if the player commits to trying it and using it exclusively for a few weeks they come back to me and thank me for insisting they give it a try.

    Note: While I serve with the continental, I hit overheads with an eastern. The ball goes up, I flip the grip to eastern, not continental. Go figure. Anyone else do this?

    Alan, good explanation of why the Continental was used earlier; what is the benefit of hitting overheads with an eastern? george

  10. Scratch that “downward” swing path for Continental grip forehand. Was thinking of a slice. But, as to “rolling” a dipping, cross-court forehand with a Continental grip, the only time I ever got to play against Hugh Thomson, he burned me nastily with that shot with that grip. It *can* be done.

    Kevin, but only by a Master Aussie like Hugh! thanks, george

  11. I used the continental for years making the transition to the eastern about 20 years ago. ( very difficult btw) My grip will float to the continental as I move into the court and I still use it for any low balls around or inside the service line. When I’m forced to play with my left hand I’m usually semi western but can transition between all 3 seamlessly.

  12. Yesterday, I watched up close a couple of 5.5+ level young players (just out of Division 1 colleges) play a singles match at my home, red clay court in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. One player was American, and the other was French (from Nice, which is very nice).

    I had just played some morning doubles on the same court and, after sweeping, they had the court next — so I, my three doubles mates, and about 5 other players decided to take some seats on the veranda in the shade and watch how REALLY GOOD modern players hit the ball.

    Unbelievable is all I can say. I know these guys were “only” 5.5’s but all I can say is, WOW did they hit the ball hard and the amount of spin that they generated on groundies was awesome. Both had full western forehand grips and two handed backhands and the just crunched the ball on every shot.

    Mostly all of the shots were hit with heavy, heavy topspin. Yet, especially with the French player, he had the ability to switch grips off both sides and hit beautiful low bouncing slices as well.

    It was at once inspiring and very, very discouraging, since I was watching a foursome of my normal “old guy” 4.0 – 4.5 level friends playing a doubles match several courts away in the distance and, even though I know all of these guys to be very fine layers, they just looked like rote amateurs by comparison. I therefore realized how low my own level of play is relative to these two young guys as well.

    Anyway, the point is that, if I had to do it all over again, I think I would try to learn to hit huge topspin forehands with a full western grip and the same with a two handed backhand. But I cannot do it all over again, so I can dream can’t I?

    Marty, so you are one Old Dog past time for learning new tricks? george

  13. George, to answer your question, I have for a while been experimenting with trying to switch my normal Eastern forehand to a Semi Western, but every time I think I am making progress with it I wind up reverting to the Eastern again if I get into a tough match, tight point, etc. In other words, it is not second nature to me, yet, and may never be. And unlike you in NH a few years back, I am still not retired so I have less time to practice and groove a new stroke than you apparently did.

    I do agree with others who have commented that, in switching to a Semi Western forehand from an Eastern (or I assume Continental), it is not just the grip change that needs to come with practice, but the key is also to change the whole trajectory of the swing, and I find THAT to be the most difficult to learn.

    Like most Eastern grip players of the same era, I was taught the forehand is a relatively simple stroke — for a righty you turn sideways to your right into a closed stance as you take the racquet straight back and point it toward the fence. Then you swing through on a flat plane to hit the ball as you are also shifting your weigh from your back (right) foot to your left (front) foot. Then you finish with the racquet up high but pointing straight ahead and you are done. The result is a mainly flat shot that should clear the net by a few feet and have topspin maybe at around a 2 or 3 on a scale of 10.

    But now, even mastering the feel of a Semi Western grip is only a small part of the swing adjustment. As best as I can tell from a few lessons and reading and watching a lot about it (although I most certainly do not have the stroke down pat or with consistency), you stand in a relatively open stance but twist at your core so it is more your upper torso that turns to your right instead of your whole body and feet. Then instead of pulling the racquet back straight for the fence, you kind of hold the racquet with the head elevated and the racquet point a bit out toward the right as you set up for the swing. Then to start the swing path you simply let the racquet head drop to much lower than what would have been your normal swing path with an Eastern grip and you brush up on the back of the ball as you hit it in one continuous swinging motion as your torso uncurls. And finally, you finish the shot not with the racquet pointing elevated but straight in front of you as with an Eastern forehand, but you either (a) finish the stroke with you racquet sweeping across your body and ending up behind your left shoulder (for a more conventional topspin shot), or (b) finish the stroke with your racquet kind of high and next to your right shoulder but over your head (for more of a “buggy whip” action). In either case, you let nature take care of any pronation as it should come naturally if you swing properly.

    While I can, sort of, hit these shots with some consistency in a practice rally, I nearly always forget all of the above and revert back to my old comfortable flat Eastern forehand whenever I get into a match play situation and my nerves and the desire for consistency get in the way of my conversion to a more modern forehand. Sometimes I manage to survive with a win. But often I do not win if I am playing against somebody younger who has the Semi Western grip more “locked in.”

    As for a Continental, I have always just naturally switched to this whenever I come to the net for any reason. So I instinctively switch from an Eastern to a Continental on every approach shot, every chip shot, and every volley, all the time. I also do it for every drop shot. I don’t even have to think about it. As a result, I can hit slice pretty easily and effortlessly off of both my backhand and forehand. To hit slice on either ground stroke, I just consciously switch to a Continental and I swing forward on the ball. I honestly do not know if I swing down, straight ahead, up or whatever, because I never paid any attention to it. I just swing with the Continental grip, and the ball goes ahead with slice and that is it. So, I guess you would say that I have a natural slice on both sides of my groundies as it for sure was never something that anyone taught me. It just…. happened.

    I hope this answers your question.

    Marty, the challenge i think is… accepting the fact that you will miss shots, lose points/games/matches as you transition to any new stroke. Without that acceptance, no change is possible. thanks, george

  14. First of all, George played GREAT this past Monday at Spike’s round robin at Wilderness….he was my partner and all I had to say (repeatedly!) was “great shot, George!). As for grips, I grew up in the 60s with that one, “shake hands”/continental grip, and that’s all I have today….still pretty good for flat and slice ground-strokes….but tough for top spin….too old to change!

    Scoot, easy to play well with you as a partner! thanks, george

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