Whether you are new to the game, or have been playing for some time, one of the most vital things to consider is how you hold your racket.
If you watch the pros, they grip the racket in very different ways, so there is clearly no single right answer. What actually matters is how you intend to hit the ball: do you plan to put a lot of spin on it, or do you want to hit it flat? If you do want to spin it, which way would you like it to spin?
Using an appropriate grip will make it easier to hit the ball the way you want. Most players will also use a different grip for serving and volleying. So, let’s look in more detail at how to hold a tennis racket.
How To Describe A Tennis Grip
I have looked at many photographs of people holding tennis rackets, and it is generally almost impossible to learn much from them, as the hands obscure most of the racket handle and make it very difficult to see how the grip is being held.
I find that the easiest way to communicate how to hold a racket is by using diagrams showing what are called the ‘bevels’ of the racket handle.
The bevels are numbered differently for left and right-handers, as they hit the ball with opposite sides of the racket. In general, a player will hold the racket in their dominant hand, with the thumb and index-finger making a ‘V‘.
The index finger will sit in a kind of ‘trigger’ position, with the rest of the fingers remaining close together as they wrap around the handle.
In this article, I will describe how these bevels fit into your hand when you play different shots.
The main difference between the various types of grip is how the knuckle below your index finger and the heel of the hand (on the opposite side to the thumb at the base of your hand) are positioned. Because of the angle at which your hand holds the racket, these two areas will sit on the same bevel.
How to hold a tennis racket for beginners
As a beginner, you will want to hit the ball simply and cleanly. There will be no need to hold the racket in such a way as to help you to spin the ball. Throughout this article, as I work through the popular grips for each shot, I shall explain which is most likely to be suitable for a beginner.
How far down to hold a tennis racket
There are many opinions on this, but basically if you are looking for precision, when volleying for example, you will move your hand a short distance up the racket towards the head– half an inch or so can make a significant difference.
If you are looking for power from the baseline or extra reach on the serve, you will hold the racket as close to the bottom of the grip as possible. Some players even hold their racket so low that one or more of their fingers is not on the grip at all, but this is not recommended as it limits control and can lead to hand injuries.
The forehand is an important shot for virtually every tennis player, and is often the one used to put an opponent under pressure or to hit a winner.
There are many different ways of hitting this stroke, from the smooth, flat shot of Roger Federer to the heavy topspin of Rafael Nadal or Karen Khachanov. As might be expected, these different styles require different ways of holding the racket.
Place the heel of your hand and index knuckle on bevel 3 in the diagram above and you will be holding the racket in an eastern grip. Björn Borg and Pete Sampras used this grip, and Roger Federer uses something similar, although he is probably halfway between bevels 3 and 4.
Players who use this grip today will be those who like to hit the ball fairly flat, with a modest amount of topspin.
Not only does the eastern grip suit players who want to play aggressively, but it also helps in finishing points off at the net, as only a small change is needed to convert to a volleying grip.
On the negative side, it is not particularly easy to deal with high balls using this grip, and, due to the likely lack of spin, control can be limited. Nonetheless, the eastern grip is ideal for producing simple groundstrokes, and is often used by beginners.
This is a very popular grip in modern tennis, for which the index knuckle and heel of the hand are placed on bevel 4. Another way of finding the semi-western grip is to lay the racket on the floor and then picking it up without turning it in your hand.
This grip is commonly taught to junior players, and beginners are sometimes advised to use it. It is used by Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, and produces a racket angle which helps with the production of both topspin and power.
The semi-western grip works best if the ball is contacted in front of you, and is particularly effective in dealing with medium and high balls. Its disadvantages are the fact that it requires a substantial grip change to hit a volley, and that it is not ideal for hitting low balls.
For a western grip, the index knuckle and heel of the hand will be close to bevel 5, and the racket will have been rotated quite substantially from the more traditional eastern grip position.
This grip is not suitable for beginners or young juniors, but professional who learned to play on high-bouncing courts may favour it.
Examples of players using a western grip are Karen Khachanov and Kyle Edmund, while Rafael Nadal also uses something similar. The grip is excellent for applying heavy spin and dealing with high balls, but low balls can be difficult, and a substantial grip change is required to hit a volley.
There are many different ways of hitting a backhand. Many players, especially women, hold the racket with both hands and hit flat, aggressive shots. Others use one hand and hit topspin or slice, each of which requires a different grip.
Two-Handed Backhand Grip
For a right-handed player, the right hand will be positioned at the base of the grip, with the left hand further up. They will put the index knuckle of the right hand on bevel 2, while the heel of the right hand is placed on bevel 1. Both index knuckle and heel of the left hand will sit on bevel 7. This pattern will be mirrored for a left-handed player.
A two-handed backhand will aid power and control, and is helpful for returning powerful serves.
On the negative side, it restricts reach, and limits the amount of spin that can be put on the ball. Beginners will almost always be taught a two-handed backhand unless they have expressed a strong preference for something else, as it lends itself to simple strokes and does not require a great deal of strength.
Single-Handed Backhand Grip
The single-handed backhand is very much the traditional way of playing. It allows more spin to be imparted than the two-handed shot, and permits greater reach. A substantial number of modern players, such as Federer and Tsitsipas, play their backhands this way.
Several different grips can be used when hitting a single-handed backhand.
If a player is defending, or wishes to slice the ball to approach the net, they are likely to use a continental grip. Here, the index knuckle and heel of the hand sit on bevel 2, and the thumb and index finger form a V-shape.
Eastern Backhand Grip
This grip allows the player to generate topspin and a reasonable amount of power. The heel of the hand and the index knuckle both need to be placed on bevel 1. The finger position will differ from a forehand grip, in that the knuckles are aligned parallel to the handle of the racket, and the index-finger is wrapped around the racket rather than extending along the handle as it might for a forehand.
Semi-Western Backhand Grip
This allows players to generate even more topspin, and is sometimes described as an extreme backhand grip. The heel of the hand and the index knuckle are placed on bevel 8. Justine Henin was a leading exponent of this grip.
Switching To Slice
There will be times in a rally when most players, even those with two-handed backhands, want to hit a slice. They may be dealing with a tricky low ball, a fast wide one, or simply wish to move to the net. In any event, the (virtually) universal approach is to switch to a continental grip, as described above, holding the racket in one hand.
When volleying, the key is to have a solid grip which does not need to be changed when switching from forehand to backhand, as this may need to be done very rapidly when you are at the net. The continental grip is perfect for this, and is extremely widely used for volleying. It can also be used if a player wishes to hit an overhead.
If a player receives a slow, floating ball that is not high enough for a smash, they may wish to hit an aggressive drive volley. In this case, they are likely to use the same grip as they use for their forehand or backhand groundstroke, but with a truncated swing.
The continental grip, with index knuckle and heel of the hand on bevel 2, is almost universally adopted for serving. This version of the grip may have the fingers spread out a little more than that used for volleying or sliced backhands, but is otherwise identical.
How you hold a tennis racket depends almost entirely on how you want to hit the ball. The most efficient grip for each shot is listed below.
Flat forehand: Eastern grip
Forehand with balance of topspin and power: Semi-Western grip
Heavily topspun forehand for high-bouncing courts: Western grip
Two-handed backhand: between Continental and Eastern for dominant hand, with non-dominant hand in Eastern forehand grip
Backhand with power and topspin: Eastern backhand grip
Heavily topspun backhand: Semi-Western backhand grip
Sliced backhand: Continental grip
Volleying: Continental Grip
Serving: Continental grip
All of these grips are described in this article in terms of which bevels you place your index knuckle and the heel of your hand on. Try them out and see if you like using them.