Tennis Forehand For Senior Players

tennis forehand for senior players

What is the ideal tennis forehand for senior players?

Most tennis players of any age will tell you that their forehand is their favorite shot. It just feels natural to hit the ball with the palm of your hand facing the direction in which you want the ball to travel. 

In modern tennis, the best players hit their forehands with a lot of racket-head speed, and can impart considerable pace and topspin. In seniors, there are still players who can hit their forehand fairly hard, but most cannot develop anything like the same level of racket speed as the pros. 

There are plenty of slow-motion videos online showing how the likes of Nadal hit the ball, but in this article I will consider the different requirements of older players and how these can influence the most appropriate grip and technique. So what are the best options when considering the ideal tennis forehand for senior players?

The Grip

The way you grip the racket is absolutely fundamental to how you hit the ball. Before we discuss the grip in detail, we need to find a clear way to explain the differences between various grip types.

A racket handle has an octagonal (8-sided) profile, so the easiest way to describe a grip is to explain how these sides, or ‘bevels’ as they are known, sit in your hand. The bevels are illustrated and labelled in the diagram below.

The numbering of the bevels differs for right and left-handers, as they hit the ball with opposite sides of the racket. Most players will hold the racket reasonably firmly in their dominant hand, with the thumb and index-finger making a ‘V‘.

The index finger will be in a kind of ‘trigger’ position, with the rest of the fingers staying close together as they wrap around the handle.

Types of Forehand Grip

The best way to describe the differences between grips is to look at the position of the heel of the hand (the base of your hand, opposite your thumb) and the ‘index knuckle’, below your index finger. If you hold the racket in an orthodox way, these two parts of your hand will rest on the same bevel. They will sit on a different bevel depending on how much, if any, topspin the grip is designed to impart.

Continental Grip

This is the traditional way of holding the racket which was widely used in the days of serve and volley tennis and primarily grass courts. The index knuckle and heel of the hand rest on bevel 2 for a continental grip. It is rare to see this grip used for a forehand today, but there may be some players in older age groups who continue to use it because it is what they were taught. The continental grip remains the most popular choice for the serve and both forehand and backhand volleys.

Eastern Grip

If you rotate the racket in your hand slightly, so that your heel and index knuckle are resting on bevel 3, this is an eastern grip. Pete Sampras played with this type of grip, and Roger Federer is close to doing the same, although he may in fact hold it somewhere between bevels 3 and 4. 

The eastern grip was first popularised by the legendary Swede, Bjorn Borg. He was a pioneer, in that he would win matches, even in the era of wooden rackets, from the baseline using heavy topspin. Borg moved the racket steeply upwards when hitting his forehand, in order to create the desired spin. 

These days, top-level players who choose to use the Eastern grip do so because they want to hit aggressive shots with only moderate topspin. It is effective for attacking forehands, and can easily and quickly be changed to the continental grip if you move to the net to volley. 

On the negative side, the Eastern grip is not the easiest to use when attempting to deal with high balls, and makes it more difficult than some other grips to control the ball.

Semi-Western Grip

The semi-western grip is the one most commonly taught to young players today. The heel and index-knuckle rest on bevel 4, and the grip is sometimes alternatively taught by asking players to lay their racket on the ground and pick it up, which tends to place the hand in a similar position. 

This grip is widely used throughout the professional and amateur game, and is the choice of Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic. The semi-western grip allows you to put substantial topspin on the ball, and enables you to hit powerful shots, although it is important to ensure that the ball is contacted in front of you. It can work well for higher-bouncing balls. 

Its main disadvantages are that it is a little more difficult than with other grips to play low balls, and it requires a fairly significant grip change if you need to hit a volley.

Western Grip

The western grip is the most extreme grip in common use, with the index knuckle and heel being placed somewhere close to bevel 5. This means that the racket is basically 180 degrees from its position when you use the continental grip. The western grip is ideal for imparting  spin, and is particularly useful on high-bouncing courts. Leading British player Kyle Edmund is a prominent exponent of this grip. Although the Western grip is ideal for imparting heavy topspin, it does make it difficult to deal with low balls, and a significant and potentially time-consuming grip alteration is required if you wish to hit a volley.

Stroke Mechanics of Different Forehand Grips for Seniors

Not only are there many different methods of gripping your racket, but there are several different ways of swinging the racket which will produce very different outcomes. 

Classic Forehand

Traditionally, the swing was created by drawing the arm back with a modest body rotation, moving through along a relatively flat path. The key points were that the arm tended to move as a single unit, with little bend or wrist movement, and there would be little attempt to impart spin. This ‘classical’ technique would often be combined with a continental grip. 

While no modern player would use this method, in senior tennis there are still a number of players in the older age groups using this kind of approach. If you come into this category, there is no need to panic and enact a vast technical change, simply because other players are using more modern methods. 

This style of forehand can be good for accuracy and lends itself to solid returns of serve, as well as permitting easy transitions to the net. As a development, you may find it beneficial to relax your arm a little more than you were probably taught, as this can result in more ‘easy’ power, which is always useful in the upper age categories.

Contemporary Topspin Forehands

Modern forehands will most commonly be played using a semi-western grip, and will often generate a significant amount of topspin. There is much more freedom of movement than in the classical technique, with the arm being far more relaxed. A combination of swing, body turn and leg drive can create considerable racket-head speed and topspin. 

The question is, if you are a senior player who was not taught to hit a forehand this way, should you change? As you move up the age categories, your ability to generate high levels of racket-head speed will diminish, and the effectiveness of this type of shot will also reduce. 

What you really need is a simple version, with less rotation and leg-drive, perhaps using an eastern grip to enable you to create power without such high racket head speed. The ideal will probably be a shorter, simpler version of Federer’s forehand

Heavily Topspun Forehands

Some players are probably now entering the seniors who learned to play forehands with a western grip. The will be able to retain this in the younger age brackets, but it may well be best to move gradually closer to an eastern grip as they get older, as a western grip without a high racket-head speed is not very helpful.

Sliced Forehands

The sliced forehand is also worth mentioning, as it can offer a useful variation against players who prefer topspin, especially on faster surfaces. It is simple to execute, requires only modest racket-head speed and can easily be converted into a drop-shot or lob, with disguise. It can be played with a continental grip, allowing you to be immediately ready to volley without a grip change. If you can hit topspins as well, the variation can be very difficult for opponents to deal with.

Two-Handed Forehands

The final type of forehand to consider is the two-hander. Monica Seles was a great exponent of this, and, although it is rarely seen, there are a few good senior players who like to use it.

The technique is simple, very much like a two-handed backhand, and it can produce power, accuracy and excellent control. Both hands will normally hold the racket in an eastern grip.

The drawback of the shot is that it limits your reach, and in the upper age categories, with players slowing down, reach is critical. If, however, you play mainly doubles, the angles you can produce with this technique make it emphatically worth considering.

Best Advice on Tennis Forehand for Senior Players

Senior tennis players will always follow the professional game to some degree in terms of technique, as players come through who were taught using the latest methods. Nonetheless, seniors cannot match the athleticism and power of the leading players, so they do need to adopt simple and efficient techniques which are likely to prove effective against their peers. 

The best advice is probably to build on what you have, simplifying your approach to maximise efficiency, and keeping it smooth and relaxed. Use the tips in this article to either develop your own technique or have an informed discussion with your coach.

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4 thoughts on “Tennis Forehand For Senior Players”

  1. Frank Silbermann

    Your description of the Eastern grip was that of Bill Tilden, who popularized it in the 1920s. But the “modern Eastern Grip” (which dominated the following decade) was a little closer to Continental, with heel of the hand on bevel 2 and index knuckle on bevel 3 towards the top. A variation of the “modern eastern” had both on bevel 2; the continental had the heel of the hand on bevel 1 so you could also hit backhands with it.

    I prefer using the terms I learned from tennis instructors and book authors when I started playing back in 1974 — speaking not of “old school” vs “modern” but “correct” vs “incorrect.” (See Ed Faulkner’s classic, _Tennis: How to Play it; How to Teach it_, first published in 1967, for the most comprehensive description of the differences between correct and incorrect techniques. Faulkner had coached Davis Cup teams going back as far as the 1920s.)

    Changes in court surfaces and racket technology have made the correct techniques quite obsolete for top competitors today. For a young person who trains hard, certain grotesquely incorrect techniques will let him take full advantage of today’s racket’s big heads, giant sweet spots, extreme power and ultra-light weight. (Back in the 1980s John McEnroe noticed that racket technology was allowing poorer players to reduce the gap between them and the better players; with continuing racket changes poorer players — i.e., those with incorrect technique — were able to leave better players (those with correct technique) behind in the dust.

    For this reason, incorrect technique is universal among today’s pros. Ten years ago I began trying to incorporate incorrect techniques into my game, but lately physical ailments (vision problems, reduction in neck rotation) have convinced me to reject that and try to make my technique as correct as I can. Because I cannot see the ball well, it’s actual location is always somewhat of a surprise to me, so a style which helped players deal with grass court bad bounces helps. You cannot turn your body any more than your neck can rotate if you are to keep your eye on the ball, so a near-continental eastern grip reduces the need for body rotation (just a little at the moment of contact). And let’s face it — if you’re never going to hit anywhere near as hard as the pros, you’re not going to need heavy topspin. At lower velocities, accuracy and control is all you need to keep the ball from sailing over the baseline. More important, the margin for error that spin gives to the flight of the ball must be off set by the reduced margin for error at ball contact due to making a glancing blow instead of having the racket approach the ball on the same line of direction that the ball is coming in on. No amount of topspin can compensate for mis-hits.

    Add to that the saving of strength and energy from not having to bust my knees for the low balls; the increased court coverage by being able to stand in a foot or two closer to the net and taking the ball out to my side; and being able to stroke the ball from the same body orientation as I have as I run to towards the ball (instead of having to leap into the air in the last moment so I can pull my shoulders around).

    Drop shots are more important in senior citizen singles, and the near-continental grip not only makes drop shots easier to make, but standing in closer and being able to reach down low just before the ball bounces a second time makes it easier to retrieve them.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Frank- you make some really interesting points. I myself did not begin playing until I was in my mid-twenties, in circa 1990, and I did not benefit from formal instruction at that time, so your insights into the culture of the 70s and 80s are particularly valuable.

      I’m not sure I agree 100% with your preference for terminology like ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’, although if it helps you to visualise things in this way then that is great. My personal opinion is that if a technique is effective and does not cause an excess of injuries then I would not class it as incorrect. You are absolutely right, however, that modern racquet technology allows people to play shots which would have been largely ineffective (and deemed technically incorrect) with the racquets used in the 70s.

      Given the above, I prefer to say that what is best for a player, technique-wise, depends upon their playing style and physical capabilities. The style you describe clearly works for you. From my experience of ITF Seniors events I would certainly recommend players to experiment with grips and shots similar to yours if they are heading for the over-70s or above.

      My articles on this site are generally intended to help players in all Seniors age categories from over-35s upwards, so it is necessary to cover modern techniques as well as simplified ones for players whose athleticism is diminishing. I would not wish to suggest to any player that their preferred style is in some sense deprecated, but, equally, insights from experienced players such as yourself are always valuable for anyone who wants to enjoy real longevity in the game.

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