Optimal Forehand And Backhand Grip And How To Switch Between Them

Jun 01

Having a correct grip for your forehand and backhand strokes in tennis is the key to hitting your shots with consistency and power.

An incorrect grip will always hold you back in some way when you’re hitting your strokes as it will force you to improvise in some way instead of allowing your body to swing in a bio-mechanically optimal way.

You also need to switch between forehand and one- and two-handed backhand grips quickly and efficiently as every tenth of a second lost fiddling with your grips increases the chance that you will hit the ball late.

How To Find A Correct Forehand And Backhand Grip

While there are many ways of finding the right grip for your strokes, I want to show you one method that also helps you be more aware of the correct contact point for each stroke.

a) Semi-Western Forehand Grip

The following method helps you find a very comfortable Semi-Western forehand grip, which is a grip I recommend. You can also use an Eastern forehand grip, which is very reliable but might give you some problems on very high balls.

To find the Semi-Western forehand grip, hold your racquet by the throat in your non-dominant hand and extend it fully away from your body while keeping your arm straight.

finding a forehand grip in tennis

This method of finding a forehand grip helps you be more aware of the contact point too

The racquet needs to be horizontal with the head on the right side and the handle on the left side. The handle should be just in front of your right arm so you need to reach across your body with your non-dominant arm.

Then extend your dominant hand towards the handle and grip it in a very natural comfortable way without twisting your wrist.

You will then very likely hold the racquet with the Semi-Western forehand grip.

semi-western forehand grip

A Semi-Western forehand grip from top view

b) Eastern One-Handed Backhand Grip

The method for finding the Eastern grip for your one-handed backhand is very similar.

Hold the racquet again by the throat with your non-dominant hand, but this time the racquet needs to be oriented the other way, meaning that the head is on the left side and the handle on your right side.

finding a backhand grip in tennis

Follow a similar process to find an Eastern backhand grip

Extend your non-dominant arm away from your body and keep the handle again just in front of your right arm.

Extend the right arm and comfortably and naturally grip the racquet handle.

You will very likely hold the racquet now with an Eastern one-handed backhand grip.

Eastern one-handed backhand grip

Eastern backhand grip from top view

c) Two-Handed Backhand Grip

The method for finding the right grip for your two-handed backhand is very similar, and your objective is to eventually hold the racquet with an Eastern forehand grip with your non-dominant hand and with a Continental grip with your dominant hand.

Follow exactly the same procedure that I explained above for finding a one-handed backhand grip with one difference – this time, don’t extend your non-dominant arm fully away from your body but keep it very close with just a few inches of space between your body and your arm.

finding a two-handed backhand grip

Hold the racquet closer to you and you’ll probably hold it with a Continental grip

When you place your dominant hand now on top of the handle, it will naturally grip it with a Continental grip.

Then simply slide down your non-dominant hand in a very comfortable way to the handle, and you’ll very likely hold an Eastern forehand grip.

two-handed backhand grip combo

I recommend the Eastern & Continental grip combination for a two-handed backhand

How To Quickly Change From A Forehand To A Backhand Grip

A common misconception when it comes to changing a grip is that you do it with your dominant hand. It does hold the handle differently, after all.

But we actually change the grip by using our non-dominant hand, which turns the racquet by the appropriate amount of rotation so that it’s oriented correctly for the backhand grip.

We simply let go of the racquet slightly with our dominant hand so that it can turn in the hand and then use our non-dominant hand to turn the racquet a bit.

forehand to backhand grip change

With this slight exaggeration I am showing you how the grip is changed with the off-hand

We also initiate our backhand (whether one-handed or two-handed) by turning our shoulders. This very process will actually facilitate the racquet turning process as we perform both moves simultaneously.

Once we finish turning our shoulders, we’ll also finish turning the racquet handle by the correct degree of rotation and our dominant hand will feel that it’s holding the correct backhand grip now.

We can then just firm up the grip a bit and initiate our swing forward.

The process is very similar if you’re changing from a forehand grip to a two-handed backhand grip except that now you turn the racquet handle a bit less and your non-dominant hand eventually slides down the throat and grips the handle in an Eastern forehand grip.

forehand to two-handed backhand grip change

After you complete the grip change just slide your non-dominant hand down to the handle

The process of changing your grip from a forehand to a backhand grip should eventually be completely unconscious and automatic.

If you’re not changing the grip with your non-dominant hand or you’re still struggling with finding the right grip, then I suggest you practice that at home.

Practice changing your grip by simulating a more realistic situation as if you’re on a tennis court. Be in a ready position and do a small split step before initiating your grip change and the shoulder turn.

If you devote just a few minutes per day of practicing your grip change, you’ll soon make that process unconscious and likely find out that you now experience more time when preparing for the next shot.

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(28) comments

Alan Dworsky June 1, 2016

What grips do you recommend for the volley: forehand and one-handed backhand? I’ve heard that both should be continental grip and then you don’t have to change the grip no matter where the ball goes. But the continental grip feels awkward on my forehand side.

Reply
    Tomaz June 1, 2016

    Yes, forehand volley feels awkward with a continental grip until it doesn’t. 😉

    You can move it a little bit towards the forehand grip – I usually move my grip by about 1 millimeter from the Continental towards the forehand grip and it’s already quite comfortable.

    Reply
Richard June 1, 2016

Very useful tips once again, thank you Thomas!

Reply
Alex Joly June 1, 2016

Nice explanation Tomaz, exactly what I was wondering. Next would be nice to have an intuitive tip on how to transition after we serve to forehand grip? Also from forehand to continental for volleys…

Finally, in between the strokes as we hold the racquet in front of us with both arms, could you talk about which hand holds the racquet the most, I feel that when my left arm (I am righty) holds most of the weight of the racquet (at the wider part of the triangle that connects the grip to the racquet head) the right hand does not get tiered and my strokes are more powerful and consistent, but when I forget and hold my racquet mostly with my right arm, the arm gets tight and tired causing racquet head drop, errors, and timing goes off.

Also with the one handed backhand can you talk about at what point do the arms take over the weight of the racquet? I.e does the left arm hold most of the weight during the preparation phase, and right takes over as we uncoil?

Reply
    Tomaz June 1, 2016

    Hi Alex,

    I don’t think there’s any tips on how to transition from a serve grip to a forehand grip, I’d leave that to the unconscious.

    Same for approach shots – as soon as you hit your approach shot, switch to a Continental grip before you even split step.

    And yes, your left hand can hold most of the weight of the racquet in the ready position as it will also be the left hand doing all the preparing.

    You’re also spot on for the arms’ work on the one-handed backhand phases.

    Reply
      Daniel June 1, 2016

      When I use the throat of the racket to change to my 1H BH, and I stop the stroke when the racket is at contact point, many times I have the bottom edge further out than the center and the result is a sailing ball. I had a lot of problems with my BH at my last match.

      I can get a 90 deg turn when I hold the throat. I don’t have an injury or wrist flexibility issue so it may be common (or it may be me being a unique little snowflake).

      But if you have had students under rotating the racket consistently, is there something else that you recommend to make it a one step process- like suppinating the right to make up the difference or set the grip in a different part of the swing, or swing to contact with the wrist slightly pronated?

      Reply
        Tomaz June 1, 2016

        Hi Daniel,

        I think I resort to setting the grip already in advance correctly and having the student hit lots of balls.

        Somehow you don’t feel the right grip in your hand when you change it so you need to get used to it.

        Your hand must “recognize” a correct grip position through feel so I would try to give your hand that feel as much as possible.

        Hold the racquet with the correct grip many times at home for example. Just pick up the racquet, find the right grip and do a few shadow swings.

        Then practice switching. You need to FEEL the right grip eventually, there in no intellectual way to solve this problem.

        Reply
Martin Jolly June 1, 2016

Thanks Tomaz!

I’ve heard you mention for the serve grip to extend forefinger and also others have suggested gripping near the butt of the handle for the serve.

Have you felt any advantage using these techniques on ground strokes/volleys?

Reply
    Tomaz June 1, 2016

    Yes, I extend my forefinger on the continental and semi-western forehand grip but not much really on my eastern backhand grip.

    Reply
Mounir June 1, 2016

Great as usual, Tomaz, thank you.

My question is, in the ready position are we holding the racket in the continental grip? Then switch to either backhand or forehand grip?

I mean is the sequence continental-forehand or backhand- continental, and repeat. Or, do we switch from forehand to backhand without stopping at continental?

Am I correct in assuming that if we hit a forehand shot, and stay with the forehand grip until we see what the next shot will be that we save an extra bit of time by either not switching if the next shot is a forehand, and/ or switching from forehand to backhand as needed in a one step process?

I hope I am clear and look forward to your reply.

Thank you again you are a great coach.

Reply
    Tomaz June 1, 2016

    Hi Mounir,

    No, I hold my forehand grip in the ready position. So yes, I hold my forehand grip all the time until I need to switch to the backhand grip.

    Then I immediately switch back to forehand which is my “default” grip.

    Reply
      Mounir June 2, 2016

      Thank you. That makes a lot of sense, have been doing it wrong for a 100 years. . Thank you Coach.

      Reply
Patrick June 1, 2016

Tomaz, Beautifully demonstrated….Thank you Patrick

Reply
Pawel Kazior June 3, 2016

Hi Tomaz,

What about strength of grip during the shot? Some advice holding racquet very tight, some opt for very loose grip (like 2/10, where 10 is maximum strength). I am really confused.

Regards,
Pawel

Reply
    Tomaz June 3, 2016

    Great question, Pawel.

    Your grip tension should be as low as possible. You need to experiment and keep trying to grip less tight until you lose control.

    Then you need to constantly “walk on the edge” of losing control and having control – and of course you can do that only in free hitting sessions with no pressure when you can afford to miss.

    If you play points you’ll never release the grip enough to lose to control therefore you’ll never learn how much you can let go.

    Reply
      Dan June 5, 2016

      I find my hand almost half off the racquet. Not sure where I picked that up. It seems that would give more whip action perhaps at the cost of control.

      Does the correct position depend on the shot? i.e. choke up a bit on a return of serve for not control, but slide down for a serve for maximum action?

      Reply
        Tomaz June 5, 2016

        Hi Dan,

        You surely get more whip action if you hold it really at the end but yes, you lose racquet head control through the shot – meaning you’re not able to guide the racquet head straight through the ball when you need to (faster balls, down the line shots, …)

        Sure, you can choke up on returns or even on volleys.

        Reply
Richard June 5, 2016

Well I must say, these past few days I have been able to get much more power out of my forehand, with topspin, my arm using muscles I did not know it had. But what about those slower, shorter, standing closer to the net strokes? I find myself reverting to continental grip for these on both slice backhand and forehand drop shots. Is this correct Tomaz?

Reply
    Tomaz June 5, 2016

    Hi Richard,

    It depends how low and how short these balls are.

    Perhaps there is a way to hit them with topspin but if you haven’t played any mini tennis with topspin or practiced that type of shot then you don’t really feel confident about it – so then just use the backspin shots.

    Reply
Srimati Dessert June 8, 2016

Hi Thomas,
Thanks for another great lesson on grips . I got to know them when I started playing tennis many years ago but as years go by, little defects settle in so that one is a very useful refresher !
It would be good if you do a refresher on how to augment power in the ground strokes and the drills to follow. I was in Roland Garros and saw some great players and it’s incredible how fast the balls go and how effortlessly they transfer the body weight iin their racquets hitting in front !

Reply
    Tomaz June 8, 2016

    Thanks, Srimati. I’ll try and share some ideas although you must understand that more power means more risk for you.

    It takes years and years of practice to play with high speed while keeping the ball in court. No “advice” can teach you that. Only hitting million balls.

    Formula 1 drivers can drive at 300 km / h because they trained for years and learned to control the car at high speed. If you sit in the Formula 1 car and step on the gas you’ll crash.

    There’s no advice that will keep you on the road at 300 km /h. You’ll need to develop the skill over the years…

    Reply
Dave June 19, 2016

Hi Tomaz

Could you please run through the technique for return of serve, initially holding the forehand grip, then switching to the continental grip, for forehand and backhand returns. Apologies if you already have instruction for this.

This is often used on the ATP tour by most of the players.

Regards
Dave

Reply
    andreas loven September 2, 2016

    Hi tomaz!

    thanks for great input on tennis.

    I was wondering if you had any comment on subtle changes on two handed backhand grips:

    My normal backhand has some similarity to the grip structure to agassi in the sense that my index fingers on both handsare not spaced out (as on my forehand). Some use pistol and hammer as metaphors I think),

    Also you could say my dominant grip is a strong continental, and non dominant strong eastern. It works amazing, nice drive and solid spin up to waist height but at higher balls ( waist to shoulder) I struggle to get enough drive / penetration, I have lots of spin but the balls becomes to short and weak. I guess find it difficult to get enough racket lag / body rotation etc to have the same amount of heavy top spin on these balls, and I struggle to flatten out my backhand with my grip structure,

    Soo… I was wondering if it is ok to use a slight grip moderation for high backhands, which makes it easier to hit a flatter shot? more like a “pistol” eastern forehand (extended index finger) for non dominant and not so strong continental for the dominant hand.

    My hesitation is that I try to keep things simple and too many grip variations..

    Ie nadal flattens out his higher backhands ( shoulder lean etc), do you think he slightly adjusts grips? Same Q for other pros. I looked at some photos of the same player for various backhand, grips didnt always seem identical ( spacing between hands, index finger extension etc.

    Lastly, do you beleive these are conscious grip variations that eventually are automated? or simply a result of fast pasted playing and reacting on the fly?

    Reply
      Tomaz September 3, 2016

      Hi Andreas,

      Sure, you can use slight grip changes for different situations but as you mention, they usually just happen. At least they happen to me.

      I don’t consciously change a grip, it just changes instantly as my brain suggests a different grip for the current situation. I can observe the process but it’s hard to say that “I changed” the grip.

      I would say that the “grip changed”. 😉 So yes, let your hands find the best grips for different situations.

      Reply
Tina April 24, 2017

I’ve been playing tennis for probably 50 years. I’m a strong player. I have a one handed backhand. I’ve been relying on my thumb for stabilizing my grip.

I recently been moving my grip over and trying to use a more contemporary backhand grip and not use my thumb to support my wrist. Feels a little weak but assume I should try not to have thumb laying across back of grip?

Thanks. Love your work.

Reply
    Tomaz April 24, 2017

    Hi Tina,

    The thumb positioned on the back of the handle can help at the beginning also with correct hand position on the handle but eventually we need to bend the thumb so that it “locks” the racket into the hand.

    Otherwise you will feel that you have to grip the handle very hard in order for the racket not to fly out of your hand on the forward swing.

    Reply
      Tina April 25, 2017

      Thanks, Tomaz. Having played for 50 + years with that position with a traditional backhand grip, I find that as I move that grip over more and work on bending the thumb, I feel like I don’t have control over the swing.

      I am just working on it. I like your work a lot. Thank you.

      Reply
Nagraj May 9, 2017

Hi Tomaz: I see many recreational tennis players making their grip changes with only the dominant hand, and this leads to all kinds of problems, including arm problems. Additionally this can lead to incorrect grip changes when they should not (e.g., continental grip on both backhand and forehand volleys). So your lesson should be very helpful. Could you comment on non-traditional grip changes such as that of Jack Sock, whose grip change from an extreme western forehand grip to a two hand backhand grip (or even a one-hand eastern backhand grip) is in the opposite or clockwise direction (rather than anti-clockwise). Pluses and minuses? I was surprise to find that a hitting partner of mine used the same unorthodox but efficient grip change to switch from his semi-western forehand to his single hand eastern backhand but this seemed to limit his ability to slice and impacted his ability to play sound defense.

Reply
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