The Art and Science of Victory
Continental Grip

There is no fundemental of tennis that is more fundemental than the grip. The right grip makes the racquet feel like an extension of your arm; a force multiplier with the power of a broadsword, the cutting power of a sable and the precision of an epais. The wrong grip makes the racquet feel like a ham-hock.

It can take years to learn the best way to hold the racquet for each stroke. What most players never understand is that the grip determines the stroke which in turn determines the strategy which should be determined by a player's personality.An aggressive player who hates being jerked around on the baseline should not use a semi-western grip: it is great for hard, deep topspin drives but stinks for hitting low sliced approach shots. Follow a nice hard topspin to net and you can expect a nice hard fuzz sandwich in return.

So the goal is to pick the right grip, perfect it, and learn its strengths and limitations.

Continental Grip

Continental Grip. Rotate the racquet until the first nuckle is over the second bevel from the top. This establishes the position of the thumb side of the hand.

The continental grip or 'uni-grip' Is the root of all other grips. It is the one and only service grip and with rare exceptions it is the grip that all playing pros use on the serve. It is also widely recognized as the best volley grip, since it can be used on both the forehand and backhand sides. This conveys a tremendous advantage at the net, where fumbling between grips can get you killed.

The situation off the ground is a bit more controversial. Although great for hitting forehand and backhand slice on defensive and approach shots, hitting topspin off of either side with the continental grip is challenging and hitting heavy topspin is downright impossible. Some pros hold the continental grip in the ready position while waiting for the ball, then switch to the eastern backhand or semi-western forehand to hit a topspin drive or pass if time allows. If pressured, they can use the continental to hit a nice low defensive slice.

I hasten to point out, however, that playing pros are generally quite talented while you and I...are not. Managing lots of different grips and the strokes that go with them is certainly too much for my feeble brain.

The continental grip can be a very effective grip off the ground, expecially on approch shots and touch shots. If you live at the net it is the only grip you need. Since mastering a grip is difficult, there are definite advantages to only having to master one.

Note the position of the first knuckle opposite the second bevel of the grip.

Continental Pressure Points

Pressure points of the continental grip - Blue = forehand, Green = backhand, Yellow = slice and Red = topspin. Note that the forehand and slice points at the base of the index finger are close - this is why the forehand slice is natural on the continental making it the perfect grip for the serve and the forehand slice approach and volley. The backhand and slice shots are also close together at the vase of the fifth finger - again making for a natural backhand slice. The topspin points are all by their lonesome - topspin can be hit with the continental but it does not feel as natural as the slices. Finally note that the forehand and backhand points on tyhe thum actually overlap. The thumb is the key to the continental grip's versitility.

Knowing where the first knuckle goes is fine, but it does not mean than you know the grip. Even wit hthe first knuckle pinned to the second bevel there are still lots of ways to hold the racquet. You find the right way by feel; by paying attention to how various parts of the hand press against the racquet.

The grip's job is to transfer four types of torque from the body to the racquet: forehand, backhand, slice and topspin. To sucessfully apply any one of these torques, there must be two opposing pressure points between the racquet and the hand. Each pair of points must be on opposite sides of the racquet with one closer to the head of the racquet while the other is closer to the heel.

Here the torque applied to slap the forehand is back with the blue area on the thumb at the same time pushing forward with the base of the index finger. The slicing motion needed to apply underspin is created y pushing down with the yellow area at the base of the index finger and up wit hthe middle of the fifth finger.

 

The Hammer and the Sword

Continental Grip - The hammer demonstrates the direction of forehand (Blue) and backhand (Green) torque.

Here the hammer signifies forehand(blue end) and backhand (green end) motions of the continental grip. Note that the blue/green patch on the thumb is in front of and halfway between the other blue and green patches on the index finger and base of the fifth finger. The sword (below) demonstrates the torque necessary for topspin (Red) and slice (Yellow).

Continental Checklist

Legend

  • First knuckle opposite the second bevel from the top.
  • First joint of the index finger presses on the back (third) bevel.
  • Meaty part of the hand at the base of the thumb (thenar emenence) firmly against the last bevel before the top (eighth bevel).
  • Middle (Interphalangeal or IP) joint of the thumb firmly against the front (seventh) bevel.
  • First joint of the fourth finger firmly against the third bevel.