Get a Grip… A Continental Grip
By Greg Moran
posted October 4, 2017
For many, the Continental grip is the tennis equivalent of spinach-we know it’s good for us but we can’t bear to swallow it. Plus, in today’s game where open stances, vicious topspin and groundstroke dominated points get all the publicity, it’s easy to brush the Continental grip aside as something that might be nice to have but not really needed to be a high level player.
Don’t make this mistake. The Continental grip is a vital aspect of the game and failing to learn it could easily relegate you to a long life of tennis mediocrity. In fact former French Open Doubles champion and commentator Luke Jensen attributes America’s recent struggles on the world tennis stage to our neglect of the Continental grip.
“Why isn’t America dominating?” Jensen asks. “It’s real simple, the Continental grip. Players and coaches today do not emphasize this grip. From the serve to the volley to the slice, everything comes from the Continental grip.” Master Teaching Professional Jorge Capestany agrees saying “It’s a non negotiable tactic. If a player doesn’t invest in this grip they’ll miss out on a multitude of shots.”
Here are just a few of the shots that stem from the Continental grip:
2. Slice groundstrokes
3. Under-spin approach shot
5. Drop Volley
6. Defensive Lob
7. Chip Passing shot (neutralizer)
8. Approach Volley
9. Chip Return
10. Drop Shot
11. Lob Volley
Will these shots make you a better player? Every single one of them!
The Modern Game
So, if the Continental grip is the genesis of so many of the game’s important shots, why aren’t more players using it? They used to. In fact, there was a time when the Continental was virtually the only grip in the game.
Years ago, most of the major tournaments were held on grass courts. The ball didn’t bounce very high or straight as it came off of the lawn and the continental grip was perfect for dealing with low balls and taking the ball in the air, which players tried to do as much as possible. Not surprisingly, serve and volley specialists ruled the game.
Then, in the late 70’s, Bjorn Borg came a long and with his Western grip and heavy topspin forehand, won five straight Wimbledon titles, six French Open championships and inspired a new type of player. Grips shifted downward, palms opened up, and the topspin forehand became a staple of the modern game.
Further encouraging this trend was the fact that more and more tournaments began to move to hard surfaces where the ball bounced up high and allowed players to take bigger swings. Plus, as racquet technology evolved, (larger racquets allowed players to move to a more western grip without risking so many mis-hits) players were holding more potent weapons in their hands and the power era exploded. 100 mph groundstrokes were in, there was less volleying and the Continental grip seemingly went the way of the wooden racquet.
As the pro game shifted towards groundstroke domination, the recreational game, as always, followed suit. After all, doesn’t everyone want to play like the pros? Many teaching professionals and academies then began to focus their student’s training around developing huge groundstrokes and, in my opinion, largely created a generation of one-dimensional players.
It’s a scenario I’ve seen a thousand times: players being urged by their instructors to “load and explode ” and “grip it and rip it.” And they do. As ball after ball hits the bottom of the net, sails over the baseline or sends the players on the other courts scrambling for cover, the pro keeps feeding balls, smiles and says, “Don’t worry, just swing harder. Sooner or later they’ll go in.”
Whether the ball ever goes in or not, the student becomes primarily groundstroke focused. Eventually, the instructor gets around to working on serves and volleys and then tells their students, “By the way, you need to use this new grip. It’s called the Continental.” Well, by this time the player has hit several thousand balls with their groundstroke grips so the Continental feels as if they’re holding a razor blade in their hands.
The grip feels so awkward that they immediately compensate and find ways to serve and hit volleys with their more comfortable grips. The end result is a player with big (often erratic groundstrokes) a weak serve, poor volleys and overall, a very limited game.
Now, don’t misunderstand me: developing solid groundstrokes is certainly important and, of course, there are things we can learn from watching the pros. However, as so often happens, things get neglected in the translation when we try to bring the pro game to our own. In this case, it’s the Continental grip.
The fact is, virtually all of the top pros still use the Continental grip for their serves, volleys and a variety of other shots. You should as well.
Here’s how to find it:
1. Put the racquet in your non-playing hand, perpendicular to the ground.
2. Place your other hand on the grip as if you were holding a hammer and intended to hit the ball with the edge of your racquet.
3. Study the racquet handle. It’s eight sided: four sides are flat and four are beveled.
4. Place the index finger’s base knuckle on the top right bevel. The side of the thumb should be resting along the back of the racquet, or, the opposite side of the grip.
5. Make sure the second and third fingers are slightly separated.
6. Test the grip by bouncing a ball on the bottom edge of the racquet frame. It should feel as though you are slicing the ball in half.
Once you’ve found the grip, the next step is to become comfortable hitting the various shots and, here, I cannot stress enough: be patient! If you’ve gotten used to serving, volleying and hitting most of your shots with your groundstroke grips, the first few balls you strike with the Continental will feel horrible and may very well make you think your wrist is going to snap.
This is where you must remind yourself that you’re learning and it’s a gradual process. In all likelihood, your wrist is not going to snap (unless you do something stupid) and eventually you’ll learn to control those balls that are now flying into the roof, bouncing straight down or endangering the lives of those on the adjacent courts.
You’re holding the racquet in a way that’s totally foreign and your wrist, arm and body have to engage different muscles. The only way to become comfortable with this is to hit balls, lots of them. You can’t teach repetition and there are no shortcuts. I believe it takes approximately 1000-2000 strikes of the ball to begin to become proficient with a new technique. Put in the time.
Here’s a simple drill progression that will help you develop a winning Continental grip.
The Tap Drill
1. Holding the Continental, take a ball and simply tap the ball up in the air. Palm up, simulating a forehand. Build up to 25 hits.
2. Same drill except now tap the ball in the air with the back of your hand up, simulating a backhand. Build to 25.
3. Now, alternate, one tap with the palm up, the next with the back of your hand up. Build up to 50 repetitions.
The Volley Drill
1. Find a backboard or wall, stand 8-10 feet away, and practice hitting forehand volleys only. Build to 25 hits.
2. Switch to backhand volleys and again build to 25 repetitions.
3. Alternate forehand and backhand volleys, building to 50 or more repetitions.
Perhaps the most beneficial and under-appreciated drill in the sport, mini tennis is a tremendous way to develop your Continental grip!
For those not familiar with the concept, mini-tennis is similar to regular tennis but you only use the service boxes for boundaries. If you are playing with just one other player, use the two boxes directly across the court from each other. Put the ball in play with a drop feed and then rally back and forth hitting groundstrokes and volleys with your practice partner, keeping the ball within the confines of the service boxes.
You can practice cooperatively; trying to hit a certain number of balls back and forth, or you can be competitive and play games to 11 or 15. Ping Pong scoring is best, where each player serves for 5 points and then the other player serves. For the purposes of developing the Continental grip, you want to hit as many balls as possible, so play cooperatively.
There is no better way to develop feel for the grip and ball than mini-tennis. Because of the slower pace, the ball will stay on the strings a bit longer so you’ll develop a feel for both how your racquet should be positioned at contact and how to direct the ball. Also, given that you need to hit the ball softly to control it, mini-tennis teaches you to simplify your strokes.
This drill emphasizes control, not power so practice with slice and, as you do, you’ll be laying the foundation for many other shots: the volley, the approach shot, and the drop shot, to name just a few.
Don’t make the mistake of others and push aside the benefits of mini-tennis. You’ll be amazed how quickly the rest of your game improves once you begin playing regularly.
Serve and then Serve Some More!
Few will debate that the serve is the most important shot in the game and, as you might have guessed, the Continental is the ideal grip for this key stroke. It allows you to hit with more power and at the same time, enables you to put topspin and slice on the ball.
Set up targets and aim for them. Pick various spots along the baseline and practice serving to different areas of the service box. Choose a spot close to the center line, another mid way between the center line and sideline and a third close to the sideline.
When you serve from these three points, it will change the angle that your serve moves towards your opponent, making it more awkward for them to return.
Then, choose three areas within each service box: out wide, down the center and down the middle. If you can develop a topspin and slice serve to all three areas of the service box from three different spots along the baseline, you’ll have eighteen different serves to throw at your opponent. Plus, if you can throw in the occasional flat serve to all three spots, from all three areas of the baseline, you’ll have 27 different serves at your disposal.
Tennis is a game with an unlimited variety of shot options. The beauty of the sport is discovering how to place your shots to different areas of the court while applying various speeds and spins. The Continental grip is the first and perhaps most important step towards giving you this variety. There is no debate: to be a complete player, you must master the continental grip. ~