Just how loose is loose?

Grip tension, holding the racquet firmly at impact, just how tight do we hold the racquet?  Good question, and probably many different answers.  We have all felt the racquet turn in our hand from off center hits, but perhaps the attempt to stabilize the racquet for the collision may lead to other problems.

Consider the following experiment recounted both by Stanley Plagenhoef (Fundamentals of Tennis) and Howard Brody (The Physics and Technology of Tennis).  A ball machine shoots a ball at a racquet fixed firmly in a vise, and shoots a ball at a racquet either hanging from a rope or balanced on its butt cap on a table.  So the contrast is between something firmly fixed, and totally loose if not unhinged.  The experimenters then compare the rebound velocity from the fixed and free racquet.  Stop for a moment.  Common sense tells us the fixed racquet will produce greater rebound velocity.

Incorrect.  Both balls rebound with equal velocity.  Explanation.  When the ball hits the strings a wave moves down toward the handle, but the ball has left the strings before the wave reaches the handle, nullifying any gain from the fixed grip.  I know this sounds crazy, and a few of the locals much smarter than me (quite a large group actually) explain that yes this is true.  Rebound velocity does not increase by tightening the grip.  However it will be true that the racquet will be less likely to turn in your hand, but that for better or worse is another issue.

So on your next visit to the courts, look at other players around you, evaluate for yourself the varying levels of tension you see – hopefully someone will appear graceful and flowing, not overly tight, and present a delightful contrast to others who over work the racquet, and often acquire tennis elbow in the process.

Finally, this past week we saw Pete Sampras in an exhibition at the SAP – and as ever the Sampras serve is truly a thing of beauty.  Loose, flowing, effortless, pinpoint accuracy.  And check out the grip – his fingers on the racquet hand are actually OPEN!!!


  • Tony

    Reply Reply April 15, 2014

    ..of course one does not take finger off on forehand, instead just lightly re-grip instead of spinning racket..

  • Tony

    Reply Reply April 15, 2014

    … and Karlovic(take a look) has his 1st completely off (only in racket being taken back, not…)

  • JT Howell

    Reply Reply June 1, 2011

    I think I a slow learner. I have tried taking the fingers off of the grip on the serve and my serve has improved. Why I haven’t tried this with my forehand is unknown to me. Thanks for the advise and I will try this with my forehand.

    Keep talking. At least I am still listening and trying to get better.



    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply June 1, 2011

      JT – yes and no – looser is better but one doesnt normally take fingers off the grip on the forehand

  • David Bateman

    Reply Reply May 3, 2009

    Hi Jim,

    Very useful tips. A few more please ! How do you get the height of the toss right?
    Where are you aiming the racquet to put spin on the serve?
    When I crack a whip I stop my hand suddenly to get the crack; its a kind of flick like casting a fishing line. Is the serve the same?

    Finally can you persuade Federer to get a coach! Nobody, even the best can do without one to help: support, improve shots; volley and serve in his case and analyse how to play opponents. Its seems a fatal flaw to not realise the benefit

    All the best and many thanks for all your great articles


  • Jon Fausett

    Reply Reply March 3, 2009


    I just got your piece on the half-volley, the toughest shot in tennis, and I have to say it way kind of special to me. I subsribe to all 3 of the great sites out there, tennisone, tennisplayer, and hitechtennis, and in fact, last month on tennisplayer, a contributor to that site, Bret Abel, wrote a piece on “all-court tennis” which struct a cord with me. I responded to his piece and mentioned that I thought McEnroe was the ultimate example of the type of tennis he was advocating. I am in complete agreement with you. McEnroe shows how one, even at age 50, and compete at the hightest level, with his masterful continental grip. His half volleys(and volleys) and simply the best.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply March 3, 2009

      Jon – Brent is an old friend, we both have Tom Stow in common, and so much of that system was about the return of serve, taking the ball early, and simplifying the hit – I am pleased this has struck a chord
      Brent had/has an amazing return of serve

  • John Debnam

    Reply Reply March 3, 2009

    Once again a great article Jim.

    I follow all your info on TennisOne and feel that you really make your point in a very uncomplicated way.
    I think you are right that tennis has got very over complicated, and many coaches are guilty of teaching the game this way.

    I try to explain the gripping of the racket as such “imagine you shaking hands with someone, and gripping as hard as you can this this is a 10 – now relax the grip to a 2 or 3 and then grip to a 4 or 5 when making contact -so many folk grip to a 10 while waiting for the ball, and hence grip to a 12 when making contact”

    Keep up the good work, and look forward to more articles.

  • Hi Jim and this is clearly one of the most important elements of the game – finding the right grip tension.

    For the record, I am extremely pleased you have your own tennis instructional blog. It’s about time.

    Folks, if you don’t know this man, believe me, listen to what he says. Despite his self deprecating manner, this guy is way smarter than all of us.

    Not only that, he hits the tennis ball with a “heaviness” that appears to be so effortless that you’d swear he must know something that we don’t.

    The grip tension thing is vital to racket speed and spin, and Jim could not be more right in telling us that this is something we need to really work on with our games if we want to truly enjoy hitting as tennis ball.

    Congrats Mac and I’ll be reading your posts as soon as you publish. Thanks.
    Brent – WebTennis.net

    • Jim

      Reply Reply March 3, 2009

      Brent – thanks for the note and recalling the “heaviness” I may have hit the ball with some time ago –
      all the best to you

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