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!!!