Forehand Grip: The Palm Principle
To save repeating myself (again), the angle of the racket face/head at contact is usually edge-on / right angles to the ground, so an edge-on racket is the one I’m referring to when considering groundstroke grips.
The Palm Principle (or Palm Power) is a term I coined decades ago to basically replace all those (technically) null grip names – Eastern, Western, Outer Mongolian and Martian? – and the short of it is this:
On a forehand grip, wherever your palm is situated on the racket handle, there lies your primary source of strength.
Compare the two grips, of Hana Mandlikova and Alberto Berasetegui (below), which represent opposite poles of the forehand grip spectrum.
Exploring Palm Power a little further, think of how arm wrestlers do battle palm-to palm.
Or if you want to pick something up – a coffee table, say – you’d put your hands underneath and lift upwards.
Similarly, if you wanted to push something down – a beach ball in a swimming pool? – you’d put your palm on top, and do similarly when shunting something sideways across a work top.
So, looking at Alberto’s grip (above), we see the palm of his hand under the racket handle. This is probably the most palm-under forehand grip I’ve ever seen and it locates his strength predominantly (almost entirely, some might say) beneath the racket, enabling him primarily to hit upwards for vicious amounts of topspin.
In contrast, Hana Mandlikova’s palm is – at best – behind the racket (though more on top), which puts her palm power behind the racket grip (and also on top).
Hana’s primary source of strength/power is therefore behind and above her racket, which means her primary direction for hitting is through, for a lifted, flat, moderately spun drive.
Additionally, as her palm is too close to the top of the racket for extreme topspin, she could also power down on the ball, from above, to hit with slice.
I believe the ideal grip for beginners and intermediates, and also for general forehand play, is somewhere between these two extremes.
For most of us, Berasetegui’s grip is too extreme – though only marginally – particularly as it can limit flatter options on faster surfaces.
Whereas Hana’s is better suited to manicured lawns in the days of the East India Company.
‘But I’ve been using it successfully for decades’, some good club players might well challenge and to be fair Hana Mandlikova was no slouch (one of my favourites as a youngster).
Whether to keep or change such a grip is an individual player’s choice, depending on what you want to achieve, and those who have a coach should always consult them before tinkering.
Michael Chang’s grip is in-between the two previously mentioned book ends, with the palm of his hitting hand both behind the grip and some way under it.
This is one version of the all-purpose topspin and power grip: it allows the best of both worlds.
If you see the knuckle of a player’s thumb on top of the racket grip/handle, you know that the palm of their hand will be somewhere towards the bottom of the grip and here the knuckle is placed similar to Chang’s.
This is our Mystery Grip again. Fractionally less ‘palm under’ than Chang’s, this too is a great all-round forehand grip.
Any idea who it belongs to?
A former world number 29?
It’s a toughie, though do give yourself a palm-powered slap on the back if you know (though I’m not telling just yet).
Not many players have misshaped the ball’s in-flight passage with topspin as excessively as You-Know-Who, and it wouldn’t happen without a full palm-under special.
Click through the 3 frames to see how the upsy topspin shape is powered from beneath… by what?
The grip below is similarly palm under. Know who this is?
…and ……?? (below) could whip up a topspin storm with the best of ’em. But who is it?
Each of these players has a similar palm-under grip, which they use to form their own unique forehand shapes, and we’ll de-and-reconstruct each of them in due course.
But the sensible option, for both beginners and those not aiming to rise above club standard, is usually the middle ground.
‘Has a player ever succeeded at a full topspin baseline game without a palm-under grip?’
Yes – one men’s French Open finalist comes immediately to mind – and I hope to shed light on many technical quirks when I’ve set out a basic framework for readers to follow.
But perhaps the best question to ask is one that is as old as the hills, and can be asked of any sportsperson’s technique in any discipline:
Did they succeed because of it, or in spite of it?
This maxim is worth applying to every stroke (and attitude) in tennis and also to life in general.
Now how about this for a curve ball:
Does a person succeed because of the lack of knowledge and opportunity, or in spite of it?