TAKING A FIRM GRIP

In today's context, the Eastern and Continental forehands become redundant and we are talking about shades of Western forehands, says RAMESH KRISHNAN

We begin this instructional feature talking about the forehand. This is the first stroke hit by anyone who steps on a tennis court and is used more often than any other stroke. That is because the muscles on the forehand stroke are stronger than on the backhand side.

Forehand grips can be broadly classified as Eastern, Western and Continental.

Eastern grip: About 100 years ago, this was the grip prevalent in the East coast of the USA (I think).

Western grip: Similarly, players from the western coast of the USA used this. The reason being, tennis was played on concrete surfaces where the ball bounced high. It is easier to play a high bouncing ball with this grip.

Continental grip: Used by players in the European continent. Continental players tend to use one grip for all strokes.

IT IS MORE than 40 years ago that I hit a forehand for the first time and I was taught the forehand of the day — the Eastern forehand. The game was still `Lawn Tennis' and the accent was on using your groundstrokes to get to the net to win the point.

The biggest change since then has been the contact point with the ball — from waist high at my time to playing it at shoulder height and above on a regular basis. This is because: a) More tennis is played on hard surfaces, b) Improved racket materials and c) Bigger tennis players.

So, in today's context, the Eastern and Continental forehands become redundant and we are talking about shades of Western forehands. It has gone to an extreme where some players play forehands and backhands using the same face of the racket. But that is taking things too far. Another big change is the length of the back swing — I was taught a short back swing. Today's players use a longer back swing to impart more power to their forehand. Playing surfaces are also slower and there is less emphasis on forecourt play. As a result, players find more time to take bigger swings.

THEN COMES

the question — closed or open stance? With these modern grips, it becomes impossible to hit closed stance forehands.

To go through the various stages of the stroke: From a ready position,

1. Grip: Semi-Western to Western (This is the big change in the game in recent years. At the same time, one needn't get bogged down too much. The stroke has to feel comfortable and you may have to be flexible depending on the surface or your court position. For instance, on a grass court, you may not have much time to change your grip too much. Similarly, when you are close to the net, you may need more of a Continental to Eastern grip. The important thing is to learn the basic forehand and be ready to improvise).

2. Early racket back (cannot overstress this fact. As you look up the tennis rankings, this is one of the prime factors that differentiates between a good player and a not-so-good player)

3. As you meet the ball, body weight to be transferred. (Tennis is a game of forward movement).

4. Nice long follow through to finish the stroke.