Now, if you lose sight of the ball, it's
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Top Ten Reasons to Use the Continental Grip
for the Volley
David W. Smith, Senior Editor, TennisOne
A new year always brings with it some sort of “Top-Ten” list. Be it Top-Ten Celebrities Screw-ups, Top-Ten Sporting Event Highlights, or Top-Ten Political Lies Caught on Tape, Top-Ten lists always create peak our interest–or at the very least–curiosity.
In tennis, we can use the same concept to point out why some ways to learn the game are superior to others. Sure, there are many ways to get that ball over the net but in tennis, as in almost everything else, all things are not equal.
Some roads lead to highly skilled, competent play, while others, well, club courts are filled with players who have been languishing at the 3.0-3.5 level for years.
And that brings me to today's Top-Ten List: reasons why players should learn to volley with the continental grip.
Before I get to “The List,” however, let me discuss some finer points about the learning process as it applies to the volley.
It is generally agreed that most beginners will feel more comfortable using an eastern forehand or backhand grip for the forehand and backhand volley. The eastern grip puts more hand behind the racquet which makes the grips feel strong as it applies to hitting a ball in the air. Also, because many players learn to hit groundstrokes first, there is a natural tendency to use those same groundstroke grips when first learning to volley.
It should also be observed that while many pros can often be seen using some slight variations from the continental grip on situational volleys, it is rare–if ever at all– you will see top-level players using anything but a continental grip on most standard volleys.
That said, there are many other reasons one should develop the volley with the continental grip which leads us to our “Top-Ten” list, “Why we should use the continental grip to learn to volley.” So, with apologies to David Letterman, here we go.
Number 10: Because balls coming to us in the air are usually dropping, an open racquet face racquet provides a natural rebound angle to volley balls over the net. Typically, when we hit with eastern grips, we hit flatter balls with our racquet laid back at or behind our hitting hand. This will produce a reflective angle of an incoming ball equal to its incidence angle, the angle in which the ball is coming towards our racquet. This downward reflective angle explains why so many players who use an eastern grip on their volley often are seen hitting balls into the bottom of the net…even when they are standing very close to it! One does not have to hit a ball “down” to make the ball go down. A flat volley will almost always produce a response that is angled downward.
Number 9: The great Arthur Ashe said, “Using an eastern grip on the volley, players will tend to hit topspin on their volley even when they are not trying to hit topspin.” As a pro, I see this all the time. Yet, the best players in the world hit with some element of slice on most all their volleys. (Except in the obvious swinging topspin volley situation we see more and more today.) Thus, the continental grip naturally produces an orientation of the racquet face to hit with a slice action.
Number 8: Adding slice helps players control the volley. Players who hit flat will often find themselves having to dink shots more. This is because flat balls tend to rebound faster with greater pace than the player can control. Especially lower balls, the slice allows a player to be aggressive with a firm stroke yet not hit the ball so hard that it will sail long every time. With lower balls (volleyed at an upward angle to clear the net), adding slice to the volley helps convert some of the pace of the ball to spin and decreases the forward velocity of the shot, allowing a player to hit with more authority rather than having to “dink” the shot to keep it in.
Number 7: Effective angled volleys are much less problematic using the continental grip. The eastern grip often sets the racquet head back behind the hand. This position, with the unit turn, almost always produces a backswing that is bigger than the player can control especially when trying to hit a sharp angle volley.
The continental grip sets the racquet almost perfectly for an angle volley from the moment the player reacts to a ball. When players using an eastern grip try to hit the sharp angle, they have to literally swing the racquet to gain the proper angle. Such action usually produces a ball hit well too hard to land in or be effective.
Number 6: Speed of Reaction. While a few pros say there is enough time to change from an eastern forehand to an eastern backhand grip during a rally, this is blatantly false as players play against more skilled players. The reason is because, as we play more competitive players, rallies at the net become far quicker and balls are hit with greater pace, spin, and accuracy than say at the typical 3.0 level.
Some say that if players can switch grips when returning a 130 mph serve, they should have time to switch grips at the net is a very poor and totally misleading analogy. The serve slows down considerably from 80 feet away, especially after bouncing. Having some 80 feet to react to the serve is exponentially easier than trying to read a passing shot from 40 feet away on a ball that won’t be bouncing or slowing down much at all. And when we get players at the net in a fast exchange, the ability to change grips becomes even more problematic.
Number 5: Avoid the dreaded wiper volley move! Watch four players who use eastern grips on their volley rally at the net. As mentioned above, the time to switch grips is not only difficult, but the ability to grasp the grip at the precise angle within a split second of reaction time is even harder! So, many such players often resort to hitting backhand volleys with the forehand side of their racquet, using what we call the notorious windshield-wiper move!
Number 4: Learning to become comfortable and competent with the continental grip helps players develop a good slice forehand and backhand as well as a volley. The action of a slice approach shot is very similar to that of a good volley. (Usually a longer swing path is the only difference.)
Number 3: Reacting to a quick overhead is more natural when players volley with the continental grip. Understanding why it is better to hit overheads with a continental grip, (like the serve, see the newsletter “Top 10 Reasons to Avoid Serving with an Eastern Forehand Grip), then it should be obvious that players who volley with a continental grip will be able to go up very quickly and hit an overhead without having to change grips either.
Number 2: Touch and finesse are easier with a continental grip. As mentioned above, the eastern grip tends to lay the racquet back more, and as such, when a player attempts to hit a drop volley or a soft volley lob, or the angle volleys mentioned earlier, the swinging action to square the racquet with the eastern grips prohibits players from developing the necessary touch needed to execute these shots with control and consistency.
Number 1: The eastern grip tends to make players fear the net. While this statement is certainly subjective, it is with few exceptions that I’ve seen in my 35 years teaching tennis, players develop a solid net game using the eastern grips on their volley. There are two clear indications of players who fail to reach skilled levels of play that I’ve recognized: A poor second serve and a inability to volley well. (Ironically, both these shots, when done skillfully, utilize a continental grip.) Players who master the continental grip are usually able to volley from anywhere on the court, (making approach volleys far more effective and potent), have more options, (angle volleys, touch volleys, drive volleys, etc.), and are able to react to quicker shots and quick exchanges with greater time and better control.
Watch 100 skilled players hit volleys and then watch 100 recreational players volley. Observe the differences. Most obvious will be the preponderance of use of the continental grip among the skilled players… the nearly direct inverse population of those using eastern grips among the recreational players.
Click photo: The continental grip sets the raquet face at the optimum angle which allows Nadia Petrova to make this difficult, low backhand angle volley look easy.
Sure, players can volley with just about any grip…and a piano player can play simple songs with just two fingers! But we would never teach a piano student to play the piano using just two fingers; so, why would we teach ourselves to volley using a grip that is associated with mediocre play? The answer is deeper than what this article can convey. But, in a nutshell, using a continental grip takes longer for most players to gain comfort and familiarity with. Thus, many players and even many pros, will look for an ‘easy way out’ and teach the eastern grips to avoid the typical discomfort and limited initial success players tend to experience when first using the continental grip. (We call this teaching to “immediate gratification.”)
But remember, change is one of the hardest things to do in tennis once a player establishes a hitting pattern. While almost all books will recommend the beginner changing to the continental grip at some point if they indeed want to become more competitive on the volley, I counter that it is far more effective in the long run to first learn the continental grip from the get-go.
So for those of you who are in the class of having first learned with the eastern grip, (and recognize they are not progressing!), the first step is to understand the advantages of the continental grip (and disadvantages of the eastern grips!) then set a goal to master the continental grip! There are many articles here at TennisOne that can offer you drills, exercises, and strategies to do just that! Change can be done. But you have to first understand the why and the how of it all. Then put those changes into play and resist the urge to drift back into the familiar and comfortable. You'll be volleying like the pros before you know it.…really!
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
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