For a number of years the small, apparently frail 1920s player Bill Johnston was considered by many to have had the best forehand of all time, a stroke that he hit shoulder-high using a Western grip. Few top players used the Western grip after the 1920s, but in the latter part of the 20th century, as shot-making techniques and equipment changed radically, the Western forehand made a strong comeback and is now used by many modern players. With the changes in technology, the various grips have become used very differently than previously mentioned. First, the continental grip is used primarily to serve and to volley, not to hit forehand shots, or a backhand slice. The eastern grip is still used, though far less than in the past, and is used to hit very flat shots. It is excellent to hit low passing shots. The most popular grip on the tour, and for "weekend warriors," is the semi-western grip. It gives a nice mix of spin and pace on the forehand, and offers ease to transition to the backhand grip. Finally the western grip (and its extreme variations), are some of the most radical grips used on the tour, mostly by clay-courters, and are used to create massive amounts of topspin.
The backhand can be executed with either one or both hands. For most of the 20th century it was performed with one hand, using either an Eastern or Continental grip. The Continental grip for the backhand is the same as that used for the Continental forehand. The Eastern backhand is rotated slightly (about 30 degrees) from the Contiental grip in the opposite direction the Eastern forehand. In modern tennis, there are a few professional players who use a Western one-hand backhand. This shot is held in a similar manner to the Western forehand. It has more topspin potential than for the traditional Eastern one-hander, although it is difficult to hit low balls with this grip. It is virtually impossible to drive a high ball with topspin with an eastern grip without risk of serious injury. It is used by most pros with strong one handed backhand drives, like Gustavo Kuerten and Richard Gasquet among the men and Justine Henin among the women.
The two-handed backhand is most commonly used with the forehand hand holding the racquet with a Continental grip and the non-dominant hand holding the racquet with an Eastern forehand grip. While this is by far the most common way to hit a two-handed backhand, there are players who use different ways of holding the racquet for a two-handed backhand.
Whether the one-handed or the two-handed backhand is more effective than the other is debatable. The two handed backhand is easier to learn, while one hand gives more variety and can generate a slice shot, applying backspin on the ball to produce a low trajectory bounce, it also provides more reach and power, but is considered to be more difficult to learn without professional instruction.
The player long considered to have had the best backhand of all time, Don Budge, had a very powerful one-handed stroke in the 1930s and '40s that imparted topspin onto the ball. Ken Rosewall, another player noted for his one-handed backhand, used a deadly accurate slice backhand with underspin through the 1950s and '60s. Both of them used an Eastern grip. Currently, Roger Federer, who uses an eastern grip, is noted for having a backhand that can drive the ball, impart dramatic spin, slice it deep, or hit a deadly drop shot.He is however, like all who employ an eastern grip, vulnerable to high bouncing balls and is forced to either slice the ball while still high in the air/take it low and early/allow the ball to drop to a comfortable height.
Against powerful claycourters who employ strong western grips and can drive high bouncing balls with great force, there is often not enough time to take the ball on the rise, and many speculate that this weakness is the explanation for Rafael Nadal's dominant record against Federer on the high bouncing clay, where slice is less effective.
The first notable players to use two hands were the 1930s Australians Vivian McGrath and John Bromwich. The two-handed grip gained popularity in the 1970s as Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors used it to great effect, and it is now used by a large number of the world's best players, including the Williams sisters. One reason is that most professionals have played tennis from an early age, when they were not strong enough to hit a one-handed backhand. Most professionals who use a two-handed backhand often return hard-to-reach balls with a one-handed backhand. They also often use the one-handed backhand slice in rallies as it is a comfortable shot. Andre Agassi in particular increased his use of the one-handed backhand and often hit an unreturnable dropshot with it.
At professional levels, the slice serve is most commonly hit with a Continental grip. The server tosses the ball a little to the right of his body (if he is right-handed) and cuts the ball at the side to impart spin. For a right-hander, the slice serve curves to the left, and is useful in pulling the opponent out wide, or serving into his body. Many players, however, use an Eastern backhand grip for their spin serves; this gives the racquet even more angle as it sweeps across the ball.
There are two types of kick (topspin) serves; the pure topspin serve, and the twist serve. The topspin serve is hit by using a Continental grip and the ball is thrown so that if it were to drop, it would land on the server's head. In the topspin serve, the racquet brushes across the ball to impart topspin. In the American twist serve, the racquet is held with an Eastern backhand or Continental grip. The twist serve has both topspin and slice, and, when hit correctly, bounces in the opposite direction from the slice serve. Both these serves are used to make an effective serve that nevertheless has a high safety factor due to the fact that they clear the net with a relatively high margin of space and use the topspin to pull the ball down into the service box.
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