If you’re new to tennis, the continental grip is one of the first grips your instructor will teach you. Not only is it an incredibly versatile grip, but virtually all tennis players use it for their serves, volleys, and many other shots.
In this guide, we’re taking an in-depth look at the continental grip, including its origin, how to hold it, and the different shots you can expect to hit using it as your game develops.
If you prefer video, check out my review of the continental grip with a full demonstration of how to hold it for righties and lefties.
0:21 – Brief History & Origin
1:25 – Shots You Can Hit
1:42 – Serve
2:17 – Overhead
2:31 – Vollies
2:41 – Half Volley
2:52 – Slice
3:00 – Drop Shot
3:10 – Lob
3:32 – How to Hold
3:57 – Bevel Diagram
4:01 – Righty Example
4:12 – Lefty Example
4:43 – Should You Use It
5:03 – Wrapping Up
At 5:30, it’s a quick video, but here are timestamps you can use to jump around if you’d prefer.
Of course, this guide serves as an excellent companion and goes a bit more in-depth, so keep reading to learn more.
A Brief History & Origin of The Continental Grip
Although the exact origin of the term continental grip is hard to pin down, it initially appears to have been referred to as the English grip associated with prominent players of the early 1900s from England who used it.
However, the term continental grip surfaced in 1926 as an alternative to English grip as part of the book, “Racket Making” by the House of Bancroft and former world #1, Bill Tilden, so it’s safe to assume the term has been around for close to, if not over, 100 years.
Until the 1970s, the continental grip was a popular forehand grip, which was well-suited for the fast pace and low skidding bounces frequent on grass courts that were the most prevalent surface.
Furthermore, it was convenient because players didn’t have to change their grip to hit virtually any shot.
However, while the grip remained in use by a few top players like John McEnroe into the early 90s, it’s popularity diminished as a forehand grip with the game transitioning away from grass courts as the primary surface and players relying more heavily on topspin.
These days, the continental grip remains integral to the sport, but it’s no longer taught as a forehand grip. Instead, the semi-western forehand grip now dominates the game.
Shots You Can Hit with the Continental Grip
The continental grip is one of the most versatile, allowing players to hit a wide variety of shots without changing how they hold their racquet.
As a result, it’s absolutely a grip new players should plan on learning. To help showcase its versatility, let’s look at some of the more common shots players can hit with the grip.
First up, we have the serve, which is perhaps the grip’s best-known use.
Within this stroke, the continental grip also showcases its versatility by allowing players to hit various serves, including flat, slice, and kick.
As the name suggests, a player executes a flat serve with little to no spin. Here’s an example of a flat serve.
Next, you have a slice serve, which works by applying side spin and is excellent for swinging the ball out wide or into a player’s body.
Finally, you have the kick serve, where a player hits up on the ball to apply topspin. The ball clears higher above the net to increase the margin of error, and it kicks or leaps off the ground when it hits the court.
Like the serve, the continental grip also works well for overheads when a player’s opponents attempt to lob them.
If you find yourself in a defensive position with a lob to your backhand side, the continental grip can also prove useful to return the ball.
Up at net, the continental grip is ideal for volleys.
The neutral racquet face created by the grip is perfect for blocking the ball back or moving forward to cut angles and put the ball away.
Here’s an example of a forehand volley, but it works just as well off both wings.
Half volleys often occur when a player is approaching the net, and their opponent dips the ball in front of them, so they have to let it bounce before returning it, and the continental grip is well-suited for this shot.
Here’s an example of a backhand half volley and it’s as effective on the forehand side.
You’ll also find the continental grip works great when hitting slice groundstrokes, which serve as an excellent tool for neutralizing or changing the point’s pace.
Here’s an example of a backhand slice, which works as well on the forehand side too.
Although a somewhat technical and more difficult shot to execute, if you catch your opponent off balance or sitting too deep, you can use the continental grip to hit a drop shot.
Last but not least, if you find yourself in a defensive position at the baseline, the continental grip can work well to throw up a lob to keep the point alive and buy you time to recover.
Hopefully, these examples give you a sense of why the grip is integral to the sport. However, keep in mind that some players will make minor tweaks to the continental grip for various shots we covered, but it’s typically the starting point.
How to Hold the Continental Grip + Diagram
When you first learn the continental grip, you’ll likely receive instruction to “shake hands with the racquet,” or “hold the racquet like a hammer,” to form the proper grip.
Nine times out of ten, these suggestions will get you pretty close to the correct grip. Perhaps more important, these sayings provide new players an easy way to remember the grip.
However, with a little extra effort, we can get more specific to help make sure you form the perfect grip every time.
First, if you look at the racquet’s handle with its side or edge facing the ground, you’ll notice that it has eight different sides or bevels.
Not only do these bevels help prevent the racquet from twisting in your hand, but they also serve as an excellent guide to hold different grips.
To help make identifying the grip easier, we can label each bevel with a number starting at the top and moving clockwise all the way around.
To form the continental grip as a right-handed player, you’ll place the pad of your index or pointer finger’s bottom-most knuckle against the second bevel and wrap your fingers around the handle.
Here’s a view from the top:
As well as a view from the back:
To form the continental grip as a left-handed player, you’ll place the pad of your index or pointer finger’s bottom-most knuckle against the eighth bevel and wrap your fingers around the handle.
Here’s a view from the top:
As well as a view from the back:
Continental Grip Tip
For best results, many players find it helpful to raise their index finger slightly on the handle to increase their control over the racquet.
You can try swinging the racquet with and without your finger raised to get a sense of how it improves your control.
Furthermore, depending on the shot your hitting, you may find it useful to adjust how far up or down the handle you hold the racquet.
For example, I tend to hold the continental grip slightly further down the handle for my serve, which gives me more leverage.
However, on my volleys, I tend to hold my grip slightly further up the handle, which provides me extra control.
Why Is The Continental Grip So Effective?
One of the main reasons the continental grip is so effective lies in the tennis racquet’s angle when holding the grip.
When you change grips, what you’re changing is the angle of your racquet’s face when you’re hitting the ball.
With the continental grip, the tennis racquet angle is neutral, which means the frame of the racquet when you hold it in front of you is perpendicular to the ground.
On the other hand, an open racquet face angles up toward the sky and a closed racquet face angles toward the ground, as you’d find with a semi-western forehand grip.
Yes, without a doubt. If you’re looking to develop your game, it’s essential to take the time to become familiar with the continental grip, as it is fundamental to many shots in tennis.
Although it’s easy enough to learn how to hold the continental grip, many players abandon it out of frustration when they attempt to use it, especially on the serve.
However, if you’re serious about your tennis and competing at a higher level, I’d encourage you to stick with it. Over time it will become more natural and pay significant dividends for your game.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend the continental grip for hitting forehands. Instead, you’ll want to introduce yourself to the eastern, semi-western or western tennis grip as an alternative for your forehand.
If you’re new to tennis and learning how to play the game, I hope this guide on the continental grip has helped shed some light on the topic or point you in the right direction.
If you’re learning the continental grip for the first time, I’d encourage you to be patient with applying it. Although it can be tricky at first, learning the grip will become an invaluable asset to your game, and the sooner you move away from any other grip you might have been using, the better.
If you have questions about the continental grip, please let me know in the comments below. I’d be happy to help.