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Grip and rip your racket, don’t strangle and mangle

July 21, 2010
By JAK BEARDSWORTH

Back in the day, during the tennis boom, I used to remind players to relax their grip tension instead of attempting to transform their racket handle into sawdust.


    Long since made irrelevant with the introduction of metal rackets, then followed shortly thereafter by those made of exotic “space age” materials, my advice adapted to suggesting that they avoid turning their grips into molded foam dust.


    Either way, most players are unknowingly putting a severe stranglehold on their racket, reducing power potential dramatically, not to mention setting themselves up for wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries that will manifest themselves over time.


    “But the racket twists in my hand if I don’t hold it tightly,” I’m often told.


    Wrong.


    Racket torque is caused by not getting the ball squarely on the sweet spot. Period. King Kong  would not be available to prevent it if the ball is struck laterally off center.


    Solution: try really watching the ball instead.


    On a scale of 1-10 — 1 representing that creepy non-handshake and 10 being a death grip — aspire to maintain no more than a 5. And that’s the max occurring right at impact, since there’s a natural tendency to “squeeze-up” at that moment.


    In between shots, in the midst of a point, barely hold the racket in your dominant hand (call it a 3). When recovering for the next ball, or when poised at the net in doubles trying to get involved, the non-dominant hand should simultaneously secure the racket gently in the ready position whether you’re a one-handed or two-handed backhand player.


    Between the points themselves, if you suspect that you’re a death gripper — then you probably are — it’s not a bad idea to carry the racket at its throat in that non-dominant hand while relaxing the hitting hand/arm until it’s time to ready yourself for the next point.


    Regarding the role of grip size in the mix, use the largest size that’s still comfortable to create as much hand-on surface as possible. This will help negate any poor ball watching off center strikes, and promote reduced muscle tension. On average that’s a 4 3/8 for women and 4 1/2 for men, but there’s plenty of room for individual preference.


    Finally, don’t play on the cheap. Replace your grip often, preferably with high friction white overgrips that are inexpensive and readily show the dirt, grease and grime that builds up quickly. Any brand will do and they are easy to find.


    Black grips, either the original one that comes with the racket or replacement overgrips, mask this deterioration into slipperiness, elevate grip tension, undermine performance and place your arm in jeopardy.


    So yes, grip and rip, or strangle and mangle. Player’s choice!


    Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be contacted by e-mail at   jb1tennis@comcast.net, by phone at 941-626-0097, or through his website: jakbeardsworthtennis.com.

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