Grips matter because they are the most intimate connection between you and the racket. A poor grip, not within an acceptable parameter, will limit performance.
Grip improvement is often a difficult, disruptive and time intensive task, and I've seen plenty of attempted grip adjustments in my 40,000-plus hours instructing players that are too often unnecessarily slow and frustrating. That's because weak grips are not the cause of underperformance, but the symptom of poor stroke mechanics. Bad grips are actually correcting compensations for dysfunctional movements, so that if a grip is corrected BEFORE the underlying mistake is addressed, performance will be worsened.
What defines the parameter of a correct grip? Simply put, good grips don't require correcting movement compensations to make them work.
A classic example of the need to correct movement fundamentals before changing a grip is the extreme western forehand grip commonly seen in young tournament players. An extreme western grip allows and requires excessive external arm rotation. This arm bend, while risky and limiting, will actually help the immediate performance of those athletes that do not link power from the ground to their torso. Ironically, the best young players are often the best movement compensators and frequently evolve into the worst grips.
Similarly, the practice of squeezing the racket with a "death grip" is also a correcting compensation since a firm hand grip will pack the shoulder back and down into a stable position in a process called "irradiation." Of course a tight grip is not a sound long term practice, but it is the body’s natural way of protecting an unstable shoulder and corrections must be undertaken with care to prevent injury.
When weak grips are viewed as isolated problems and corrected before first correcting their cause, the result is often frustration, negative performance and injury. In contrast, tennis players who eliminate the need for the grip compensation will improve their grip quickly, safely and successfully.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.