Classic(eastern) vs Modern(western/sw): the evolution.
an interesting read about the evolution of tennis from a game of dinky slices to a power game.
The classic and Western tennis forehand styles differ in almost every major respect: grip, stance, swing path, method of generating swing speed, and point of contact.
A classic forehand uses an Eastern grip, with the base knuckle of the index finger centered on the vertical plane of the racquet handle that is parallel to the string plane. The full Western grip rotates that knuckle ninety degrees clockwise (for a right-hander), so that the palm is underneath the handle rather than behind it. (The Semi-Western grip is halfway between the two.)
The difference between the Eastern and full Western grips reflects the contrast in the accompanying stances and swing paths. In a classic forehand, the player faces the sideline and uses a predominantly forward swing with a vertical component that can be easily adjusted to create flat, topspin, or slice strokes. It's a fairly simple stroke, and the simplest, most intuitive grip is to have the palm centered behind the racquet handle. With a Western grip, the racquet face wants to point toward the ground. The plane of the racquet comes to vertical as a result of clockwise wrist and forearm rotation, usually caused by the force of a sharply upward swing that is the culmination of leg and torso rotation from a stance mostly facing the net. In other words, getting a Western grip to work involves a much more complicated set of biomechanical steps.
Stance facing sideline
Swing Path mostly linear and forward, with variable upward or downward components
Generation of Swing Speed forward weight transfer and forward and upward leg push, plus relatively small rotation
Point of Contact even with front hip
Stance largely facing net
Swing Path sharply upward, generated by rotational forces
Generation of Swing Speed sharp torso and leg rotation with upward leg push
Point of Contact well in front of front hip
Each stroke has distinct advantages and disadvantages.
I'll just list the advantages, because you'll be able to infer the disadvantages:
Advantages of the Classic forehand:
Easier timing. With the racquet head following a more linear path into the path of the ball, the area in which the two paths intersect is larger.
With more of the swing force generated by forward weight transfer, the stroke exerts less stress on the arm and torso.
Ability to hit slice as well as topspin.
Easier on low balls. The racquet face can be made vertical or tilted upward without any upward swinging motion. To do this with a Western grip requires a difficult and awkward turning of the wrist and forearm.
Having the palm aligned with the plane of the strings gives the player an easier feel for the racquet angle.
Having the point of contact farther back allows a little more time to meet the ball.
An Eastern grip can be used comfortably for forehand volleys, and it's only a 45 degree change to reach a Continental grip. A Western grip would be extremely awkward for forehand volleys, and the change from Western to Continental is 135 degrees.
Advantages of the Western forehand:
Easier to hit heavy topspin.
More racquet head speed.
Easier to hit topspin on high balls.
Now, if you simply count the number of advantages I've listed for each style, you would have to wonder why the classic forehand stroke has been gradually replaced by more Western styles in the pro game over the last twenty or so years. Among the top players, only a few still reflect a classic style, and even they show distinct Western influences. The median style right now in the pros is slightly west of Semi-Western.
Simply put, even though the advantages of the Western style are fewer, they're huge, especially in contemporary pro tennis. Many of the advantages of the classic style have to do with making the stroke less difficult, but the pros have so much athletic talent, they can overcome many of the difficulties of the Western style, and the Semi-Western style reduces some of the least avoidable difficulties, such as the vulnerability to low balls. For the average player and almost any beginner, the classic style is easiest to learn, but for a top athlete with plenty of tennis experience, a more Western style can provide the power and topspin that have become the dominant ingredients in forehands at the pro level.
It's also no coincidence that the emergence of the more Western styles came about just as wood racquets were replaced by much lighter graphite racquets with larger string areas. The quick upward swing used in a Western stroke would be much more difficult with a heavy wood racquet, as would getting the ball to meet that relatively tiny string bed.
If you're interested in experimenting with a more Western style, try the Semi-Western. You'll probably find that it helps you generate as much topspin as you need without forcing too awkward a relationship between your arm and your racquet angle. You'll be able to use a mix of forward weight transfer and rotational force to generate your power. Most likely, you'll want to switch to an Eastern grip to hit slice forehands and possibly low balls. Many players switch from an Eastern to a Semi-Western grip as they prepare to hit a ball at or above shoulder height.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE FOREHAND?
In the last thirty years, the average position of pro forehand grips has evolved from between Eastern and Continental to fully Semi-Western. These grip changes have been an integral part of the trend toward increasing power and topspin. Generally, as the grip moves from Continental toward Western, the player finds it easier to generate topspin and handle high balls, but harder to generate slice and handle low balls.
Players like Stan Smith, who used a grip halfway between Eastern and Continental typical of his late 60s contemporaries, hit with considerably less topspin than, for example, Gustavo Kuerten, who hits with a Western grip. Smith also met the ball usually at or below waist height, while Kuerten meets the average ball closer to chest height.
In Smith's era, grass tournaments were much more prevalent than today, and a more Continental style was suited both to handling the low bounces on grass and generating slice to accentuate that low bounce. Many of the players who have found their greatest success on the Wimbledon grass, such as Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna, have used forehand grips similar to Smith's, but a little closer to Eastern.
Now, with more tournaments on courts that produce higher bounces (clay and hard), Semi-Western and Western grips prevail. It's no surprise that Gustavo Kuerten has done much better on the French Open clay than on the Wimbledon grass.
Another factor in the evolution toward more Western grips is racquet technology. Hitting the heavy topspin for which the Semi- and full Western grips are designed requires a quick brushing action that is much easier with the light weight and large string beds of modern racquets.
Will grips continue to evolve more toward the Western?
The average of all forehand grips on the pro tours should move somewhat West as the older, more Eastern players like Novotna retire and are replaced by youngsters who grew up emulating more Western styles, but the remaining shift will be brief and slight. Racquets have gotten as light as they can while still having enough mass to hit effectively, and the courts of the future are unlikely to bounce any higher, on average, than those of today. Furthermore, most players find it pretty tough to get a forehand over the net with a grip more Western than the current Semi-Western average.
Good luck to the Aussie and Balkan girls!
Last edited by SM; Jul 28th, 2003 at 03:04 PM.