Sep

19

TildenHypothesis: The more western your grip, the less longevity in your career.

With a "western" grip, the racquet face is "closed", facing relatively downward, and you have to take a big swing, rotating your body as much or more than 180 degrees, with great racquet speed and top-spin. Nadal is probably the ultimate. Borg was western for his era (though not nearly as much so as Nadal and current players).

With a continental grip, the racquet face is relatively open; you hit flatter, with less spin, and your body rotation is closer to 90 degrees.

One can think of a host of players with eastern or continental grips who had long careers, playing to relatively old age: Laver (one of the world's top players until he retired at 38), McEnroe, Tilden, Navratilova (playing up to age 50!). Federer has a relatively eastern grip by today's standards. Jimmy Connors hit flat, no spin, the ultimate easterner, and he competed well at age 39. Agassi played near the top to a ripe old age, and his grip was a bit western, but not extreme for today's play. Both Federer and Sampras (US Open winner at age 31) were more eastern than most of their competitors.

Here are some of the big westerners:
Borg — Retired at 26
Nadal — Game in apparent decline at age 23
Courier — Retired at age 30, won 6 major tournaments, all before turning 24
Roddick — Still in the mix, but probably peaked at age 21

Going back further in time — Bill Tilden (eastern) and Bill Johnston (extreme western) were born just one year apart. Johnston won the US Open in 1915 and 1919, but then Tilden won it in 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925 and 1929.

With age it just becomes too difficult to hit the big, swirling western forehand, and so players that have a relatively economical stroke are the last ones standing.

(Note that most of the "modern" grips and styles are described in Bill Tilden's 1925 book "Match Play and the Spin of the Ball" which I have reviewed before.)


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