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.)





Speak your mind

8 Comments so far

  1. steve on September 20, 2009 8:27 am

    A few points on longevity of a career.

    There have been some comments recently as to the apparent demise of Nadal’s game. Time of course will tell as to the validity of such predictions so as the Oracle says ( the real Oracle not the one in Nebraska) we shall see. I will take the position, let’s see how next year shapes up as I believe he is recovering from a major injury still, and he now has a new injury that is far more inhibiting than he disclosed at this years Open. Rumors of his demise are greatly exagerrated in my view.

    Tennis is a unique sport because of the seeding process, the tournaments are strucktured so the best players get deep into the tournament. Tennis is similar to boxing in that styles, are critical in the fights. Some boxers refuse to fight other boxers because they just do not match up well. Southpaws, were largely avoided for example, because their unconventional methods are difficult to prepare for.

    It would be very interesting to have a tennis tournament that would bring together the best tennis players in the world and design a tournament similar to the World Cup. There would be a round robin qualifier initially and then the surviving teams advance based upon their successes. I am not sure if the Olympics is structured this way or not.

    The PGA tournament used to be a match play event however this was abandoned for the more modern structure we see today. Perhaps it is time for Tennis to evolve a bit and incorporate some new ideas.

    I would also like to see something like the Ryder Cup in tennis. I know there is the Davis Cup but I think it is horribly marketed here in the US. It gets no TV time at all. With the furious fanaticism of Nationalism, this seems to me that this would be warmly embraced by the American public. A major sponsor like Adidas or other clothier should consider this. I for one would enjoy Europe vs the World as a format to build on.

    Off the tracks. I watched on Spike TV a Rugby match. I have not seen Rugby played for years but I drank it in thoroughly. Just an amazing sport and one that has lifelong lessons. I solicit the esteemed readers here to weigh in on the genius and views of this marvelous sport.

  2. Murali on September 20, 2009 1:19 pm

    Steve, The season-ending ATP tournament is played along similar lines. The best players qualify (eight of them), and the intial rounds are in a round-robin format. Even though the winner of this event takes home a lot of cash, this event is not taken seriously by tennis afficionados.

  3. Craig on September 21, 2009 7:40 am

    Grantland Rice talks about Tilden and others in his wonderful book and says Tilden started late but could still give the best players all they could handle for a set even a year before he died. Tilden liked to attack a player’s strength on the most important points. Said it would totally demoralize them.

  4. manuel bravochico on September 21, 2009 11:52 am

    Knees and back will get you years before your grip.

  5. Don Chu on September 21, 2009 9:17 pm

    But manuel, it is the grip which will determine the stance (closed, semi-open, open stances) used to perform the most effective stroke. And some combinations of grip-stance-(and therefore)strokes result in very different types and levels of stresses on the knees, back (and other parts).

    So yes, your knees and back will most probably give out before your weakening forearms/grip send your racquet flying. But the point above is that using the western grip places relatively greater stresses on the body (including the kness and especially the back) than any other grip.

  6. Don Chu on September 21, 2009 9:27 pm

    For the tennis afficianados here and on the subject of western grips and short playing careers:
    remember the Hatchet Man, Alberto Berasategui and his twisted extreme western grip and his hatchet forehand?

  7. derrick on September 23, 2009 3:59 pm

    with all due respect only anecdotal evidence is offered here supporting the particular theories. Where are statistical number. and how should this be quantified. and if it is quantified then we go to the point that there is nice to know and then there is need to know. And then is it better to be a Jim Courier who was a 6 time major championship winner and a flame out at 30.he made millions not a bad living. Not everybody will be federer or Sampras. He was the wunderkind who was selected ahead of Agassi at Nick Bolletieri tennis camp. Agassi far surpassed Courtier far as longevity and success.

    Then we can talk about Kournikova who never won anything yet made millions. Bolletieri recruited her and created her. Nobody questioned her grip. Or did they?

  8. Bob Calimer on November 5, 2009 10:55 am

    Flat ball hitters have been around forever but not so for the westie top spinners. Your data is flat. Revisit this issue in a few years ( 5 ) to get any real solid data


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