Question of the Day: Switching Grip Sizes

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I have two racquets with different grip sizes. One is a 4 and 1/8th, another is 4 and 3/8ths. Is there any harm in playing with different grip sizes (tennis elbow, etc.)? Also, if I just added an extra replacement grip to the 1/8th, to build it up toward a 3/8ths, would I lose any feel with that racquet?—Anthony


There shouldn’t be any physical harm in switching between racquets with different grip sizes, per se. (Other than possible harm to your match play, due to the jarring change in feel that a broken string in one racquet and the transition to another might occasion.) That said, it is generally acknowledged that smaller grip sizes, all else being equal, can present additional risks for injury. Interestingly enough, they can also present unique performance benefits.

As I wrote last year, on the advantages and disadvantages of different grip sizes, a smaller grip allows a player’s wrist greater range of motion during her swing. This can be positive, especially for skilled players with Western-style games; extra wrist flexion, coupled with good technique, can translate into accelerated racquet pronation while serving and a faster, freer wrist on groundstrokes, both of which can increase pace and spin. It’s no wonder that many top players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal included, choose to play with grips that are narrower than the standard, 3/8ths circumference.

However, at the same time, tiny palettes like your 4 and 1/8, by allowing the wrist all that extra movement, can stress the wrist and other tendons throughout the arm, including those that contribute to tennis elbow. This is why racquet technicians instruct sufferers of tennis elbow, along with other advice, to use a thicker, softer grip.

As for whether building up the 1/8th to a 3/8ths with extra grip will cost you “feel,” it really depends on how you understand the term. If feel, as tennis physicists Rod Cross and Crawford Lindsey define it, is the “combined effect of the shock force on the arm plus vibrations of the racquet frame,” then, yes, a thicker grip will reduce feel, as it dampens the sensation of impact. (In this sense, leather grips, as I’ve written, heighten feel, because they allow vibrations to pass relatively unimpeded from the racquet through the grip and into the hand.)

But on the other hand, if your sense of “good feel” is playing with a bigger, rounder grip, then logically the change will be for the better. Personally, I think of good feel as my ability to discern the handle’s bevels, or edges; in my experience, playing with additional replacement grips and/or overgrips is a bad recipe for good feeling, as a thicker grip mutes those edges. But that’s just me.

As you decide on your grip size, don’t forget the obvious: A grip should be comfortable, and it should fit your hand. If you have gigantic, Ivo Karlovic-type hands, obviously you’re going to need to bump up the grip size. Conversely, players with petite digits shouldn’t struggle to hold onto an oversized grip for fear of injury. (For more information on finding the correct grip size, click here.)

My final recommendation would be to consult a knowledgeable racquet technician in your area. He or she should be equipped to effectively build-up your grip, whether with extra grips or a heat-shrink sleeve. Depending on the racquet and the technician’s competency, it may even be possible to switch out the handle for another that’s more to your liking.

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