What is the difference between a tennis grip and an overgrip?

Now and then customers come rushing into my shop, often already dressed up to step on court in a few minutes, asking me: “I need a new grip, what’s the best one?”. Although I have my favourites of course, I always have to slow them down and ask them a few questions in return. For example, did they mean replacement grip or overgrip? You’ll be surprised by how many customers frown their eyebrows, seemingly not knowing the difference. So in this article I’ll walk you through the difference between tennis replacement grips and overgrips and why you want to know a bit about them.

Basically, a racket is nothing more than a blown up and heated graphite tube. To hold this graphite tube manufacturers produce a pallet handle, made out of polyurethane, and glue this to the frame. This results in a frame that you’re able to swing, but without much comfort of course. So here’s where the basic grip, or replacement grip comes in. Replacement grips are recognisable by their somewhat thicker format, often with some cushioning underneath. You’ll also find an adhesive strip there. On top their is a rubber texture, sometimes perforated to allow for some moisture to slip away. That’s basically it!

Now a replacement grip can be sufficient for beginners or intermediate players at normal to regular levels of play intensity, but I still would not recommend to play with only a replacement grip. Here’s why: once you have found a good replacement grip, you can ‘protect’ it by installing an overgrip. The overgrip takes all the damage, while the replacement grip will stay in place and left unharmed. So, basically, you’ll install a replacement grip for the cushioning effect of your grip, determining a big deal of impact on your hand and underarm. In addition, you’ll install an overgrip for the actual grip.

Now overgrips come, naturally, in a lot of variants. You’ll find that a lot of different players play with, well, a lot of different overgrips. Perfectly understandable, as no player really has the same grip. Overgrips mainly fall into three categories: regular overgrips, which mimic the features of a normal replacement grip and have an emphasis on comfortability. They tend to be even a bit thinner than the rest of the overgrips. Secondly, there are so called tacky overgrips, which will have a special coating to them, making them feel stickier than other overgrips. Naturally, they will really grip better, especially during first games of play. But beware! That’s does not make for the perfect match, as I will explain a bit later on. Finally, there are absorb overgrips that, well, as the name suggests, absorb any moisture from your hand during play. They tend to feel a bit like if you would grip a towel around your racket (much like the overgrips of badminton rackets), resulting in a slightly weird feeling but being actually quite effective in terms of grip.

I can only speak from my own experience (and a bit from my clients) and I’m afraid that I belong to the group of players who will actually need an absorb overgrip to complete a proper tennis match. I sweat quite a bit, even when I’m just warmed up. No Nadal intensity sweating luckily, but still something I need to prepare for. That’s why I have tested quite a few absorb grips during my time. These grips often are designed in blue, modelled probably after the famous blue (original) Tourna absorb grip. It was the grip that Pete Sampras and a lot of other pro players felt most comfortable with on court. Tourna for me still is one of the best grips out there, just in terms of feel and durability. But when you take costs into account, there are really some good alternatives and I haven’t even been testing so much last couple of years. So a couple I like in terms of price/quality ratio are the Signum Pro and Artengo absorb overgrips.

You might be thinking that I might be exaggerating this importance of an absorb overgrip but let me give you an example of something I noticed last summer while playing an important semi-final over my local open tournament. I reserviced my racket completely with a fresh set of new strings and decided to play with only a new, ‘absorb’ replacement grip by Artengo. I really like the look and feel of this grip, thinking it would get me just as far as my normal absorb overgrips. For the first few games I got so much grip out of it, and with the confidence of my level and gear, I actually dominated the first few games againts a much younger, talented player.

From 3-2 ahead in the 1st, things started to change. I did take a quick look at the weather forecast the day before, only hoping that rain would not be a factor. Luckily it was not, but because the sun was actually heating up the rainy grounds, it turned out to be very humid. Combined with some high intensity sweat, my grip started slipping early on and I was actually almost throwing my racket out of my hand at times. I did not have any other absorb overgrips in my back, so I knew it would be a challenge to overturn that slippery feel. Thing just got worse from there.

Now let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I woud have lost this match with or without the proper grip. This youngster was just to good (and amazingly consistent for a 14-year old!) but I just could not put my best tennis out there, which left me with a unsatisfied feeling and to me, that’s all there is to playing tennis at my age and level. I play to play my best and nothing less, so I want to be prepared as good as I can. It’s just a waste of time if I don’t prepare the things to the best of my knowledge.

So, to conclude, if there is anything you can take away from this article, is this: make sure you try out quite a few of the replacement grips and overgrips (or even different combinations of both) out there and then: stick with it. Make sure you have everything in stock, long enough before your tournament or match starts and make sure you have everything gripped well before your match too. You don’t want to be stressed out, gripping everything on court while your opponent is getting frustrated (or: if that’s your preferred tactic, go ahead!). If anything, you don’t want lose even just a couple of points because of something minor like a worn grip, when that’s something you can perfectly prepare for a match. The margin for error is just to small…

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