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Pickleball's Most Dangerous Grip: The Riley Newman Pancake

by The Dink Media Team on

No one plays the game of pickleball like Riley Newman. Try as you might, it’s nearly impossible to cover the court in his unique style.

The former college tennis and basketball player has created his own brand of pickleball that bucks the trend of traditional racquet sports. His paddle grip and court coverage are unlike anything you will see in most pro matches.

On last week's PicklePod episode, Newman explains how he landed on his grip and how it changed his play style.

When Newman was young he couldn't afford tennis lessons but received a tip while playing at the local courts. He was advised to close his paddle face to create more topspin with his forehand.

Fast forward two decades later and you can still see the effects. Instead of a continental grip that is popular on the courts, Newman holds his paddle like a stop sign.

He has built his game around being a complete menace at the kitchen line. Newman is not going to try to win the game with groundstrokes. He is going to get to the line and own you in the short game.

Throughout his pro career, he has become known for two signature shots, his pancake forehand and two-handed backhand.

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The Pancake Forehand

A primary target in pickleball is the chicken wing. The chicken wing is the paddle side shoulder on the opposing player. Anatomically speaking, it is a hard area to protect. 

Most players favor their backhand to protect themselves at the kitchen line. A backhand at your paddle side is tough to handle. When a ball is hit there, your elbow flares out and it is nearly impossible to be offensive, hence the name chicken wing.

Newman changed the game with his grip and the pancake shot.

Newman’s grip allows him to protect his chicken wing with his forehand. His wrist does not need to turn as far to square up the paddle face. 

If a player targets his chicken wing, they're met with the ball being smacked down into the court for a winner. The motion resembles flipping a pancake in a frying pan which is where the name comes from. 

He basically turned the most vulnerable spot on your body into an offensive weapon. 

Related: PicklePod Recap: Riley Newman pulls no punches with Zane and Thomas

The Two-Handed Backhand

Newman’s two-handed backhand allows him to maintain the same forehand grip and just squeeze his left in above his right on the paddle grip. He demonstrates his two-handed backhand on the PicklePod. 

For most of a match, you will actually see Newman sitting on his backhand. He keeps two hands on the paddle more than any player besides his sister Lindsey. A majority of players will run around their backhand turning it into a forehand. The Newmans will hit a backhand from anywhere on the court and are masters at dropping them into the kitchen.

Newman was a major catalyst in paddle companies increasing the length of their grip to more than 5 inches. When developing signature paddles in the past, his paddle always stood out because of the grip length.

Even with a longer grip, Riley still extends his index finger up the backside of the paddle. This provides added stability and control. This is evident in his unmatched consistency and power with the backhand.

Despite being one of the best in the game, the Newman backhand is not the most aesthetically pleasing. It usually involves whole-body movement, his elbows squeezed close together, and a fair amount of contortion. But Riley is one player who never gets lazy on the court and can get away with the inefficient movement.

Does the style transfer to other players?

Since seeing him play, I was always curious if this was the way Riley taught others to play. If you attended a Riley Newman clinic would you walk out with two hands glued to the paddle and more spring in your step?

When asked if he teaches his unique style to other players, Newman said “No”. If Newman was mentoring a pickleball prodigy he would suggest a hybrid approach. A more traditional grip from the baseline then switch into the pancake grip once you reach the NVZ.

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