In table tennis, the forehand is often the more powerful shot – the point winner. But as rallies get faster and fast, the backhand counter becomes more and more important. If you don't have a strong backhand, you're at a huge disadvantage. At tournaments, in match after match, I find opponents who don't know how to score with their backhands. Equally important, they don't know how to stop their opponents from scoring with theirs.
The backhand counter should be both a controlling and aggressive shot. You can score with it by outlasting your opponent, moving him around, or by attacking. Anyone with a decent backhand can win (some) points simply by outlasting an opponent, but he would not be taking full advantage of the shot.
When countering backhands, don't keep hitting the same shot over and over like a drill. Move the ball around, change speeds and spins and force your opponent into a mistake. Experiment and see what works best for you.
There are four spots on the table you should aim for: wide to the backhand (outside the corner), deep to the backhand corner, to your opponent's middle (roughly the playing elbow, midway between forehand and backhand), and the wide forehand. Between the corners is no-man's land and you should rarely go there, except when going to the opponent's middle.
Your basic backhand counterdrive should be deep to the backhand corner. This gives you maximum depth, the most table to aim for, and a good angle into the opponent's backhand. A ball that doesn't go wide enough lets your opponent hit a shot without having to move to it, making it easier for him to play a strong backhand or even play forehand.
Off a short ball or balls that go to your wide backhand, you can hit your shot even wider, outside the corner. In a topspin rally, a ball that lands shorter is easier to attack than a deeper one, so you should play it more aggressively, while still using great ball placement. Make your opponent move! Yet most players either are not aggressive enough on this shot, or they don't go wide enough – they keep the shot well inside the corners, a poor tactic.
A ball hit to a player's middle forces him to decide whether to hit a forehand or a backhand. This often leads to more mistakes, weaker shots, and they have no extreme angle to play into. It also forces the opponent out of position, leaving at least one corner open.
When your opponent is out of position on his backhand side (because you played a ball to his wide backhand) you can snap in a quick, often point-winning shot to his forehand. But you must go to his WIDE forehand. Off a short ball, go very wide. When you go to the forehand, try to disguise your shot - don't make it too obvious. (You can even aim one way, then go the other way at the last second.) Also, try hitting it quick off the bounce - don't give him time to react to it.
In a game situation, you have to be able to put these shots together in combinations. If you go to your opponent's middle and he returns it with his backhand, he's left his backhand side open. Go for it. If he moves prematurely to cover that open backhand side, go to his forehand because he's already committed his weight in the wrong direction. If he gets the forehand shot back, be ready to attack his now open backhand, or if he moves too quickly again, go back to his forehand.
You might also try a tactic of hitting backhands deep to the corner over and over, waiting for a weak return to attack. If your opponent starts edging over to his backhand corner (either expecting more shots to his backhand or possibly to play a forehand), play an aggressive shot to his wide forehand when he's least expecting it. You can also try other tactics, such as mixing up hard and medium shots to break up your opponent's timing.
When playing a lefty (or a lefty playing a righty), things are different. Now your basic backhand shot is down the line, though that changes if the opponent has a weaker forehand. From your backhand side, your widest angle is to his forehand and since the backhand is usually a quicker shot than the forehand, you should take advantage of it. Don't hesitate to attack the wide forehand with the backhand, especially if your opponent is slightly out of position or gives you a weak return.
When you force your opponent away from the table, don't keep hitting every ball deep to him if he’s consistent off that ball. Mix in a few shorter, softer shots to bring him back and leave him vulnerable to a hard-hit follow-up shot, especially to the corners. You would rarely want to hit two soft shots in a row but to alternate soft and hard is a good tactic, because it brings him in and out. When your opponent is away from the table, he leaves the wide corners open. To keep you from going there, he must keep his shots deep. (But it's often best to attack the middle first, to draw them out of position, and then the wide corner.) Conversely, if you are forced off the table, you must hit your returns deep.
If your opponent's backhand is quicker or more powerful than yours, don't try to stay right up at the table with him. Of course, if you back up too much, you'll give him more time to set up plus you'll expose yourself to angled shots. So try to find a middle ground where you can compete with him and seek other shots and tactics to use. Or focus on making sure your first backhand shot is quick and aggressive and try to dominate from there.
Remember, while for many the forehand is the stronger shot, you must develop both wings, perhaps relying more on consistent aggressiveness on the backhand and more power on the forehand. If you play both wings well, you gain a huge advantage – and can now dominate most rallies.