April 29, 2024 - Forehand or Backhand Receive in Doubles

(Excerpt from Table Tennis Doubles for Champions by Larry Hodges. April is Doubles Month!)

Historically, most players received with their forehands. This made it easier to forehand loop any serve that went even slightly long. (Some players, even back then, were better with backhand loops and so received backhand, but they were a minority.) Also, in the days before the “banana flip,” many players were stronger flipping against short serves with their forehand than their backhand.

Then came the backhand banana flip, and everything changed. The banana flip allows a player to reach over the table and more easily attack a short ball with the backhand, essentially looping it. It’s basically a mini-loop against a short ball. It now dominates in singles at the advanced levels. (A photo sequence of this is coming up. You might also go to Youtube and do a search for “Backhand Banana Flip.”) However, banana flips take a lot of practice, so below the elite level a more conventional backhand flip works, which is essentially a backhand drive against a short ball, especially against short backspin, where you drive up and forward, with light topspin. (The same is true of the forehand flip, which is done now about the same as it was done forty years ago.)

It’s also thrown the whole forehand-or-backhand receive into question. Even if you don’t really have a backhand banana flip, more and more players these days prefer to backhand flip against short balls rather than forehand flip. You have three options:

  1. Receive forehand. This is the more conventional way and puts you in position to forehand loop any ball that goes even a little bit long. If the ball’s short, you can forehand flip, or push short or long.
  2. Receive backhand. This allows you to reach over the table and backhand banana flip. If your backhand flip is more conventional, you still may prefer this. However, it means you’ll be using your backhand against long serves as well. If you have a good backhand loop or drive to go along with your backhand flip, then this is often the preferred method. At lower levels, where you can get away more with pushing (even against long serves), this is also common as most players have more control on the backhand side. If the opponents play passive, then by all means receive backhand and push more, especially if your partner has a good attack against backspin.
  3. Hybrid forehand and backhand receive. For this, you set up as if receiving forehand. If the serve goes long, you forehand loop. If the serve goes short, you step over and in and receive backhand, pushing or flipping, since many players do this both better on the backhand side. This takes practice as you have to make a quick judgement call on whether the serve is long or short. But it may give you the best of both worlds—forehand loop against long serves, backhand against short serves. Personally, I like to receive forehand against most serves, but against short backhand sidespin serves (or a lefty’s forehand pendulum serve), I (and many others) find it easier to receive backhand, and so will either switch if I see this serve going short, or even set up for a backhand receive.

Receivers should normally set up to receive with their strongest receiving side against serves. If they are stronger on the backhand or have a good banana flip, then they may receive backhand, even though the serve is going to the forehand corner. The main exception is if you have a lefty-righty team, where if the righty received backhand, he’d be in the lefty’s way

As note earlier, in the past, most players received forehand. These days many players are so much better receiving short serves with the backhand (often with banana flips) that as long as they can also loop the deep serve with the backhand, more and more are receiving backhand. However, if you are uncomfortable looping deep serves with your backhand, then you should probably receive forehand.

When receiving in doubles, be ready to attack any deep serve, mostly by looping. Vary the receive against short serves, but don’t push deep too often or your partner may be faced with a strong attack. Mix in well-placed short and long pushes, and flips. It’s often effective to attack the ball wide to the server’s side so that he gets in the way of his partner. If the server’s partner has a good loop, and the server is serving short backspin or no-spin, the ideal receive is often a short push. (If you have good touch, you may even drop short sidespin-topspin serves short by chopping down on the ball with a light grazing touch.)

Short serves to the wide forehand give the receiver a wide angle to the opponents’ wide forehand, which can cause havoc for the serving team, as noted in the section above on Doubles Serves. Use them sparingly . . . unless the receiver has trouble with them! It brings the receiver over the table and a quick return right back at the receiver often tangles the opponents up.