Flat Backhand

January 15, 2013

Curing the Flat Backhand and the Modern Topspin Backhand

There's an 11-year-old I've been coaching for a while who hits his backhand extremely flat. It's become the biggest problem in his game - it often comes out almost as backspin, often spraying off the end since there's no topspin to pull it down. I've tried for months to get him to put a little topspin on the ball by starting with the racket a bit lower and slightly closed, but to no avail. His sponge was medium fast, but not a modern looping sponge, more of a hitting sponge, which seemed appropriate since he was primarily a hitter on the backhand. (He does have a backhand loop against backspin.)

The sponge was going somewhat dead, so I lent him a sheet of a used looping sponge. His first few shots went off the end. Then he adjusted by closing his racket more, meaning he hit more on top of the ball - instant topspin!!! It was a simple as that. Later, when I fed him multiball, his backhand loop was also vastly improved.

You can put topspin on the ball with a hitting sponge, but the looping sponge made him do so, leading to a much better backhand. While he doesn't need the most high-end (i.e. most expensive) looping sponges, it's becoming more and more important for players to use modern looping sponges even if you aren't using it primarily to loop. They are just bouncier, and make it easier to rally at high speeds.

The "New Modern Backhand" at the higher levels isn't much like the normal backhand of the past. Just watch, say, Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang, the USA Women's Singles Finalists the last three years, and see how they backhand topspin the ball right off the bounce even when warming up. It's basically an off-the-bounce loop, and it's not a shot they "go for" - it's their standard backhand. The same is true of developing players all over the world if they have modern coaches. At our club, we tend to teach juniors to topspin the backhand like this starting when they are around 1500 or so.

Here's a video of Ariel and Lily playing the Women's Singles Final in 2011. They begin hitting backhand to backhand at 1:48 - watch closely how they both are topspinning off the bounce. Go to 2:04 and you see a closeup of Ariel's backhand - see that incredibly fast movement as she topspins the ball? I think you get an even better view starting at 2:19.

You'll note that I keep referring to these sponges as "looping sponges." I don't like to get into naming specific sponges, but every major manufacturer has their modern looping sponges. Just ask the dealer or another player, and they'll identify them. Or just look at the prices - the most expensive are the best looping sponges! (In general, if you have natural power, go for a harder sponge; if you have trouble generating great racket speed, go for a softer sponge. I use a softer sponge.)

Resignation from USATT Committees

I've served on the USATT Coaching, Club, and Editorial Committees for a while. (Back in the 90s I chaired the Coaching and Club committees.) However, the letter below (sent to the USATT Board of Directors, Staff, and those three committee chairs) explains my resignation from all three.


After much contemplation, I've finally decided that I'm just too busy to really contribute as a member of a USATT Advisory Committee. I'm currently trying to coach full-time, run training camps, promote and organize table tennis at MDTTC, run tournaments, write a daily blog and weekly feature articles, write books on table tennis, update numerous TT web pages, as well as recurring projects such as the page layouts and photo work on Tim Boggan's TT history books and many other items. I'm also working on a science fiction & fantasy writing career. And sometimes I like to find time to eat and sleep, a rare luxury these days. When I agreed to join the USATT Editorial, Coaching, and Club Committees, I told the chairs that I wouldn't be able to put in the hours I used to due to these other commitments, but the amount of time I have free for these activities has now gone negative. With two of these committee chairs leaving due to term limits (a bad idea, in my opinion, since greatness often comes from the hard work of uniquely qualified individuals - though of course there are good arguments for term limits as well) this seems a good time for me to turn in my resignation from all three committees. The incoming chairs should generally be able to choose their own committee personnel. I think all three chairs have done excellent jobs, and I wish them and their successors well.


-Larry Hodges

Choosing the Right Equipment to Match Your Style

Here's an article by Yahao Zhang on choosing equipment. He's the reigning U.S. Under 21 Champion as well as the Southern Open Doubles Champion with Nathan Hsu - I coached them during those matches.

Expert Table Tennis

Here's a new coaching site, Expert Table Tennis, with lots of tips from Ben Larcombe, an English table tennis coach. Four of the lead articles right now are:

  • Using Mental Preparation to Win More Table Tennis Matches
  • The Falkenberg Drill and Why You Should Be Doing It
  • How to Serve Like Kenta Matsudaira
  • The Most Common Table Tennis Injuries and How To Avoid Them

The Index Finger on the Pendulum Serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:51) on where to put the index finger on the forehand pendulum serve to maximize spin.

Sean O'Neill Coaching Video

Here's a one-hour video of five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and two-time Olympian Sean O'Neill as he gives a clinic at Univ. of Virginia. No flashy graphics, just content.

First Playback Table?

Here's an old video (1:59, circa 1950s?) showing the game of "Smash," where players hit off an adjusted backboard. Two-time World Men's Singles Champion Johnny Leach and two-time World Women's Doubles Champion Diane Rowe are featured in the video.

Catching Ping-Pong Balls with Chopsticks

Here's a video of some sort of Chinese TV show (5:46) that features Ma Long. It's in Chinese so I don't know much about what's going on, but starting at 0:36 there's a man catching ping-pong balls with a chopsticks that are shot at him from a table tennis robot! (He starts slow, but gets better.) Later you see Ma Long trying to pick up balls with chop sticks - not too successfully. The two play regular table tennis at the end - the chopstick man turns out to be a real player. (Anyone know who he is?)

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August 14, 2012

The Flat, Regular, and Topspinny Backhand

In my Tip of the Week yesterday I wrote about the Racket Tip Angle on the Backhand. I also referred to the various types of backhands, such as flatter ones and "topspinny" backhands. What exactly are these? Here are three ways of hitting a backhand drive; all are done mostly on the rise or top of the bounce. (Note that the three terms below are my invention, though most coaches would recognize from the meaning what they are.)

  • The Flat Backhand. This is probably the easiest way to hit a backhand, where you hit the ball with little topspin. A good flat backhand isn't completely flat; it almost always has a little topspin, but the key is that it has very little. This makes it easy to learn, since you simply start with the racket behind where contact will be and drive forward. This is how I hit my backhand, and I consider it a weakness in my game. The lack of topspin means precision and timing are key, and if you are 1% off, you are completely off. At the higher levels, players with flat backhands are often turned into blockers. However, backhand kills are often done flat as they maximize the speed, and players known for their backhand kills often have flat backhands. But often they either become hit or miss types, unable to rally consistently, or they become very consistent, but mostly just keep the ball in play. (The latter is me, alas). It's a dying style at the higher levels as backhand loops dominate (see Topspinny Backhand below), but there are still many who play aggressive flat backhands quite successfully.
  • The Regular Backhand. The difference here is that you start with the racket slightly below where the contact point will be. As the ball rises after bouncing on your side of the table, your racket rises to meet it. Contact is a bit more upward, which creates more topspin and, once mastered, more control. This is how I generally teach the backhand to new players. As they develop, they often hit the ball harder and harder (and sometimes flatter), or they start increasing the topspin, and develop topspinny backhands. Others simply stick with regular backhands, where they can be both steady and aggressive.
  • The Topspinny Backhand. This is the same as a Regular Backhand, except that you bring your wrist down and back, and snap the wrist through the ball to increase the topspin. It is essentially a mini-backhand loop off the bounce. This is what most top players do these days. Often there's no clear distinction between a "topspinny" backhand and a backhand loop.

However you play your backhand, make sure to do something with it. This means speed, quickness, spin, placement (both direction and depth), consistency, or some variation of these elements. Put pressure on your opponent or they will put pressure on you. Focus on developing to a high level at least one of these elements so that you'll have something that you know you can do that's better than your opponent. (Note that most of this applies to the forehand as well, except players tend to do that anyway; it's the backhand that's often underdeveloped.)

ITTF Coaching Seminar

Here's an ITTF writeup of the recent ITTF Coaching Seminar run by Sydney Christophe at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in New York.

Sidespin Push Return

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:33) about pushing short with sidespin.

Table Tennis Perfection

Here's a highlights video (14:40) of table tennis shots.

A VW Bug Covered with Ping-Pong Balls

It's colorful and with a happy face!


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