On the backhand, there are three ways to hold your wrist (at least): bent backward, straight, and bent down. Straight, I have gotten a lot of power and spin, but not control, and control is essential so for several months I stopped trying to hit with my wrist straight. Bent down, I also was consistently missing all over the place, although I'm starting to find a solution for that, which I'll mention later. Doing it bent backward has been the key for me.
That is, the wrist-bent-back backhand stroke is the backhand that for me finally has given me control. That is, if do the backhand stroke windup with my wrist bent backward, and do the entire stroke with my wrist still bent backward, that and only that gives me control.
Let's call this the bent-back backhand or BBBH stroke. Other characteristics of this stroke are:
Recently I've discovered that I may be able to gain control of the wrist-bent-downward backhand stroke (call it the BDBH), if at the bottom of the windup (now very low, between my legs) the windup the forearm is rotated along its axis in the opposite of the expected direction, that is, thumb-downward. This seems to take the forearm rotation out of the stroke, but it also provides a lot more consistency. I couldn't hit the table before, but now there is hope. I don't have a lot to say about this stroke, though, because I haven't worked on it very much yet.
I will also mention a couple of things about the forehand drive or counter-drive stroke, which is starting to come in much more solidly lately for me. The ball contact here is on the ring side, same as for the primary backhand stroke. The key to this stroke is simplicity. When you get it right, you'll feel like it couldn't possibly be that easy. It's so simple and effortless. In short, the stroke is mostly done by the body, and the arm is relatively passive. Keep the paddle above the table at the end of the windup, relax and don't do a lot of adjusting of the paddle angles, and step forward into the stroke, rotating your body paddle-side-forward and following through a little higher than the windup. If you let your body do the work, that is, do enough footwork (anticipating slightly if possible) so that your body is in position to step forward and rotate forward into the ball, then it's just amazingly effortless. Again, as with the BBBH, the paddle-side shoulder is down down down and slightly forward.
Strangely enough, during the forward stroke of both the BBBH and any of the forehand strokes, the body rotates paddle-side-forward. This is sensible on the FH side but strange on the BH side, until you realize that the Chinese penhold push-block stroke does the same thing. So having the shoulder down, and the body rotating paddle-side-forward, are things that work on both the FH and BBBH strokes. On the BH, if you have time to do this counter-rotation during the windup, and then can stroke more powerfully back across (as in the Korean penhold backhand smash) with a free-hand-side-forward rotation, then that's fine, but that's limited to cases when you have plenty of time, and even then you still have to do the paddle-side-forward body rotation at the beginning of that stroke. So paddle-side-forward is a consistent movement that is part of both forehand and backhand strokes.
A couple of other general points.
First, my posture is relatively low. I receive service now by crouching in a football linebacker posture, with elbows on knees, and when the server tosses the ball, I rise up 6 inches or so. This gets me more consistently in position at the right altitude.
Second, my feet are apart but not very wide apart, since too wide apart makes it harder to do many quick footwork steps.
Third, I must say that the stroke I worked on first in order to gain control, was the backhand block against heavy topspin. To block I have to get the right posture, which is the basis for everything: body low, paddle-side-shoulder down, elbow down, wrist bent back (that's where the BBBH stroke started!), paddle axis vertical with handle down. It's wierd, I know, but it's the path to control. Hold the paddle loosely, since the super-spin of a looped ball will dissipate in a loosely-held paddle, and therefore you can control it, while it will carom off a tightly held paddle, out of control. Once the posture is right, what I need to concentrate primarily on during loop receive practice is watching the ball's direction (anticipating if possible by watching the opponent's paddle) and being able to move my weight, perhaps my feet, to bring myself into position to block it. I have to think about not moving my arm or hand or paddle, but just my weight. If I move my weight into position, then the posture, which I'm already in because it's my default ready position, will just take care of the loop, I can just relax and catch the ball in my loose paddle's rubber and drop it back over the net, without actually moving the paddle or stroking it more than an inch or two, in a very very small movement. Of course it helps to have a looper to hit the ball for you, and I've been fortunate to have my coach helping me.
My BBBH stroke is probably very different from the BH stroke you're doing which, if you're doing what I started with, may be a straight-wrist, free-hand-side-forward smash shot. Both of those things give power, but lose control. The way to get power and control is to get control first, and then those movements (free-hand-side-forward body rotation, and perhaps even ultimately a straight-wrist stroke) will be things you can add while retaining the control that is ultimately the most important ingredient. Because without control, speed and spin don't mean anything, and with control, you don't really need very much speed or spin, just a little judgement about placement and some deception and then you can win very easily.
Copyright © 2001 Tom Veatch All rights reserved.
Last Modified: December 13, 2001