Backhand flicks, drives, loops, and pushes

Note for potential reader: I’m new to this sport, and my commentary might not be correct or good advice :).

What’s the difference between backhand flicks, drives, loops, and pushes?

Flicks, drives, and loops all impart topspin on the ball. The backhand push typically imparts backspin.

The drive is more of a forward motion, giving a flatter resulting ball compared with the heavier topspin of a flick or loop. A backhand drive done well might result in a flat ball entirely, rather than a topspin one.

The backhand flick and loop might actually refer to the same stroke, I’m not sure. I’ll say what I think the differences are. The backhand flick uses very heavy wrist to get topspin, while the loop drives is topspin more from forward motion of the paddle, both brushing the top of the ball to import heavy topspin.

In both cases (in all cases, really) it’s important to keep the wrist (and shoulder) relaxed, forming up most (but only a little) at the time of making contact with the ball. Remaining relaxed allows you to adjust strokes more quickly. This allows handling unexpected ball placements and decisions from the expected spin and bounce more gracefully.

Classical advice suggests you should not reach (extending your elbow) so that you can always use the same shot, and so you have more control over the angle of your paddle. Instead of reaching, the advice goes, you should move your feet so you’re in position to hit the ball. This advice can be misleading; it’s silly to avoid reaching when reaching is necessary, and it’s bad advice to avoid learning a useful stroke. It’s good advice to use your feet. And above all, it’s a good observation that reaching can be a common failure mode for the backhand strokes.

It’s also true that when this failure mode arises it can be naturally accompanied by pointing the racket face in slightly the wrong direction.

The primary ways to counter this are:

  1. practicing footwork to get into place
  2. experience so if you have to reach you get the angle right
  3. awareness of the pitfall so you can notice it and adjust more rapidly

A bad thing to do would be to avoid reaching when reaching is necessary.

Another piece of advice is to avoid reaching forward. This advice is similar to that above about reaching left on backhands. You can put your leg under the table to minimize your reach, but ultimately reaching is necessary for retrieving drop shots and other short shots. The right takeaway is that footwork comes first, not that racing should be avoided.

It often gets repeated that the reason to avoid reaching is so you can reuse your strokes. This seems like you’re setting yourself up for failure. To succeed in unexpected situations you need to know exactly how your paddle behaves no matter how you’re hitting it. You don’t want to just be memorizing a small number of strokes and applying them as best as possible in whatever situation arises. If you do that, your game-play will be so fragile. It won’t work if the ball’s a little too high, too low, or too wide. Better to practice both the core strokes, the necessary footwork, AND how to use your strokes at their extreme values for when footwork and reflexes are insufficient to bring the ball into a standard position. Is this right?