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Backhand Drive - Intermediate Level

Beginners need to practise enough so that their shots are fundamentally correct. They must have the correct ready position, backswing, hit and follow-through pretty well spot on and be able to hit say 5 shots without mistake and at a firm pace. At the intermediate level, we're trying to get more power and consistency as follows:

4. Use your whole body to contribute to the shot. From top down, your head follows the ball, your shoulder twists and turns ever so slightly to produce impetus to the drive, use your hip and core for stability, your knees must flex a lot, then your feet must pivot and transfer weight from left foot to the right foot. All these motions help your shot to be more powerful and assist in your hand being less stressed otherwise your striking hand or forearm become tired too quickly and your shot starts missing. Your wrist action is most important, secondly shoulder and hip action is quite vital. Surprisingly it's hard to explain wrist action and one third of beginners have bad wrist action which is incredibly difficult to re-skill. It's one of the most frustrating things as a coach and to teach these guys side spin is like scaling mountains.

5. The actual bat contact will affect your shot. To get maximum topspin without a long flourishing stroke, flex your wrist and fingers so that you brush the ball immediately after contact. In the Ma Long video you can see him use this to good effect for low balls and you can see that he hits the ball much faster but the ball still lands on the table. This brushing technique allows you to hit the ball much more finely, ie contact the ball at 10-11 o'clock instead of at 9-10 o'clock. Because of the wristy brush which you open and close the bat face quickly, you will miss the ball less (although beginners will often miss the ball completely - but don't despair, you will do it after diligent practice). It can take players a long time to master this; it needs accurate assessment of where the ball is and it needs good finger-wrist-forearm coordination skills. A huge benefit is that it allows you to execute a snapping action which provides great speed or force on the ball.

6. How you use your high stable elbow is vitally important. It's a common area for making mistakes but it's the secret between an ordinary backhand and a strong one. You should not hide your elbow behind the side of your ribs, resulting in a pushing weak action. On the other hand if you swing your elbow too wildly you cannot employ the snap, your shot is weaker but the worst result is that you either slap at the ball with too much of a straight arm or your elbow ends up head high, then it's impossible to get your arm down quickly enough to counter drive the next ball.

Re-examine Ma Long in the video from Backhand Drive - Basic Level and see how he uses his whole body, brushes the ball and has a compact elbow action to produce a snappy, strong and consistent stroke. Remember the video is in slow motion, in real life it would be quicker and more powerful.

Butterfly explains Zhang's superb backhand in their magazine, go to the section 

My basics: Backhand-topspin on long shots

note this for a looping shot but the principles are the same for a drive, you just have a shorter stroke, less time and it's not often a shot to end the rally. You want to send a shot that puts pressure on your opponent then finish it off with a smash or step back for a powerful loop.

A video explaining actions 4,5 and 6 is from Vietnamese sifu Zhang Jike Backhand Tutorial. His accent is slightly annoying but the explanations are excellent.

Good luck, if you learn these actions by mimicking the best, you're well on the way to a masterclass backhand drive, and little understood techniques are discussed in the final article of this series.

 1. Ready

 2. End backswing

 Hit the ball

 3. End Follow-through


Backhand Drive - Basic Level

This shot is carried out close to the table - less than one metre away, even slightly over the table. The purpose is to return the ball with power, error-free and to be absolutely ready for the next attack. It's a compact shot that can be done rapid fire action like an automatic pistol or machine gun, not like a single shot rifle.

As a beginner, you'd be doing well if you mastered three things:

  1. Assuming you have mastered the ready stance and grip, bend your knees and from the perfect ready stance, twist your bat slightly towards your backhand since you're expecting the ball to come to your backhand. Keep your elbow in front of you.
  2. Swing your hand 80-100 degrees anti clockwise on a horizontal plane, ie if looking from directly overhead, your bat goes from 11-12 o'clock to 7 o'clock. That is your backswing - how easy is that? Drop your bat slightly as you go to this position and twist your shoulder a bit as well because we don't want a weak shot by just using your hand to create power.
  3. The forward swing is done by accelerating towards the ball. Swing your bat both forward and upwards, in a slight curve so that you hit the ball about 40 degrees from the horizontal or 30 degrees from a line parallel to the table baseline. Of course your bat doesn't travel far from the end of cycle 2 if you are just blocking; but the contact is further from your body if you're hitting the ball aggressively. Your bat must finish at shoulder height and does not go past your right shoulder. You hit the ball with a contact angle of 10 o'clock (the 12 o'clock point on the ball is the topmost part of the ball). Your forearm does most of the work  rotating about your elbow which moves only a few cm.

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