How to Return a Short Backspin Serve: Beginners Level with Coach Kim
February 3, 2014
He backhand flip has rapidly become the dominant receive against short serves at the world-class level. The flip (usually called a flick in Europe and Asia) is a short stroke where a player steps and attacks a short ball, forehand or backhand. What makes the backhand flip so dominant is that since the table is in the way, it is difficult to generate topspin against short balls except with the wrist, and it is easier to use wrist over the table with the backhand than the forehand. It was just a few years ago that players like China's Ma Long showed at tournaments, backhand flipping even short serves to the forehand, considered a no-no by most coaches for many years since it put you in an extreme backhand position and so not ready to dominate the table with the forehand on the next shot. Ma Long and others showed this wasn't true - they'd step back quickly and rip the next ball with their forehand.
This wasn't really new historically. Viktor Barna of Hungary won five World Men's Titles doing with a hardbat in the 1930s, often stepping around his forehand side to attack both short and long balls with his backhand. In the 1970s players like Tibor Klampar and Anton Stipancic attacked short serves over and over with wristy and topspinny backhand flips.
However, players like Ma Long (world #1 for all of 2010 and eight months of 2011) and Zhang Jike (current World Men's Champion) have taken it to the next level in terms of the amount and variation of spin generated, and thereby its effectiveness. A major problem with a flip is that against a heavy backspin you need to lift the ball up, and to do so you need to generate upward racket speed. How do you do this when you can't backswing down against a short ball, because the table is in the way? By backswinging to the side, and using that swing to build up momentum to generate both topspin and sidespin on the flip. Because the stroke starts from the side and curves in toward the ball, the stroke's path is the shape of a banana, and so it is called a banana flip.