Can you flick heavy backspin serves?

Ask the coachCategory: Strokes & techniqueCan you flick heavy backspin serves?
Gareth asked 3 years ago

I’ve got a quick question for you, if I may? It’s about how to return a heavily chopped short serve coming to my backhand side. I’ve been trying to be proactive with service return, so trying to flick rather than push where possible, and usually my backhand flick is quite good (forehand not so much!).

However, I played one chap at our club on Monday, and I just couldn’t manage to drag his short serves to my backhand up over the net – they all went deep into the bottom of the net – I probably tried about 4 or 5 times in the game, with the same result. He plays with conventional rubbers, and to be fair he is probably the best player in the club.

Is it always possible to flick these kinds of serves back, given enough practice and the right technique? Or against some players do you need to accept that there is just too much spin to reliably counter with a short stroke like a flick, and just push it back instead?

1 Answers
Tom Lodziak Staff answered 3 years ago

It is possible to flick even very heavy backspin serves. But your technique needs to be spot on – there is very little margin for error. To have any chance, you need to get your elbow a little higher, open your bat angle a little more and spin upwards with a very straight swing trajectory. This will give you a better chance of flicking the ball up and over the net. But it’s not easy and requires plenty of practice. In a match it is very easy to tense up a little, which makes the flick less fluid. You need to keep loose and make the flicking motion smooth and whippy, with lots of wrist.
Of course, it is absolutely fine to push these heavy backspin serves too. Don’t feel as though you are failing if you decide to push. Just try to do something decent with the push. Push short or push deep and fast or try to dig in with lots of backspin. This will make it hard for your opponent and so he may gain no advantage from doing the heavy backspin serve. 
Ultimately if you can vary your return – sometimes flick, sometimes push – you will hopefully keep your opponent unsettled and a little hesitant, which will make it easier for you to win points.