A few days ago I had the pleasure of coaching at the Top Edge & Gertsen Training Camp at St Neots Table Tennis Club.
Part of my role was to do 1-to-1 sessions with some of the players. In these sessions I asked the players what they wanted to work on. The players were a mixture of ages and standards, but strikingly most of them wanted to work on the same thing – backhand topspin vs backspin.
This is consistent with my own coaching sessions in Cambridge. Backhand topspin vs backspin seems to be a shot which is very difficult for a lot of players (myself included) at the amateur level. Why is this?
Blame your body
I’ve been giving it a bit more thought since the training camp. I think one of the main reasons many of us find this shot hard is simply down to body mechanics.
A forehand topspin vs backspin is quite a natural swing. Your arm stay to the side of your body and moves from a low position to a higher position. It’s easy to transfer your weight forwards and up with a fast motion. And you can play the shot without using much wrist, although a little wrist can add a little more spin.
With a backhand topspin vs backspin, you have to use your body in a slightly more unnatural way.
Your bat starts in front of your body, or towards your left hip (for right handed players). This squeezes your shoulder into your body a bit.
You need to rotate your forearm, so you can play the shot with an open-to-slightly-closed bat angle.
You need to swing forwards and up with speed, which is a little more awkward to do with this shoulder and forearm position.
So the swing tends to be shorter compared to a forehand topspin. To compensate for this, it’s important to use your wrist when playing a backhand topspin to generate a bit more racket speed.
This entire motion becomes even more difficult when there is a lot of backspin on the ball.
You can test this out for yourself. Stand up and do a motion for a forehand topspin. Now do the motion for a backhand topspin. Certainly for me, the forehand topspin is quite an effortless motion. It feels I am working with my body. For the backhand topspin motion, it feels like I am fighting against my body’s own mechanics a little bit.
Practise makes perfect
If you find backhand topspin vs backspin difficult, you are definitely not alone. There’s a whole army of amateur table tennis players struggling with the same shot! Even one of the greatest table tennis players of all time, Jan-Ove Waldner, had a fairly basic backhand topspin vs backspin and would often prefer to push.
Of course, it’s entirely possible to develop a good backhand topspin vs backspin. I’m sure we all know players who do this shot very well. But for most of us it requires a lot more practise over a sustained period of time. And this is where most of us fall short (again, myself included). We practice backhand topspin vs backspin a little bit, but because we find it tricky, we are happy not to practise it too much! So the technique, and confidence in using the shot, never really develops as well as it could.
You have to put in the effort with this shot – more so, because of the slightly unnatural body mechanics. But if you can develop this shot and the confidence to use it in matches, then it really does give you an attacking advantage.
Here’s a video tutorial I made earlier in the year, which gives a few tips on how to play backhand topspin vs backspin…
And I have another video coming next year with excellent tips from Ferenc Horvath, who is a top coach in Cambridge. He plays this shot very well and explains his technique in detail. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel or join my mailing list if you want to get notified when this video is released.
Top Edge & Gertsen Training Camp
A final word about the Top Edge & Gertsen Training Camp. This is the first time I have been to one of these training camps and I was hugely impressed.
The camp was over three days and attracted players from all over the country. There was a mixture of drills, challenges, match-play, multi-ball and 1-to-1 sessions. Excellent coaching from the Craig Bryant, Stephen Gertsen, Mark Dare, Mark Mitchell, Maria Ingles and the legend Desmond Douglas. And a really good energy in the training hall.
Craig and Stephen organise these camps three times a year. I highly recommend attending. You can find more information about the next training camp on Craig Bryant’s website.