August 21, 2017 - Fourth-Ball Backhand Loop Attack

One of the most valuable times to have a good backhand loop is when receiving – but not necessarily for the receive itself. It can also be a good backhand drive against backspin, especially for some older players and those with non-inverted surfaces, but an ability to attack backspin with the backhand is key to the fourth-ball attack. There are two basic ways of setting this up when receiving against a backspin serve. (Fourth-ball attack means you attack the fourth ball – serve, receive, server’s first shot, receiver’s second shot, which is the fourth ball.)

The first is to aggressively push the serve back - right off the bounce, heavy, low, deep, and angled into the server’s backhand. This will often catch the server off guard, leading to a push return, usually crosscourt right back to your backhand. And you are just standing there, waiting for it, with your backhand loop at the ready! Of course, the server may still attack this push, but it’ll likely be a weak or erratic attack, so be ready for that as well. But against many players, you’ll get to fourth-ball backhand attack.

The second is to push the serve back short. Since the server is likely hanging back, looking to attack a deep return, a short push can catch him off guard. What’s his most likely response? He’ll likely push it back, and often deep. Again, he’ll likely push it to your backhand, and you’ll be waiting with your backhand loop at the ready!

No tactic is perfect. In the first case above, the serve may still make a strong, consistent loop against your push. In the second case, he might push your short push back short, or flip it. If so, you change your tactics. But against many or most players, one of these tactics will often set you up for that backhand attack. If it doesn’t, before changing tactics you need to make sure you are doing it correctly – pushing aggressively in the first case, and pushing short (and low!) in the second.

Plus, none of this works if you can’t attack the push to the backhand, so practice that until you can do it against any long push. Older players often prefer backhand drives, but against a push, it’s surprisingly easy to develop a decent backhand loop at any age, so give it a try. (To be clear, loops are heavy topspin; drives are light topspin.) Make sure to place the backhand attack – players go crosscourt way too often when it’s usually more effective to attack the opponent’s middle (elbow) or wide forehand.