By Larry Hodges
Since the forehand is almost always stronger than the backhand, it is very important to be able to use the forehand out of the backhand corner. An inability to do so, will limit the overall strength of your game.
Stepping around the backhand involves four parts: (1) Setting up the shot, (2) assessing whether to step around or not, (3) the footwork itself, and (4) the shot itself.
Getting a shot to step around on involves good shot selection on your part, ball placement and quick judgment. Generally, there are three shots that work well for stepping around the backhand: pushes, pop-ups and blocks or weak drives. Pop-ups are the easiest as they allow the most time to move into position. Blocks and pushes are more difficult because you will have less time to react.
The most important thing to remember is not to move too soon. Even if you anticipate a shot to the backhand, don’t move until your opponent is committed – the better the player, the longer you have to wait since a good player can fake or change his direction at the last moment. If you do anticipate a shot to the backhand correctly, you should be able to move very quickly, since your judgment time will be short.
You can anticipate most pushes going to the backhand as your opponent doesn’t really want to give you a forehand shot. Of course, besides direction, you will have to judge depth of the return or you might find yourself trying to loop a ball that lands short. (An advanced player might still step around, but to flip the ball, not loop it.)
Unless your opponent is very predictable or not too smart, you will have difficulty anticipating where his block or drive is going. You’ll just have to wait for him to commit himself and then if he goes to your backhand, you’ll have to quickly decide if you should step around for it. The important thing then is to force a weak return and there are several ways to do this: ball placement, shot selection or varying the speed and spin of your shot. Experiment and see how and where your shots are returned. For example, if you are in a backhand-to-backhand exchange and you suddenly hit a quick one to your opponent’s middle (his playing elbow), you’ll probably force a weak return to the backhand. Be ready to step around, but be careful – he may whip it (or even lot it) down your forehand line at the last second and all you’ll be able to do is applaud his fine play.
Assuming that you’ve forced a weak ball to the backhand and have judged that you have time to step around, all that remains are he mechanics of the footwork necessary to step around. To start with, you should be in a neutral stance – left leg forward (righties), knees bent, weigh on the insight balls of the feet, relaxed (diagram A).
Your first move should be a short step to the left with your left foot (diagram B). Next by first pulling and pushing off with the left foot, you jump around, step around as in diagram C. Your right foot should move far enough to the left so that you won’t be cramped on your shot. Rotate your shoulders as your right foot goes around so that you end up with your shoulders at least parallel to the end line. Most of your weigh should now be on your right foot. You are now in perfect position to hit your foreland. Step into the shot with your left foot while rotating your shoulders and either loop or smash.
If you don’t have a lot of time you should pull the arm back as you step around. It is poor form to take a backswing, wait, and then go forward. The backswing and swing forward should be one continuous motion. But as you get better, you’ll b e stepping around for shots when there is little time to do so, so learn to pull the arm back quickly on these shots.
When you can execute the footwork smoothly, you should then learn to stroke the ball as quickly as possible after stepping around. In fact, you should try to start your forward swing when your right foot touches the floor.
Until you are able to step around your backhand, you will not be taking full advantage of the natural strength and power of the forehand, therefore handicapping your game.