By Larry Hodges
When pushing on the backhand, most players are at one of three levels:
Level One: Get it back!
Level Two: Do something with it! This usually means one of three things: Quick off the bounce and angled; heavy; or short. This is effective at all levels. But there's another level. . . .
Level Three: Do even more!
There are many examples of "more." You can aim your racket one way, and go another, or you can fake heavy spin, and give no-spin. Another option is a sidespin push.
There are different types of sidespin pushes, but what we'll cover here is by far the most common one: the backhand sidespin push, where the racket is going right to left at contact (for a righty).
To do this shot, start with your racket a little above the ball and to the right. You want to take the ball off the bounce, so your opponent is rushed; the more time he has, the more likely he'll adjust to your sidespin. As the ball hits the table, stroke down and sideways (left to right). Some contact the ball toward the bottom of the racket, so they can take it quicker, or you can contact in the middle of the racket for more control. The key is to put both backspin and sidespin on the racket.
Placement is important. You usually want to do this shot to the opponent's wide backhand (assuming he's a righty), so it breaks into his backhand. It's a tricky ball to backhand loop, and if he tries running around to use his forehand, the sidespin pulls the ball farther to the side then he's expecting.
When a lefty plays a righty, both players have the option of using this shot so that it breaks into the wide forehand. Not only is it pulling away from the opponent, but this type of breaking away sidespin often causes more trouble to player's forehands than ones that break into the body (i.e. righty versus righty). It also puts him out of position. When a lefty serves to you (if you are a righty, or a righty serving to you if you are a lefty), and serves short to the backhand, this is an excellent return, into his wide forehand.
The down side of this shot is that, because there is less backspin, an opponent who reads it properly can loop right through the ball, often off the bounce. So you don't want to over use this shot. However, done at proper times, it's a highly effective shot. It also puts one more thing in your opponent's mind to think about.
One time this shot is especially useful is against an opponent's forehand sidespin serve (assuming two righties). You can use the opponent's sidespin against him as you really sidespin your return into his wide backhand.