Backhand Banana Flip
by Han Xiao
In the last few years, the backhand banana flip has become a staple shot thanks to each new generation of players. Players such as Wang Hao and Dmitrij Ovtcharov were among the first players to use this shot as a primary method of returning serve in order to immediately take the initiative and gain an advantage over the opponent. Since that time, the shot has developed immensely and has become mainstream.
The backhand banana flip’s execution consists of three main steps just like other table tennis strokes: the preparation, the execution, and the follow-through/transition. To prepare to execute the banana flip on a service return, footwork and balance are the keys. Try to begin moving right before the server contacts the ball to ensure that you get a quick first step and can react to any unpredicted changes in the service. If you are going to attempt a banana flip, move towards the ball and step in with your dominant foot as if you were going to push the ball with your backhand.
After the preparation comes the execution of the shot. Right before contact, the head of your racket should be pointed down at the table. This will enable you to perform the banana flip against nearly any type of spin by adjusting the subsequent stroke and follow through. Against a backspin serve, brush the back of the ball and snap the wrist upwards. Against a no spin serve or topspin serve, snap the wrist more forwards to bring the racket over the ball, brushing more towards the top of the ball. In either case, follow through by snapping the wrist. Try to keep your racket somewhat close to the body for the best control and consistency. You should be applying topspin and some sidespin to the ball with this stroke, and as you get more accustomed to it you should be able to vary the amount of sidespin as needed.
After executing the banana flip, it’s very important to move back to neutral position. This is especially difficult after executing the banana flip from the middle of the table or even the forehand side, since you will need to be able to cover the wide backhand corner if the opponent has an angle to return there. To practice your quickness and balance in returning to neutral position, you can either incorporate a banana flip into the beginning of a drill, or preferably do a multiball drill where you banana flip one ball near the middle of the table followed by playing one or more topspins anywhere on the table.
To demonstrate the banana flip, we can watch Ma Long in his instructional video demonstrate the banana flip followed by a transition to the next ball:
One important thing to note while practicing the banana flip is that you should be using mostly your wrist to execute this shot. If you feel discomfort, especially in your shoulder, this is a hint that something is wrong. If you continuously practice banana flipping incorrectly, there is a risk of injuring yourself. Make sure you are moving into position and using your wrist rather than your upper arm to execute the stroke.
Countering someone who has a very strong banana flip can be difficult and requires practice. If the opponent has banana flipped your serve, try to place the next ball based on their movement. If they are not covering the wide backhand corner, a simple block to that position can put them off balance. Otherwise, playing the middle is always a safe tactic to take away angles and try to eliminate the opponent’s chances of playing a strong shot. More advanced players can predict a banana flip and attempt to overpower it with a strong loop. If the ball has a lot of sidespin on it, make sure you drive through the ball somewhat and use the body rather than the arm to power through the ball when attempting to loop a banana flip.
You can also counter a player who likes to banana flip a lot using certain types of serves. Using deep serves and half long serves can put someone off balance if they are intent on stepping in to banana flip. Short serves the the forehand, both pendulum and reverse pendulum, can force errors from a player who has poor footwork but attempts to banana flip. Even if you don’t win the point outright off of these tactics, you can force a weaker flip and put yourself in better position. Finally, serving less sidespin to the middle and backhand and using flat no spin and backspin serves can make it more difficult for the opponent to banana flip. Since the stroke is easier when executed against sidespin, many players have difficulty banana flipping a flat backspin or no spin ball. This is one reason why these types of flat serves are being used more and more by certain players.
In conclusion, the banana flip is here to stay for the foreseeable future and is very common in intermediate to advanced play. Practicing this stroke as well as methods of countering it will help you increase the number of tools you have in your competition toolkit.