Relishing Pickleball: The Backhand Smash

David Zapatka

Continuing our study of Pickleball Fundamentals Master the basics and compete with confidence by Mary Littlewood, this month we will focus on the backhand smash.

Last month we introduced the overhead smash. Most overhead smashes are hit with a forehand. What should we do with that ball that is high over our head on our backhand side? Hit a backhand, overhead smash! The problem with this shot is its degree of difficulty. It’s very difficult to get enough power high up on the backhand side. Here is what Ms. Littlewood has to say about that. “Hitting the ball overhead with any downward force using your backhand requires a backward flexing of the wrist, which is not easy for some people. Whenever possible, you should slide to the side as the ball comes toward you so that you can use your forehand when executing a smash.” This sliding technique is excellent advice. If you observe the ball coming high to your backhand, have enough time to slide to the left if you are right-handed or to the right if you are left-handed and are good enough with your foot work, sliding and hitting a forehand smash is preferable. But for the rest of us who don’t have the footwork to get there in time, Ms. Littlewood’s advice regarding flexing the wrist is advisable.

Let’s delve deeper into this idea of flexing the wrist. To execute this shot, you will need proper footwork to get into position. Do your best to get behind the ball. This may mean moving deeper into the backcourt to get the ball into your strike zone. Flex your wrist back away from the ball. This will bring the face of your paddle down toward the court. Timing is important here. You get less force out of your overhead backhand stroke than you do out of your overhead forehand stroke. You have to make up for this with a quick snap of the wrist forward through the ball all the time while watching the ball into the paddle. Follow through with your paddle down toward the court in front of you putting as much power as possible into your shot. Once again, there is a three-part series of pictures illustrating the shot. (Yes, that’s me in the pictures.)

How do you defend against the opponent’s smash? Recognize it quickly. Communicate this with your partner immediately. Then retreat as quickly as possible as far back as possible into your court. Stop moving before the ball reaches you. Block the smash out of the air or off the bounce. Do not swing at it. It will have plenty of pace to bounce off your paddle back over the net! Be sure to watch the ball into your paddle.

Have a question about pickleball? Want to know more about the sport, the rules, equipment, or have some pickilicious news you would like to share with our pickleball community? Email David Zapatka at [email protected].