A flick (a.k.a. flip) is most often used to aggressively return a short serve that is a bit too high. Forehand flick is used more frequently than backhand flick, probably because returning short serve to the backhand side can be much more aggressive using (backhand) ‘banana’ flick. The forehand flick can still come in very handy even if only to vary the type of return to keep the opponent guessing.

There are slight variations between returning short backspin (underspin) and short topspin serve. You will need to adjust racket angle.

Forehand flick

Here are some good videos presenting forehand flick.

The recurring theme seems to be.

  1. Get close to the ball by stepping under the table with your racket hand leg – right leg for right handed players. This needs to be a fast movement because on the short serve the ball is at the top of the bounce for a shorter time than on a long serve. Some coaches advise moving with both legs i.e. first make a small step with your left foot and then deeper step with your right foot under the table. Other coaches say it is too slow and you should only make one step. In my view, two steps have the advantage because you get your center of gravity closer to the ball so your position will be more balanced and stroke will be easier to execute. If you only step with one leg and the ball is very short you will be stretched too much and less balanced. How close is close enough? Some coaches listed below advise that the racket should be a fist length away from the ball.
  2. For underspin serve, which is the most common serve, open the racket angle a bit so your point of ball contact will be at 4 pm. For topspin serve the racket can be perpendicular to the table surface.
  3. Bend the wrist backward a bit so you can add speed to this shot. If you don’t add speed the shot has a higher chance of being returned by the server. You can gradually add speed as you get better but this is how you do it. You shouldn’t take a bigger swing with your arm because then your timing (hit at top of the bounce) is more likely to be off.
  4. When the ball is at the top of the bounce, hit (flick) the ball fast by moving your wrist forward and up to give it a bit of a lift. At the same time close the bat so that you end up with racket perpendicular to the table surface.
  5. Push back fast with your under the table foot to return to the ready position so you are not vulnerable to a deep return into your backhand.

Coach Yang Yang presents this shot in quite a bit of detail here.

Another excellent presentation is by a professional Hong Kong player here.

Coach Yang Guang – a former China National Team player – demonstration.

British coach Eli Baraty here.

Ping Skills demonstration stressing racket angle needed for under, side or top spin serve.

Coach Ti Long has a very good demonstration of forehand flick.

Backhand flick

As I said this shot is used less frequently these days because of the more powerful banana flick, but watch these presentations if you like to learn this shot.

Coach Yang Yang backhand flick here.

Hong Kong player BH flick here.

Eli Beraty tutorial here.

Backhand ‘Banana’ flick

This shot is all the rage now and many players invest time in learning it because you can take the initiative in the point even when your opponent serves to the ‘weaker’ backhand side. This return is best used for short and slow serves. You can also use it against mid length serves, but against long serves this stroke is harder to do. This return can be played from anywhere on the table even against the serves played short to your forehand, but it requires fast footwork so you can get to the ball and back to your backhand position.

Here are my steps based on the many examples of this stroke shown below.

  1. Get close to the ball by stepping with your playing hand foot (i.e. right foot for right handled player) under the table. Lean over so you are close to the ball. You should position your body so that the ball is slightly on your left side but not outside of the body. If you don’t get close to the ball the stroke will have a more punching quality rather than spin and that often results in the ball hitting the net. To make it easier to hit at on the side players tilt their left shoulders down a bit.
  2. While making this step make a small grip adjustment so that the blade of the paddle is slightly easier to place parallel to the table surface. Wind your racket back so that the blade tip points towards your belly. Many players don’t wind up (point towards the belly) enough and can’t produce enough spin to overcome the underspin on the ball. They do this because they are not fast enough in making the winding motion. When you wind up enough the racket hand elbow will be pointing forward. The non-playing hand should also be close to the ball (not on the chest or somewhere else) but maybe two fists away from the ball so it doesn’t interfere with stroke movement. This hand movement should result in you cradling the ball.
  3. The ball should be struck at the top of the bounce with the racket going slightly up but not so much up that it results in ball missing the table. This is critical because as you get better at this you will be able to generate more power and with that more risk of missing the table. To do that you need to lower the paddle that was pointing at your belly as much as possible without touching the table.
  4. The ball should be struck on the side of the ball around 10 o’clock position. If you strike on the top of the ball (e.g. at 12 o’clock) you are risking hitting the net if there is a more spin on the ball than you anticipated. Hitting it slightly on the side reduces the effect of underspin on your paddle and is like additional insurance that you will make the stroke. It also produces a curving ball which can be harder to return.
  5. The ball should be struck with the touch point close to the tip of the paddle. The tip travels faster than the middle of the blade and since this stroke doesn’t have a lot of back swing (like say forehand loop) you need to maximize the speed potential and that is one of the ways. If you are not able to produce enough spin and the balls are hitting the net check that you hit with the tip of the paddle.
  6. To make the stroke you need to unwind your hand with pivot point around the elbow or at midpoint between your elbow and wrist. As you making this unwinding motion the hand should be relaxed which will result in a faster movement then if the hand muscles are tightened.

Here are demonstrations by various players and their explanations of this stroke.

Demonstration by Hong Kong professional player.

Another demonstration by Chinese table tennis coach.

Matt Harrington demonstration.

Australian player William Henzel’s demonstration with variations against different spins on the serve.

Coach Ti Long demonstrates 7 different flicks including strawberry flick. With super slow motion and good explanation in subtitles.

Here is an example of a very aggressive banana flick. Unfortunately the subtitles are in Japanese but you can turn on automatic translation. He gives examples of both the spinny and fast aggressive flick. The aggressive stroke is more risky and can be played against higher ball then the spinny version to minimize chances of hitting the net.

Backhand ‘Strawberry’ flick

This shot is rather rare but it is a variation on the Banana flick which can surprise your opponents, especially after you have done multiple banana flicks successfully.

Ping Skills demonstration

Here is a demonstration from Table Tennis Daily.com

Coach Eli Beraty demonstration.