Tip of the Week

A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.


September 14, 2020 - A Trick to Beat a Tricky Pusher

Monday, September 14, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Some players have very accurate pushes, and will push very wide to your backhand over and over - unless they see you stepping around, or even hedging that way. That's when they push to your wide forehand and catch you off guard. Let's say your forehand loop is stronger than your backhand loop, but your pushing opponent isn't giving you the chance to use it. Here's a simple trick: Serve backspin or push to the pusher's backhand. Then take a step to your left with your left leg (for right-handers). As the pusher is about to push, step back into position. You'll be amazed at how many pushes you'll get right into your forehand, where you are now ready and waiting! The pusher saw your fake "step around," and changed directions – but you were one step ahead of him! (I call this the "Hokey Pokey" tactic: "You put your left foot out, you put your left foot in, you put your right foot out and you loop a forehand in, you do the Hokey-Pokey as you celebrate your win, that's what it's all about!" Lefties reverse, and if you haven't heard of the Hokey-Pokey, Youtube is your friend. I first devised this tactic many decades ago as an up-and-coming player when trying to figure out how to beat USATT Hall of Famer and master pusher Jim McQueen.)

September 7, 2020 - Tactics Early In a Match: Explorers and Dominators

Monday, September 7, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

There are basically two ways to play tactically early in a match. You can either feel your opponent out to see what he can do and then adjust your tactics based on this ("The Explorer"); or you can force your game on the opponent right from the start, making tactical adjustments as you go on ("The Dominator").

The Explorer uses a variety of tactics early on as he tests his opponent. He uses all his shots - pushes, blocks, loops hard and soft, counterdrives, etc. – and puts the ball all over the table at various speeds. He uses all of his serves and receives as he judges the best tactics to use in the match. Some players in this category fall into the trap of over-adjusting to an opponent, and let the opponent dictate play. Being an Explorer doesn't mean you simply adjust to the opponent's shots; it means you are willing to risk falling behind early on as you feel out his game and search for the best tactics. (Often, however, the Explorer doesn't fall behind as his opponent struggles early on to adjust to the myriad of shots thrown at him.) Ideally, the explorer will find a way to use his strengths against the opponent's weaknesses.

The Dominator comes in with his best shots right from the start, trying to force the opponent to adjust to his shots. This is what most high-level attacking players do, though they generally are a little of both categories. The problem with this method is sometimes you miss out in discovering a major weakness in the opponent's game. Also, some players in this category fall into the trap of not adjusting when their opponent adjusts his tactics, and often lose due to this lack of flexibility. Being a Dominator does not mean you simply throw your best shots at the opponent and hope for the best; it means you start off with your best game, and then make tactical adjustments.

Are you an Explorer or a Dominator? Whichever you are, perhaps you should experiment with a little of the other. To be at your best, you need some of both.

August 31, 2020 - Move Like a Pro

Monday, August 31, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Most players go through the following sequence during each shot of a rally:

  1. Opponent is about to strike ball.
  2. Opponent strikes ball.
  3. Player sees incoming ball.
  4. Player decides if he has to move.
  5. Player moves.
  6. He's slow to get to the ball and complains he's too slow.

Top players go through the following routine:

  1. As opponent is about to strike ball, player flexes knees and prepares to move.
  2. Player sees direction of opponent's swing and sees where it's going before contact.
  3. Player begins to move into position.
  4. Opponent strikes ball.
  5. Player finishes moving into position.
  6. Player is in position, with lots of time to spare.

As you can see, the second sequence is much quicker. The three key points to remember are these:

  • Before your opponent hits the ball, flex your knees. This prepares you to move quickly.
  • Watch the direction of opponent's swing and learn to move as soon as he's committed to a direction, before contact.
  • Assume you always have to move.

If you follow these three tips and the "top players routine," you'll be in position far more quickly than before. Foot speed helps, but the real secret is technique.

August 24, 2020 - On Short Serves to the Forehand, Challenge the Forehand, Often Go to the Backhand

Monday, August 24, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Assuming two right-handers play, a common rally might start with a short serve to the forehand. Many receivers don't understand the tacatics in receiving this shot. The two main things to think about are this: First, if the receiver goes crosscourt, he has the long diagonal to go after (10.3 feet, instead of 9 feet down the line, about 16 more inches), as well as a wide angle. Therefore, if he attacks the serve (by flipping), he should often go crosscourt, as wide as possible. (Another option is to attack the middle, the midpoint between forehand and backhand.) Second, because of the threat of this crosscourt wide-angle attack, the server has to guard the wide forehand angle. So, the receiver should often fake this shot, and at the last second go down the line, to the often weaker, and now likely unprepared backhand. You can also fake the crosscourt and simply push down the line - see what works! When a righty plays a lefty (or the reverse), you can do a similar tactic where you fake down the line, and then go crosscourt to the backhand.

August 17, 2020 - Should You Develop Your Forehand Push?

Sunday, August 16, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

At the lower levels, pushing is often over-used; at the higher levels, spectators often underestimate its value. All top players have excellent pushes. However, advanced players – and even intermediate players – rarely push against deep backspin to the forehand, unless they are very defensive choppers. It's simply better for them to attack, usually with a loop. (The same can be said on the backhand, if you have a good backhand loop.) So … should you develop your forehand push?

The answer is yes – but not necessarily against long backspin to the forehand. You need to develop your forehand push mostly against short backspin to the forehand. Against this ball, you can attack, but pushing is often the better bet. You can push short, push quick and long, go for angles, heavy spin, etc. – all sorts of variations. And because you are closer to your opponent, he has less time to react. (At the same time, don't predictably push - learn to flip short balls as well.)

The problem is how do you practice your forehand push? If you push forehand to forehand with a partner, then unless both of you are practicing short pushes, you'll be practicing pushing against long balls. The answer is to develop the forehand push this way with a partner, but once it becomes relatively advanced, start focusing on drills where you start the drill by pushing against a short backspin, and then continue the drill/rally with other shots. You won't get as much repetitive practice this way, but you'll practice what you need to develop. For example, your partner serves short to your forehand; you push quick off the bounce to your partner's backhand; he pushes quick to your backhand; and you loop, either forehand or backhand. (Or, alternately, your partner loops off your forehand push, if it's "his" drill – and you still get practice pushing.)

Meanwhile, a nice drill is to push forehand to forehand (or backhand to backhand) where both players push short – but the first time a player pushes long (by mistake), you loop. This develops your short push, develops your loop, and best of all, develops your judgment on whether a ball is long or short.