Tip of the Week

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


March 15, 2021 - Do You Really Play the Middle?

Monday, March 15, 2021
by: Larry Hodges

Except at the advanced levels, few players really attack the middle effectively. What is the middle? It is roughly the opponent's playing elbow, midway between forehand and backhand, where the opponent has to make a quick decision on which to use; move into position to do so; and then try to recover for the next shot, since they are now out of position, leaving one of the corners open. Almost all of your deep shots should go to the wide corners or the middle. Corners are easier to play because they are not a moving target, but the middle is often the weakest spot for an opponent. Many think they play the middle, but what they think is playing the middle often isn't.

For example, their crosscourt backhand "to the middle" might cross the table in the middle, but by the time it reaches the opponent, it's moved diagonally into their backhand court. (So they need to aim the shot so it reaches the middle as it reaches the opponent.) Or a shot that seems to go to the middle just feeds a moving opponent's forehand attack off that middle shot. (So they need to judge better when to go to the middle, and perhaps do so more aggressively, or more towards the opponent's backhand side, since he's moving to favor his forehand.) Or a player might start a rally by attacking to a corner, planning on going to the middle on the next shot – but faced with a strong return, are unable to make a strong shot to the middle. (So they need to play the first attack at the middle, which often sets up a follow-up attack or put-away to a corner.)

So . . . are you really playing the middle? Here's a simple test - if the opponent is a bit awkward on covering your shot to his middle, then you've found the middle. If he doesn't, you haven't.

March 8, 2021 - Experiment with Serves and Receives Early

Monday, March 8, 2021
by: Larry Hodges

Early in a match you should test your various serves against an unfamiliar player. Which serving motions work best? What proportion of the time should you serve long, short, or half-long (where second bounce is right at the end-line)? Should your deep serves be fast or slower, spinnier ones that break more? How often should you serve varying degrees of backspin, sidespin, topspin, or no-spin? Should you serve more to the backhand, middle, or forehand side? Should you serve from the wide backhand to get an angle into their backhand, from the forehand to get an angle into their forehand, or something in between? Which serves maximize your chances of following up with an attack, and which serves maximize the chances of the receiver missing outright or popping the ball up? Should you try out your trickiest serves right at the start, to see which ones work, so you can keep coming back to the ones that do, and so your opponent has to worry about that serve, making your other serves more effective?

When receiving, how often should you receive aggressively as opposed to control receives? Should you attack all the long serves or should you sometimes return them more passively? Against short serves, should you push long, short, or flip, and how often for each? Where should you receive to - wide backhand, wide forehand, or perhaps attacks to the middle?

Don't wait until the match is nearly over to figure these things out - that's way too late. Try to get a good idea of these things early on.

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March 1, 2021 - Learn Something New Each Time You Play

Monday, March 1, 2021
by: Larry Hodges

One of the interesting things one learns when talking to top players is that they say they are still learning. Some even make it a goal to learn something new each time they play. Do you learn something new each time you play?

You can learn from your opponents; from watching or talking to others; or from your own play. Perhaps your opponent throws a serve at you that gives you trouble - you can learn both how to return that serve and perhaps learn how to do that serve yourself. Or you can learn from some technique he uses, one that you might either incorporate into your own game, or might analyze and decide not to use - and you learn from understanding why that technique either isn’t right or isn’t right for you. Or you can learn from the tactics he uses against you, where you might learn about your own game, and then fix the weak part of your game he is playing into, and perhaps try the same type of tactics against others.

When not playing is a great time to learn - just talk to the knowledgeable players at your club, and you can learn all sorts of things. (One of the best times is to talk to an opponent after you’ve lost a practice match, and get his perspective on what you need to do to improve.) Or watch others play, especially the stronger players who you strive to challenge, and see what it is they do that makes them so strong - and especially look for the root causes of what makes them good. (So it’s not just, “He has a good loop!” so much as, perhaps, “He knows how to set up his loop with his serve and receive, uses placement as much as power, and from lots of practice and good positioning, is consistent.”) Or just think about your own game, especially between matches, and you may learn a lot - from yourself!

February 22, 2021 - Rote vs. Random Drills

Monday, February 22, 2021
by: Larry Hodges

A rote drill is a drill where you do the same repetitive movement over and over. An example of this is forehand to forehand, or a side-to-side footwork drill. These are excellent for developing specific techniques you will need in a match.

A random drill is a drill where there is some uncertainty about what the next shot in the drill is going to be. An example of this would be your partner putting balls to all parts of your forehand court, and you returning them all with your forehand, or randomly to the whole table, and you have to react, forehand or backhand. Another would be a serve and attack drill, where you serve backspin and your partner pushes your serve back deep to any part of the table, and you have to attack. There are countless variations, covering every aspect of the game.

So which type of drills should you do? Both. However, at the beginning levels, the focus should be on rote drills to develop the foundation of your game. But as you improve, you should gradually work more and more random drills into your practice. If you don't, you'll end up becoming more or less a robotic player – one who is good against simple, predictable shots, but falls apart in actual game situations. Even at the advanced level, you should still do rote drills, both to hone your strokes and to improve your footwork, but random drills, especially ones that mimic specific game situations, should eventually take up at least half your drills.

February 15, 2021 - Pushing Short: When to Learn?

Monday, February 15, 2021
by: Larry Hodges

At the higher levels, pushing short is an important to stop an opponent from looping. (A short push is a push that, given the chance, would bounce twice on an opponent's side of the table.) It is especially useful when returning short serves to stop the server's attack. (You should learn all three returns to a short serve: short push, long push, flip.) However, until a player reaches a 2000 level or so, it is often a low-percentage shot, since it is so easy to make a mistake and pop the ball up or go into the net. But here's the problem: if you wait until you are approaching a 2000 level before developing the shot, you will be years behind your competition in developing your short push. So, if you have aspirations to reach 2000 and beyond, start developing your short push now, even if it means losing a few practice matches. (How to push short: Take the ball quick off the bounce, and with a light touch and a grazing motion both to create backspin and so the ball doesn't bounce off the paddle fast, push it as low as possible over the net. Open the racket more against heavy backspin, close it and chop down more against light backspin or no-spin, or even light topspins.)