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



05/17/2021 - 15:34

Author: Larry Hodges

Some players are too patient – they mostly just keep the ball in play, rallying while missing opportunities to score. Others are too decisive – they jump on every ball with little patience or judgment. Develop a sense of "patient decisiveness" – in other words, pick your shots carefully, but once you've made a decision, be decisive about it. Don't be afraid to take a shot, but don't be afraid not to take a shot if it's not there. If the shot is there, take it without hesitation. If the shot isn't there, play a shot that doesn't give your opponent an easy shot while perhaps setting up your own shot. Be decisive about whatever choice you make, whether it's an all-out smash or loop kill, or a simple push or block.


05/10/2021 - 15:41

Author: Larry Hodges

One of the most difficult shots to handle is a ball attacked by a player with long pips. You have little time to react to an attacked ball, and so have to rely on your reflexes – except your reflexes usually aren't tuned to reacting to a ball attacked by long pips. But long pips isn't designed for attacking, it's designed for defense, and so its attack is limited. So the primary strength of a long pips attack is the novelty of it - you aren't used to it. (If the opponent has thick sponge under his long pips, or is using medium-long pips, he may be able to attack a little more, but his attack is still limited.) So how do you handle this? Here are four ways.

  1. Don't let them attack. Long pips can only attack effectively against backspin, or sometimes against a short and weak topspin or no-spin ball. (They can sometimes do a very "dead" counter with the long pips against a light topspin ball, but not with much pace.) So keep the ball deep, and usually either put no spin on the ball (and so get a no spin ball back) or give topspin (and so usually get a slower backspin ball return).
  2. Take a step off the table, and return with a topspin drive of some sort either offensively or defensively. By backing off the table, you have time to react. By putting topspin on the ball, the ball arcs onto the table, and stops the long-pipped player from attacking with the long pips. But be ready to get back to the table as you'll likely get a dead, backspin return.
  3. Stay at the table, open your racket, and be willing to lose a number of points as you get used to countering their attacks. Once you get used to it, you have the advantage as your typical inverted sponge (as well as short pips) is better at counter-hitting than long pips.
  4. Play against players who attack with long pips in practice as often as possible until you get used to it.

05/03/2021 - 14:19

Author: Larry Hodges

In a team competition, you have to set up your team lineup in advance. How do you do this? It depends on your priorities. If your priority is strictly winning, then there are guidelines on how to do this, which I'll go over below. If your priority is to let the players play roughly equally, then you place them in any order you want, perhaps setting up a rotation. Or you might focus on the most important team matches and play your best lineup in those, while playing the "weaker" players more often in less important team matches, such as against teams that are much weaker. (You can also do this against teams that are much stronger, but your stronger players might want to play in those ones. It can be a tricky balance.) Or you might have players who want to play more, and others who want to play less.

The one thing I strongly advise is that the team decide in advance if they are playing strictly to win (i.e. best order in key team matches), playing so they play roughly equally (and so set up a rotation), or something in between. If your team is roughly equal, then perhaps drop all the calculations, set up a rotation (which you may make some adjustments as you go along), and then just let them play!

Swaythling Cup Format
There are many Teams tournaments that use the Swaythling Cup format, which is three players on each team, with all three players scheduled to play the other three in a best of nine, all singles. As soon as a team wins five, the team match normally ends, so not all nine matches are played.

How would you want to set up your team in such a format? There are several factors. Here is the normal rotation for such a team match:


At the start, the two teams flip a coin to see who gets to choose whether they are ABC or XYZ. Should you choose ABC or XYZ? If you are the ABC team, then you generally put your strongest player in the B position/seventh match, second strongest in the C position/eighth match, and the weakest in the A position/ninth match. (More on this below.) In this case, your weakest player, in the A position, plays two of the first five matches, which lowers your chance of an easy 5-0 win. If you are the XYZ team, then your Z player (generally your strongest player) doesn't play until the third match, but then plays the fifth and seventh match - so he gets less rest than the others, and so you might wear him out. For this reason, I usually go for ABC - but I don't consider it a huge issue. Here are the matches each player would play:

A: 1,5,9
B: 2,4,7
C: 3,6,8
X: 1,4,8
Y: 2,6,9
Z: 3,5,7

The order you set your lineup makes a difference. In the case of a tie between three or more teams, they go to the individual match record to break up the tie. (If it is still tied, then it goes to individual game record, and then point record.)

Suppose you are Team Loop. Suppose you beat Team Smash, 5-4, with your strongest player winning all three, including winning the ninth match. Team Smash then beats Team Chop, 5-3. Then Team Chop beats Team Loop, 5-3. The three teams are now tied, and so we go to the individual match record. Team Loop is 8-9 (5-4, 3-5); Team Smash is 9-8 (4-5, 5-3); Team Chop is 8-8 (3-5, 5-3). Result? Team Loop comes in third.

Now suppose Team Loop had instead played their strongest player in the seventh position against Team Smash and won that team match 5-2 instead of 5-4. Then Team Loop is now 8-7 (5-2, 3-5); Team Smash is 7-8 (2-5, 5-3); Team Chop is 8-8 (3-5, 5-3). Team Loop comes in first!!! Order matters.

So you'd normally want to set up your lineup to allow you win by as much as possible or lose by as little as possible. (But note that under Swaythling Cup the order has no direct effect on who wins that team match; it only matters in the case of a tie.) Assuming that, this usually means playing your strongest player in the #7 position, to maximize his number of matches. You'd want your next strongest player to play in the #8 position. Then you'd play your weakest player in the #9 position, minimizing the number of matches he'd play. The ranking of your players could also change, depending on who your opponents are - there are style advantages and past records to take into account. (As well as egos, but we won't get into that!)

On the other hand, whoever plays that #9 match is under a lot of pressure. So sometimes you may want to adjust the order and put your best "pressure" player in that position. Or you might have a team with an older player and two younger ones, where you might put the older player in the #9 position in most matches, so he plays less and gets more rest.

Many years ago, at the U.S. Open Teams (then played in Detroit), I was in exactly this last situation. I was player/coach with two up-and-coming junior players. I told them in advance that I'd play the #9 match in every team match. We ended up in the B Division (average rating 2250) - and we won it. I went in with the highest rating on the team, but the two juniors both passed me in that tournament - but I was 5-0 playing the ninth match!!!

There is another big exception to this rule. If you are pretty sure the opposing team is going to set their order in the conventional way, with their strongest player in the #7 position and so on, then you know in advance who would play who. In this case, you might set your lineup to set up the best matchups to maximize your chances of winning by as much as possible, keeping it close if you lose. For example, if one of your players has trouble against choppers and the other team has a chopper, you might set the lineup to avoid that. Or if you have a player who is great against choppers, you'd set the lineup to make sure they play. And so on. But beware - if the other team sees you doing all these calculations, they may realize what you are doing and cross you up. Or they may simply use a different order for their own reasons, and you end up with a weaker order from over-thinking.

There are other exceptions. Late in a tournament you might be in a position where you know you have to win 5-0 to advance. In that case, you'd look at the order of play and make sure your two strongest players play two matches in the first five matches.

Olympic Team Format
In this three-person team format, you have the following order:


Note the first match is doubles. (This might not be true in all tournaments.) Also note that one player plays two singles matches, while his teammates play doubles together plus one singles match each. In this format, most often you play your strongest player in the two singles matches. However, this gets tricky if the other two players aren't a good doubles team, or if the strongest singles player is even better at doubles. In this case, if you play the #1 player in singles, you get two wins but perhaps give up the doubles match, and so you have only two other matches to get the third needed win. But if your #1 player can team up with one of your other players and lock up that match and a singles match, that gives you three other matches to get that third win. So in this case you might play your #1 in the doubles.

In this format, the order has a direct affect on who wins. The team with the better order gets the matchups they want and avoids the ones they don't want.  

In this format, it is generally an advantage to be the ABC team. This allows you to put your #1 player in the A position, playing two singles matches, with the second one in the fourth match. If you are the XYZ team and put your #1 player in the X position, where he plays two singles, he won't play his second singles match until the fifth match. So the ABC team has a better chance of winning 3-1 instead of 3-2, or losing 2-3 instead of 1-3. This helps if teams are tied - see example given above under Swaythling Cup.

Since you want to maximize your chances of winning by as much as possible, the ABC team, assuming their #1 player is the A player (with two singles matches), would normally want to play their second strongest player in the C position (third match), with their weakest player in the B position (fifth match). The XYZ team, assuming their #1 player is the X player (with two singles matches), would normally want to play their second strongest player in the Z position (also third match).

However, the biggest consideration under this format is trying to set up the matchups you want so as to actually win the team match. For example, you might be able to guess who the other team will play in the two singles matches and adjust your order accordingly. Or if both teams put their #2 player to play in the third match, and the opposing team's #2 has a style advantage or strong head-to-head record against your #2, you might want to rethink your order. In general, if you can guess the other team's lineup, you can set up your lineup accordingly. But beware - the other team may anticipate this and so cross you up! In a big match, it might be worth it for a team meeting to go over the possibilities and see if you can match up the players.

Corbillon Format
This is the simplest format. You can play with two players, where each plays the other two players, plus doubles (usually the third match), so it's best of five. You can have a third or fourth player, who only plays doubles. But the strategy here is simple: 1) play your best doubles team; 2) play your best player in the fourth position to maximize the chances he gets two matches, so you win by as much as possible or keep it closer if you lose. One key issue - you don't have to fill in your doubles team until after the first two matches are played (assuming the doubles is the third match). So unless you are playing with just two players, you should wait until those two matches are done, in case one of your doubles players gets injured playing in those singles matches. Once you fill in the doubles players, you can't change it, so why take the chance?


04/26/2021 - 15:27

Author: Larry Hodges

When you push (backspin vs. backspin), you don't think of yourself as "going for a shot." It's just an easy shot that you can normally do over and Over and OVER, with few mistakes. But when you learn to loop (topspin vs. backspin, forehand or backhand), at first it's a tricky and erratic shot. Why is this? If you loop relatively slow, the shot isn't that much faster than a push. Just as with a push, you are brushing the ball to create spin. There are few reasons why it should be any less consistent than a push. And yet, players often loop with the mentality that they are "going for a shot," and so it's acceptable to miss a lot of them.

Yes, there are certain aspects that make looping trickier than pushing, and I could write extensively about the differences. But that would be counter-productive - the point here is that many players, at least subconsciously, way over-estimate the difficulty of looping consistently against a push (or any other ball for that matter), and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Instead, why not tell yourself how easy it is, that it's no harder than pushing? When you drop the "going for a shot" mentality and instead think of it as just another shot you can do over and Over and OVER, your consistently will go up quite a bit. The reality is that unless you are going for a huge loop kill, or have completely misread the spin, or are out of position, looping a push should be EASY and nearly 100% consistent. Think of it that way, and while you might not get to 100% consistency, we'll settle for 90% and a huge increase in your level of play.


04/19/2021 - 14:48

Author: Larry Hodges

Is there a certain score or situation where you play best? Some players play better when they are behind; others play better when ahead. Some play best when they are way down, say, 4-10, and figure they have nothing to lose and so play relaxed. Others play better when up 10-4, since they are confident. Others play better under pressure, and might play better when up 10-8 or down 8-10, or maybe some other score, like 3-7. Some play better in big matches, others do better in less important ones. Which type are you? Perhaps, next time you play, imagine the score or situation is whatever makes you play your best. Perhaps imagine you are up or down 10-4, 10-8, or 7-3, or it's the men's or women's final at the Worlds, or it's just another match at the club. Imagine the psychology that allows you to play best at that score or situation. Then, after a time, you might learn to match that psychology no matter what the score or situation is.