Tip of the Week

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


October 19, 2020 - Sometimes Hit Twice to the Same Spot

Monday, October 19, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

In table tennis, it's good to keep moving the ball around to make an opponent move. You should play all three spots - wide forehand, wide backhand, and middle (roughly the opponent's elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand). However, sometimes you want to go to the same place twice. Here are a few examples.

You've just blocked the ball to the opponent's wide forehand. The opponent had to go out of position, but made a somewhat aggressive topspin return from his wide forehand. After the shot, he began to move back to cover his wide backhand. Most players try to take advantage of the opponent being out of position by going back to the backhand. This will often work, but it's often better to go right back to the forehand. The opponent is moving in the wrong direction, and will likely have trouble covering this shot effectively a second time in a row.

Suppose your opponent has a strong forehand but weak backhand. Let's say he covers two-thirds of the table with his forehand. If you play to his wide backhand, you'll get his weak backhand. It might be tempting to then change directions and go somewhere else, and that often works - but often it's better to just pin the player down on their weak side, and not change directions until you see your opponent out of position, perhaps edging toward his backhand side to use a forehand, thereby leaving the forehand side open. If you change directions while he's in position, you are just giving him his stronger shot - and if he's smart, he'll just wait for that shot if you are going to give it to him. (You might consider going to his middle, if you think you can do it without him playing a strong forehand.)  

Now suppose you're playing a chopper. You've made a good attacking shot, but the chopper chopped it back. You did a drop shot, the chopper ran in and pushed it back, and then quickly stopped back for your next attack. Do you attack again? Only if the opponent is too close to the table, or if his push was weak. If the opponent is stepping back to prepare for your attack, why not do a second drop shot, and catch him going the wrong way? Most likely you won't get an ace, but you'll not only get a relatively weak return from a lunging opponent, but your opponent will probably now be jammed at the table, unable to get into position to chop your next ball. Easy point!

Finally, you've smacked a strong shot right at the opponent's playing elbow – usually a player's weakest spot. The opponent manages to make a return, but not a particularly strong one. You get ready to attack his weak return. Why not go right back to his middle again? If you go to the corners, you might give the opponent and easy forehand or backhand counter. By going to the middle again, you can catch him again. Since his previous shot was weak, he's unlikely to be looking to counter-attack from the middle since he'll more likely be in a defensive position.

So while it's important to move the ball around and play all three spots, it's also important to also know when not to move the ball around.

October 12, 2020 - Don't Telegraph the Direction of Your Attack

Monday, October 12, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Many players telegraph the direction of their attacking shot. Often, the opponent isn't sure how he knows where you are going, he just senses it. That's because when he sees the same stroke pattern resulting in the ball going one way, and another stroke pattern going the other way, it becomes habit to react to it – even if he isn't sure specifically what in your stroke is different. (When you recognize a person's face, do you consciously see the distinct features that make this person's face unique?) So try to keep your shots identical as long as possible before committing to a direction, and even use misdirection.

For example, if you set up for a forehand shot as if you were going to the right (for a right-hander), your body might face to the right. At the last second, whip the shoulders around, and go to the left. Or set up like you are hitting to the left, but at the last second, rotate the shoulders back and go to the right. Or try hitting the ball "inside-out," where you set up as if you were hitting a forehand to the left, and at last minute hit the inside of the ball (relative to you) and go to the right. Do the same type of thing on the backhand, where you might set up to go one way, and then, at the last second, rotate your shoulders so you can go the other way. If blocking, you can make these last-second changes by just rotating the racket left or right.

October 5, 2020- Exaggerate Serving Follow-Through in "Wrong" Direction

Monday, October 5, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Many players can put good spin on their serves, but it is obvious what type of spin is on the serve from your racket direction. There are many ways of hiding the spin, but here's a simple one: the instant after contact, change the direction of the racket, and exaggerate the follow-through – but in the "wrong" direction. So if you are serving topspin, you might use an exaggerated downward follow-through to make it look like you served backspin. You might also try following through to the side to disguise backspin or topspin. One classic, and perhaps the most common, is to serve no-spin (by contacting the ball near the handle, which doesn't move much), but exaggerate the downward motion (especially with the racket tip) to make it look like backspin (so they will often return it high, giving you an easy put-away).  Remember – the hand is quicker than the eye, and serving is the "trick" part of table tennis.

September 28, 2020 - Use Quickness, Ball Placement, and Variation Against Short Serves

Monday, September 28, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

You should have different strategies for returning deep serves and short serves. (Short serves are serves that, if given the chance, would bounce twice on the receiver's side of the table). Against short serves, you can't really loop, since the table is in the way. (You can do a backhand "banana flip," where you create a lot of topspin, though not as much as a regular loop.) So it is difficult to be too aggressive against a low, short serve. The keys against short serves are quickness, ball placement, and variation. Since your opponent has little time to react to your shot (your contact point is closer to him than against a deep serve), he is vulnerable to quick shots, wide angles, and variation (so he can't anticipate). Mix up your placement, going wide to both angles and (when returning aggressively) at the opponent's elbow (the crossover point between forehand and backhand). Mix up your shots, giving the opponent a variety of long, quick pushes, heavy pushes, short pushes, and flips at varying speeds. (Against backspin or no-spin serves, use the whole variety; against sidespin or topspin, mostly flip, but occasionally push by chopping down on the ball so that it doesn't pop up.) Whatever you do - keep opponents guessing!

September 21, 2020 - Against a Fast Attacker, Make At Least Two Strong Shots

Monday, September 21, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

It can be difficult playing someone with a fast attack or quick blocks, who rushes you and takes over the attack with his or her counter-attack. How do you beat someone like this? There are many ways, depending on your style. If you are an attacker, you may run into a problem that when you attack, you get quick-blocked out of position, and quickly lose the point. Instead of trying to make shot after shot against such an opponent, focus on making two strong shots. That means your first shot is designed to set up the second shot. That means placement and depth. It also might mean slowing down your first shot to give yourself time to prepare for the second shot. Often there's nothing more effective against a fast, quick player than a slow, spinny loop, deep on the table, often throwing off their timing or jamming them on the backhand. It's hard to block aggressively and can set up your second shot. The second shot should be aggressive, but placement is key - go wide to the corners or at the opponent's middle (roughly the playing elbow).