Tip of the Week

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


August 3, 2020 - How to Vary Your Receive Against Short Backspin Serves

Monday, August 3, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Most players return short backhand serves with a simple push, without much thought to it. This makes the player predictable and vulnerable to third-ball attacks. The key is to vary the return. Let's take a look at just how many effective returns you can actually do against a short backspin serve – and ask yourself how many of them you actually do! Below are the most common effective returns – but there are others. Use your imagination! (And then apply the same thinking to other types of receive. In general, against short serves, focus on consistency, control, placement, and variation; against long serves, play more aggressively.) 

  • Topspin flip to wide forehand
  • Topspin flip to wide backhand
  • Topspin flip to middle
  • Flatter flip to wide forehand
  • Flatter flip to wide backhand
  • Flatter flip to middle
  • Quick push to wide forehand
  • Quick push to wide backhand
  • Quick push to middle (to rush a two-winged looper)
  • Heavy underspin push to wide forehand
  • Heavy underspin push to wide backhand
  • Short push to wide forehand
  • Short push to wide backhand
  • Short push to middle
  • Sidespin push to wide forehand (breaking away from opponent)
  • Sidespin push to wide backhand (breaking away from opponent)
  • Any of the above where you fake one shot or direction, and do another

July 27, 2020 - When Playing an Unfamiliar Player, Focus on Serve & Receive

Monday, July 27, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

When you face a new and unknown opponent, you aren't sure yet how the rallies are going to go. But you can control how the rallies start. Learn to use serve & receive force rallies to go the way you want them to go, and so make your opponent adjust to you. It doesn't matter if the opponent plays very orthodox or has an unusual or weird style, you can often force them into the type of rally you want. A few examples:

  • A backspin serve often forces a backspin return.
  • A topspin serve often forces a topspin return.
  • Fast & deep serves often get you into a fast exchange, and can back players slightly off the table. Forehand loopers are often forced out of position by fast, deep serves.
  • A fast but dead (spinless) serve not only forces many mistakes, but is often returned softly.
  • Short & low serves often set you up for a first attack, often a loop. Short backspin serves are usually pushed, while short sidespin serves are either pushed back (usually high) or attacked relatively weakly (assuming the serve was low).
  • Slow but deep sidespin serves, against an opponent who doesn't loop, sets you up for all sorts of attacks.
  • A short and low no-spin serve is hard to either attack or push heavy and usually gives you a ball you can attack.

July 20, 2020 - The Importance of Lobbing

Monday, July 20, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

One of the strange things top players and coaches often notice is that beginning/intermediate players who "goof off and lob" during practice often improve rapidly. There is a reason for this.

When a beginning/intermediate player backs up and lobs, he develops mobility and footwork, and learns to react to hard-hit shots. Later, as he becomes more advanced, his off-the-table play, especially covering ground for counter-looping, or simply reacting to hard-hit shots, is much better than it would have been otherwise, and plus the habit of moving is more developed. This gives him an advantage, as long as he doesn't overdo it and make a habit of backing off the table too easily. Another advantage is that by lobbing, you better understand a lobber's strengths and weaknesses, and so better know what to do when you play a good lobber.

There are two classic cases of this. Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner and Mikael Appelgren were sometimes called "uncoachable" as juniors due to their tendency to "goof off and lob" during practice. Both went on to be ranked #1 in the world, with two-time World Men's Singles Champion and Men's Singles Olympic Gold Medalist Waldner often called the greatest player in history. These days players tend to play a bit closer to the table than in the past, but the principle still holds, as long as it isn't overdone.

July 13, 2020 - Fast, Quick Motions Disguise a No-Spin Serve

Monday, July 13, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Many players learn to put decent spin on their serves. However, they often find it difficult to disguise that spin. Why not develop a no-spin serve, with a fast, violent serve motion? Change directions as the racket contacts the ball (contacting the ball as the racket is changing directions at the split second where it is nearly motionless), or contact the ball near the handle of the blade (where the racket is moving slowest) so there will be little spin . . . and your opponent will be left making a snap decision on what spin is on the ball. Very often they will react to it as if it has spin. For example, if they think it has backspin (but doesn't), they might open their racket to push, and pop it up. Or if they attack it, they'll lift it off the end. A no-spin serve is just as effective as a spin serve if the opponent thinks there is spin on the serve!

July 6, 2020 - Side-to-Side Training for Improvement and Health

Monday, July 6, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Table tennis is a game of movement, and most of that movement is side-to-side. To master the sport, you must be a master at patrolling the five-foot width of the table. Which is why players who wish to improve do lots and lots of side-to-side footwork drills. (There are also in-out drills, but that's a separate issue.)

But you don't need a table to do this - you can do it at home! Just find a place where you have room, and measure off five feet. Then, either with or without a racket (but preferably with!), just practice your side-to-side movement, just like it was a game! Make sure to cover both corners, stroking forehands and backhands alternately over each. Then perhaps do the same, doing just forehands, and covering half to two-thirds of the table as you go side-to-side. Then do it again with your backhand, perhaps covering half the table. And then, when you're ready to go big-time, do the three-shot 2-1 drill sequence: a backhand from the backhand side; a forehand from the backhand side; a forehand from the forehand side; and repeat. (And then perhaps add an in-out drill - perhaps reach in for a short forehand ball, then step out for a deep backhand, and repeat.)

Do this, and you not only will improve your table tennis - dramatically! - but you'll also get great exercise. Who needs to go out and run ten minutes when you can do it inside? (If you want to count, it's 1056 five-foot moves to a mile!)