Tip of the Week

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

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

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(Want more tips? Here are 171 more, done for the USATT website from 1999-2003, by Larry Hodges as "Dr. Ping Pong." Want even more? Here's the complete USATT archive, with the 171 by Larry as well as ones by Carl Danner from 2003-2007.)

April 25, 2011 - The Short Serve & Short Receive, and Looping

Monday, April 25, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

The Short Serve & Short Receive, and Looping
By Larry Hodges

If you have a nice loop, then you want to serve and return serves to set it up, right? Many players learn by the intermediate level that to serve and loop, you usually want to serve short. If you serve long, the opponent can loop, but if you serve short, usually with backspin, you normally get a long push return you can loop. So the centerpiece of many intermediate and advanced games is serve short and loop. (You can also serve short sidespin, topspin, or no-spin. Rather than a push return, you'll often get a flip return, which is also long and loopable. If the serve is very low, the flip will usually be weak enough for you to attack.)

The corollary to this is that if you return a short backspin serve with a short push, you'll probably get a long push return you can loop. It takes practice to do this - you have to read and recognize the serve as short backspin, step in, and have the control to push with enough touch to keep it short and low. If you don't learn to do this, then you'll probably be pushing long (letting the other guy loop) or flipping (not a bad idea, but predictable and off a low ball, it can be attacked). At first you'll mess up a lot, but with practice, it'll be a big part of your game, regularly setting up your loop. Watch the best players, and you'll see that short receive is central to many of their games.

April 18, 2011 - Fifteen Important Deep Serves

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

Fifteen Important Deep Serves
By Larry Hodges

When you serve fast & deep, you want to aim at one of three main targets: to the wide forehand, wide backhand, or at the receiver's elbow. It's also best to have at least two variations so they can't adjust, ideally with a fast sidespin or side-topspin serve, and a fast no-spin serve. (No-spin serves don't jump off the paddle as fast, so opponents have to stroke the ball more, which is problematic when you rush them by serving fast no-spin.) So players should develop at least six variations of their fast & deep serves - but preferably more. You can do it with sidespin left, sidespin right, side-top left, side-top right, and no-spin, and can do all of these to the wide forehand, wide backhand, and middle. That's fifteen variations, and that's just to start, since you can vary the degree of each type of spin, as well as the motion used for the serve. (Regarding the motion, I like to serve down the line to a righty's forehand by aiming to their backhand and switching directions the split second before contact. Try it!)

It takes more timing to do a fast & deep serve with great speed than with other serves. So even if you use these serves only occasionally, you need to practice them far more than the proportion of times you use the serves. If you don't, when the score is close and the time comes to catch the receiver off guard with a fast & deep serve, will you really be able to pull it off consistently at full speed?

April 11, 2011 - The Value of Down the Line

Monday, April 11, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

The Value of Down the Line
By Larry Hodges

Crosscourt. It's so much easier to hit that way. Most often you get to hit the ball back the way it's coming, and it's easier to hit that way than re-directing it down the line. You've probably hit so much forehand-to-forehand and backhand-to-backhand that it's more natural to you. And you've got 15.5 more inches of table than when hitting down the line. (Do the math.)

But guess what? Your opponent also likes those crosscourt shots, and he's probably already setting up for it. Watch that split second of absolute horror on his face as he realizes you are going down the line - or at least a look of apprehension - and you'll know the value of down-the-line shots.

Oh, and when you warm up, hit some forehand-to-backhand and backhand-to-forehand. It's a big table out there; use both sides of it.

April 4, 2011 - What is the Goal of the Receiver?

Monday, April 4, 2011
by: Larry Hodges


What Is the Goal of the Receiver?
By Larry Hodges

Returning serve is the most difficult part of the game to master. There are more variations to prepare for than at just about any other time--reading spin off a fast motion, topspin or backspin, sidespin either way, corkscrewspin, no-spin, long or short, fast or slow, to wide angles or the middle--there are infinite possibilities. And yet, most players don't practice their receive much, except in games, and there they are looking to win, not try something new that might cost them a match. Instead, find someone with decent serves and practice returning them. (And do the same for him.)

But you also need to know what to do with the serve. There are two possibilities.

1) Aggressive receive that takes the initiative. Here the receiver should play aggressive, take the initiative (or even go for a winner), and try to dominate the point. Examples include a short serve that pops up slightly, a serve that goes long that the receiver is ready for (and should usually loop), and serves where the receiver reads the serve well early on and is comfortable attacking. A player should always be looking for such serves and be ready to pounce on them.

The goal isn't to win the point on one shot; the goal is to take the initiative and put the receiver in an uncomfortable position. Key to this is placing the shot, either to a wide angle or to the opponent's middle (opponent's transition point between forehand and backhand, usually the elbow). When flipping very aggressively, you might consider mostly flipping crosscourt at a wide angle, as this gives you more table to aim for.

The down side to an aggressive receive is that you will also lose some points from missing. It's a tradeoff.

Some players are afraid to attack serves, and return almost all serves passively. This makes things easy for the server, since he can serve knowing that he's going to get a ball he can attack. You need at least the threat of an attack to make a controlled receive more effective.

2) Controlled receive that neutralizes the serve. The goal is to force the opponent into a mistake or a weak attack, or to catch them so off guard they can't attack at all. These receives are the most misunderstood. Against a short serve, don't just push the serve back mindlessly--do something with the return to put pressure on the server. Push quick off the bounce, deep, at a wide angle, low, and with good backspin. Change directions at the last second. Drop it short. Push with sidespin. Push with no-spin, but with a vigorous wrist motion just after contact to fake backspin. Do a steady, well-placed flip. (You should flip most short serves that don't have backspin.) Constantly vary your receive so your opponent never knows what you're going to do next.

Against a long serve, mostly loop, but go for consistency, spin, placement, and depth.

Some players feel they have to attack every serve. They aren’t confident that they can handle the opponent’s first attack if they use a controlled receive, even if the opponent's attack isn’t very strong. The problem here isn’t the receive—it’s the defense. If you can’t block an opponent’s loop (or consistently handle it in some other way that fits your game), then you need to work on your defense.

Which of the two receives should you use? You should generally favor controlled receives until you have mastered that, and are comfortable against the opponent's attack off that receive. When you can do that, you'll have enough control to be more aggressive off the serve, and then you should do either, depending on your opponent and your playing style. 

March 28, 2011 - Seven Placements and the Wide Angles

Monday, March 28, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

There are basically seven different directional placements in table tennis, though only five or six are available at any time. They are:

  1. Outside forehand corner
  2. Forehand corner
  3. Middle forehand
  4. Middle (opponent's elbow)
  5. Middle backhand
  6. Backhand corner
  7. Outside backhand corner

Generally, you never want to put a ball to the middle forehand or middle backhand, where your opponent is just standing there, ready to hit a forehand or backhand. Most often you should be going to the wide corners or the opponent's elbow. The other options are outside the corners, but these can be tricky to play into - you have less table, and so it's easy to go long (or more specifically, off the side). Here are your options for going outside the wide corners:

  • Off a short ball in the middle of the table, you can play either wide angle.
  • Off a deep ball toward the middle of the table, it's difficult to play either, though with good topspin you can. You can also sidespin loop at a wide angle.
  • Off a deep ball from one of your corners you can play diagonally outside the corner, especially if you can sidespin loop. This gives you the most extreme angles, and should become a staple of every player.
  • When serving you can serve from a corner and, with a breaking sidespin, serve at extremely wide angles.

When you can play into those wide angles outside the corners, your opponent will have great difficulty as you greatly increase the amount of table he has to cover. So add these angles to your repertoire and turn table tennis into a truly full-court sport.