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.)

January 24, 2011 - When Receiving, Emphasize Placement & Consistency

Monday, January 24, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

When receiving, many players are either overly aggressive or too passive. It's important to find the middle range. However, it is even more important to understand that it is consistency, placement and variation that are most important.

Flip kills and loop kills are exciting ways to return serves. However, they are also quick ways to lose the point via missing. Always remember that all you have to do is break even on your opponent's serve, and you'll probably win on your serve. So you don't need to hit a winner off the serve. Just return it in such a way that your opponent can't hit a winner - which normally means catching him at least slightly off-guard. To do this takes good placement, variation, and hiding the direction and shot selection until the last second.

If you don't place the ball well, your opponent may jump all over your return. Few players can cover the entire table with a strong third-ball attack, especially if you don't telegraph your direction early in the shot, so it's important to figure out what part of the table your opponent will have the most trouble with, and go there. A well-placed passive return is often more effective than a strong return hit right at an opponent's strength.

Without good variation, of course, your returns are predictable. Mix in loops, flips, pushes, drives, and do them at different speeds, spins, depths, as well as varying the placement. Aim one way, then at the last second go the other way so your opponent can never know where you are going until you contact the ball. If your opponent looks likes he's looking for a push return, give him anything but that.

What is your primary job in returning serve? To mess your opponent up! Go to it.

January 17, 2011 - Push with Purpose and Placement

Monday, January 17, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

So often players push just to keep the ball in play. Push with purpose and placement! Do something with the push. So, what can you do?

Purpose: There are three basic things you can do with the push. You can push it very heavy, with the purpose to force a mistake or weak return due to the heavy backspin. You can push quick and fast, often with last-second changes of direction, with the purpose of rushing your opponent and forcing a mistake or weak return. Or you can push short (so that the second bounce, given the chance, would bounce on the table), with the purpose of making it difficult or impossible to loop.

Placement: Many players don't pay attention to this, they just get the ball back, and give the opponent his best shot, often a forehand loop. A push that lands six to twelve inches inside the backhand corner is easy to loop. A player with a strong forehand loop and decent footwork not only can use his forehand, but he doesn't have to go that far out of position to do so. A push that goes right over the corner, angling away, or even outside the backhand corner, is a different story - it takes very fast footwork to use the forehand against that ball, and if your opponent does, he's way out of position. Often he'll be rushed, and either make a mistake, a weak shot, or (often underestimated) his shot will be easy to read since a rushed player isn't very deceptive, and so his loop is easy to jab-block or counterloop away. (At the Teams in Nov., 2010, I coached a top cadet player to an upset over a 2350 player, with a major part of the strategy pushes to the very wide backhand. The opponent often stepped around and ripped them with his powerful forehand, but because he was rushed, his normally deceptive loop was easier to read, and so the cadet was able to block it back to the wide forehand over and over for winners.)

The other option is pushing to the wide forehand. If your racket is aimed toward the opponent's backhand until the last second, and then you change and quick push to the forehand, your opponent's going to have a hard time reacting. If he does attack it, you can now just block to his backhand, taking his forehand out of the equation. (This assumes his forehand is stronger than his backhand; if the reverse, go after the forehand again as the player moves back to cover his backhand.)