February 16, 2011

Teaching table tennis to a tennis player

I've always found it interesting, even fascinating, to coach table tennis to a tennis player. I've had many tennis players as students over the years. I also play tennis at a 4.0 level (that's like 1800 in table tennis), but with an extremely lopsided forehand-oriented game. But that's true of most table tennis players - the first time we play tennis, we have nice forehands, but find the backhand somewhat awkward.

Yesterday I coached a 6'5" former 5.5 (that's like 2100-2200) tennis player. He'd never had lessons before, and had only been a "basement" player. He very quickly picked up the forehand, and after five minutes, was pounding forehands. He also quickly picked up on the backhand, but did so in a very backhand stance (like tennis), and basically played an aggressive blocking backhand from a bit off the table. Near the end of the session we did a drill where I looped my forehand rather aggressively to his backhand, and though it was the first time he'd ever done this, he was able to block them back very consistently, though he took the ball a couple steps off the table rather than off the bounce, as you are "supposed" to do when blocking. But the blocks were surprisingly effective, as he kept them rather low. (It did leave him open on the wide forehand, and I don't think he has a counterloop yet!)

Because of his tennis skills, he quickly picked up just about every aspect, could even loop backspin after a few tries. He had great difficulty in reading my serves, but without any coaching, quickly figured out how to push my backspin serve back, i.e. did a tennis "slice." He also learned to serve with backspin pretty quickly, though he wasn't able to get a good sidespin. A few times when I went to his forehand, he did a highly professional-looking running forehand.

In general, tennis players do have trouble learning table tennis backhands, though sometimes they can pick up the backhand loop pretty well. They have good forehands and can rally and move well, can clobber anything that's high, and handle backspin (slice to them) rather well.

Penhold, anyone?

Someone asked on the forum about Japanese penhold play, in particular inside-out looping and reverse penhold backhands. I posted these on the forum - they aren't exactly Japanese penhold, but they are some good penhold play! Even shakehanders should watch these, since you have to play (and beat!) penholders.

  • Here's a video that shows a number of inside-out penhold loops, including ones at .12, .35 (two in a row), .43 (several in that rally), 1:02, and so on.
  • Here's a videothat shows reverse penhold backhand in slow motion.
  • Here's a video that shows both reverse penhold backhands and loops against block.
  • Here's a video that shows reverse penhold backhands and loops, against both backspin and blocks.

Interesting thought on penhold play. At the beginning/intermediate level, penholders are usually weak on the backhand, and often the best strategy is to play to their backhands. At some point at the intermediate/advanced level, they often develop better backhands (whether it be conventional jab-blocks or reverse penhold), as well as nice forehands from the backhand side. At that point, the best strategy at is often to play the (usually stronger) forehand, and then come back to the backhand (which both takes out the forehand and makes them move or reach to hit the backhand). The difficulty here, of course, is that you have to be able to handle that first forehand. If you watch many of the top players in the U.S. against David Zhuang (6-time U.S. Champion), and you'll constantly see them go to his forehand side first, then come back to his backhand. (For example, Cheng Yinghua routinely serves long to David's forehand, over and over.) At what level (rating-wise, in U.S. ratings) do you think it becomes better to usually go to the forehand first against a penholder?


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I think 2000-2100 is when I start going wide to the forehand then back to the backhand. At about 1800, I usually see the blocking of a penhold player improve, but the step around forehand loop kill from the backhand corner starts prevailing at a little bit higher level. At least this is what I have experienced...