Half-long balls?

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vineRipeTomatoes
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Joined: 06/28/2011

Hi Larry, could you go over the tactical options you have against half-long backspin balls, either from a serve or a push? My coach feels that the extra distance may make it more difficult to flip, and since it only just goes off the end, I think that makes it hard to take a strong loop since you don't have room to swing. Trying to push it short also seems tricky. What to do..

Larry Hodges
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Re: Half-long balls?

Hi vineRipeTomatoes,

 

First, sorry about the delay in responding - as I noted in my blog this morning, the software that's supposed to notify me when someone comments stopped working, and suddenly this morning I received floods of notifications of comments (and spam) that came over the last ten days or so. 

Mark has covered the topic rather well, so I don't have much more to add. Here are a few comments.

It is correct that the longer a short serve or push is (i.e. the closer the second bounce gets to the edge without actually going long), the harder it is to flip. Also, a flip off a shorter ball gives you more angle and rushes the opponent more, so off the longer ball it is less effective. That's why top players often try to serve and push so that the second ball is near the edge. 

It's a good idea to do a drill where your opponent serves or pushes these "tweeny" serves (that's what many call them, as well as "half-long"), and you try to judge if they are long or short. The most important thing about them is being able to recognize them early. 

If they are slightly long, you can loop them, as long as you recognize them as long quickly. Then you can set up right up against the table, so you are looking down at the table edge, with the racket below the edge, and just lift the ball up and forward. 

Note that you can loop a short ball if the second bounce is too near the edge by going over the table, especially against a sidepsin or topspin serve. (It's harder against a heavy backspin, since it's harder to lift the ball if you are going over the table.) It's probably easier to do this with the backhand. Fan Yiyong and Han Xiao are two USA players who are excellent at this. 

A half-long ball that goes to a corner can be angled right back with a quick, angled push. A half-long ball that goes to the middle is more troublesome as you can't really angle it very wide. However, you can hold back on your direction until the last second, and then quick push to a corner. 

Some players learn to return nearly all half-long serves with their forehand, so they can either forehand loop or push, and the opponent doesn't know until the last second which it will be. However, if you have a good backhand loop, then you can do the same on the backhand.

Hope this helps! 

 

ttc
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Joined: 08/05/2011
Re: Half-long balls?

Note that you can loop a short ball if the second bounce is too near the edge by going over the table, especially against a sidepsin or topspin serve. (It's harder against a heavy backspin, since it's harder to lift the ball if you are going over the table.) It's probably easier to do this with the backhand.

That is a good tip !

I wonder why it is easier with the BH to lift  the ball up while it is not possible with the FH (assuming right handed players). I thought the BH stance does not offer anything extra for this situation over the FH stance.

Larry Hodges
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Re: Half-long balls?

It's generally easier to loop over the table with the backhand against a short serve or push because it's easier to use the wrist on the backhand when looping over the table. You can do it on the forehand as well, but most find this more awkward. 

mjamja
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Joined: 01/19/2011
Re: Half-long balls?

Oh my god !!!

Larry wrote, "Mark has covered the topic rather well, so I don't have much more to add. Here are a few comments"

I don't have to worry any more about winning a tournament or reaching 2000.  I have reached the pinnacle of all my TT dreams.  I am going to print this out, frame it, and put it up on the wall next to my USATT U1500 Finalist (fancy way of saying finals loser) medal.

Seriously, tonight at the club I tried to use a little bit of what I wrote above and I did have some success.  I still really need to work a lot more on my deception.

Mark

Larry Hodges
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Re: Half-long balls?

Hi Mark, you've alerted me to a new business opportunity. For just $20 a pop, I'll post nice stuff about anyone, suitable for framing! :) 

vineRipeTomatoes
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Joined: 06/28/2011
Re: Half-long balls?

Thanks : )
That gives me a lot of good ideas to work with.

mjamja
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Joined: 01/19/2011
Re: Half-long balls?

Quality of a shot can be thought of as consisting of speed, spin, placement, quickness (giving opponent less time to hit) and deception.  In the case of the half-long serve you describe,  the serve limits your ability to hit higher quality speed and spin.  It also does limit short placement.  So what you have left to work with is quickness, placement (deep and left/right) and deception.

In terms of quickness on the serve return think more about timing disruption.  Simply push deep but take one ball very early off the bounce, others at the top, and others as the ball is falling.  Taking it early off the bounce is a pure example of increasing quality by quickness.  Varying where you take it (early, top, falling) is actually more in the vein of deception.

Since you are not going to hit as hard or spinny your placement has to be much better to get a qualilty shot.  Focus on high accuracy to the elbow area with the return to limit the opponents power on his return and perhaps get him out of position if he steps around but does not get back into position.  Hit balls (flip or push) really deep wherever you place them Fh/Bh/or El  or go really wide cutting the corner if the serve location gives you a good angle to do this.  Try to learn the ability to place each type of service return to multiple locations for each of the various service spins you normally get.

On the deception side you can push with different amounts of spin.  Use a little lift to hit a dead push.  Push normal, but add a little fake wrist motion after contact to make it look like heavy spin.   If flipping make sure you have the ability to flip down-the-line as well as cross-court.  Try to start both strokes the same and only make the change at  the last moment.  Even weak down-the-line flips are often so unexpected that they win points.

Your opponent has hit a good quality shot that keeps you from attacking him effectively with a winning (or even forcing) shot off  that kind of  serve.  You need to respond with high quality placement, deception, and variability of shot so that you put them in the same situation where they have great difficulty in hitting the kind of attacking shot that will be a winner.

At the higher levels I think you really have to learn to hit these half-long serves short or flip them very aggressively since the attacks against any long balls are so strong.  Even then, using the things listed above, can provide variability that can affect your opponent just enough that he does not get to hit his strongest shot.

All this is so easy to say and so very difficult to do.  I am pretty good at placement to the elbow with a deep push and am beginning to learn to vary the timing (early,top,falling) on my pushes.  My deception is just about zero and trying any usually results in totally missing the shot.  I do not even have a flip.  Your post reminds me I need to think more about what I am trying to do with each serve return before I get in my ready position.  Good luck.

Disclaimer:  I am only a USATT 1700 rated player so take the above for what it might be worth. 

Mark