Table Tennis Tactics - Apply Your Strengths

Making the Most of What You've Got...

In this article I'm going to discuss the issue of using your strengths when you are playing a table tennis match, and how to get the best results from what firepower you have. I'll use a hypothetical example along the way to help illustrate what I am talking about.

 

Know Yourself

The first thing you need to do is work out exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are. This is something you should really do prior to playing the match - by the time you are out on the court it is probably a little late! The subject of how exactly to identify your strengths and weaknesses is something I will deal with later on, so for now we'll assume that you have spent some time working out what the best

(and worst!) parts of your table tennis game are.

 

Sample Scenario

Peter is a two-winged looper who uses speed glue.

He decides that his main strengths are his forehand loop from his backhand corner off a backspin ball, and his backhand block to the opponent's crossover point. His worst weaknesses are his footwork to a wide forehand ball, and his flick return of serve.

 

Know Your Opponent

The next thing you should do is to discover the strengths and weakness of your opponent. If at all possible, you should find these out by studying your opponent before your match. Sometimes you won't be able to do this, in which case you will have to determine your opponent's strengths and weaknesses as you actually play the match!

 

Peterís opponent in his next match is Abdul, a player who loops with his forehand and blocks and hits with his backhand. Peter watches Abdul playing a few matches, and decides that Abdul's strengths are his backhand punch block down the line, and his forehand pendulum serve that he uses to set up his forehand loop. Peter believes Abdul's main weaknesses are his forehand push and his backhand hit off a backspin ball.

 

Do the Maths

Once you have identified both you and your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, it's time to think about how you and your opponent match up. This is most important when you are both of a similar level of play - if one of you is much better than the other the better player's weaknesses are likely to still be better than the other player's strengths, and the use of tactics will not be likely to affect the overall result. But when you are both of around the same standard, the player who uses the better tactics can give himself a crucial edge that can swing the match in his favour.

What you should be looking for is how your strengths match up with each other, and how your strengths match up with each other's weaknesses. Can you formulate a game plan that will allow you to make the most of your strengths and avoid your weaknesses, while at the same time taking advantage of your opponent's weaknesses and minimizing his strengths? If so, you should have the start of a winning strategy.

 

Peter starts to look at his and Abdul's strengths and weaknesses, searching for ways to gain an edge. He decides that the following strategies could be beneficial for him:

 

peter will use a forehand double bounce serve with sidespin, that he will place to Abdul's middle and backhand side. The sidespin will help push the ball towards Peter's backhand corner. He will use mostly sidespin and backspin, since this will hopefully cause Abdul to push the ball back to his backhand corner, allowing Peter to use his strong forehand loop from that location. Since Abdul has a weak forehand push, Peter will also put the occasional sidespin/backspin double bounce serve to the forehand to test Abdul's push return.

 

Provided Peter can use this serve to get a chance to do his strong forehand loop from the backhand corner, he will avoid playing the ball to Abdul's backhand in order to prevent Abdul using his strong backhand punch-block. Instead Peter will concentrate on looping the ball to Abdul's crossover point and down the line to Abdul's wide forehand.

 

If Abdul does return the serve tightly, Peter will push more often to his Abdul's backhand, daring Abdul to try to attack the ball with his weak backhand hit. Peter is also hoping that Abdul will not try to attack, and simply push the ball back crosscourt to give Peter another chance to use his strong forehand loop from the backhand side. Pushing to Abdul's backhand should also reduce the amount of angle Abdul can get out wide to Peter's forehand, hopefully reducing Abdul's ability to take advantage of Peter's weakness out wide to the forehand.

 

Peter would also be willing to try a long backspin serve to Abdul's backhand every so often, to see whether Abdul is willing and able to attack it. If Abdul is successful, Peter would use this serve less. If Abdul is poor at attacking the serve, Peter can then use both short and long serves to Abdul's backhand in order to set up his own attacks.

 

When returning serve, Peter will focus on Abdul's variation of spin, and take a chance or two early in the match by trying to flick Abdul's serve. This will let Abdul know that Peter is willing to attack any loose serves, and force Abdul to concentrate hard on serving tight. It might also fool Abdul into thinking Peter's flick is not a weakness if Peter can land a flick or two. Peter will keep attacking the occasional tight serve just to keep Abdul on his toes, and stop Abdul from being able to anticipate Peter's returns.

 

The rest of the time Peter will focus on good placement of the return, avoiding Abdul's power zones wherever possible.

 

If Abdul does generate a strong forehand attack from his serve, Peter will move back from the table and attempt to re-loop the ball to Abdul's forehand side, hoping to push Abdul back from the table as well, and avoiding Abdul's strong backhand punch-block.. If Peter can succeed at getting Abdul to move back, Peter should then be in a stronger position, as he can loop from both wings.

 

Peter would then be looking to place a strong attack to Abdul's backhand to take advantage of Abdul's weaker side - Abdul will find it very hard to use his strong punch-block if he has been pushed back from the table.

 

Use a Loop - A Feedback Loop!

Once the match actually gets underway, it is important to keep thinking and be aware of whether your match strategy is working or not. Take notice of which plans are working better than you expected, and use them more often or in important parts of the game. Also note which strategies aren't working, and try to understand why - have you misread your opponent's weakness? Or are you unable to do what is required to take advantage of it? Change your plans accordingly based on what you are able to accomplish during

the match, and how your opponent is playing.

 

The match between Peter and Abdul is in the third game. Peter won the first fairly easily using his original strategies. Abdul improved his service in the second game and refused to allow Peter to push him back from the table, and so was able to attack with his forehand loop and backhand punch- block, and so Abdul won the second game.

 

Now, at the start of the third game, Peter re-evaluates his strategy. He decides to stand further towards his backhand corner, to allow him to take more of Abdul's serves with his forehand, which should be better suited to the type of sidespin Abdul is using. He will also place more of his service returns out wide to Abdul's forehand, forcing Abdul to have to move in order to hit them. Peter will then stay in close to the table and mix up blocks with counter loops to try to affect Abdul's timing and hopefully catch Abdul still out wide to the forehand side. The match continues ...

 

 

Conclusion

Can the use of good tactics in table tennis guarantee you a win? No, because if your opponent is too strong then he will win regardless of the tactics you use - you simply do not have the game required to take advantage of his weaknesses. Even in matches between opponents of similar strength, there are many other factors at work, such as differences in style and even the fact that one opponent may have slightly better touch than another on that particular day. But in these sorts of table tennis matches, the correct use of tactics can provide the smart player with an edge in his favour - and we could all use that sort of edge,

couldn't we?

 

Until the next session

Play right

Javad