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If your table tennis opponent’s primary shot is an extreme topspin attack, he is considered a looper. Loopers can play far from the ping pong table or close to the ping pong table; some loopers are penholders while others use the shakehands grip; some loop from both forehand and backhand and some just forehand. In this article, I’m going to describe the table tennis opponent who loops with just his forehand.
If you have a chance to watch your opponent prior to your table tennis match, that’s perfect because you can have somewhat of an idea what he is going to do and you can think to yourself, “Ok this one-wing looper is looping with his forehand, so when I push deep to his backhand, he will just push back OR he will pivot and play a forehand OR he will try to smash with his backhand OR he might try to develop a backhand loop during the table tennis match and give it a try.” As you can see, there are multiple ways to cover up a lack of strong backhand looping. If you don’t have time to watch him prior to your match, then you might need to do some testing. See what he does on all the shots. If you immediately find some weaknesses, then pick on those weaknesses and use that to your advantage. If you aren’t sure within the first few points, then you need to continue searching. Here are some tips that apply to nearly all one-wing forehand loopers.
#1 Play Wide Angles
Interestingly, most one-wing loopers are very lopsided in all their strokes. Your opponent might have a very high level forehand loop and almost no-backhand loop, a very high level backhand block and almost no forehand block, a very high level backhand push and almost no forehand push. Regardless of what he prefers, playing angles will force him to use both sides. For example, serve very sharp with your backhand to his short wide forehand, on the next ball try to push or loop to the extreme backhand side. Anytime you use opposite angles, it will be tough for him to cover.
Sometimes the one wing looper will understand your pattern of playing angle then the other angle and he will be anticipating the pattern. In this situation, you need to double up with the same angle twice. In general, is pattern play preferred? It depends! If the pattern is working in your favor, keep it. If you opponent understands your pattern and is reading you like a book, then that particular pattern is bad. So many club level players think patterns are bad because they want to be “unpredictable.” However, if a pattern like short angled forehand then deep angled backhand is working, then why let your opponent off the hook?
#3 Play Long Rallies
The one-wing looper might have many weaknesses. The longer the table tennis rally goes, the more likely that he will need to use his weaker stroke. If you lengthen the rally and remain steady, then you will likely have a good opportunity. For example, you push sharp to the wide backhand, your opponent steps around and loops with his forehand from the backhand side, next you block to the wide forehand, your opponent does the crossover step and loops the wide forehand, next you block to the backhand, your opponent lobs, and you smash for a winner. Imagine if you had tried to counterloop his opening shot; it could have been good or it could have been wild. When you chose to wait and lengthen out the point with a steady rally, then you had the opportunity. Not “had” the opportunity, you CREATED the opportunity. That is an important distinction. When you are just looking for the opportunity, it implies that you are the passive one, just sitting back looking. I prefer to use created because you created the chance with your well placed push and tactical blocking.
#4 Attack First
One-wing loopers know that they have weaknesses and know that they can’t play long rallies ― yes it isn’t a secret, they know it. As a result of knowing it, they often will try to finish the point early with a very strong loop. It is vitally important that you attack first with extreme angles and immediately put them on the defensive.
#5 Adjust to Variations
Because the one-wing looper is stronger is some areas and weaker in some areas, you must always be ready for variations. For example, he might have the ability to push with his forehand and backhand; however, his forehand push is much quicker and much spinnier than his backhand. In this case, you need to be ready to adjust when looping his forehand push vs looping his backhand push.
#6 Be Ready for Transitions
When playing table tennis against one-wing loopers, be ready to quickly transition from offense to defense and vice versa. Maybe you are looping and he is blocking, suddenly he backs up and throws a massive counterloop into the mix. In this situation, you might need to block controlled to the angle. Maybe he is looping and you are blocking, after using great placement, he just rolls up a simple light-topspin ball; this is the one you have been waiting for, in this situation, go for the counterattack.
#7 Keep Track
The one-wing looper might seem a bit erratic. However, he is likely limited in what he can do. If he cannot do certain things well, be persistent at exposing those weaknesses. If your push to the wide backhand continues to win points, be persistent at doing that shot. Between points, step back and continue to evaluate and re-evaluate what he can and cannot do.
#8 Remember These Basic Rules
If this article seems overwhelming, remember these closing tips when playing table tennis against the one-wing looper:
- Attack First
- Serve Short Angled Serves
- Loop the Serve to the Extreme Angles
- Stay Close Throughout the Rally
- Work the Point and Play Long Rallies
By Samson Dubina, Professional Table Tennis Athlete and Coach