Table Tennis Tip - Devastating “John Doe”

Newgy Robo-Pong

The table tennis tournament published the draws the night before the event.  You found out that you are going to play against Hou Yingchao in your opening table tennis match of men’s singles at 9:00 a.m.  You immediately take out your pen and paper and write down some notes of how to play against him.  You arrive to the gym at 7:45 am and train accordingly. 
 
Just then…
 
Without warning…
 
You hear a tournament announcement for you to play your opening round against John Doe.  What?  You had mentally and physically prepared to play against Hou Yingchao.  Who is John Doe anyway?  What style does he play?  What should your tactics be?
 
There are basically two main elements to winning against an unknown table tennis opponent – knowing your game and learning your opponent’s game.
 
Your Game
The main things that I always remind myself are that my serve is good ¾ I am very confident in serve return. Also, I have very spinny loops, I can move very fast, I can block with excellent placement and I can rally longer than anyone.  With a bit of a pep talk to yourself, you can learn to play with confidence and force your table tennis opponent to adjust to YOU.  Hesitation (especially on serve return) will make you inconsistent and not very threatening to a new opponent.  If you can play without hesitation and strike hard from the beginning, the fear of your shots will bring out more errors from your new opponent.
 
Your Opponent’s Game
The second element is knowing your opponent’s game.  From the time that you greet him to the middle of the first table tennis game, you should know the following:
 
#1 Table Tennis Equipment
Regardless if he has pips or inverted, inspect the top sheet of his racket to see if it is grippy or not.  Also inspect the sponge to see the thickness, hardness, and speed.  All of these elements will help you begin forming a general impression.  If you opponent has a recreational ping pong paddle with absolutely no spin, then from the very first point, you realize that you don’t need to lift much on the opening loop.  Every aspect of the table tennis equipment is a slight indication of what the player can and cannot do.
 
#2 Handedness (right or left handed)
This should be so obvious.
 
#3 Shakehands Grip (forehand or backhand oriented)
If the table tennis racket is shifted more towards the index finger, this is called a backhand grip. If the racket is shifted more towards in the thumb, this is called a forehand grip. Typically, backhand grip table tennis players tend to play more towards your forehand side of the table.  Typically, forehand grip table tennis players tend to play more towards your backhand side of the table.
 
#4 Penhold Grip (traditional or reverse)
Traditional penhold table tennis players use only one side of the racket mainly blocking and pushing with the backhand while attacking with the forehand. Modern reverse penhold table tennis players use both sides of the racket attacking from the wings – these players are usually a bit weaker from the middle. Even in warmup, you should be able to tell if they are traditional or reverse penhold.

#5 Overall Style – offensive or defensive
Within the first few points, you should be able to tell if this table tennis opponent is looking for the power shot or looking to be consistent and keep the ball in play.  This is one of the main things that you need to know – this will put you in a tactical direction.  If he is a power player, you need to stop his weapons.  If he is a defensive player, you need to work the point, be selective, and your play game at the right time.
 
#6 Forehand or backhand dominant
The grip doesn’t fully tell you if he is backhand or forehand dominant.  As the table tennis match progresses, evaluate if your opponent likes his backhand or forehand better.  It may be that he likes forehand better for some shots (like looping and smashing) while favoring backhand better for other shots (like pushing, blocking, and serve return.)
 
#7 Near the table or far from the table
If your opponent likes to play near the table, then look to play some sharp angles to take him away from the table.  If he feels comfortable away from the table, then consider using some variations to move him in closer then back deeper.  You don’t want to allow your opponent to get in the groove or in a comfortable position.
 
As the table tennis match progresses, you should be forming a clear picture in your mind of your opponent’s serves, returns, preferences, tendencies, and game patterns.  However, don’t get too caught up in changing your game.  Play your dominant game with your best serve, strongest shots and play with full confidence.  As the match progresses, you can adjust if necessary. 

By Samson Dubina, Professional Table Tennis Athlete and Coach

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Table Tennis Tip - Devastate the Lobber

Newgy Robo-Pong

There are many different types of lobbers in table tennis – lobbers who attack, lobbers who only defend, lobbers with pips, lobbers with inverted, lobbers who do mostly low fishing and lobbers who hit sky-high through the rafters.  The tactics in this article refer to a right-handed lobber who uses inverted on both sides and doesn’t attack much; as soon as the point starts he immediately backs up fishing and lobbing.  When I use the word fishing, I refer to a lower version of the lob often with more spin and depth.  When I refer to lobbing, I refer to this very high version. 

With this type of lobber, it is critically important to remember how your opponent wins most of his points ― from your errors.  If he doesn’t attack, then he is just waiting for you to miss and he plans to just keep bringing the ball back.  If you swing wildly for every ball, you will likely be inconsistent.  If you just put the ball on the table, you likely won’t be threatening.  So how can you be consistent and threatening?  You can best accomplish this by being selective, being selective as to when you should hit hard and when to control the ball.  Because your opponent doesn’t attack much, you can start with a long serve and get the rally going simply.  If you are too tricky on the first few hits, you will likely make more mistakes than your consistent opponent.  When receiving, just push or slow loop the serve to get the rally going ― there is absolutely no need to rip his serve going for a high risk inside out to the wide angle on the outside of the white line.  Play safe, be selective and go for it at the right moment.  Now that I have briefly mentioned the mindset, I would like to outline the specific table tennis tactics.

Tactics

Position

If you are in the perfect position to block, loop, push or drop-shot then you can play tactical.  Your positioning is the most important aspect of playing a lobber.  Because various lobs come to different depths, it is critically important that you adjust for every ball.  Just because the ball is slow doesn’t mean that you are allowed to move slowly.  Move quickly into position and you will have options to play tactically.

Smash

Using a powerful forehand smash will be your main tactic to beating the lobber.  Adjust your positioning so that you have plenty of space and use your forehand on most high balls.  If the lob hits near the net, smash down on the ball.  If the lob hits closer to your end-line, then smash a bit more forward.

Drop-Shot

If your opponent is 15 feet back from the table, it may seem like he has plenty of time to retrieve every ball.  Make sure that you also use the drop-shot to move him in, followed by a powerful smash to move him out.  The most important element on the drop shot is to be selective.  Choose a ball that hits near the net.  Relax your grip.  Contact the ball on the rise.  At the point of contact, pull back slightly to absorb the energy on the ball.  It is similar to the action of catching a water balloon, you pull back to absorb the energy.

Placement

When the lobber is near the table, you should smash at his body (the transition point).  When he is further back, you should go for more angles.  When close to the table, there is about 8 feet of lateral court to cover.  When the lobber is 15 feet back, there is about 25 feet of lateral court to cover.  If you smash to the wide backhand, then try to drop-shot to the short forehand.  If you smash to the wide forehand, the try to drop-shot to the short backhand.  I would typically recommend serving deep to the transition point.  However, serving some short topspin serves followed by a deep attack to the transition point often works as well.

Spin

In order to play tactically against the lobber, you need to understand which ball to give a controlled smash, which ball to smash powerfully and which ball to drop-shot.  The depth is one of the main factor.  The deeper ball should be smashed with a control smash.  The shorter one should be powerfully smashed down or dropped short.  The spin is another major factor.  The deep topspin lobs jump out and therefore require more control.  The backspin, no spin, and sidespin lobs stay closer to the table and you should smash with more power on these shots.  If you are watching your opponent’s table tennis racket, you should be able to tell the spin.  If his racket is under the table, then watch the direction of his arm.  If you can’t see the arm, then you will need to react when you see the trajectory of the ball.  Keep in mind that lateral sidespin lobs (axis top and bottom) will react off your racket but won’t jump off the table as much.  Deviation sidespin lobs (axis front and back) won’t react off your racket as much but will jump tremendously when they hit your side of the table.

Fatigue

You might be excited to play a lobber.  Please resist the temptation to rush!  Remember, even if you are winning, it is important to take your time and BREATHE!  You are likely to get more fatigued than the lobber; the more time that you take between points the better you will do in games 3, 4 and 5.

Practice

It is vitally important that you practice smashing different types of balls – no spin, topspin, backspin and sidespin.  Even if you can’t find a lobber, ask a friend to lob to you for three minutes so that you can practice smashing.  Don’t overstrain yourself in warmup, just practice moving into position, working the point, being consistent, being selective, reading the spin, moving your opponent around and powering the ball at the right time.

By Samson Dubina, Professional Table Tennis Athlete and Coach

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