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Constant changes in equipment, gluing methods, and training methods have had a large effect on the evolution of styles within our sport. The decade of the nineties has seen the decline of two styles, the passive chopper and the passive half-distance topspin player. In their place, a stronger more balanced attacking style has emerged, the All-Round Attacker. This can be seen in both shakehands and penholder versions, with the penholder version incorporating the new reverse penholder backhand loop technique. Recently, the switch to the 40mm ball has changed both stroke techniques and tactics; and even now, playing styles are evolving quickly to take full advantage of the new ball's playing characteristics. Table Tennis is an ever-evolving sport that requires both coaches and players to constantly update their knowledge.
The purpose of this article is to examine the eight styles currently in use at the World Class Level. If you are uncertain of your style or wish to better identify which style is best for you, then please read What Style Should You Play. These styles include:
- The Attacker, Pips-Out Penholder, Traditional Style
- The Attacker, Shakehands Hitter
- The Attacker, Inverted Looper
- The Attacker, All-Round
- The Counter Driver
- The Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper
- The Attacking Chopper
- The Close-to-the-Table Defender
This series of articles will provide you with the strengths and weaknesses of each style, along with some suggested robot drills to help you develop your game. In reading the descriptions you may find that your personal style will have attributes from more than one. However, you should be able to recognize your dominant style (“A” style) and your secondary style (“B” style). Each article will also give you some suggestions on tactics to use against the other styles of play. Hopefully the style descriptions will serve as a guide in analyzing your own.
Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper
This style prefers to stay within six to eight feet from the table. Their longer topspin strokes carry considerable power and spin, from either forehand or backhand. This style will loop from both wings when playing another attacker. Against underspin, this style will often step around and use the forehand loop from the backhand side.
The recent introduction of the 40mm ball has had a major impact on this style of play. The resulting loss of spin caused by the larger ball has forced this style of player to become even more fit and powerful to survive. Gone are the days when this style would defeat opponents by building up spin with each loop. In today's game, this style is much more dynamic, with even faster point winning loops.
- Equal power from both sides.
- Very strong opening shot against underspin.
- Very comfortable in exchanging loop drives with their opponents.
- Strong lateral movement.
- Often lacks flat kill shot.
- Weak in and out movement.
- Short balls to forehand.
- Counter-drive play while close to the table.
Suggested Robot Drills
- Forehand Loop Against Backspin
- Fast Backhand Loop Against Backspin
- Backhand Loop Against Topspin
- The Backhand Loop
- A Great Looping Drill
- Topspin Defense
- Random Footwork
- Developing Your Serve Game
- How to Effectively Return Short Services
- Advanced Aerobic Movement Drills
- The Phenomena of Speed and Anticipation
- The Basic Eight
Tactics Against Other Styles
Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Penholder
You should use mostly short serves to the middle of the table with an occasional long chop serve to the backhand side. Try to turn the penholder into a blocker by elevating heavy loops to his/her backhand. In general, use slower heavy topspins to force slower return blocks. When you get a ball to attack, attack hard down the lines.
Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Shakehands
Same general tactics as the penholder, but direct more loops towards the middle of your opponent.
Against the Attacker — Inverted Looper
As both styles can attack hard, you must attack first. Use short serves and return serves with short drops or well-placed flips to control the opening attack. Attack wide to your opponent's forehand, as his/her forehand block is usually weaker than their backhand block.
Against the Attacker — All-Round
Once again the quality of your first attack will tell the difference in the match. You must force the all-rounder into playing defensively. During the first few points, try topspins at different speeds, spins, locations, and heights to determine what kind of topspin will force him/her on the defensive. Serve mostly short to limit your opponent's attack.
Against the Counter Driver
Use short serves anywhere on the table, mixed with long chop serves to the backhand side. Your goal should be to play constant mixed topspins until a loose ball is forced. Only then, should a fast attack be used to finish the point.
Against the Attacking Chopper
Use short serves with an occasional long serve to the backhand side. The first attack should be to the middle followed by a series of safe topspins to the chopper's backhand side. High returns are better flat killed than looped.
Against the Close to the Table Defender
Similar tactics to playing the counter driver. However, even more patience is needed. High balls are better finished with a kill than a loop.