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Once you are proficient at forehand and backhand block and counter strokes, it is time to learn how to combine forehand and backhand strokes. Maintaining a good ready position is the most important aspect of combining strokes. A good ready position decreases reaction time, permits easy movement in any direction, and assists in making a smooth, flowing transition from one shot to the next.
Most of the drills described in this chapter require you to have good footwork. If you have trouble maintaining consistency when you have to move your feet, take time out to read Chapter Nineteen Footwork, pages 63-64, and shadow practice the footwork until you feel comfortable with that kind of movement.
Lesson 14: Ready Position
To assume the ready position, keep your:
- Feet apart, at least shoulder width or wider. Your right foot is slightly further back than your left foot.
- Weight on the balls of your feet with the heels slightly off the ground and your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
- Arms hanging down with the forearms bent at an approximate 900 angle to the upper arms. This should place the elbows slightly in front
- Knees bent according to your height. A tall person needs to bend his knees more than a short person. Avoid standing up straight with your knees locked.
- Racket pointed forward, not favoring forehand or backhand.
- Head tilted up with your eyes focused on the ball.
- Entire body balanced, relaxed, and in a state of alert readiness.
- Mind clear, ready to jump start the body into action as soon as ball speed, spin, and trajectory are perceived.
The basic sequence of a rally is as follows: First, assume the ready position. Second, judge the trajectory of the ball. Third, move to the ball. Fourth, stroke the ball. Fifth, return to ready position. The ready position begins and ends every stroke and every rally. Practice this by:
- assuming the ready position,
- taking a quick two-step (refer to Footwork, for an example of two-step footwork) to the forehand
- Executing a shadow stroke forehand counter
- Taking a two-step back to your original position, and
- Reassuming the ready position. Repeat this action until it feels comfortable.
The next drill will be to repeat the same drill as in the preceding paragraph except you add a backhand counter. For this drill you would:
- Start in the ready position
- Take a quick two-step to the forehand
- Shadow stroke a forehand counter
- Take a two-step back to your original position
- Reassume the ready position
- Shadow stroke a backhand counter
- Finish by reassuming the ready position once again. As before, repeat until it feels comfortable.
Lesson 15: Combination Block Strokes With The Ready Position
To practice forehand and backhand combinations, turn the robot off and set the sweep control levers to the numbers 2 and 5 positions. The ball will land from the middle of your forehand court to the middle of your backhand court.
Assume the ready position just to the left of the center line. Make sure your racket is pointed straight forward and that the racket and your forearm align with the center line of the table. Turn the robot on at a slow speed and frequency and practice a backhand block when the ball lands to the left of the center line and a forehand block when it lands to the right of the center line. After each stroke, make sure you assume the ready position before stroking the next shot. Do one drill in which you place all blocks (both forehand and backhand) crosscourt, and a second drill where you place all blocks down-the-line.
Gradually build up your speed, but be careful not to go so fast that you forget to return to the ready position between strokes. Once you have reached your upper limits without losing good form, increase the range of oscillation by changing the sweep control levers to positions 2 and 4, if you're right handed, and 3 and 5, if you're left handed.
At these settings the ball will land randomly from your forehand corner to the middle of your backhand court. Repeat the above drills, but this time move whenever the ball goes to the wide forehand. Again, do one drill placing all blocks crosscourt, and a second drill placing all blocks down-the-line. Start at slow ball frequency and build up. Lastly, set the oscillator to sweep the entire width of the table (sweep control positions 3 & 4) and repeat. Be sure to use a backhand block whenever the ball lands in your backhand court and a forehand block whenever the ball lands in your forehand court. Gradually build up ball speed and frequency. Your goal is 50 successful blocks in a row at each stage.