A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.

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Published:

12/05/2022 - 14:16

Author: Larry Hodges

In 1967, Nobuhiko Hasegawa shocked the table tennis world by not only winning the World Championships, but by using the lob as a primary weapon in doing so. Since then, the lob has become the most spectacular shot in table tennis for both players and fans. It has also become one of the least understood shots in the game.

Many players lob far too often. A lob is a defensive shot, but it is unlike all other defensive shots in that it invites the opponent to smash. Only against a weaker player or a very poor lob-smasher will you score a majority of points while lobbing. Therefore, it is advisable to lob only when absolutely necessary, unless your opponent is very poor against the lob. The advantage of a lob is not that you will win most of the points with it, but that you may score a few points that you otherwise wouldn’t – and those points are often all it takes to win. (Another advantage is that by lobbing, you learn to move to and react to hard-hit balls – which is just one step away from counterlooping.)

The theory of lobbing is essentially this: If you lob the ball high and deep, the ball will bounce very deep, and your opponent will have to smash the ball from a good distance from the table. This not only forces errors on his part, but gives you time to react to his smashes which, due to air resistance, slow down quickly.

A lob, done properly, is basically a very high loop. A good looper can often learn to lob well very quickly because the strokes are similar. When lobbing, first get to where the ball is going as fast as you can. With experience, you can anticipate the direction of the smash by watching the opponent's stroke. On both forehand and backhand you should be turned at least slightly sideways, just as you would for looping. Drive the ball mostly upward, dissipating the ball’s speed by sending it upwards. Sink the ball into the sponge at an angle so you can spin it, like looping, with both topspin and sidespin. Use your legs and upper body in a sweeping motion, as when looping. (Perhaps go to Youtube and search for “table tennis lobbing” and watch how the top players do it.)

When a ball is smashed straight at you try to turn sideways somewhat, taking it with either forehand or backhand, rather than standing square to the table and lobbing with the backhand, using only the arm. You may have to do this sometimes, but then the lob will have little spin.

The three important aspects of a lob are its height (for control), depth, and spin. Depth is most important of all, since without it your opponent can smash at very wide angles, giving you no chance of returning the ball. A good lob should land deep on the table. Good height and depth make the ball bounce deep. You can also do a lower lob, which is called fishing.

Putting spin on your lob can be difficult since you have very little time. It takes practice. Learn to mix topspin and sidespin, making the ball jump as well as break sideways when it hits the table. The idea is to force your opponent into a mistake. When lobbing, you should always be looking for a chance to counter-attack to get back into the point. A sudden counter-drive, chop, or loop return will often change the rally in your favor. Counter-smash or loop if you see a chance, especially on the forehand side where you have a bigger hitting zone. If your opponent doesn’t force you to lob, don’t.

Placement of lobs is also important. Some players are slow on their feet and will make mistakes if forced to move side to side too much, even off a lob. If you lob best from one side, a deep, spinny lob to the side diagonally opposite will make it difficult for your opponent to smash to your weak side, down the line.

One final advantage of lobbing is that it tires your opponent. This can be a critical factor against anyone not in good shape. When way behind, some top players actually lob intentionally to tire their opponents out for the next game. Also, after smashing a series of lobs to win a point, many players get careless on the next point, as well as a little out of breath.

So . . . get lobbing!!! You'll win a few points and have a lot of fun.

Published:

11/28/2022 - 14:46

Author: Larry Hodges

Top players play at super-fast speeds, and are seemingly able to loop kill or smash at will, and do it all consistently. Those watching often feel that they should try to do the same. Of course, when they try to emulate the pros and their pace, they miss over and over, but the theory is that the more you do it, the better you'll get at it.

Wrong!!!

Instead, do what the top players did before they learned to play at such a fast pace and put away balls with such ease, both with great consistency - and that was to develop that consistency, from good technique and lots and lots of practice. Instead of trying to play at a pace you can’t do consistently or trying to blast ball after ball, play each shot at the pace you can do consistently. Focus on good technique. When you are consistent at one speed, then up it a little, and keep doing that gradually as you get better and better.

Eventually, you'll be so consistent and have such good technique that you'll be able to play at the pace of the pros and seemingly loop kill or smash anything - and so other non-top players will watch you and try to do the same . . . thereby making sure they'll never challenge you!

Published:

11/21/2022 - 15:40

Author: Larry Hodges

When you forehand attack from the wide forehand or wide backhand, following through back into position should be part of the stroke and technique. Too often players don't so this and so can't cover the other wide angle – and then, instead of realizing the root of the problem, they just say, "I'm too slow!"

If you forehand attack from the wide forehand, you are wide open on the backhand side if you don't get back into position quickly. Use your own momentum from the shot to move back into position quickly. For righties, that means pushing off your right foot.

If you forehand attack from the wide backhand, you are wide open on the forehand side if you don't get back into position quickly. In this case, your natural momentum isn't going back into position - but since you finish with most of your weight on your left foot (for righties), you can smoothly push off and back into position as part of the follow-through.

In both cases, by the time your opponent is hitting his shot you should be in a balanced ready position, ready to cover the table. You don't want to still be moving as he hits the shot - it's better to be slightly out of position but ready to move than moving as he hits his shot, and thereby unable to change directions quickly if needed.

So . . . are you too slow or are you simply using back footwork technique?

Published:

11/14/2022 - 15:20

Author: Larry Hodges

In table tennis, the forehand is often the more powerful shot – the point winner. But as rallies get faster and fast, the backhand counter becomes more and more important. If you don't have a strong backhand, you're at a huge disadvantage. At tournaments, in match after match, I find opponents who don't know how to score with their backhands. Equally important, they don't know how to stop their opponents from scoring with theirs.

The backhand counter should be both a controlling and aggressive shot. You can score with it by outlasting your opponent, moving him around, or by attacking. Anyone with a decent backhand can win (some) points simply by outlasting an opponent, but he would not be taking full advantage of the shot.

When countering backhands, don't keep hitting the same shot over and over like a drill. Move the ball around, change speeds and spins and force your opponent into a mistake. Experiment and see what works best for you.

There are four spots on the table you should aim for: wide to the backhand (outside the corner), deep to the backhand corner, to your opponent's middle (roughly the playing elbow, midway between forehand and backhand), and the wide forehand. Between the corners is no-man's land and you should rarely go there, except when going to the opponent's middle.

Your basic backhand counterdrive should be deep to the backhand corner. This gives you maximum depth, the most table to aim for, and a good angle into the opponent's backhand. A ball that doesn't go wide enough lets your opponent hit a shot without having to move to it, making it easier for him to play a strong backhand or even play forehand.

Off a short ball or balls that go to your wide backhand, you can hit your shot even wider, outside the corner. In a topspin rally, a ball that lands shorter is easier to attack than a deeper one, so you should play it more aggressively, while still using great ball placement. Make your opponent move! Yet most players either are not aggressive enough on this shot, or they don't go wide enough – they keep the shot well inside the corners, a poor tactic.

A ball hit to a player's middle forces him to decide whether to hit a forehand or a backhand. This often leads to more mistakes, weaker shots, and they have no extreme angle to play into. It also forces the opponent out of position, leaving at least one corner open.

When your opponent is out of position on his backhand side (because you played a ball to his wide backhand) you can snap in a quick, often point-winning shot to his forehand. But you must go to his WIDE forehand. Off a short ball, go very wide. When you go to the forehand, try to disguise your shot - don't make it too obvious. (You can even aim one way, then go the other way at the last second.) Also, try hitting it quick off the bounce - don't give him time to react to it.

In a game situation, you have to be able to put these shots together in combinations. If you go to your opponent's middle and he returns it with his backhand, he's left his backhand side open. Go for it. If he moves prematurely to cover that open backhand side, go to his forehand because he's already committed his weight in the wrong direction. If he gets the forehand shot back, be ready to attack his now open backhand, or if he moves too quickly again, go back to his forehand.

You might also try a tactic of hitting backhands deep to the corner over and over, waiting for a weak return to attack. If your opponent starts edging over to his backhand corner (either expecting more shots to his backhand or possibly to play a forehand), play an aggressive shot to his wide forehand when he's least expecting it. You can also try other tactics, such as mixing up hard and medium shots to break up your opponent's timing.

When playing a lefty (or a lefty playing a righty), things are different. Now your basic backhand shot is down the line, though that changes if the opponent has a weaker forehand. From your backhand side, your widest angle is to his forehand and since the backhand is usually a quicker shot than the forehand, you should take advantage of it. Don't hesitate to attack the wide forehand with the backhand, especially if your opponent is slightly out of position or gives you a weak return.

When you force your opponent away from the table, don't keep hitting every ball deep to him if he’s consistent off that ball. Mix in a few shorter, softer shots to bring him back and leave him vulnerable to a hard-hit follow-up shot, especially to the corners. You would rarely want to hit two soft shots in a row but to alternate soft and hard is a good tactic, because it brings him in and out. When your opponent is away from the table, he leaves the wide corners open. To keep you from going there, he must keep his shots deep. (But it's often best to attack the middle first, to draw them out of position, and then the wide corner.) Conversely, if you are forced off the table, you must hit your returns deep.

If your opponent's backhand is quicker or more powerful than yours, don't try to stay right up at the table with him. Of course, if you back up too much, you'll give him more time to set up plus you'll expose yourself to angled shots. So try to find a middle ground where you can compete with him and seek other shots and tactics to use. Or focus on making sure your first backhand shot is quick and aggressive and try to dominate from there.

Remember, while for many the forehand is the stronger shot, you must develop both wings, perhaps relying more on consistent aggressiveness on the backhand and more power on the forehand. If you play both wings well, you gain a huge advantage – and can now dominate most rallies.

Published:

11/07/2022 - 14:41

Author: Larry Hodges

Suppose you are way behind in a game. It's likely that the only way of winning is if you play well and your opponent doesn't. Therefore, assume this is true, and play your tactics accordingly. The same idea can be used when playing a much stronger player - if you can't beat him unless you play well and he doesn't, then assume both, and play your tactics accordingly.

In both cases, assume your opponent is going to be inconsistent if he is regularly forced to go for difficult shots, and so you give him those types of shots. At the same time, you assume you will make your normal shots, perhaps with more consistency than usual. Don't overplay - that's the quickest way to blow a lot of points. Find the right balance where you put continuous pressure on the opponent while staying consistent.

Confidence is key to both coming back and beating a strong player. The moment you doubt yourself, you'll be hesitant, lose consistency, and won't play well. So just convince yourself you can play well at these times and in these matches, play your game, and let yourself go! (Hint - try doing that in ALL matches.)