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

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Published:

06/10/2024 - 13:01

Author: Larry Hodges

It’s important to play to all three spots – wide forehand, wide backhand, and the middle (the mid-point between the opponent’s forehand and backhand, roughly their playing elbow). But often players inadvertently only play to two of them, and opponents, either consciously or (more often) subconsciously pick up on this and so only have to guard against two spots.

Suppose you attack the opponent’s wide forehand. It draws him out of position as he makes his shot. Then, as his shot comes toward you, he moves back into position as he has to guard both the middle and that wide backhand. Many players, after drawing a player out of position by going to one of these spots, automatically goes to one of the other two spots – meaning the opponent only has to guard those two spots.

Instead, often play the same spot twice in a row. Be aware of what your opponent is doing. If you’ve played a wide corner and your opponent is way out of position, then probably go back to the other wide corner. But often the opponent expects that and recovers quickly to cover the other wide corner – but in quickly vacating the first corner he leaves it wide open. So, play two shots in a row and watch him flail about trying to recover for it! It forces the opponent to make two opposite moves – a quick move back into position after the first shot, and a quick move right back for the second shot.

This also works when you attack the middle. To cover it, the opponent has to move out of position to play either a forehand or backhand from the middle. Immediately afterwards he likely moves back into position so he can cover both wide corners – thereby leaving the middle once again open, where (if you attack it), he has to again decide whether to cover it with the forehand or backhand and move to do so. Not an easy thing to do!

And the nice thing about this is that hitting to the same spot twice often means you do the same shot twice, meaning the second one is easier.

So, learn to move your opponent around by not moving your shot around!

Published:

06/03/2024 - 14:46

Author: Larry Hodges

There are two reasons for practicing down-the-line shots. First, because in games you want to use the whole table so the opponent has to cover the whole table, and to do that you need to be able to play wide in both directions, crosscourt and down the line.

Second, to quote USTT Hall of Famer David Sakai, who I used to practice with regularly, “If you can attack down the line consistently, then crosscourt is easy.” And it’s true – crosscourt, the table is about 10 feet 3.5 inches, while down the line it’s only 9 feet, so you have a shorter target. If you can attack down the line, then that extra 15.5 inches crosscourt looks HUGE! So, one of the best drills is to simply attack down the line (forehand or backhand) while your partner blocks. (At the advanced level, players might even try counterlooping down the line.) Focus on consistency and placement. On the forehand, it means adjusting your foot positioning a bit (right foot more back for righties), turning the shoulders back, and taking the ball a little later (relative to the body) than usual so you can better line up the shot.

You can let the ball come out more so you can better line up the shot down the line with the forehand. But if you have time, you can also step in a bit while rotating your body to the right, allowing you to hit the ball just as quickly as usual, but with your body a bit closer to the table, allowing you to take the ball later, relative to the body. (Another option is hitting the ball inside-out, often with inside-out sidespin, but that’s perhaps for another tip.)

It might be helpful in a drill to put towels or another long object that blocks off the inner half of the court each player is hitting to and from. This forces both the attacker and blocker to keep the ball within perhaps 15 inches of the sideline (less for advanced players). Try to keep the ball more toward the sideline side of those 15 inches – if you miss, it’s better here to go too wide, not toward the middle of the table. This is how you learn to play the ball wide down the line.

One variation – put a target on the wide forehand side opposite the attacking player. After they’ve made five or more strong shots down the line, they have the option of “ending” the point with a crosscourt winner where they try to hit the target.

Published:

05/22/2024 - 14:01

Author: Larry Hodges

The simple answer to this question, for most people, is obvious: WIN!. But there are really four things you should be doing in that first game.

First, you want to force your game on your opponent. This means both finding ways to set up your shots and getting those shots going. If you do this successfully, you’ll dominate from the start and won’t have to worry about the other three things I’m going to talk about. (But if you are really dominant, then you need to find stronger competition.)

Second, you want to adjust to your opponent. This partly goes with the first item above, where you are looking to set up your shots – and to do that, you need to figure out what your opponent does. For example, suppose you like to follow your short serves with a forehand (like me). But if your opponent pushes your serve aggressively to wide corners and quick-blocks if you go out of position, then you might have to adjust and loop from both wings. Or you might have to go to perhaps side-top or deep serves to stop that quick push. However, the bigger issue here is adjusting to an unorthodox opponent. It might be one with a weird stroke or with a surface you aren’t used to. You absolutely do not want to go into game two still uncomfortable with what your opponent is doing, so adjust in the first game.

Third, find a way to win. This could be the first item, but the first two items are ways to make sure you win. But if those two items don’t ensure a win, then find a way. For example, I used to be a slow starter, taking a game to get my shots going – and so I often relied on tricky serves to win the first game, and then the rest of my game would catch up. (Meaning, of course, that my opponent would see all my tricky serves in the first game, making them less effective the rest of the way.) There are all sorts of scrappy ways to throw an opponent off for the few points needed to win a game – a sudden heavy push, a slow spinny loop, an angled block, and so on.

And fourth, in the first game you should learn what you need to do to win the match, even if you lost the first game. It’s better to lose the first game but know with certainty how to beat the opponent, then to win the first game by luck (nets and edges, opponent missing easy shots, blow a big lead as the opponent figures out how to play you but barely comes up short, etc.), and go into the second game uncomfortable and unsure of what to do.

Bring this foursome to the table and you’ll be a force to fear!

Published:

05/20/2024 - 15:41

Author: Larry Hodges

The best advice I ever received about blocking was to think of it as “Smothering the table.” I don’t remember who told me this, but the advice really works. The point is that blocking should be a quick shot, and to do that, you have to stay close to the table, i.e. “smother it.”

A key part here is on shots to the wide corners. It’s common for players to move sideways to get to these. As they move, the ball angles away from them, and so they are late on getting to the ball. This means either they can’t get to the ball, or they take it late, giving the opponent more time to react. It also means that since you are moving sideways, it’s difficult to give the ball a good, firm block, and so end up just getting the ball back weakly. It also leaves you wide to that corner, out of position and unlikely to cover a strong attack to the other corner.

Worse, when covering the wide backhand, many players twist or rotate their body and end up facing sideways as they flail at the ball, leaving them in an impossible position to make a good block.

So, how should you cover those wide corners? You should move both sideways and in at the ball, cutting it off before it has a chance to bounce out wide. Remember that idea of smothering the table? If you think of yourself as smothering the table, you can move quickly toward the ball and make a quick, effective return, without moving out of position.

So, next time you are forced to defend against an opponent’s wide attacks, smother the table . . . and you’ll end up smothering your opponent with firm and consistent blocks!

Published:

05/09/2024 - 13:34

Author: Larry Hodges

Placement is key to winning, in two ways. First, if you place the ball where your opponent is weakest, you put him in the weakest position possible. That’s obvious. Second, it’s not just picking the right placement, but placing it in the most extreme way. This is especially true when playing to the corners, where playing the corners might be safest, but playing even outside the covers might cause the most havoc for your opponent.

But the part that many miss is that good placement leads to good consistency. How? Many players hit their shots with a vague idea of where they want to go, and hit the ball to that vague area. It might be to the forehand or backhand, or to the middle (roughly the opponent’s playing elbow, roughly midway between forehand and backhand).

But if you literally pick a spot on the table to aim at each time, two things will happen. First, you’ll get even better placement as aiming for a specific spot is better than a vague idea of where you are going. Second, aiming for a target leads to greater precision, and thereby more consistency. It’s the difference between throwing darts in the general direction of a dartboard, and aiming for the bullseye. With the latter, you’ll not only get more bullseyes, but you’ll also be far more consistent in at least hitting the dartboard!

At first you might have to consciously aim for a spot. But once you make this a habit, it becomes subconscious, and every time you hit a shot, you’ll be aiming for a specific spot on the table. Most table tennis tactics have to become instinctive as you don’t have time to think things over, and the same goes for placement. Make this a habit, and it’ll become so instinctive that you’ll often be left admiring the brilliant placements made by your subconscious – but you’ll get the credit!!!

Note that in fast rallies, you don’t have time to consciously choose a target and aim for it. Many players think they do, but what’s really happening is your subconscious does this, and as it does, your conscious mind sees what’s happening and (egomaniacs that we are), takes credit for it.

So, choose your targets, and watch the consistency and winning go up!