July 11, 2011 - Where to Place Your Putaways

Where should you put your putaway shots? Whether they are smashes or loop kills, there are basically three options.

Option One: The easiest spot. This usually would be the longest diagonal. This gives the most table to aim for, and so is the safest and most consistent. The down side - it's also the spot most opponents will expect you to aim for, and so is the most likely to be returned. At the beginning/intermediate level, you should aim most putaways to the safest spot since it's probably not coming back.

Option Two: Aim one way, go the other. Most often this means aiming for the longest diagonal, and then, as the opponent moves to cover that spot, going the other way, usually down the line. This is riskier as you both have less table to go for and you are setting up to go one way, then have to change at the last second, but it's also going to make it very difficult for the opponent to return this shot. It's only at the higher levels that opponents can react and cover both corners.

Option Three: The opponent's middle. This is the transition spot between forehand and backhand. At all levels this is probably the most difficult spot to react to. There are players who can almost relentlessly return shot after shot at the corners, but go at their middle and they fall apart. This is the most common spot top players aim at. The down side - it means you don't get the long diagonal to aim for, plus it's a moving target, depending on where the opponent is. Also, a forehand-oriented player may counter-attack that ball with his forehand - but if he does, he's probably moving early, and leaving his wide forehand open, which is where you would go in this case. 


I define a "putaway" shot as not just an all out smash, but an offensive shot hit by design to end a point.  Using that definition, I would add what I believe is a fourth practical option:

Option Four: Aim away from your opponent.  The fact is, most players, even most good players do not have great footwork and aiming away from your opponent takes advantage of that fact.  If your opponent has moved around the corner to hit their forehand there is nothing more effective than a strong offensive shot down their forehand line.  If your opponent has moved wide to their forehand then a shot down their backhand line even struck at a moderate pace can be an outright winner.  Even if your opponent returns either shot, chances are, due to poor footwork, they will be reaching for the ball meaning you can expect a weak return and they will be moving either right or left, so, once again, hitting away from where they are and where their momentum is taking them can make even an offensive block and outright winner.

My personal tactics are, by priority; Option #4, Option #3, Option #2 (because I tend to miss when I’m trying to be coy).  Of course, my preferred tactics and my actually play are not always the same, and use of Option #1 is probably more common than it should be, primarily because it does not require changing the direction of the shot (required, mostly, using #2 - #4) which I find more difficult than hitting a shot back from whence it came.