Many players improve by using practice drills that mimic something they need to improve on in matches. But why not turn that around, and play matches that mimic something you need to improve on in matches? It's not redundant - it's a matter of playing Improvised Games instead of regular ones.
For example, play a game or match where you always serve short backspin to the opponent's backhand, he pushes deep to your backhand, you backhand loop, and then you play out the point. Keep score like a regular game, and do your best to win in the improvised rules.
Here are ten Improvised Games you might try out. But don't restrict yourself to these. Look at your own game, figure out what you need to work on, and design Improvised Games that allow you to work on those techniques. (POP = Play Out Point.)
- Serve short backspin to opponent's backhand; he pushes to your backhand; you backhand loop; POP. Alternate versions: Your first backhand loop goes to a specified location, then POP. Or take it one step further, and opponent's first block goes to a specified location. For example, you backhand loop to his backhand, he blocks to your forehand, and then POP. You can also vary the short serve with no-spin serves.
- Same as #1, except opponent pushes serve to your forehand, and you loop the forehand, and then POP. Or use alternate versions, as explained in #1. You can also have opponent push to your backhand and you forehand loop, if you have good footwork.
- Serve short side-top to forehand or backhand. Opponent flips either anywhere, or to pre-arranged spot. You attack, POP.
- Serve varied long serves to opponent's backhand. Opponent soft loops serve back. You attack, POP.
- Put a box or towel near the middle of the table, cutting of perhaps half the table. Play a backhand-to-backhand game where the server starts the rally be serving topspin. Or do a variation where it's forehand to forehand, or forehand to backhand. Or variations where one player loops, the other blocks. The goal here isn't just to win the point, but to play great rallies that'll carry over into real matches.
- Need to work on your pushing? Play a pushing game where both players can only push, with rallies starting with a backspin serve. But since most players push better on the backhand, there might be a tendency to push to the forehand in this game, since the opponent isn't allowed to attack. So set a rule where you can never push twice in a row to the forehand. Or set a rule where players can attack, but if they do they have to win the point on one shot.
- To work on serve and attack, play a game where the server has only two shots to win the point, not including the serve. Or, as long as you don't get into the habit of trying to rip every ball, only one shot after the serve.
- For very fast forehand-oriented players, play a game where you can only play forehand shots. Or perhaps you can only play one backhand in a row. (This is one of my favorites, but it's gotten harder as I've gotten older.)
- To work on short pushes, play a game where each player serves short backspin and then both players continue the rally pushing every ball short (i.e. given the chance the ball would bounce twice). If either player thinks the ball is going long he lets it go, and if it goes long he wins the point; if it bounces twice he loses the point. An alternate version is where players can attack, but if they do they must win the point on one shot.
- Play a lobbing, fishing, or chopping game to work on your defense, where you aren't allowed to attack. Alternate version is where you can attack, but must win the point on one shot if you do.