June 5, 2017 - Rallying Tactics for Blockers

(This is an excerpt from Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. The book also has sections on Serving Tactics for Blockers, Receiving Tactics for Blockers, Chop and Sidespin Blocking, and Playing Blockers. Several people have asked about tactics for blockers, so I might as well use what I've already written!)

There are generally three types of blockers: aggressive blockers, steady blockers, and change-of-pace blockers. A blocker should learn all three, but probably favor one of them.

Aggressive blockers should attack the wide corners and opponent’s elbow with nearly every shot. Their goal is to put so much pressure on the opponent that he finally misses or makes a weak return the blocker can put away. Many blockers use their backhand blocking to set up their forehand smash or loop-kill. (A good blocker who can smash effectively from both sides can be rather scary, but there aren’t too many of them.)

Steady blockers are just that. Since their blocks are not as aggressive, blocking to the opponent’s elbow isn’t as effective, so they should focus mostly on wide angles. However, sometimes this can backfire as an angled block can be attacked right back at a wide angle. So a steady blocker might sometimes want to go to the middle to cut off the angled return. This pulls the opponent out of position so he has to move more on the next shot, causing more mistakes. In general, a steady blocker wants to focus on the opponent’s weaker side, and go there over and over. Sometimes this means going to the strong side first, and the rest of the rally going after the weak side.

A change-of-pace blocker wants to throw off the opponent’s rhythm by changing the pace and depth of his blocks by mixing in aggressive and dead blocks. Often a faster block is easier to attack then one that dies more over the table, putting the table partly in the way and throwing off the opponent’s timing. However, too many dead blocks lose their effectiveness, so a change-of-pace blocker needs to complement his dead blocks with aggressive ones. (The exception might be a long pips blocker, but that’ll be covered in the chapter on Non-Inverted Surfaces.)

Some blockers change the pace with sidespin blocks, especially pips-out players and penholders with conventional backhands. It not only changes the pace, but the sidespin gives the opponent difficulty. It’s important for blockers to learn this technique; otherwise, they are missing an important tool in their tactical toolbox. Most often you sidespin block by moving the racket from right to left at contact, most often into the opponent’s wide backhand where it breaks away from him. Some sidespin block the other way by moving the racket from left to right at contact, often blocking this one into the wide forehand, where it breaks away from the opponent.

A blocker who can’t put the ball away effectively has a huge handicap. Imagine blocking someone all over the court, forcing the weak ball, and not being able to hit a winner! Most blockers develop at least an efficient smash for when they do get such a weak ball, but many do not develop a good attack otherwise (a strategic mistake), relying instead on quick, steady blocking to win the point, which limits their tactical options. A hitter/blocker, however, would end the point quickly as soon as he saw a ball to smash. There are also many looper-blockers, especially ones who loop on the forehand but mostly block on the backhand, which can be a pretty successful way to play, such as three-time World Men’s Singles Champion Guo Yuehua (1981, 83, 85), considered by many the greatest player ever, though his one-winged penhold looping style might not match up well these days against modern two-winged loopers.  

Some blockers with good attacks are a master of the “I’ll give you one chance to attack” strategy. This means they are willing to push long to a corner one time, challenging the opponent to go out of position to attack it. The opponent doesn’t get to pick his shot; the blocker only gives him one chance. If the opponent doesn’t attack, and instead pushes it back, the blocker takes the attack.

Conventional attacking players, especially loopers, often do not develop their blocking game even though they use it in matches. This is a handicap; if you are going to block in a game, you need to develop the shot to the fullest, including all of the methods outlined here.

One common weakness of blockers, including other styles who also block, is the lack of a forehand down-the-line block. When players loop to the forehand, it is almost invariably blocked crosscourt, even at the higher levels. This can be effective since you do have a wide angle to the forehand, and about 15.5 more inches going crosscourt than down the line. But going crosscourt is so common that players are used to this—but they are often absolutely frozen by an unexpected down-the-line block. The down-the-line forehand block is not a hard shot to do, it’s just one that few bother learning. This is partly because they warm up crosscourt so much, and because, deep down, they are trying to play it safe, and go where there’s more room and with the more natural block. Instead, learn to tilt the racket tip back so as to angle your forehand block down the line, and watch the awkward returns of your opponent!

Re: June 5, 2017 - Rallying Tactics for Blockers

Giving advice to blockers is unfair and should be officially prohibited (president Trump, can you hear me?) Blockers already an have advantage by winning points without doing anything, so why one would help them to improve their cheating tactics even more?