There have been numerous discussions over the years over what is the most important part of table tennis. Many say the serve, or receive, or the forehand, or footwork, or consistency, or tactics, or mental strength, and so on. Of course, many of these discussions are like arguing which link in a chain is most important! Also, many of the aspects are related. For example, having a good forehand isn't so helpful if you don't have serves, receives, footwork, and tactics to get that forehand into play.
Here are the seven links of table tennis that pretty much covers it all. Note that things like tactics, mental strength, footwork, etc., are all parts of these, but spread over multiple parts. One strength or weakness can lead to strengths or weaknesses in multiple links.
- Serve. Every point starts with it. Many call it the most important aspect, often the least practiced. It's primary purpose is to set up the best part of your game, usually some sort of attack.
- Receive. Perhaps the weakest part of most player's games. How often do you really practice it, other than in actual games? The receive can focus on consistency (so make few mistakes, but often give the server the initiative); neutrality (make a few more mistakes, but get into a neutral rally); or aggressive (make more mistakes, but take the initiative). You should be able to do all three of these.
- Pushing. How many rallies start, usually until someone finds a ball to effectively attack. They can be both long or short pushes.
- First attack. Both players should be looking for this, even defensive players if the opponent doesn't force the attack. The key is the first attack has to be both consistent and effective, and well-placed.
- Defense or Counter-Attack. How you handle the opponent's attack. Blocking is the most common method, but also soft counterlooping, fishing, lobbing, and chopping. Or you can deal with the opponent's attack by counter-attacking with aggressive blocks, counter-hits, or counterloops. Many up-and-coming players develop strong attacks but fall apart when the opponent attacks first. If you want to be good, you need to be comfortable whether you or your opponent attacks first.
- Continued attack. How you continue your attack after the first one, often against an opponent's block. Consistency and placement are key until you get the right one to end the point.
- Putaways. Ending the point!!! Smashes and loop-kills.
So, how strong are you in each of these links? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link! (That's not technically true in table tennis, of course - a player may get away without a strong putaway, for example, if he has a strong continued attack. But if you are weak in any of the above, it weakens your game.)