By Larry Hodges
The most basic and common third-ball attack in table tennis is to serve short backspin, and loop the receiver’s push return. Many players find it very difficult to stop this pattern when receiving, and end up losing match after match to this one tactic.
The next time you face this tactic, try one of the following:
• If the serve is long (i.e. it wouldn’t bounce twice on the table if given the chance), then topspin the serve back. If possible, loop with your forehand. If the serve is to the backhand, and you aren’t able to get around the backhand corner quickly enough to attack with your forehand, then loop or roll the serve back with your backhand.
• Try pushing short, which will stop your opponent from looping. If the serve is short backspin, it should (with practice) be relatively easy to push it back short, which stops your opponent from looping. The problem many players face here is reading the spin correctly--many players try pushing short against a serve that is more sidespin or topspin than backspin. These too can be pushed short (yes, even a short topspin serve!), but the receiver must read the spin correctly so as to compensate. To push short, take the ball right off the bounce. Don’t open your racket as much as you would for most pushes, or you’ll pop the ball up. Chop down slightly on the ball with little or no forward motion so as to keep the ball low and short enough so that it will bounce at least twice, if given the chance.
• Try flipping the serve. Simply open the racket, take the ball on the rise, and topspin the serve back. Make sure to flip either at a wide angle, or at the opponent’s middle (the elbow of the playing arm).
• If you do push the serve, push effectively. Push at a wide angle, with good backspin, and (unless pushing short) push deep, so the ball bounces within six inches or so of the endline. Balls such as these are more difficult to loop than a push that lands in the middle of the table. If your opponent starts to anticipate your pushing to the wide backhand, a sudden push to the forehand will often be a winner--and keep your opponent from getting a jump on your next push to the backhand. A push to the wide forehand will also set you up to block to your opponent’s backhand, stopping the forehand attack after one shot. If you make an effective push, and your opponent spins it soft from the backhand corner, be ready to pounce on the ball with an aggressive block (or counterloop or smash) at a wide angle.