To reach your maximum potential, don't try to be exactly like someone else, or you'll just be a shadow of that person. Instead, focus on being the best you. This includes learning from top players, of course, but that's only part of it. Here are four things you should build on, roughly in order of importance.
- Proper technique - the foundation, and most important
- Copy top players
- What comes naturally
- What you invent
How does this work? I'll use myself as an example.
- Proper technique. When I started out, I had lessons where we focused on good technique. As it says above, this is the most important aspect.
- Copy top players. When I started out, there was no Youtube, no Internet, and table tennis films were expensive. So I often learned by studying printed photo sequences. When I did get to see film, I studied that as well. I spent a huge amount of time copying Kjell Johansson's forehand smash, Stellan Bengtsson's forehand loop (including tapes of his famous 1977 men's singles quarterfinal match with Mitsuru Kohno, which Kohno won 21-19 in the fifth and would go on to win the event), and so on. You should pick out top players you like who play somewhat like you - or what you want to play like - and copy their technique.
- What comes naturally. Not everybody is the same. Early on, one player urged me to copy the long, sweeping forehand loop of 1975 World Champion Istvan Jonyer. I tried, and while I could do it okay, I had a more naturally quick stroke. However, while I learned to loop, hitting and smashing came more naturally to me. In fact, at a Seemiller training Camp in the late 1970s, we did a drill where we served and looped against backspin. I struggled so much that I finally just started smashing the pushes. At various times Danny, Ricky, and Randy Seemiller all tried to help me with my looping - but after watching me smash push after push, Ricky finally said, "Larry, just keep hitting!" I did learn to loop, but my smash was always my strength. (In the modern game, I strongly recommend focusing on looping - but whether you use a relatively long or short swing is a key thing to consider.)
- What you invent. This is particularly true when serving. I've invented a lot of serves. One of them is my infamous forehand "twitch" serve, where I seemingly serve backspin, but right at contact I rotate the racket with a quick twitch so part of it is moving up and sideways at contact - and so it's a topspin even though the serve looks like backspin. But there are others. I invented on my own all sorts of shoulder fakes, so players would think I was hitting one way, but I'd go the other.
So - don't try to be someone else, be the best YOU. As much as possible learn proper technique. Copy from top players. While focusing on good technique, do what comes naturally. And invent a few things, often the "fun" part!