I once read an article that compared the tactical approach of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, two of the greatest tennis players of all time. Federer tended to adjust his game against different opponents, while Sampras tended to forced opponents to adjust to his. Both approaches work, in both tennis and table tennis, and you should learn both. (Note that I used the word "tended" for both as both players used both methods.) But how do you do this, and which should you emphasize?
Examples for forcing your game on an opponent:
- Serve a short backspin or no-spin serve, which often forces a deep push return which you can loop.
- Looking to loop any ball you can with tremendous topspin to force the opponent to block.
- Playing quick, aggressive shots to wide angles and middle to force mistakes.
- Serving topspin to get right into a fast topspin rally.
- Serving backspin or pushing serves back to get into a pushing rally, if you are good at pushing and defense.
Examples of adjusting your game to an opponent:
- Playing his weaker side.
- Pushing heavy if he has trouble lifting heavy backspin.
- Serving deep, spinny serves that the opponent is unable to return consistently or effectively.
- Attacking the middle of a tall player who plays the corners well but has trouble covering the middle.
- Attacking the wide angles of a short player who has trouble covering the corners.
So, what should you do? Ideally, do both. Force your game on them while adjusting your game to them as well. Serve that short no-spin ball that sets up your attack, then attack to their weaker side. If you are good at pushing heavy and defending against opening attacks, and the opponent has trouble with heavy backspin on one side, push quick and heavy to that side. And so on.
With experience, you learn how much to force your game on the other, and how and when to adjust to theirs. And the more you do this, the easier it becomes - and you'll be playing your strengths into their weaknesses. Guess who wins?