March 11, 2024 - The Four Types of Defense

If you want to be good at table tennis, then you must have an excellent defense. And there are really only four types. You should be able to do all four when needed, if for no other reason than by learning to do it, it not only is there when you occasionally need it, but you learn the strengths and limitations of that type of defense and so are better at playing it. Here are the four – which are yours?

  • Blocking, the most important. Essentially all styles should have good blocking games. Some players pretty much loop everything on the forehand, but if caught at the table, you need to be able to block, especially on the backhand where the body is in the way and so you are forced to take the ball quicker. But it’s not enough to just be able to block; if you want to be a good player, your blocking should be rock solid, as in you rarely miss unless the opponent does something to force you to miss, i.e. great speed, spin, placement, variation, etc. It’s all a matter or practice and mindset. Don’t get disgusted when you miss a block; get surprised, and know you’ll never miss that one again. Then go practice. Perhaps even play games where you try to win by pushing and blocking. Loopers like to loop, but the quickest way to beat a looper is to make him block – and the quickest way to lose to a looper is make him block and discover he can do that, too. (Even choppers need to block – imagine what an advantage it is if you suddenly catch the opponent off guard when you step in and block at a wide angle!)
  • Chopping, a style in itself. If you are a chopper, then make yourself the best possible chopper, and that’s your primary defense. But chopping has value, both in certain situations, and against certain players. (Example – I was better against choppers than any other style in the world – but I always struggled when a non-chopper suddenly chopped a ball. Completely unexpected!) Especially learn to occasionally chop on the wide backhand when caught out of position, especially against an angled block.
  • Fishing and lobbing, the most fun and spectacular shots in table tennis. Seriously . . . how can one play table tennis and not want to learn to fish and lob? Plus, they are valuable shots if used at the right time. The only weakness with fishing and lobbing isn’t the shots themselves – it’s fishing and lobbing when you don’t have to. They are so fun to do they can be addictive.
  • Defensive counterlooping, a high-level and aggressive defense. This is the defensive shot that many leave off their list of defensive shots. But if your style is all-out looping on the forehand, often it’s best knowing that, no matter what, you are going to counterloop against any attack to your forehand side, perhaps from a few steps off the table. It takes the indecision away. (One exception – if caught at the table, even an all-out counterlooper ought to be able to do a reflex block against a powerful loop, when needed.) As long as you aren’t trying to counter-blast everything, or take everything off the bounce, there’s no reason – if you are athletic enough – why you can’t essentially counterloop everything on your forehand side (where the body isn’t in the way), and make that your primary forehand defense. (You can also do this on the backhand, but it’s harder, with a smaller hitting zone and the body in the way. Some great players can do this. That’s why they’re great players.)