By Larry Hodges
Look through almost any table tennis instructional book or video, go to almost any table tennis camp, and you’ll hardly ever see or learn anything about topspin defense. (Also known to many as “fishing.”) It seems to fall through the cracks for most coaches – it’s not quite lobbing, but it’s not quite your basic forehand or backhand drive or loop either. As a result, it is often sort of shunted aside and ignored.
Then watch any tape of the best players in the world – especially the Europeans, including the World Champion Swedes – and you’ll see topspin defense over and over.
What exactly is topspin defense? Topspin defense is a halfway shot, half lob, half loop or drive. It is done from well away from the table, against either a smash or a loop kill. The ball crosses the net anywhere from a foot high on up. It should have good topspin, and sometimes sidespin as well. The ball should land deep on the table, and bounce outward, due to the topspin and relatively low trajectory. It should be done against an aggressive drive, loop or smash.
Topspin defense is much easier and effective with inverted rubber, but it can be done with other surfaces as well, but with less spin.
Although lobbing is a type of topspin defense, topspin defense is more effective if the ball is kept lower, one to four feet over the table, and arcing downward rapidly. This way the opponent has less clearance for smashing, with the ball bouncing mostly outwards instead of up.
How does one execute topspin defense?
Start off eight or more feet from the table. As the ball approaches, start with racket just below the ball, and use a mostly forward, slightly upward stroke. Contact the ball on the back (unlike lobbing, where you’d contact the ball underneath). If you have a good loop, just think of it as a soft loop. If you are a good counterdriver, think of it as a counterdrive with a little extra topspin. Try to keep the ball deep, relatively low, and with good topspin.
To fully appreciate topspin defense, you have to see it in action. Get a tape of some of the best European players – Jan-Ove Waldner, Mikael Appelgren, or Andrzej Grubba, for example. (Not to say that some of the Asian players can’t play topspin defense as well!) Or watch some of the top U.S. players with excellent topspin defense games – Huazhang Xu, Cheng Yinghua, Jim Butler, or Jack Huang, for example.