Table Tennis Gems

By Larry Hodges

The following gems have been accumulated over a long period of times, from various top players and coaches. I think you'll find a lot of them really hit the mark.

• If your opponent hits the ball aggressively at your crossover point between your forehand and backhand (where your playing elbow is), return it mostly with your backhand if you are close to the table, with your forehand if you are away from the table.

• Learn to place your shots either to the wide corners or to the opponent's crossover point between backhand and forehand (his playing elbow). (Most Seemiller or penhold grip players are not weak in the middle, so keep the ball to the corners against them.)

• When the ball is traveling slowly (serves, pushes, chops, etc.) use more wrist. When the ball is traveling fast (fast drives or loops, etc.), use less wrist.

• If your opponent is looping your serve effectively, you have four options: 1. Serve short (so ball would bounce twice before going off the end of the table) so opponent can't loop; 2. Serve faster, so he cannot get into position; 3. Serve some fast to his wide forehand so he can't edge over to his backhand corner; 4. Lose.

• If your opponent keeps hitting forehand winners from his backhand corner, play to his forehand first, and then come back to his backhand.

• When playing a combination racket, don't avoid the off-surface. The off-surface (long pips, anti, etc.) is a weakness in your opponent's game, or everyone would use the stuff. Learn how to exploit it.

• Don't go into a match with the goal of winning--it can only hurt. Go into the match with the goal of playing your best, and you will maximize your chances of winning.

• Age and smart tactics will always beat youth, skill & stupidity.

• Learn to serve legally. Someday an umpire might require you to do so.

• There is nothing more sorry than working for the point, getting the shot you want, and hitting it to the one spot on the table your opponent can reach. Place your shots.

• If, in a typical game, you miss two easy winning shots (a four-point swing) because of lack of concentration, you are rated 100 points lower than you would be if you concentrated throughout.

• If you have trouble topspinning against backspin, you probably aren't opening your racket enough. If you have to strain to lift a backspin ball, you definitely need to open your racket more.

• When you block, sink the ball straight through the sponge to the wood. You should hear and feel the wood.

• Develop two types of serves: serves that you can consistently follow up with the type of attack or rally that you want, and "trick" serves meant to fool an opponent outright. Don't overuse the latter or they will lose their effectiveness.

• One of the quickest ways to improve is to learn to serve short (usually backspin) and follow with a loop.

• A spinless serve that looks spinny is more effective than a spinny serve that looks spinny. To serve no-spin, simply contact the ball near the throat of the blade (where racket travels slowest in most serves) instead of near the tip (where racket moves fastest in most serves).

• It is easier to control a short serve if you make the first bounce (on your side of the table) as close to the net as possible, with as little forward speed as possible.

• When serving fast, make the first bounce (on your side of the table) as close to the endline as possible. Make the second bounce (on opponent's side of table) as close to his endline as possible.

• If you win the first game very easily (say, 21-6) against a player near your level, watch out! He has nothing to lose in the next game, and you do.