Apply your Strengths
How to get the best results from what firepower you have
by Greg Letts - an Australian state coach, an International Umpire and one of the top ranked players in his country.
The first thing you need to do is work out exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are. This is something you should really do prior to playing the match - by the time you are out on the court it is probably a little late! The subject of how exactly to identify your strengths is something I will deal with in another article , so for now we'll assume that you have spent some time working out what the best parts of your table tennis game are.
Jason is a two-winged looper who uses speed glue. He decides that his main strengths are his forehand loop from his backhand corner off a backspin ball, and his backhand block to the opponent's crossover point. His worst weaknesses are his footwork to a wide forehand ball, and his flip return of serve.
Know your opponent
The next thing you should do is to discover the strengths and weakness of your opponent. If at all possible, you should find these out by scouting your opponent before your match. Sometimes you won't be able to do this, in which case you will have to determine your opponent's strengths and weaknesses as you actually play the match! Again, this is something that I'll discuss in more detail at another time.
Jason's opponent is his next match is Alex, a player who loops with his forehand and blocks and hits with his backhand. Jason watches Alex playing a few matches, and decides that Alex's strengths are his backhand punch block down the line, and his forehand pendulum serve that he uses to set up his forehand loop. Jason believes Alex's main weaknesses are his forehand push and his backhand hit off a backspin ball.
Do the math
Once you have identified both you and your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, it's time to think about how you and your opponent match up. This is most important when you are both of a similar level of play - if one of you is much better than the other the better player's weaknesses are likely to still be better than the other player's strengths, and the use of tactics will not be likely to affect the overall result. But when you are both of around the same standard, the player who uses the better tactics can give himself a crucial edge that can swing the match in his favour.
What you should be looking for is how your strengths match up with each other, and how your strengths match up with each other's weaknesses. Can you formulate a game plan that will allow you to make the most of your strengths and avoid your weaknesses, while at the same time taking advantage of your opponent's weaknesses and minimising his strengths? If so, you should have the start of a winning strategy.
Jason starts to look at his and Alex's strengths and weaknesses, searching for ways to gain an edge. He decides that the following strategies could be beneficial for him:
Use a loop - A Feedback loop, that is!
Once the match actually gets underway, it is important to keep thinking and be aware of whether your match strategy is working or not. Take notice of which plans are working better than you expected, and use them more often or in important parts of the game. Also note which strategies aren't working, and try to understand why - have you misread your opponent's weakness? Or are you unable to do what is required to take advantage of it? Change your plans accordingly based on what you are able to accomplish during the match, and how your opponent is playing.
The match between Jason and Alex is in the third game. Jason won the first fairly easily using his original strategies. Alex improved his service in the second game and refused to allow Jason to push him back from the table, and so was able to attack with his forehand loop and backhand punch-block, and so Alex won the second game.
Now, at the start of the third game, Jason re-evaluates his strategy. He decides to stand further towards his backhand corner, to allow him to take more of Alex's serves with his forehand, which should be better suited to the type of sidespin Alex is using. He will also place more of his service returns out wide to Alex's forehand, forcing Alex to have to move in order to hit them. Jason will then stay in close to the table and mix up blocks with counterloops to try to affect Alex's timing and hopefully catch Alex still out wide to the forehand side.
The match continues ...
Can the use of good tactics in table tennis guarantee you a win? No, because if your opponent is too strong then he will win regardless of the tactics you use - you simply do not have the game required to take advantage of his weaknesses. Even in matches between opponents of similar strength, there are many other factors at work, such as differences in style and even the fact that one opponent may have slightly better touch than another on that particular day. But in these sort of table tennis matches, the correct use of tactics can provide the smart player with an edge in his favour - and we could all use that sort of edge, couldn't we?
Success in Table Tennis DVD
© 2005-2019 Greg Letts
You may also read Greg's blog and purchase Australian TT videos from Greg's own website
How to play against blockers
Table Tennis: Getting a Grip
Building a Better Umpire
How to Scout your Opponent
Back to Base-ics
The Guide to Serving in Table Tennis
Wobbling the ball with Long Pimples
Playing with Long Pimples (Part 2)
Playing with Long Pimples (Part 1)