Attacking against Long Pimples
Match tactics for attackers against traditional defenders
First published on Friday, September 23, 2005
Last updated on Tuesday, October 4, 2005
by Greg Letts - an Australian state coach, an International Umpire and one of the top ranked players in his country.
In this article I'm going to be explaining some actual match tactics for attackers to use against traditional defenders who use long pimples on one side of their table tennis bat. Since most of the people reading this are probably better forehand attackers with a weaker backhand loop, I'm going to focus on this scenario:
- Strong forehand loop.
- Weaker/inconsistent backhand loop.
- Standard services, with one or two especially good services.
- Average return of serve - can attack long balls, but not usually hit winners from them. Short serves can be pushed or flipped, but not for winners.
- Average footwork - can hit forehands from the backhand corner but finds it difficult to get to the next ball if the opponent blocks down the line. Still finds it difficult to attack consistently if the ball is played to the crossover point of FH/BH.
- Reading of spin is average - has trouble playing defenders who vary spin well.
- Is average against long pimples - knows the basic theory but still has problems playing the correct shot in a match.
- Uses thin, smooth rubber on the FH, long pimples with thin sponge on the BH.
- Twiddles occasionally when chopping.
- Typical footwork - better at going side to side than in and out.
- Plays traditional defence with average spin variation and only attacking the easy setup ball with his forehand.
- Is stronger defending with the long pimples than the normal rubber - he finds it hard to really spin the ball with the smooth rubber without popping the ball up - so he floats more often with the forehand chop. His crossover point is further to his right hand side due to his strength with the backhand chop, probably a foot to a foot and a half outside his right hip.
- Does not try to hit with the long pimples.
- Uses serves to put the ball in play rather than to set up attack.
- Return of serve is usually a long push return near the end line of the table. Prefers to use the long pimples to return serve, even wide to the forehand.
Your first tactic is to find out this information about your opponent - preferably before you start playing! Some good scouting should set you up so that you can plan your tactics before the game begins.
If you were to discuss with me the match you were about to play against this defender, this is the type of advice I would give you.
Since you have still have difficulties playing against long pimples in matches, I would recommend to keep your services relatively simple to start with - not too much sidespin that is going to come back at you from your opponent's long pimples. Hopefully, as your touch improves during the match, you should be able to increase the amount of sidespin that you use to make things harder for your opponent.
Also, since your opponent does not tend to attack serves very much, you should be able to use more long services without fear of counterattacks.
Since your opponent uses his long pimples to return serve most of the time, take advantage of this by changing your serve depending on what type of 3rd ball attack you wish to play. For heavy loops, use long topspin serves, that will come back as chop from the long pimples, and you can then use the spin to load up your loop. If you want to hit fast loops, serve long backspin serves that will come back as topspin, which can then be looped with power. Long no spin serves can also be used to get float returns from the long pimples, which can then be attacked with spin or speed as you desire.
Shorter serves can still be used to keep your opponent on his toes, and to try to get the occasional pop-up ball to attack with power. Focus more on making the spin hard to read than trying to put a lot of spin on the ball - you should be trying to make him think the ball is chop when it is really topspin and vice versa, rather than trying to fool him with the amount of spin (ie heavy vs light topspin). You don't want too much spin coming back from the long pimples due to your own problems in playing against them.
Serving to the forehand can also be a good way to set up attacks to your opponent's backhand, since he is trying to return most serves with the long pimples. A short serve to the forehand will bring him in and across the table, and then a followup attack deep to the backhand will be difficult to handle, especially if you occasionally switch the attack to his wide forehand as he is trying to get back to cover his backhand side.
Return of Service
Cut out the easy mistakes - there is no hurry to attack his service if it is a good one - you know he is not likely to be attacking your return. Concentrate on making good safe returns while picking off any bad services. If you seem to be attacking well then try to attack a few more serves, if you are missing your attacks be content to push the ball back and wait for a better opportunity to open up.
Your opponent is stronger with his backhand defence, so most attacks should be placed to the forehand side, which also has the benefit of avoiding the long pimples which you are not so good against. Occasional attacks to the backhand must still be made in order to keep him honest though, and to stop him covering too much of the table with his backhand chop. As he edges further to his forehand, hit wide to his backhand side to bring him back over to his left and keep that forehand side available for you to attack.
Going to his crossover point is a good idea too, but remember that it isn't his right hip - it's a foot and a half further over to the right!
Opening the Attack - First Attacking Shot
The main thing here to remember is to take your time. Your opponent does not have a strong attack and is not going to be putting you under pressure - so relax and wait for the right ball to start your attacking sequence. If he returns your service well, push the ball back to his forehand smooth rubber and get ready to attack the next ball. You could also use a slow safe loop if you prefer. The main thing is that you have plenty of time to choose the best ball to attack - so stop going for the 50/50 ball - you can afford to wait for the 90/10 ball instead.
If you are having problems playing against his pimples that day, wait until he pushes the ball with the smooth rubber before attacking. Try to get at his forehand and the smooth rubber. If he covers more of the table with the pimples on the backhand while pushing, go out wide to the backhand to move him to his left, then go back to the forehand. If twiddles and hits the forehand with the long pimples instead, simply continue to push the ball to both the left and right sides of the table until he eventually pushes one with the smooth - sooner or later he will, and you can afford to wait until he does.
Once you have opened your attack, watch his return carefully. Remember that he is not so great at spinning his forehand chop, so be looking for the float but be aware that it might have some spin. The better your attack the more likely it is that he will have to resort to floating the ball back.
Followup after the First Attacking Shot
If you are confident that you have got a correct read of the spin on the ball and it's not been returned too tightly, attack it again. Your choices here will depend on the quality of the return and your opponent's position. The worse the return the harder you can attack it - setup balls should be put away, high deep returns should be attacked with controlled power, etc.
The direction of your attack should generally be to the forehand to get another return from his smooth rubber - save the backhand side for kills as you don't want to give him the opportunity to load up the spin with his long pimples, since you may find that difficult to attack again. It's just a matter of knowing that you don't like the long pimple chops and avoiding giving your opponent the chance to use them easily.
Since your opponent twiddles occasionaly, he'll probably turn the bat over every so often on the forehand to chop with the long pimples. This ball will probably be loaded with backspin in comparison to his normal forehand chops, so I'd recommend pushing the ball back and waiting for another opportunity to attack, since your read of spin is only average. Remember, you have plenty of time, you can afford to wait and try again - avoid giving him a cheap point through your misread of the spin.
Tight returns should be either attacked with care or pushed back to wait for another opportunity to attack. Returns that you are unsure of the spin should either be safely looped to the middle of the table with enough arc to give you plenty of margin for error, or pushed back to the middle-backhand side of the table, since your opponent will only be attacking set up balls and will find it difficult to attack from his backhand side, since he lacks a backhand attack.
While these tactics will give you about 80% of your game plan, you will still need some variations to prevent your opponent getting into a rhythm. Here are some change-up strategies that I would suggest to keep him on his toes and off-balance.
A good drop shot can be very effective, especially as your opponent is not so good at coming in and out from the table. Look for opportunities when he has his weight leaning back - he will find it very difficult to get up to the table and make a good shot - he will probably have to lunge to get your drop shot back - and you can then use a strong attack while he is caught with his weight leaning too far forward.
Don't overuse it though - his return needs to be fairly short to allow you to get a good drop shot - unless you have a great drop shot or he is very slow to get in! Drop shotting from deep returns is low-percentage for most players - so avoid it.
Attack to the Backhand
As your opponent works out that you are concentrating on his forehand, he will start to try to cover more of his forehand side with his long-pimpled backhand. This is the time to switch to an attack wide to the backhand side, which hopefully should go right past him, and which will then force him to come back to his left in future rallies to avoid being passed down the line again.
Run around the backhand
When your opponent pushes to your backhand with the smooth rubber, every so often run around and hit a forehand loop, preferably to his crossover point, but wide to the backhand can work too. Go for a winner here, since you don't want to have to play the next ball off the long pimples if you can avoid it. Since you are going to the long pimples, the resulting block or chop should be slower, giving you more time to recover and hit the next ball if it does come back, which is important given that you only have average footwork.
Another option is to take a chance and run around the push and go straight down the line with real power. You are basically trying to get a quick point through surprise - if your opponent manages to block the ball, it will be with his smooth rubber and the normal angle will be crosscourt, so most likely you won't get to the return with your current footwork. It's a good strategy to try on a pressure point - a bit of a gamble but with the odds in your favour if you haven't been using it too much.
Attack From the Long Pimples
Try this strategy at the beginning of the match, just to see whether it is your day with reading the long pimples (remember, you are normally a bit hit or miss against the long pips). When you are in a push rally, push a no spin ball to the long pimples, which should come back pretty much with no spin or just a faint bit of topspin, and then try out your attack. Give it a go three or four times just to see how you are hitting them today. If your attacks are going on - great! You now have another option to use, and can start looking to push no spin balls to his long pimples, and attacking to his forehand from his return down the line - the wider to his forehand the better. If he hits his return to your backhand or down the middle, you can either push it back or take a chance and run around it as you prefer.
If you miss the first few attacks from his long pimples, shelve it for the day, and maybe try it once a game just for the variety. If you start to hit them on again, use it more often.
Let Your Opponent Attack You
Don't be afraid to let your opponent attack you every so often. After all, as an attacker you should be used to playing other players who attack you back! The key here is to choose in advance when you will allow him to make his attack, and don't let him attack well, so that you have an easy counter-attack.
Since your opponent won't attack any 50/50 balls, you need to tempt him with a return that looks easy but isn't. High pushes with varied spin, or slow high topspins, both to the deep middle backhand will look easy to hit, but they will force him to run around to his backhand (since he doesn't hit with that side), opening up his forehand side to your prepared counter-attack. They can also be difficult to attack for a defender who is used to attacking with his forehand from the forehand side, due to the different footwork involved.
Important Note on Variations
It's important to keep in mind that you are not expecting to win every point with these variations, and maybe not even most of the points. Sometimes you will make a mistake when trying to vary your game. That's OK - don't worry about it.
The idea behind using these variations is that they make your main strategy more effective for longer by preventing your opponent from making correct guesses about what you are going to play next. If you used your main strategy 100% of the time, your opponent would quickly adapt and start to guess what you are going to do. By changing to another variation every so often, your opponent has to wait to see what you do, rather than using his anticipation to make the correct shot. He can't afford to move too early, since he knows that you always have a couple of options up your sleeve that you are prepared to use, even if you don't always make the shot. Just knowing that you might hit his long-pimpled push forces him to cover that shot, making it harder for him to cover your other shots.
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