Tips for Left-Handers
Serve, Third Ball and Fifth Ball Tactics
by Greg Letts - an Australian state coach, an International Umpire and one of the top ranked players in his country.
What should be your bread and butter serves? You should be choosing serves that will allow you to get your best stroke in as often as you can. In your case, you want serves that will help force your opponent to play down his left hand side of the table, towards your backhand, so you can use your powerfulful FH loop from the backhand side.
(1) Forehand Pendulum double bounce serve
The weapon of choice. The sidespin generated on this serve will help get more returns to your backhand side. Be careful with the placement though - go down the line to the backhand of the opponent and you could be faced with a highly angled return to your wide forehand instead. So stick to the middle and forehand side of the table to encourage the opponent to go back to your backhand - he'll be hesitant to put the return straight down his right hand line into what he perceives as the danger zone for your forehand.
(2) Backhand Tomahawk double bounce serve
Kong Linghui has an excellent version of this serve - it's basically the same principle as the forehand version of the tomahawk, but done from the backhand side to get the sidespin that will kick the ball back to your backhand. It's tough to get the heavy topspin version going, but backspin/sidespin of varying degrees can be used quite easily with a bit of practice. Again, go more often to the middle and forehand of your opponent.
Use your other serve variations to keep your opponent on his toes and as uncomfortable as possible. Mixing in the occasional forehand reverse pendulum serve and looking to force a wide return to your forehand that you are expecting and put away will help make the main pattern of forcing returns to your backhand work that much better. Serving the same serve over and over again will reduce the effectiveness of your pattern.
Third Ball Attacks - The Magic 5 criteria
In order to make your best third ball attacks, you want serves that can get your opponent to return balls that meet as many of the following categories as you can -
Some of these points will be more important to you than others, and this will influence the type of serves you will use to set up good third ball attacks.
For example, let's imagine that you have fast footwork and a quick swing with good recovery, but are not so strong at reading spin variation or hitting backspin balls.
You want serves that will encourage your opponent to flick/flip, topspin, or float the ball to you, rather than backspin it. You may also want to cut down the amount of spin on your serve, so that it is easier to decide how much spin your opponent has put on the ball. (The more you spin it, the harder it is to determine how much the opponent has affected the spin - you have to take into account the spin you put on the ball as well.)
You have good speed and a quick swing, so forcing the opponent to hit in a certain direction is not as important. You also have a quick swing, so you should be quite happy to allow the opponent to hit drives or less powerful loops at you, since you are confident you can move and swing fast enough to attack these aggressively.
So the recommended options for serves that will help you in generating third ball attacks in this particular case are:
Fifth ball attacks - not just for when the third ball fails
Fifth ball attacks can be arrived at via two different ways.
Both approaches are valid ways to get a fifth ball, with the main difference being that a planned fifth ball should allow you to make a slightly stronger attack than a fifth ball after a failed third ball. The reasoning here is that because you have been intending to fifth ball attack all along, your serve and third ball should be prepared in advance according to a set pattern that you want to play, and if it all goes smoothly, a good fifth ball attack should follow.
In both cases, you want a fourth ball return from your opponent that meets as many of the magic 5 criteria for third ball attacks mentioned above.
Planned Fifth Ball Attacks
A planned fifth ball attack should involve a sequence of shots selected to maximise your strengths and take advantage of your opponent's weaknesses. Some examples include:
If your opponent has slow footwork, a weak backhand, and only an average short game, a good sequence would be to serve short, flick or quick push his return out wide to the opponent's forehand side, then fifth ball attack to his weak backhand.
If your opponent has a good short game but lacks a good block, serve long to the point of indecision to allow your opponent to attack (but not powerfully), then counterdrive or counterloop his return to the wide backhand or forehand, going for placement rather than power. His hopefully weak return can then be powerfully fifth ball attacked.
If your opponent has a good fast push, serve double bounce serves to the sides of the table to try to force play cross court, then be ready to heavily spin the third ball, looking to hit a powerful fifth ball from your opponent's block which hopefully should go higher due to your heavy spin.
Unplanned Fifth Ball Attacks
A short service return that was too low, spinny, or well placed to be powerfully attacked can still be played by you to force a fourth ball return that meets as many of the 5 criteria for setting up third ball attacks as you can. For example,
As you can see, the overall patterns are generally the same. The difficulty lies in being able to change your plans quickly, and discard the third ball attack for a fifth ball attack instead.
Going to Plan B
The best of both worlds is attempting to third ball, but having a backup plan in case the third ball fails. This is not always easy to do, but is possible. This is where the use of patterns when training can help you react faster to the situation.
For example, in training you serve a forehand double-bounce serve, which can be flicked, drop-shotted or pushed fast and deep by your partner. The flick return, and any poor drop shots or fast pushes should be third balled. Good drop shots should be flicked or pushed by you to set up a fifth ball, while good fast pushes should be relooped with heavy spin to force a block return that is high and can be fifth balled.
Intensive practice of this pattern should help you develop the ability to plan a third ball attack, execute it well if all goes smoothly, or change plans to go for a fifth ball attack if necessary. Difficult? Well, yes it is, but these are the sorts of things that the best players are capable of doing. If you want to keep up with the best, you had better be able to do it too.
Some thoughts on positioning
As asked originally, will being left handed have any effect on positioning during the rally? Well, as I often like to answer, the answer is both yes and no.
So, in reality, the principle of where to stand doesn't change, but being left handed makes the ideal place for a left hander different to that of a right hander.
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)