Tactics for different playing styles
Monday, October 31, 2005
by Greg Letts - an Australian state coach, an International Umpire and one of the top ranked players in his country.
Continued from Playing with Long Pimples (Part 2)
To start with, I'll mention some general tips for using long pimples that will apply to almost any style to some degree. After that, specific tips that apply to each of the 4 basic long pimpled styles will be given. Try them out and see which works better for you and which don't - part of the art of playing with long pimples is knowing what is the best way of using them for your own individual style.
General Long Pimpled Rubber Tactics
Tip 1 - Know yourself
Use your practice sessions to find out just what you are capable of doing with your long pimples. Although you will improve over time, it is important to know what you can do at present, and not to try to exceed your limitations when you are playing matches.
Tip 2 - Know your opponent
Every player handles long pimples differently. Against players you play frequently, take note of which strokes give them trouble, and which they can handle easily. Against new players, test them out with the full range of shots early in the match, so that when the pressure is on you have some point-winning strokes to use.
Tip 3 - Know your rubber
You need to know exactly what your rubber can do, and what it can't. Don't try to push it further than it can go. A very long pimpled rubber like Feint II is never going to be as easy to counter-attack with as a medium pips like Curl P-2, and the Curl is never going to give as heavy a backspin from a loop as the Feint. A glassy type long pimpled rubber will do spin reversal easily, but will always be harder to hit with than a grippy long pimples.
Tip 4 - Know your level
The way in which long pimples is effective at winning points changes tremendously as you progress in level from beginner to intermediate to advanced. At beginner level, the long pimples will win many points outright due to the inability of your opponent to cope with the way it behaves. At intermediate level, your opponent will still make a few mistakes in judging the behaviour of the long pimples, but smart twiddling of the bat can give you the edge. In advanced play and beyond, only the occasional point will be won through your opponent's mistakes against the long pimples or twiddling. Instead, spin deception becomes the name of the game, with the long pimples used with deceptive contact to force mistakes and weak returns from the opponent.
Tip 5 - Don't overdo it
Up to the advanced level, twiddle often enough to keep on top in the game against your opponent. Don't give him any more opportunity then necessary to get used to your twiddling.
Tip 6 - Copy the best
Watch live matches and videos of the top players who play closest to your style, and analyse the strategies they are using. Most of these strategies will work for you as well.
Tip 7 - Backhand makes it better
Although most people can hit harder with the forehand, the backhand can be a more effective weapon for the intermediate player. This is because the bat can be twiddled and the backhand loop or hit completed with very little time for the opponent to react, whereas the length of the forehand attack gives the opponent more time to prepare. At the advanced level, the forehand is used more often due to the extra power that can be generated. Also, the professionals reactions are so fast that the extra speed gained in generating the backhand attack is often nullified.
Tip 8 - Pop up and shut them up
When you want to generate an attack from an easy topspin ball, or have your opponent hit his attack off the end of the table, take advantage of his heavy backspin ball and use a near vertical push stroke with the long pimples. The ball will have topspin rather than chop, and your opponent will often either push it up high for your attack, or topspin it off the end of the table.
Tip 9 - C'mon, hear the noise
If possible, play your matches when the surrounds are noisy - it makes it harder for your opponent to hear the different sound that the pimples make.
Tip 10 - Keep it clean
Don't play on a dirty table - the dust and grease lessen the effect of your spin variation. Make sure both sides of the table are dust and grease free to make sure you get the maximum effect from your changes in spin.
Tip 11 - New balls please!
Playing with brand new balls can be a plus - as the newer balls tend to bite on the table, making your spin variation more effective. However, dirty balls can be good too, since the trademark on the ball is harder for the opponent to see, so he will find it harder to tell if the ball is spinning or floating. Don't use old clean balls if you can help it!
Tip 12 - Hit from short range
Don't hit more than the very occasional ball with the long pimples from more than 2-3 metres from the table. At that range the opponent has too much time to react and adjust to the ball, and will have much less trouble with it. Keep the hitting with long pimples for when you are closer to the table.
Tip 13 - Twice is nice
Up to the advanced level, the use of the occasional 'double twiddle' can be a point winner. Often your opponent will notice that you are twiddling, then concentrate on playing the ball. A second twiddle to bring the bat back to its original position can catch the unwary opponent off guard.
Tip 14 - Stick with what works
Every so often, an attacker who cannot handle the long pimples' return of his attacks will try to out-push you instead. When this happens, resist the temptation to go mad with your offense. Keep to the strategy that got you on top - and look for the easy balls to put away. Don't let your opponent claw his way back into the match from your mistakes.
Tip 15 - Fight fire with fire
When you play an opponent who also uses long pimples, you need to find out fast whether you can adjust faster to the changes in spin from twiddling. If you can, make sure that you twiddle often and force the mistakes from your opponent. If your opponent is better at twiddling, minimise the amount of twiddling that you do, and stick to your best point-winning patterns only. Concentrate on reading the spin instead, and look for the easy balls to attack.
Tip 16 - Whatever floats your boat
Opponents will often start to try to float the ball to your long pimples, knowing that you will not be able to generate much spin. If you can hit with the long pimples, hit a couple just to let him know that he had better be careful with his placement and height. Remember to adjust the angle of your bat so that you don't pop the ball up in the air. And finally, don't forget to twiddle often so that you can hit the ball with the normal side - whether to push it or attack it. Keep the spin variation up with the normal side.
Tip 17 - Check the net
Not the internet, unless you are re-reading these articles! Check that the height and tension of the net is correct - don't let the attacker get the advantage of having a net lower or looser than normal.
Tip 18 - Serve it up
Don't be afraid to throw in the odd serve with the long pimples. The best types of serves to use here are imitation sidespin serves, since the ball won't go in the same direction as it would if hit with the normal side. For example, the typical forehand pendulum serve to the opponent's mid-forehand with smooth rubber, will go next to the net on his backhand side if done with the same bat angle but with the long pimples. Don't believe me? Try it and see!
Tip 19 - Variety is the spice of life
Feel free to keep changing aspects of your strokes all the time. A good long pimples player will change the length of his stroke, the speed of the stroke, the type of contact made, and the amount of wrist used as well as the side of his bat. One or more can be changed at any time. You will need to practice a lot to be able to change these factors and still have a consistent result, but it can be done and is very effective in causing the opponent to make a mistake.
Tip 20 - Deceive the opponent, not yourself
Be aware of what the capabilities of your long pimples are. If you are using grippy long pimples, you should be using them to vary the spin by floating or brushing the ball by varying amounts at contact. If you are using the smooth, glassy type of long pimples, you will not be able to vary the spin as much, but you can still fool your opponent by changing your strokes to make him think you have varied the spin, when in fact you haven't.
Tip 21 - Safe Service Returns
When you are in doubt about the type of serve made by an opponent, you can use the long pimples to increase your chances of making a good return. Take advantage of the fact that long pimples are less affected by spin to return the serve to the middle of the table with them, and take note of the effect of the serve - did it kick up or go down, or go to the right or left? Remember this information and put it to good use when your opponent uses that serve again.
Modern Defender Tactics
As discussed previously, the essence of the modern defensive style is the use of backspin and spin variation to force mistakes from the opponent and setup the forehand topspin counterattack. That said, here are my tips for the modern defender.
Tip 1 - Service
The modern defender needs to make the most of his own serves. He should always be ready to use the classic 3rd and 5th ball pattern used by attackers, and should use the same serves the attackers use to achieve this. In addition, the modern defender should also allow his opponent to attack his serve, but the secret to this lies in forcing the opponent to put the ball where you want to receive it, so that you can begin the setup for your own counterattack. Watch Joo Se Hyuk or Chen Weixing when you can, and notice that they are not afraid to give their opponent a long ball on serve, but that most of the time the opponent is forced to attack to where they are waiting - typically to the backhand where they use the long pimples to vary the spin and set up for their own powerful forehands.
Tip 2 - Tempt the opponent
Don't make all your chops so hard to hit that your opponent gives up and starts to push all the time. You need keep tempting him to attack by putting the occasional ball a bit higher or shorter so that he can start an attack. The spin variation that you use will keep him making mistakes. A good player will do this as part of his plan so that he is ready and waiting for the attack, whereas beginning players do it by accident and are caught unprepared.
Tip 3 - Hide the contact
When it is possible to do so while maintaining good technique, take the ball below the level of the table so that your opponent's view of the ball is obscured. This will make it that much harder for him to guess the spin on the ball. When combined with twiddling this can be a very effective tactic.
Tip 4 - Wait for it
The modern defender needs to fight the urge to prepare too early for his counter attack. An experienced attacker will notice the start of your stroke and switch the ball to the backhand side, catching you out of position. Anticipation is good, but guessing is not.
Tip 5 - Dare your opponent
If you have quick footwork, you can sometimes get away with standing further over to your forehand side, so that your opponent has a tempting gap to aim at on your backhand. He will be more likely to attack to the gap, so you should be prepared to quickly cover the attack and start using the long pimples heavily spin the ball in return, generally to his forehand. He will probably go with a slower crosscourt loop that can be attacked for a winner.
Tip 6 - Balance is important
Not just your own balance, but the balance between your defence and attack. You will need to find the right blend for each opponent - sometimes you will have to attack more, sometimes less. Be aware of whether your current plan is working and be prepared to make adjustments during the match.
Tip 7 - Go deep when you are deep, or you'll be in deep...
In general, when you have been pushed back from the table, you will be better off placing your chop returns deep to the back of the table in the middle of the line of play so that your opponent cannot drop the ball short easily. (Note - many players will advise you to hit to the middle of the endline - this is not quite correct. Hitting deep to where you will be in the centre of the line of play will work better.) A planned short chop with float can be useful though, as many opponents will try a drop shot and should pop the ball up due to the lack of backspin. You had better be charging in behind your float though!
Tip 8 - Get back
Both modern and classic defenders need terrific footwork to make their style effective. Usually the side to side movement is relatively easy - it is the in and out footwork that is the hardest and which is most often exploited by opponents. Practice coming in and going back until you are smooth, fast and balanced in both directions. Many attackers have only this one trick in their arsenal against defenders, so if you can take it away from them they don't have a Plan B.
Tip 9 - Stay up
Refer to Tip 8 - and ignore that rule if you have accidently placed the ball high and short. If you try to go back you will be vulnerable to a wide ball on either side, or even a drop shot. Instead, stay in close and block the coming attack - it's suprising how effective this can be against an attacker who is expecting you to be going back from the table. Don't try to hit the ball too hard, just stick your bat out and put it back on the table - the suprise will do the rest.
Tip 10 - Be able to chop with the normal side
A warning to those modern defenders who plan to speed glue the normal side of their bat and attack with it - make sure you can control the ball when chopping with the normal side. You need to be able to provide some spin variation as well - only being able to float the ball back is going to get you in a lot of trouble very fast. Have a look at the best modern defenders - even they have to chop the ball sometimes with their speed glued rubber - and I'm willing to bet that they are quite a bit faster around the table tennis court than you are!
Tip 11 - Be realistic
Many players watch Joo or Chen playing and decide that they want to play the same way. Be aware that these players took years to master these styles. If you have been a speed gluing attacker, don't expect that slapping a sheet of long pimples on your backhand will make you a world-beater. These a reason that there is only a few modern defenders in the top 100 - it's an incredibly difficult style to master. You can have a lot of fun trying though!
Tip 12 - Know where you are
Using long pimples will allow you to stay closer to the table and still control the ball - but be careful not to get caught too close to the table when using your normal side of the bat. Watch the best modern defenders and you will notice that they go back a step or two when chopping with the normal side.
Tip 13 - Hang 'em high
Don't be afraid to to throw the odd high chop ball that is heavily spun. Many attackers have good power loops from low balls, but find it difficult to change their stroke when attacking the high chop ball instead. Find out how your opponent plays the high heavy chop and topspin lob early on - if he keeps looping then you know you have a safety margin since he will not be likely to smash the ball past you, so you can put you chops up safer and higher. If your opponent can smash the high ball with ease, try the occasional floated high ball and see whether he picks the change in spin.
Tip 14 - Pick a side for your attacks
At the advanced level , once you have gained control of the rally and are attacking your opponent, stick to attacking with your forehand. If your opponent places the ball on your backhand side, either use your footwork to play a forehand, or chop the ball with the long pimples on your backhand. Trying to twiddle the bat and keep the attack going with your backhand loop is a recipe for disaster - it's very doubtful that you will be able to get the bat angle correct in time.
At the lower levels, smart use of the twiddle can allow you to use your long pimples on the third or fourth attack for variation. Don't twiddle too early - have a couple of tries at putting the ball past your opponent with your normal side first. But if you have hit a couple of attacks and your opponent is comfortably returning them, a quick twiddle and hit with the long pimples will throw most lower level opponents off. Twiddle back to the smooth for the next attack though - or else you will be asking for trouble.
Tip 15 - Open up and say Ahh!
Up to the intermediate level, it is possible to win a lot of points by hitting with the long pimples, simply due to your opponent's unfamiliarity with them. So make the most of it and hit every now and again.
At the advanced level, you had better know what you are doing when you try to open up with the long pimples - some opponents will handle it better than others. Give it a try and see. Try from both the backhand and forehand at least once. At the pro level, watch the top defenders and count how many times they open up with their long pimples - you can probably count it on the fingers of one finger. By the time you get to that level you will know why as well!
Classic Defender Tactics
As a classic defender, the emphasis is on the safe retrieval of the ball time after time, in order to wear the opponent down until he makes a mistake. Attacks are limited to easy setups with minimal risk.
Tip 1 - Never give up on a point
The classic defender never gives his opponent an easy point. The ball will only be attacked when he is sure of the put away. Risks are avoided where possible - you will rarely see a good classic defender go for a shot 'just for the hell of it'. Many points can be won by simply getting the last unreturnable kill of the opponent back on the table somehow, and making the opponent do it again.
Tip 2 - Control
You need control in your racket and control of yourself. Your racket should be chosen to give you the best control of the ball, to maximise your chances of returning attacks consistently. You also need to keep control of yourself, and avoid making unforced errors. The classic defender relies on making very few mistakes, and forcing his opponent to have to take risks and hit outright winners to get points.
Tip 3 - Cover up
Don't be afraid to use the long pimples to cover a greater part of the court. If your footwork is fast, then the backhand with long pimples can probably cover a majority of the court for you. Even the current modern defensive players often cover 80% of the court with the long pimples when close to the table - take a leaf from their book.
Tip 4 - Turn, turn, turn
The classic defender should get the most out of his long pimples by using them to help control the hardest and spinniest of his opponent's attacks. Since you should be fairly deep in the court, you should have time in most cases to turn the bat and hit his best attacks with the long pimples and their extra control.
Tip 5 - Fancy Footwork
You will need to have quick and smooth footwork if you are to survive as a classic defender. Most attackers will bring you in and out from the table on a regular basis, as well as making you move from side to side. They are hoping that they will be able to wear you out and force you to make easy mistakes. Since you do not have the aggressive firepower of the modern defender to capitalise on your opponent's weaker loops, you need to be able to outlast your opponent in the rallies.
Tip 6 - Positive Placement
Use good placement to help keep control of the rally, and prevent your opponent from putting the ball away. When in close to the table, push ofter to the crossover opponent of your opponent (if he is a shakehander) or in the direction of the right hip for a righthanded penholder. Other good alternatives are away from the reach of the opponent, so that he has to move before he can hit the ball. Don't be afraid to go to the wide forehand, as many attackers are actually much better at hitting forehands from the backhand corner than they are at hitting the forehand from out wide.
When back from the table, use mainly deep placement to the centre of the line of play to avoid giving your opponent the opportunity for easy drop shots or wide angles. The occasional curving chop going away from the opponent can be a useful option as well.
Tip 7 - Go on a Blender...
and steal from the modern defender! The more you are able to blend in some aggression to take advantage of your opponent's bad returns, the more pressure he will be under. While you may never play as riskily or aggressively as Joo, being able to attack a weak loop or long push gives you more options and makes life more difficult for your opponent. It's also much easier to improve your own weak attack than it is to improve your already excellent retrieving skills(!)- the law of diminishing returns applies.
In fact, several of the tips for modern defenders apply to the classic defender as well, you just need to be able to tone down the aggression a bit and they will work just as well.
The typical push/blocker who uses long pimples is characterised by the ability to stand close to the table and face the hardest thunderbolts an opponent can hurl at him without flinching. Some push/blockers are more aggressive and like to look for attacks of their own, while others are content with frustrating their opponents attacks with deft placement, but both are worthy of respect.
Tip 1 - Stand your ground
As a push/blocker, you will need to stay close to the table as much as possible. More than a metre or so back from the table is dangerous territory to be in, unless you have an very good attack at that range.
Tip 2 - Keep it tight
Being that close to the table, the push/blocker needs to make it as difficult as possible for his opponent to attack him. Serves should be appropriate for your own style, with attacking push/blockers looking to set up attacks of their own, while defensive push/blockers should concentrate on either preventing their opponent's attack, or forcing the opponent to attack where they are waiting.
Tip 3 - Use the angles
By staying close to the table, the typical push/blocker can often make life difficult for his opponent by maximising the angles available to him. Going wide on the forehand and backhand can force the typical looping opponent to cover a lot of ground if he wants to keep attacking. Only the best opponents will have the footwork to keep up the pace.
Tip 4 - Use the attack push
Your long pimples can be used to quickly transition from pushing rallies to your own attack. When your opponent pushes the ball at you, hit the ball with a slightly forward and down motion, with the bat face nearly vertical. This action, which looks a lot like the normal push, will result in a fast ball with light to heavy topspin (the heavier the backspin of the opponent, the more topspin you will get), and can be placed wide or into the crossover point of the opponent.
Tip 5 - Tie them up
Good placement of the ball can prevent all but the best players from getting their powerful attacks in. Your bread and butter placement should be aimed at the crossover point of the opponent, where the shakehander has to choose between forehand and backhand and the penholder has to decide to whether to attack or block. Mixing in wide placements outside the easy reach of your opponent will make your opponent hesitant and force him to constantly be on the move to make his attacks.
Tip 6 - Get Rhythm
Try to get into a rhythm of your own - and prevent your opponent from developing any. The long pimples gives you excellent variation in speed and spin - make the most of it. Every deceptive change of pace, spin, length and placement forces your opponent to think and adjust his game and strokes - and because you are so close to the table he won't have much time to do it in either. For the typical attacker who likes to speed-glue and loop everything, playing this sort of tactical, thinking game can be a huge headache - literally!
Tip 7 - Pack a Punch
In the eighties and nineties, Carl Prean used a backhand punch with the long pimples to good effect. It's a highly unusual stroke, and you can be sure your opponent won't have played against it too often. Although you may not want to speed glue your long pimples like Carl apparently did, having this change up stroke in your arsenal will give your opponent one more thing to worry about, even if you don't hit it as hard as Preano!
Tip 8 - Roll with it
If you are using one of the medium type pimples such as the TSP P2-Curl, you can use the attacking topspin stroke with long pimples to good effect. The stroke is actually played fairly similarly to a typical loop stroke, which makes it easier as well. The relatively slow pace and low spin of the ball compared to the speed of your swing can wreak havoc on an opponent's timing of the ball, with many opponents actually finishing their stroke before the ball has reached them. Deng Yaping was a master of this in the women's ranks in the nineties.
Tip 9 - Pick and hit
Resist the temptation to overdo the twiddling. Playing so close to the table means that you will have little time to twiddle if the opponent catches you out, so make sure that you can block with the long pimples on both sides of the bat, as well as with your normal rubber. Choose the balls you want to twiddle for, and have a plan in advance about when you will twiddle back - you won't have enough time to make it up as you go. Developing a handful of standard attack patterns can be very helpful, provided you don't overdo them and let your opponent start to anticipate your strategy.
Rare as they may be, the player who uses long pimples as his primary offensive weapon does exist. Listed below are some of the tactics that I have seen our local long pimples hitters using. I'm not really sure I should write them down though - I don't think I want to encourage anybody else to do the same - after all, I might have to play against them!
Tip 1 - Stay Aggressive
The long pimpled hitter needs to stay on offense as much as possible. Reverting to a passive, blocking type game is going to make his life difficult - after all, he wants to hit with the pimples, not block.
Tip 2 - Twiddle
Although not absolutely essential, twiddling every now and again will keep his opponent on his toes and having to concentrate. Unless you are playing at the advanced or professional level, your opponent will probably be struggling with his timing against your long pimpled attacks - the occasional turn of the bat is another turn of the screw.
Tip 3 - Stay Close
In general, the closer you are to the table, the easier it is to attack the ball with long pimples. If you are pushed back by your opponent's topspin, you own forehand attack will be a slightly backspin stroke - which is very difficult to land consistently on the table (although it is effective when you can do so!).
Tip 4 - Get Up
When serving, the smart use of topspin serves to get the opponent to hit a slightly higher return over the net is a good strategy. The higher return gives a better chance of landing directly on the opponent's side of the table without needing topspin.
Tip 5 - Get Back Down
Serves that cause the opponent to push the ball can also be useful. The backspin on the ball will be converted to topspin by the long pimples, giving you the chance to topspin attack.
Tip 6 - White line fever
Hit the nets and edges a lot if you can - your opponent will already by frustrated by being beaten by someone hitting at him with long pimples - a few (or a lot) of nets and edges should just about push him over the edge(!)! Peter McKenzie and Mick Lee - you guys are masters of this tip already, please don't do any more - I don't think my heart could stand it!
Seriously though, it can be a good strategy to play the ball down the lines and near the edges - since the natural tendency of the opponent is to go back down the line at you. If he is not careful, the sidespin on the ball from his previous shot, which hasn't been changed by your long pimples, can push the ball over the sidelines.
Tip 7 - Kick it
When blocking with the normal rubber, add a slight topspin motion to the block to give it a little 'kick' when hitting the table. Many opponents will relax when they place an attack to your normal rubber, and the slight kick will mess even further with your opponent's already bad timing, and can cause further aggravation.
Image: Yasaka Phantom 009
© 2005-2022 Greg Letts
You may also read Greg's blog and purchase Australian TT videos from Greg's own website
Read what others have to say:
by Rick Mueller
Posted by Rick Mueller on 3/5/2006 8:54:00 PM
Excellent article Greg! I admire your enthusiasm for the defensive/tactical game.
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