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Defenders - Deceive or Die

Two Minute Tips


Defenders - Deceive or Die

Matthew Syed - one of the truly deceptive defensive players.

Photo by courtesy of the ITTF
In table tennis, as in life, some things you do once and never forget, and other things you have to keep relearning the hard way. This two minute tip is one of the latter variety for me!

Defenders - Deception is Vital

If you are a defensive player, don't forget that deception is one of the most potent weapons in your arsenal. When you stop sneakily varying the spin on your chops, you become a simple retriever instead of a wily defender, and your results will suffer.

As a defender, there are two scenarios that I find extremely satisfying:

  1. When I manage to put so much backspin on the ball, that my opponent hits the ball into the bottom of the net; and
  2. When I manage to float the ball while making it look like a heavy chop, so my opponent misses the table by several feet.
For a defender like myself, these are the equivalent of an attacker hitting that big power loop for a winner - a killer shot.

Don't Get Tunnel Vision

But just like an attacker can get fixated on trying to hit winners from all over the court, it's easy for a defender to carried away and start trying to win all his points from these same two techniques.

This is a mistake, because you become focused on performing only the two extremes of your defensive game - extremely heavy spin, and no spin. It's then very easy to forget that you should be playing deceptively on all your other strokes as well. It's the continual use of different amounts of wrist snap, varying swing speeds, slightly different contact angles, and changes in the height of your chops, that all set up the effectiveness of these two killer shots.

Remember also that while watching your opponent's shot sail several feet off the end off the table, or bury itself into the bottom of the net is very gratifying, you still win the point if your opponent misses the table by half an inch, or if the ball clips the top of the net and falls back on his side. Proper use of all your deceptive techniques during the rally will increase the chance that your opponent will make a small mistake in reading the spin, which is often just enough to win the point. In this case especially - size doesn't matter!

Be a Defender - Not a Retriever

A defender is a backspin player who is constantly attempting to deceive his opponent with variations in his stroke - adjusting his use of wrist, swing speed, racket angle, pace, spin, and ball height in order to attempt to force mistakes from his attacking opponent. A good defender is tough to play against, because not only does the ball keep coming back, but it always comes back differently while looking similar, forcing the attacker to concentrate hard on reading the defender's shot.

A retriever is a backspin player who simply returns the ball again and again, with little or no attempt at deception. A good attacker will soon become very comfortable in knowing what spin is on the ball, and will take control of the match.

A defender who gets caught up with trying to win points only by chopping heavily or floating the ball isn't using all the tricks up his sleeve, and becomes much easier to play against, effectively turning himself into a retriever.

Remember, as a defensive player you have a number of ways to deceive your opponent and win the point. While some of them are flashier than others, all of them are important, and you should be making full use of them throughout your rallies. Don't let the lure of the killer shot make you a one-trick wonder!

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