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© 2007 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Friday 22nd July 2011

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had been fortunate enough to solve a long time problem with my defensive play due to a fortuitous set of circumstances and a bit of hard thinking. Now that I've had some time and a tournament to test out my claims in the fires of competition, I thought it might be an opportune time to do a general blog update.

Training

In the last two weeks I've spent a fair amount of time on the table training against practice partners and my robot. Here's a brief summary of what I've been working on:
  • Heavy backspin chop with inverted rubber on forehand side.
  • Heavy backspin chop with inverted rubber on backhand side - mainly against the robot.
  • Third ball attack with the inverted rubber from forehand and backhand when possible, and pushing the ball and retreating to my defensive position when the third ball attack is not possible.
  • Defensive footwork and stance adjustments.
  • Adjusting the mix of attack and defence during a defensive rally.
I'll explain these in a little more detail below.

Heavy backspin chop with inverted rubber on forehand side

I have been working quite a lot on chopping the ball heavy with the inverted rubber on my forehand, both against my training partners and against the robot. Since this technique is probably the toughest defensive shot I will play on my forehand, and something I have only been doing for a few weeks, I really wanted to spend a lot of time on cementing the technique for this stroke.

I am very pleased with the progress I have been making, but one predictable side effect that I encountered from my heavy focus was shown in the tournament that I played in last week, where I used this stroke for probably 80% of all forehand chops, simply because I had been working on this stroke so much it had become my automatic reaction. As a result my forehand chop was lacking in deceptive spin variation.

Now that I am in a position where I feel my basic technique on this stroke is fairly solid, I'm going to shift my training to much more of a blend of all my forehand chop variations. I want my medium backspin chop to be my workhorse chop, and then I will move up and down the range of spin variations from this midpoint to the heavy backspin and float extremes. Most importantly, I want to keep each variation looking as similar as possible to my opponent, to improve my deceptive chances. And of course, I will continue to occasionally twiddle to the long pips on my forehand to chop as well.

Heavy backspin chop with inverted rubber on backhand side

I have been practicing this stroke mainly against my robot instead of my training partners. This is because I want to use this stroke as an occasional variation, not a staple choice. My default backhand defensive stroke is the long pips chop which provides a safe, heavy backspin ball, and I don't want to mess with that, and I want to use my inverted rubber on my backhand as a conscious decision rather than an automatic reaction. It is slightly different to the forehand side in that I'll probably use the extremes of float and very heavy chop a little more often. This is because my default long pips chop is a reasonably strong backspin chop anyway, so there's not a lot of point in twiddling to the inverted and then producing a similar type of return as the long pips too often.

Third ball attack with the inverted rubber from forehand and backhand when possible, and pushing the ball and retreating to my defensive position when the third ball attack is not possible

I am working on this in training in order to keep my attacking skills up, and to prevent myself from getting locked into a mindset that is too defensive, and thus missing easy opportunities to attack and win a cheap point. At the same time, when the opportunity to third ball attack does not present itself, I need to be able to push the ball tight and quickly move back to my defensive position, and not get stuck up close to the table.

This is probably one of the things I find hardest to do correctly. In training, where I am not caught up in the heat of battle, it's very easy to see that all too often I serve the ball and automatically move to a recovery position where I'm prepared for my third ball attack, whether on the forehand or backhand side. This is before my training partner has even contacted the ball, and so whenever he puts the ball in a location other than where I'm waiting, I struggle to play a strong return. I've also noticed that when I serve and plan to twiddle and attack with my backhand, I'm moving into a backhand stance with my right foot forward, which is unnecessary, and which also causes me to play a very awkward forehand if my opponent returns there instead.

What I need to keep working on is serving the ball, recovering to my proper neutral ready position, and keeping myself in a forehand orientated stance regardless of whether I want to attack with my forehand or backhand. Then I should be watching my opponent closely to help my anticipation of where he will play the ball, then move smoothly and play my stroke - an attack if he returns high or long to my inverted side, a push if he returns tight to my inverted, and mainly a push if he returns to my long pip side, with an occasional attack or roll with the long pips if he returns it high and short.

Defensive footwork and stance adjustments

In the past, I had favored a slightly backhand ready stance when chopping from a distance, with the result that I was always positioned quite well for backhand chops, but needed to adjust my stance when playing a forehand in order to avoid chopping with a square position on the forehand side.

Chopping with a square stance is entirely possible when playing defensively a little closer to the table, so that the ball is contacted at around waist height most of the time. At this contact height you don't need to get down to the ball very much, and so you can handle the ball quite well without losing your form. Of course, you also need to be quite quick on your feet, so that you can move backwards and forwards fast enough to keep the contact height at around the waist level.

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