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Help! My Oppponent's Table Tennis Attacks Are Too Powerful! What Can I Do?

How to Beat Very Offensive Ping-Pong Players

By

Photo of Jan-Ove Waldner vs Liu Guoliang

Waldner vs Guoliang - the Master Blocker vs the All-out Attacker

Photo by courtesy of the ITTF
Whoosh! Zing!

That's the sound of the ball flying by as your opponent hits another winner past you. Every table tennis player has experienced this situation when playing an opponent who is a much higher standard, but what about the times when you are playing someone near to your own level and he is on fire and blasting you off the court? What can you do to keep from being blown away?

While it is usually defenders or push/blockers who have this problem, even attackers can have difficulties if their opponent gets 'hot' or if they are having an off day. So the tips below can be useful for all ping-pong players when they find themselves constantly watching the ball go by.

How to Stop Your Ping-Pong Opponent Attacking with Power

  • Your opponent can only make powerful attacks if he can set up the opportunity to unleash his power. Elite players can hit with power from almost any position, but lower level players need the correct conditions in order to hit with good power and consistency - the ball needs to be in the right place, at the right height, with the right spin and they need to be balanced and prepared. The lower the level of your opponent, the more he will need each of these factors to be just right to make a strong attack. If you can stop him from achieving these conditions, you'll also stop them from being able to hit winners.

    This means that you have to serve better to avoid giving your opponent easy chances to attack, and place your own strokes into locations that are difficult to attack from. I've been watching a fair bit of the modern defender Joo Se Hyuk playing lately, and he basically has two return of serve locations: (1) into the playing elbow of the opponent; and (2) crosscourt wide to the forehand, cutting the sideline if possible. Both of these returns will force the opponent to move his feet to attack, making it hard to hit with power.

    On the return of serve, lower returns will help make your opponent lift the ball to get it over the net, and so will returns with heavier backspin. Mix them in with some float balls and be ready to attack the higher return from your opponent. If you can also make your low returns short enough to bounce twice on your opponent's side of the table, this will also stop him from attacking strongly (although it is more difficult for you to do, and requires a lot of practice).

  • Breaking an opponent's rhythm can also help. If you always return the same ball to the same places without some sort of variation, your opponent will start to anticipate where the ball is going and he will begin to really tee off on your returns. A little attacking of your own, and plenty of spin variation, will make him wait to see what you are doing before moving to attack. If you use a combination bat, a couple of attacking shots with the long pips or antispin will also force him to slow down and concentrate on what you are doing. The more your opponent has to think, and really watch what shot you have played, the harder it will be for him to bring on the power.

    So if you are getting belted off the court, give your opponent a look at something different for a while. Stand up to the table for a couple of points and chop/block the ball. If you have a combination bat, twiddle and hit with your backhand, and roll a couple with the long pips on your forehand for a change. Try a lob or two - see if he smashes as well as he loops. Some great loopers don't smash at all, preferring to keep looping against high returns - this may give you more time to play the ball. If this is the case bring in more high spinny chops. Try to force him to hit where you are waiting, preferably to the long pips or antispin on your backhand, which you can use to load up the spin, slowing him down further. This is why probably 70-80% of Joo Se Hyuk's returns go to the elbow of his opponent, because the natural stroke for the opponent is then a crosscourt loop right to Joo's long pips. Joo can then chop the ball heavily with his pips, making his opponent have to lift the ball with a slower, spinnier loop which Joo can counterattack.

  • Try to work out why your opponent's attacks are too powerful. Are they too fast? Too spinny? Can your opponent place them in any location? Can he vary the direction at the last split-second? Is he slow looping to bring you in to the table, then looping hard right at you while you are still caught close in? Is he hitting them right at you, forcing you to scramble to get out of the way? All of these could be classed as "too powerful", but they all have different solutions to try to fix the problem.

  • Don't forget your own strengths. If you can only handle your opponent's power loop 40% of the time, but you are winning 70% of the time when you set up your own strengths, you may be better off concentrating on getting your own best shots into play, and living with the fact that from time to time your opponent will blow one by you.

  • Don't stop looking for a weakness in your opposition. Unless your opponent is much better than you there should be some weakness in his game. Then you have to figure out whether you can exploit it with your own strengths. If your opponent is weak against third balls, but you can't attack for nuts, that weakness isn't going to help you! So then you either have to take a chance and start attacking, or you have to keep looking for something else that you can take advantage of with the skills that you have.

  • Finally, keep in mind that there will be days where you won't find a solution in time to win the match, or you may not be able to execute your plan as well as you would like, and you will still lose. If you couldn't find a way to win, review your match and see if you can come up with a strategy or two for next time (this is where a videocamera comes in very useful). Once you have a plan, make an effort in training to practice executing this plan, so that you will be ready for your opponent in future. We all lose from time to time, but you should be trying to learn something from your losses so that the next time you face your opponent you have a better chance of turning the tables!
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