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Why Do I Always Lose Close Matches in Table Tennis / Ping-Pong?

Turn That Frown Upside Down

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Photo of table tennis player

Arrgh! Not Again!

Uploaded to Flickr by rmp
Does it feel like every time you play a table tennis match that goes to the final game, you lose it? Or do you seem to lose a lot of games 9-11 or 10-12? Are you wondering to yourself "Why do I always lose close matches in ping-pong?".

If so, you are not the first table tennis player to get frustrated with his results in tight matches. Luck being what it is, I think everybody will go through a bad patch now and again. But rather then trusting to fate to turn things around, I've got some advice that you can start using right now to help swing the odds in your favor.

How to Win More Tight Table Tennis Matches

  • Stop changing your strategy - the last few points of the match is not the time to try out a totally new game plan. Stick with what got you this far, just try to do it a bit better. The only exception is if you have had a blinding flash of inspiration and you are sure that you have got a plan that will win you the match.

  • Keep an eye on your opponent - your opponent might take a gamble and try a risky new strategy, so don't just assume that he will keep doing the same old thing. Make sure you are paying attention to what he is actually doing, not what you think he is going to do.

    This is especially important if your opponent takes the gamble of changing tactics and actually switches to a better strategy. If you are not alert the last couple of points can zoom by and you'll be shaking his hand wondering "What the heck just happened?".

  • Play the percentages - some players prefer to decide their own fates, or are determined not to choke. These players often try to hit incredible winners in the last couple of points that even Wang Liqin wouldn't attempt, just so they can say to themselves Well, at least I had a go. While this may make losing more palatable, unfortunately it means that they are going to go down in a blaze of glory way too often.

    The players who prefer to go for outrageous winners should concentrate on playing the final few points just the same as the rest of the match. Be as aggressive as you can while staying balanced and in full control of the ball. If the opportunity is there, take it but don't overhit. If the opportunity to attack doesn't come, focus on making it hard for your opponent to attack and wait for another chance. Don't try to manufacture an opportunity that isn't there - play each ball on its merits. Players who have problems with nerves can read my article on how to avoid choking to get some tips to help controlling end-game tension.

  • Know your opponent - if you have done your job of scouting your opponent properly, or if you are playing an old adversary, you should have a pretty good idea of how your opponent handles himself in tight matches. This can be important for a number of reasons, such as:
    1. If your opponent plays better under pressure or when he gets angry, then you should avoid firing him up. Don't try to stare him down, and avoid any big cheers on your part when you hit a winner. Regardless of how you may feel inside, try to keep a cool, calm exterior. A smile, joke or even congratulating him on a good shot may help stop your opponent from revving up into top gear. And the reverse is true also - while I wouldn't recommended goading an opponent who plays worse when angry or under pressure, there's no reason why you can't show just how much you want to win, how excited you are, and how much you enjoyed hitting that last winner. Cho!
    2. If you know your opponent is actually a better player than you are and you suspect that he has just been cruising and is about to put his foot down and pull away, you might want to go for a couple of big winners and try to steal the last couple of points. Needless to say, this is a big gamble. You are trying to estimate whether your chances of pulling off a couple of risky winners are better than your chances of winning if you stick to your current plan and your opponent moves up a gear. After all, he might be having a bad day, and you might just hand him a match by blowing two attempted winners that you would have won if you had kept on going. It's a tough call to make either way. If your opponent is visibly struggling and you get a couple of 50-50 balls, I'd tend to be conservative and play a controlled attack. But if your opponent has been relaxed and joking the whole match, and suddenly gets focused at 8-all in the last game, I'd give serious thought to taking a chance and going for it.
    3. Your opponent may have a few favorite patterns that he likes to use in critical situations. If you know what they are, you can be ready to react when he tries them out on you. But don't guess - by all means be ready for his favorite pattern, but don't commit yourself until you see where he is actually hitting the ball, in case he knows that you know!

  • Know yourself - knowing your own game is also important. You can expect a smart opponent to have worked out your weaknesses over the course of the match, and it's more than possible that he'll zero in on one of them in the last couple of points. Be ready for an attack on your weak points, and try to make them as difficult as possible to exploit. As an example, if your opponent fired a tricky serve at you that you made a complete mess of, and then never used it again, you can probably expect to see it again at 9-all in the seventh. But beware the really sneaky opponent who does a similar looking tricky serve with a different spin!

  • Can you handle the truth? - while you may feel that you always seem to be losing close table tennis matches, that may not be the reality. You may be remembering the losses and forgetting the wins. Try writing down your results for a 6 month period and seeing whether the numbers support your gut! Also, keep in mind the quality of your opposition - if you are mainly playing better players, it's only natural that you will lose more close games than you win - they have an edge (or two!) on you. It's the number of wins vs losses against players around your own standard that's important.
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