One of the endeavors of this website is to help racket sport players with tactics and tips in their sport and in this piece below we look at such strategies on how table tennis players can look to overcome defensive opponents.
If you are trying to get a quick grasp of who is a defensive table tennis player, here’re a few characteristics associated with one.
Characteristics of a Defensive Table Tennis Player
Some of the most common characteristics that defensive players possess in table tennis are listed below.
One of the biggest characteristics associated with table tennis players who rely on the defensive style of play is their sheer consistency. In fact, in many of the instances, players whose consistency is one of the best in the business opt to take up this style because they have been able to out-last their opponents over the junior and intermediate levels.
These defensive players, at most times, need to rely on longer rallies and mistakes from their opponents. This is also why they need to be prepared for longer rallies and as a result possess the stamina to push on in the same vein even in the final game of the match.
Their Own Rhythm
To be able to do that, however, players preferring the defensive style of play, prefer playing in their own bubble, their own cocoon in which they want to dictate the pace of the game. They are typically unhurriedly and strive to get into a rhythm of play that suits them the best instead of their opposition.
Variation in Tactics
Typically, defensive table tennis players are known not to stick to the same tactics between games and within the same game. There are changes of paces, the amount of spin and where they hit the ball instead of using the same tactic over and over again.
Yes, you would ask then what about the consistency I had spoken about earlier?
There needs to be a consistency in being able to be bull-headed to block regularly without making a lot of mistakes but it could be done regularly using different tactics. And by that we mean defensive players can be consistent and yet exhibit a string of variations to take on their opponents.
Ability to Pounce on Mistakes
Playing a defensive game without possessing a range of attacking shots in one’s repertoire would could for very little. It was be liking delaying the inevitable because even with the mistakes made by your opponent, if you couldn’t pounce on them and finish off the point, you wouldn’t be winning too many points.
This is why one of the most important factors you are looking at from the perspective of a becoming an excellent defensive player is possessing the ability to have a good range of ‘non-defensive’ shots as well.
Use of Backspin Shots Like Chop/Slice
Typically defensive players use backspin shots like chop and slice more frequently than your average player.
How to Beat Defensive Players in Table Tennis?
Now that we have looked at how a defensive player plays table tennis, it brings us to the more pertinent point about the ways in which an opponent can look to overcome these tactics.
Master as Many Shots as You Can
There are four main strokes one needs to master as one grows into the game. These are the backhand push, forehand drive, backhand drive and forehand push.
Now, you wouldn’t be good at all four very early on but if you are just starting out, focus on trying to pick up these skills which should help your game as a whole but in match situations where you encounter a defensive player, you would be able to mix and match these strokes to add variation to your game too.
Practice. And Practice Some More!
This is a no-brainer for anything in life, whether sports or otherwise but it’s worth adding it here. You might have come into a match armed with the world’s best tactics, those would only be as good as your execution.
Which is why it’s absolutely vital to gain as much control as possible over your shots but even more so against defensive players whose biggest strength would be their consistency.
Work on Your Fitness
Again, goes without saying but given the basic tactic of a chopper is to try and extend rallies and take the match deep, there is every chance your – and your opponent’s – fitness would be tested. You don’t want to be out-maneuvered by your opponent this count.
Now this won’t be an overnight change you can make anyway but don’t underestimate the value of fitness in competitive sport today. Table tennis is no different and especially against a defensive player, having excellent fitness can boost your chances manifold.
Check for the Pips
Now, getting on to the actual tactics.
Your tactics will change depending on whether your defensive chopping opponent is playing with long pimples on his/her racket or short ones.
Long Pimple Tactic
A long-pimpled racket is typically used to change the direction of the spin imparted to the ball or reduce it to near-zero. A backspin serve will, therefore, ensure the return you get has a much reduced spin or just topspin. In both cases, it can be sent away for a winner.
Short Pimple Tactic
A short pimple racket attaches more spin to the ball than what you have served up, and that could make it tougher for you if you impart some sidespin or topspin to your serves. However, a short pimple racket cannot generate a lot of its own spin which means you can use this knowledge to remain in the rally for far longer and follow some of the tips mentioned below.
Watch That Spin
How defensive players will make up for for their own aggression is by imparting a lot of slice and backspin to the shots. As the opponent, it’s imperative to keep watching the ball till the very end to maintain the returns and wait for your chance to get back at your opponent.
So, there could be a shot which has very little spin coming at you, where you can look to smash the ball back at your defensive table tennis opponent. Patience and focus remain the key here.
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Probe for Their Weaknesses
At the highest level of the game, one of the reasons why there aren’t too many defensive players, especially in the men’s circuit is because it’s easy to know a player’s weakness. With a strong defensive game and chinks in the other armor, a player could be left exposed by some of the best table tennis players in the world.
However, if you are playing at a lower level of table tennis, say at the junior level or as a beginner or even intermediate level, it would be a good thought to keep probing your opponent for their weakness.
May be it’s that weak backhand, or it’s the fitness, or poor footwork, keep exploring where you might find a chink and once you have done that, keep exploiting it at every opportunity.
One pro tip here. Just because your opponent has managed to return well to one of the tactics you tried, doesn’t mean you cannot repeat that.
Keep checking up every now and then with the same tactic and who knows, it might have been a fluke for starters. Or as the match wears on and exhaustion seeps in, those same shots looked to be their strengths to begin with, no longer remain the case.
Beat Them at Their Own Game
As mentioned in the section above, a chopper will do everything to put you off your game but sometimes it might be interesting to try out a few of their own tactics.
Slow the pace of the game down.
Try to smash a few and when your opponent thinks he/she has got the hang of that, go for a few rallies where you impart a lot more turn.
Move your opponent around some time, and at other times, keep hitting it back to their bodies. At times, try and finish off the point quickly, at other times go for longer rallies and wait patiently for them to make that mistake of letting you an easy finish.
Basically try and be as unpredictable as they are trying to be but not at the expense of consistency.
Placement Remains the Key
You might have an excellent forehand but against a defensive chopper, it might not count for a lot if the accuracy of your placement doesn’t materialize. When I say placement, it is quite imperative not to give your opponent a run of easy returns despite hitting powerful forehands.
Instead, take some pace off but aim to hit on the body of your opponent and alternate between that and hitting it wide to try and shake off some of your opponent’s momentum.
Go for the Short Serve
I mentioned above mixing things up earlier but one of the things you could consistently do is to serve short. With defensive players preferring to play from way back, a short serve will make them get close to the table and that, by itself, would be against their only style of play.
However, mix that up too. More than two-thirds of your serves could be short but dish out the odd, half-long or the long serve as well to keep your opponent on the toes.
While defensive choppers can get frustration to overcome at first, with proper skills and tactics, you can improve your game of table tennis enough to get the better of them.