Differences in Men’s and Women’s Game

Rowden Fullen (2006)

Q. What are the main differences between the men’s and women’s game?

  • Men play with much more spin and power. The men’s game is about control of spin – the topspin ball dips on to the table at the end of its flight and shoots forward very fast after the bounce. Almost all men tend therefore to take the ball later and the common tactic is counter-loop against loop. This never happens in the women’s game. The women stand closer and take the ball earlier, which is easier to do as there is less incoming spin and power. Women hit the ball flatter and with less spin (due to the lesser power input). This means that the women’s game is much more a question of control of speed. The counter to the loop is varied depending on the style of the player and can be a block, counter-hit or chop. In the case of top women playing against men it is noticeable that they have problems controlling the topspin element.

    Q. Why do men have better serves?

  • Men are stronger in the wrist and forearm and usually have a better understanding of the practical elements involved.

    Q. Why can’t women play like men and beat the men? What are the limitations?

  • Women are capable of and are often able to beat the men but not by trying to play the men’s game and trading power against power. Women have to play to their own strengths, soft-blocking the topspin and flat-hitting the balls with lesser spin at an early timing point.

    Q. Why are there so many more styles of play in the women’s game?

  • Because the women’s game is about controlling speed, women have over the years devised differing means of doing this. If there weren’t different styles in women’s play, then the faster players would always win.

    Q. Are there differences in how and why men and women loop?

  • Not quite so much in Europe but much more in Asia. Asian women often use a slower loop, with much more spin, especially against defenders or when opening against backspin. The usual sequence is to loop slow and hit hard and early. There is a big difference between men and women when it comes to the purpose of topspin. Men tend to loop to win the point, women to make an opening to kill the next ball.

    Q. Why do so many top women use pimple rubbers and the men don’t?

  • Pimples are another means of controlling spin and speed and returning different balls to the opponent. This then gives the pimpled player more time to play her strokes. Generally the men play with so much more spin and power that pimples are less effective. They are used more often in the veteran’s game when the older men start to lose their speed and power.

    Q. Why is technique more important with girls and why can’t girls and boys play the same strokes and with the same stance?

  • Women play closer to the table and have less time to play their shots. As a result aspects such as square-ness of stance, shorter strokes and the relevant movement patterns are of critical importance. By relevant patterns we mean those which apply to the individual style of the player – a block player will not move in the same way as a loop player. Because men play further back, have more time and are faster in movement, these aspects are not so crucial.
  • What is also of critical importance is what happens after the service and during the receive. Because women have less time on the 3rd and 4th ball it’s vital that they use women’s service area tactics and not those of the men. All top women for example use 2nd ball backhand on a fairly regular basis, even those with extremely strong forehands. The men on the other hand usually receive with the forehand as they want to play forehand on the next ball and are quick enough to do this.

    Q. What differing tactics do the top players use and why?

  • Top players are universally positive in their play, particularly after their own serve. Almost all take the ball at an early timing point over the table so that the opponent has limited time to react. Top players are almost always unpredictable in the way they play, variation in placement, spin, speed, angles etc.

    Q. What differing tactics do the top women use and why?

  • Top women use the backhand more than the men both in serving and on the 2nd ball. They push at an early timing point over the table, are always good in short play and are aware of the various possibilities to gain advantage from this situation. Spin and pace is often more varied than in the men’s game.

    Q.How am I individually going to play and what is my development path?

  • The 64 million dollar question. As we said earlier there are many more ways to the top in the women’s game and women world champions over the years have had widely differing styles. Any young female player starting her career has a wide variety of choice – attacking with or without spin, block and hit, defence and any of these combined with material of one sort or another on backhand or forehand or both.

When looking at style development two factors perhaps above all are relevant. How do I best control the speed factor which is inherent in the women’s game? What is my strongest weapon and how am I going to build on this?