Observations on Protour Finals

Rowden Fullen 2002

BOTH MEN AND WOMEN

  • Short play is vital in both the men’s and women’s game, a little loose or long and it is easy to lose the point directly. It is important that one is able to control the serve, drop short, push long, flick and deceive
  • When the first ball is looped with a little more spin even the world’s best players block or hit the ball out (especially the men). The slower ball is also of value in changing pace in the rallies.
  • The ability to open hard against the first backspin ball and not just spin all the time is a vital asset in both the men’s and women’s game.
  • The serve — it is vital to be able to serve tight, it’s also important to experiment to do different things with the same service action.
  • It’s important to be positive at top level and open on the half-chances. It’s equally important to be able to play tight.
  • Receive with the forehand whenever possible so as to be in a good position to cover the table with the forehand on the next ball. Some players especially those with very good backhands take the serve with the backhand side in the middle (Kreanga, Chuan, Steff).
  • Most men at top level have a deeper stance than the women with the right leg further back (right-hander). In this way they can cover the mid-table area more easily with the F.H. side. Some however do have a squarer stance, especially those who have strong backhands or who open more on the 2nd ball.
  • Many serves now at top level are half-long and not very short — to encourage the receiver to open so that the server can counter hard.
  • Often if one is able to open with a slower pace, especially to the backhand wing, the opponent plays into the net. This is a characteristic of the bigger ball.
  • Even at the top level players miss short balls they should be able to kill because they play too far back and are too slow coming in.
  • Most players open on the half-long balls.
  • Many players serve into the net trying to keep the ball short.
  • Many players are still not thinking of the stance with the new serving regulations and of how to use the body to best effect. Most have kept the old action and just try to remove the arm. In some cases servers take two to three movements (especially the women) to get into a good position for the next ball.
  • If players can open on the first ball, many flick to the opponent’s body.
  • After the first hard hit or loop most players can take the return ball early (with block or ‘stop’ stroke) if they are countered hard.

MEN’S GAME

  • Most 2nd ball pushes in the men’s game are short returns.
  • It would appear that the ready position in the men’s game is changing. Many of the top boys and the younger top men stand squarer now so that they have more options in short play (the right leg is not so far back anymore). The one exception is with penhold players who want to play more forehands.
  • Most men players use forehand over 75% of the table.
  • Most men players receive the serve with the forehand side.
  • Men use ‘fade’ return more.
  • All top men have the long, fast serve in their arsenal.

WOMEN’S GAME

  • Many women players even at the highest level have problems playing a strong backhand shot, when they have played the previous ball out wide to their forehand side.
  • Many women players open with the backhand from the middle of the table on the 2nd ball. This is easier for them and involves less movement. Most of them stand closer to the table too so this is a viable option.
  • Top women have the capability to open safely on the backhand side.
  • Many women players at top level have a technique to play backhand from the middle of the table on the second or third ball. Often they push with sidespin out to the opponent’s F.H. corner so that they are in a good position to play their stronger forehand on the next ball.
  • Men use fade return more, why not women?
  • Against long serves to the backhand side, almost all top women come round and use the forehand to loop or drive.Long serves win points in the women’s game and are still used in the men’s too.
  • Many of the top Asian women are good at killing through topspin balls.

FOR THE FUTURE

  • Even better short play. Open more and take balls earlier on the push with different spins.
  • Women must train to kill looped balls.
  • With the big ball when playing counterloop to counterloop there are too many balls in the net. Even at the highest level players are not adapting to the differing trajectories.
  • Similarly against a hard, flat hit or fast loop it’s not easy to ‘lift’ the next ball. Players must work at reacting quicker and in a different way to this type of ball. Perhaps the answer is to play a slower spin return.
  • Many players still have problems executing and handling the change from drive to topspin or vice versa with the big ball.
  • Women must be able to play positively against the wide ball to the backhand side after playing a ball wide to their forehand.
  • Most women must think to create more topspin on the first opening ball.

Girls

PengLuyang Serve analysis Short 30
Half-long 21
Long 4
Receive analysis FH Push 30
FH open 5
BH push 0
BH open 13

17 years, WR No9. Opens with BH from the middle even though has a ready position with the right foot well back. On receive pushes the 2nd ball long and either spins the 4th or hits hard.

Chang Chenchen Serve analysis Short 15
Half-long 10
Long 7
Receive analysis FH Push 30
FH open 11
BH push 5
BH open 3

15 years, LH. Often serves to the opponent’s FH or middle.

Lu Yun-Feng Serve analysis Short 1
Half-long 0
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 0
BH push 1
BH open 0
Frida Johansson Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 11
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 10
FH open 3
BH push 1
BH open 4

Too many movements after serve and before playing next ball. Almost always pushes short.

Ai Fukuhara Serve analysis Short 6
Half-long 4
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 1
BH push 6
BH open 10

Much backspin on short serves, one of the few modern players working with heavy backspin. Pimples on BH, 563.

G. Pota Serve analysis Short 1
Half-long 3
Long 4
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 0
BH push 3
BH open 4

Good fast BH control, speed power and direction. Very square stance, even with right foot well forward.

Huang I-Hwa Serve analysis Short 1
Half-long 5
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 2
FH open 4
BH push 1
BH open 1
S. Hirano Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 7
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 1
BH push 4
BH open 0

Women

T. Boros Serve analysis Short 7
Half-long 2
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 7
BH push 1
BH open 3

Uses good variety of serves including high throw. Prepared to open with control on 2nd ball.

M. Steff Serve analysis Short 8
Half-long 1
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 10
FH open 4
BH push 0
BH open 3

Serves like men from BH side with FH plus reverse. LH World ranked 7. Not always enough spin on first opening FH. Short play good and ready to open over the table, especially with BH topspin. Often BH loop on 3rd ball. Opens with BH from middle but tends to push from middle with the FH to control the table for the next ball. After loop from either BH or FH she is good to come in and take the next ball early with block or drive. Weaker v 1 - 2 to BH then out wide to FH side.

N. Struse Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 0
BH push 14
BH open 1

Square stance, strong BH, uses from middle on 2nd ball.

Guo Yue Serve analysis Short 25
Half-long 11
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 11
BH push 10
BH open 8

LH WR 15 Born July ‘88. Good 3rd ball FH, good short returns. Good BH after playing FH out wide. Against high throw serves she moves to middle to receive with the BH.

Zhang Yining Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 5
BH push 2
BH open 7
Niu Jiangfeng Serve analysis Short 15
Half-long 6
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 8
FH open 1
BH push 4
BH open 7
Li Nan Serve analysis Short 11
Half-long 0
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 12
FH open 5
BH push 0
BH open 0

Uses high throw serve

Lin Ling Serve analysis Short 14
Half-long 2
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 3
BH push 0
BH open 15
Guo Yan Serve analysis Short 13
Half-long 14
Long 7
Receive analysis FH Push 15
FH open 10
BH push 4
BH open 7

Good reverse serve

Lau Sui Fei Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 1
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 1
BH push 1
BH open 0

PH. High throw serves

Fujinuma Ai Serve analysis Short 5
Half-long 0
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 1
BH push 0
BH open 0
S. Johansson Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 6
Long 8
Receive analysis FH Push 7
FH open 1
BH push 8
BH open 3

Most serves with backspin and all to BH side, needs to vary more. Plays too far back and controls in the rallies. Must win more points.

Unemura Aya Serve analysis Short 6
Half-long 3
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 0
BH push 1
BH open 5
Li Jia Wei Serve analysis Short 8
Half-long 5
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 1
BH push 1
BH open 6
Jing Jun Hong Serve analysis Short 9
Half-long 1
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 0
BH push 2
BH open 7
Tie Yana Serve analysis Short 13
Half-long 2
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 4
BH push 6
BH open 3

Boys

Qiu Yike Serve analysis Short 9
Half-long 11
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 13
FH open 4
BH push 1
BH open 1

WR No 1 Junior

Yang Xiaofu Serve analysis Short 7
Half-long 0
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 2
BH push 0
BH open 0

Square stance

J. Axelqvist Serve analysis Short 14
Half-long 5
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 16
FH open 4
BH push 3
BH open 2

FH serves and reverse from BH corner. Often opens straight.

C. Suss Serve analysis Short 7
Half-long 5
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 7
FH open 4
BH push 1
BH open 3
R. Sakamoto Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 3
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 8
FH open 1
BH push 4
BH open 1
D. Zwickl Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 3
BH push 2
BH open 0
G. Tsubois Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 2
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 3
BH push 7
BH open 4

Men

K. Kreanga Serve analysis Short 5
Half-long 10
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 4
BH push 6
BH open 2
W. Schlager Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 2
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 1
BH push 1
BH open 0
V. Samsonov Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 1
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 2
BH push 1
BH open 0

Tries loop 3rd ball with FH

Chuan Chih-Yuan Serve analysis Short 12
Half-long 3
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 2
BH push 4
BH open 7

Good short serves, opens well on 3rd ball. Opens well with BH on 2nd ball.
Very square stance even with right foot forward.

J. M. Saive Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 1
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 0
BH push 0
BH open 0
T. Boll Serve analysis Short 15
Half-long 11
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 23
FH open 5
BH push 0
BH open 3

Square stance, feet wide. FH serve from BH including reverse.

Wang Liqin Serve analysis Short 8
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 2
FH open 9
BH push 0
BH open 0

Aggressive v serve, opens whenever possible.

Wang Hao Serve analysis Short 14
Half-long 3
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 7
FH open 12
BH push 0
BH open 0
A. Smirnov Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 4
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 0
BH push 0
BH open 2
Qin Zhijian Serve analysis Short 12
Half-long 2
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 13
BH push 0
BH open 0

High throw serves

D. Heister Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 2
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 2
FH open 4
BH push 0
BH open 0
Kong Linghui Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 5
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 0
BH push 1
BH open 1
M. Maze Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 0
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 0
BH push 0
BH open 0
P. Karlsson Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 2
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 2
BH push 2
BH open 4
Ryu Seung Min Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 9
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 8
FH open 4
BH push 0
BH open 0

Service Statistics

Boys/men

Predominantly short serve or half-long and in the region of 95% in these areas. The figures for the top boys as opposed to the top men are almost identical and there is no significant difference between Asian and European players.

Girls

  • Asian players, short or half-long serves, 84% girls and 87% women.
  • European players, girls 67% and women 72% for tight serves.
  • F. Johansson Swedish junior around 26% long serves.
  • S. Johansson Swedish champion around 44% long serves.
  • G. Pota European junior champion around 50% long serves.

Compare this with Guo Yue, best girl in the world and 15 in the women’s rankings.

  • = 97% short or half-long serves.

Women

  • Asian players, over 90% short or half-long serves. (Ignoring one or two players who serve long as a matter of style).
  • European players, around 72% short or half-long serves.

Compare this with S. Johansson only 55% short or half-long serves.

Stance Men

Ma Lin PH Right foot well back Wide 8 FH from BH
A. Smirnov Right foot back Medium 8 FH from BH
K. Kreanga Square Medium 19 FH from BH Reverse
Qin Zhijian LH.PH Left foot back Wide 17 FH from BH
D. Heister LH Left foot well back Wide  6 FH from BH
W. Schlager Right foot back Wide  6 FH from BH Reverse
M. Maze LH Square Wide  4 FH from BH Reverse
J.M. Saive Right foot back Medium  4 FH from BH Reverse
Wang Hao PH Right foot well back Wide  3 FH from BH
V. Samsonov Right foot back Wide  4 FH from BH
Kong Linghui Right foot well back Wide  8 FH from BH Reverse
Chuan Chih-Yuan Square Narrow  8 FH from BH
T. Boll LH Square Wide  8 FH from BH Reverse
P. Karlsson Right foot back Medium  9 FH from BH Reverse
Wang Liqin Right foot back Wide 12 FH from BH
Ryu Seung Min PH Right foot well back Medium 11 FH from BH Reverse

Stance Boys

J. Axelqvist Square Medium 15 FH from BH Reverse
C. Suss Square Wide 15 FH from BH Reverse
G. Tsubois LH Square Wide 16 FH from BH
D. Zwickl Square Wide  7 FH from BH Reverse
Yang Xiaofu Square Medium  8 FH from BH
Qiu Yike Right foot back Wide  9 FH from BH
R. Sakamoto Square Wide 14 FH from BH Reverse
  • MEN 135 FH serves. No BH.
  • BOYS 84 FH serves. No BH.

Stance Women

Fujinuma Ai LH Square Wide  5 FH from BH High throw
Lau Sui Fei PH Square Narrow  5 FH from BH High throw
M. Steff LH Very square Wide 20 FH from BH Reverse
Zhang Yining Square Narrow 20 FH from BH Reverse
S. Johansson Square Wide 18 FH from BH Reverse
Lin Ling Right foot well back Medium 12 FH from BH 7 BH
Guo Yue LH Left foot back Medium 17 FH from BH
Li Nan LH. PH Left foot well back Narrow 16 FH from BH
Guo Yan Square Medium 10 FH from BH
Unemura Aya Right foot well back Medium   8 FH from BH 2 BH
Niu Jianfeng Right foot well back Medium 10 FH from BH 1 BH
Jing Jun Hong Right foot back Narrow 12 FH from BH
T. Boros Square Wide 14 FH from BH 1 BH + Rev
Li Jia Wei Right foot well back Narrow 15 BH
N. Struse Square Wide 12 FH from BH 4 BH
Tie Yana Square Narrow  6 FH from BH 10 BH

Stance Girls

F. Johansson Square Medium 18 FH from BH Reverse
Peng Luyang Right foot well back Wide 11 FH from BH
Hirano Sayaka Right foot back Medium  9 FH from BH
G. Pota Over-square Medium 8 BH. Varied
Huang I-Hwa Right foot back Wide  8 FH from BH (Sidespin)
Ai Fukuhara Right foot back Narrow 18 FH from BH Reverse
Chang ChenchenLH Square Medium 18 FH from BH (Fast)
Lu Yun-Feng LH Left foot well back Medium  4 FH from BH
  • WOMEN FH Serves 185 BH Serves 40 (But 3 players 32)
  • GIRLS FH Serves 86 BH Serves 8 (only Pota)
Girls Women Boys Men
Square 3 9 5 4
Side/Square 3 2 1 7
Sideways 2 5 0 5
Narrow 1 6 0 1
Medium 5 5 2 5
Wide 2 5 5 10

SERVICE

Girls Women Boys Men Total
Short 59 = 40% 161 = 61%  97 = 55%  59 = 59% 54.6%
Half-Long 61 = 41%   60 = 23%  63 = 36%  29 = 29% 30.9%
Long 29 = 19%   43 = 16%  16 = 9%  12 = 12% 14.5%

RECEIVE

Girls Women Boys Men Total
FH Push 65 = 45% 88 = 33% 53 = 51% 86 = 48% 42.1%
FH Open 25 = 17% 54 = 20% 21 = 20% 58 = 33% 22.7%
BH Push 21 = 14% 52 = 19% 18 = 17% 15 = 8% 15.3%
BH Open 35 = 24% 73 = 27% 11 = 11% 19 = 11% 19.9%

The women quite simply play more backhands. They push receive more than the men and they open more than the men on this wing. They stand squarer and often move in to the middle of the table to push or to open with the backhand. The men on the other hand more often than not stand more side to square (though many of the juniors and younger seniors are getting nearer to square, eg. Boll, Maze and Chuan) and prefer to receive with the forehand whenever possible so that they can control the table with the forehand on the next ball. The men both push receive and open more than the women on the forehand wing.

The female players use the long serve more than the men, but there is not such a great difference in the short and half-long serves at the very top level in the men’s and women’s game.

Perhaps the most informative factor is in the difference between the junior and senior players of both sexes. Both the boys and girls use the half-long serve more than the senior players. At senior level the service game becomes noticeably tighter.

As far as the stance is concerned the women generally stand squarer than the men and are in a better position to play backhands from the middle. They also don’t have as wide a stance as the men.

The men and the junior boys used no backhand serves.

Of the girls only G. Pota used the backhand serve. No Asian girls did. A number of the Asian women (44%) used the backhand service, but if you ignore the 3 players who used this as a tactic the percentage went down dramatically to just over 4%. European women utilized 16% backhand serves.