The 4 Elements
Rowden Fullen (2003)
To reach the highest levels players must master these four aspects, be able to utilize them in play and have the capability of switching from one to the other. They must have the ability to combine these elements in their game when competing. If players are weak in one or more of these areas, they are unlikely to achieve real success in our sport. Often in the case of older established stars it is when one or more of the 4 elements weaken or when they are no longer able to combine them effectively, that their playing level starts to decline.
Of the four elements, power and spin assume more importance in the men’s game and speed and placement more in the women’s. Men use topspin more than women and it is necessary in order to create strong spin on a fast shot to hit the ball hard. The harder you can hit the ball with a closed racket, the more topspin you will produce. Women don’t hit the ball as hard as men do, so they achieve less spin and have less on-the-table control. It is speed and control of speed which is rather more important with women’s play. The ability to loop several balls in a row is not a prime requirement. Instead timing is vital as women drive much more – the timing window in drive play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and 1 – 2 centimetres before.
Length also assumes much more importance with women’s play, as does placement. In the men’s game power with strong topspin means that the ball accelerates after bouncing and leaves the opponent’s side of the table with a much flatter trajectory. The vast majority of men counter from a deeper position and give themselves time. From this deeper position it is of course much more difficult to vary placement. Men more often than not look to place the first opening ball and once the rally deteriorates into control and counter-control back from the table then power and spin are the main elements. In the women’s game almost all players assume a much closer-to-table position and it is rather easier to vary placement, long and short or to the angles and to vary speed. Because women have a closer position it is inevitable too that a bad length ball is easily smashed. It is crucial that women can spin short or long and not mid-table.
As a result women really need to open in a different way to men. The ability for example to open hard against the first backspin ball and not spin all the time is a vital asset. Even the way that women loop, if they open with spin, is critical. This should not be hard and fast as in the men’s game for without the extreme spin that the men are capable of creating, the fast loop executed by women is more predictable and easier to block or to counter, particularly when the opponent is much closer to the table.
Women should be looking rather more to open with a slower ball, with finer touch, good spin and good length. More often than not this will create openings to drive or smash the next ball. Indeed rather than regarding topspin as an end in itself as the men do, women should look upon it as a weapon, a means to create openings from which they can win the point.
As we indicated at the start of this article the ability to combine these 4 elements, power and spin and speed and placement, into your game when competing, will have a direct significance on your ultimate level of play. Against the top players a weakness in any one aspect will be exploited instantly and will be a limiting factor in your own development.