The Girls against the Women
Rowden Fullen (2005)
One could be excused for assuming that a woman would have far too much power for a young girl and would hit through the younger player quite easily. Women play more positively especially on the backhand side, are capable of creating much more spin and hit the ball harder — also they are more likely to think about their game and use a variety of differing tactics if they come under pressure.
In some areas this can be true. For example younger players are not usually so good at keeping the ball short either during service and receive or in the rallies. Older players will take the initiative and open at the first opportunity, often either very hard or with much spin. Older players will also be stronger in movement, quicker to get in to the short ball and quicker to get the forehand in over a bigger area of the table. They also have wider experience and more often than not the capability of changing their game to cope with differing playing styles and materials.
However it is not always one-way traffic. The girls quite often have quicker reflexes than the women players, stand closer to the table and take the ball earlier. If they are able to cope with the spin and the weight of the shot, then they have a good chance of putting older players under real pressure. Younger girl players in Europe, such as Pota from Hungary, have already shown that they are quite capable of beating top women players or of taking them very close.
What we must bear in mind above all is that the control of speed is one of the fundamental requirements for being able to compete well in the women’s game. If a girl player is able to control the speed and spin from a closer-to-table position then often it will be the older player who will have to change her tactics, as her power and spin will be of little use to her. There are two basic ways in which the girl can do this. One is by hitting though the woman’s attack both hard and at an early timing point so that the older player is denied the time to feed power and spin into the next ball. The other is to hold the ball short on the opponent’s side so that the woman is brought into the table, into a position where it’s much more difficult to use her power and spin – the girl is then often in a position to smash the next ball. In both cases it’s the response against the woman’s first opening ball which is crucial. If the girl can keep control of this ball then she has a good chance to control the game.
In this control scenario the importance of the blocking game and variety in blocking is rarely allocated enough importance. Girls more often than not only want to hit harder and harder and do not consider the value of the slower ball. Pace variation is in fact a potent weapon in controlling the opponent’s speed and power. The soft or ‘stop’ block returns a completely different ball to her adversary than does the forcing block.
Of course the serve and receive game is of vital importance when top girls meet women players. Women usually have superior serves, with more spin, more variety and better length and placement. They are better in the receive area, more efficient and more positive against service, have more alternatives in short play and are more confident at opening against short or half-long serves. If you talk with older women who are about to play against juniors, they will always stress one or two aspects– ‘Juniors are weak in short play and in taking the initiative from a short-play situation. Invariably they are one pace players and predictable both in tactics and placement. Often they are slow to open on the backhand’.
It is true that cadets and even juniors tend to play one pace and don’t think to change spin, length and placement or to use the angles. Often they are predictable in how they play and tend to use too much diagonal play or play only down the middle of the table. What they must constantly bear in mind is that at top level predictability is suicide. Play two balls to the same place and it’s the opponent who will take the initiative directly.
Younger players must also train to have a positive mental approach to our game – at top level there is little mileage in trying to play safe, you must win the points.
We should want our girls to play the right game which has a chance of success at the highest level. For example how many of the top women in Europe (except defence players) push back a long backspin ball? The key-point must be that if someone pushes long, you open! Even more important is the question of mental development, if you are stuck in a negative rut then your game is not progressing, not moving forward, rather it stagnates. If it stagnates too long then you fall behind and it becomes more and more difficult to catch up with the top players, who are being positive, are doing new things and are advancing.
Success at the top goes back to self-sufficiency development en route but primarily to sound basic training. We see players in many countries in Europe even well on their way to the top who will have difficulty in making the grade, due to weaknesses carried over from early training. You can compensate for a weak stroke or bad movement patterns at a lower level but at the highest levels there is no hiding place. Top players will find a weakness extraordinarily quickly!