Girls in the World’s Elite and their Playing Styles

Lars Borg (2008)

How do the top women in the world play today? We have examined a little more closely the women players who were at the Swedish Open Championships and also looked at the Protour results in the European tournaments in the autumn.

Approximately half of the players who reached the quarter-finals or further either had a different playing style or a different type of rubber and didn’t attack with topspin on BH or FH. The two most common styles other than topspin attack with reverse rubbers were attacking drive-play with short pimples on the BH or defensive play with long pimples on the same wing. Additionally we had attacking players with short pimples on the FH and defenders with short or half-long pimples on the BH. An interesting point is the distinct lack of pen-hold players among the top placed contenders. They are there but they are not reaching the final stages.

Let us look at a few varied examples –

  • Guo Yan (China) topspin attack with reverse rubber – 2nd in the SOC. A strong topspin player. The advantages with this playing style are strong speed and spin. Because the ball comes over the net with a pronounced arc it’s even possible to play hard against low balls. Other exponents of this style are Zhang Yining, Li Xiaoxia, Guo Yue (reigning world champion) all China, Aya Umemura and Sayaka Hirano (Japan) and Liu Jia (Austria).
  • Li Jia Wei (Singapore) attacking player with short pimple on the FH – Olympic Semi-finalist in Athens and 3rd in the SOC. An unusual playing style which as her coach Anthony Lee says gives her a number of plus points and is hard for opponents to adjust to. The advantages with short pimple are in quick attack and also that the FH is less susceptible against spin. It’s also easy to hit hard against heavy topspin or loop balls and the hits come through to the opponent with a fast, flat trajectory and often a good amount of backspin. Other exponents of this style are Wu Jiaduo (Germany) and Shen Yanfei (Spain).
  • Amelia Solja (Germany) attacking player with frictionless long pimples on the BH – second in European Youths, 2007. A style which has recently developed from attacking play with long pimples with friction. The difference is that it’s even easier to control spin and to block back very short over-the-table returns. The spin reversal is also very powerful and – this means that opponents get back almost all the spin they, themselves created. The disadvantages are the inability to create one’s own spin (unless one twiddles) and a measure of predictability in play with the pimples.
  • Li Jiao (Holland) Pen-hold topspin attack with reverse rubber – 14 in the world ranking. Strengths are play over the table and the possibilities of achieving good spin. The disadvantage is the lack of a strong BH. There has not been the same development among the women as with the men (such as Wang Hao) who use the reverse side of the pen-hold racket to loop against backspin.
  • Cao Zhen (China) Attacking play with short pimples on the BH – lost against world No. 2 Guo Yue in the quarters at the SOC but was runner-up in the German Protour. Quite many women players use short pimples on the BH for quick, early-ball attack either with block or counter-hit. This type of player relies more on speed and placement rather than on spin. Other examples are Ai Fujinuma (Japan), Zhang Xue Ling and Wang Yue Gu (Singapore) and Jiang Huajun (Hongkong).
  • Gao Jun (USA) pen-hold short pimple attack – 17 in the world and the highest ranked with this playing style. The greatest strengths are tempo, the ease of hitting, blocking and forcing against spin. The main weakness is the lack of a ‘dangerous’ attack from the BH side.
  • Daniela Dodean (Romania) Topspin attack with reverse rubbers and an imposing BH loop. Europe’s future hope with power on the BH side. Quarter-finalist in the French Protour. The advantage of a good BH loop is that you can win the point directly or create an opening as soon as the opponent blocks or gives you a weaker ball. Often for example you will have a high return which is easy to attack as the amount of spin on the BH loop stroke is more difficult to read. The main disadvantage is that against the really quick players who take the ball early on the rise you may not have sufficient time to play the stroke. This is often the case when European women meet Asian opponents. Another example of this playing style is Tamara Boros (Croatia).
  • Haruna Fukuoka (Japan) attacking play with long/half-long pimples on the BH – finalist in the doubles in the SOC. Here the player uses the pimples primarily to control the speed of the rallies and to create openings for the FH attack. Of course a classic example of this is the 4 times world and Olympic Champion, Deng Yaping from China. Other advantages are the ease of controlling spin serves and the ability to create spin variations which cause problems to the opponent. Ai Fukuharu the Japanese wonder-girl plays with half-long pimples on the BH.
  • Li Qian (Poland) defensive player with short/half-long pimples on the BH. She has half-long pimples on the BH and uses these primarily to chop but can also attack very effectively. She made her international breakthrough by winning the Polish Protour last year and came second in the SOC in the U21 event. One of the world’s best women defenders, Fan Ying (China) uses short pimples on the BH. With this style and these rubbers it can be more difficult to chop but the possibility is increased of varying one’s own spin (or lack of spin) and also of attacking effectively.
  • Kim Kyung Ah and Park Mi Young (South Korea) defensive players with long pimples on the BH – winners in doubles in the SOC. Classic defence players where the pimples primarily throw back the spin. Easier to defend with than short or half-long pimples but also less attacking power and possibilities. In the women’s game there are a great many players with this style. The FH side can vary from almost complete defensive chop to occasional smashing, to quite frequent topspin opening. Kim Kyung Ah is the prime exponent with bronze in the Olympics in Athens. Others are Viktoria Pavlovich (White Russia), Irina Kotikhina (Russia), Xian Yi Fang (France) and Tetyana Sorochinskaya (Ukraine).
  • Chen Qing (China) pen-hold, short pimple attack and long pimple block/defence – quarter-finalist in Russian Open. With this playing method it’s possible to practise two completely different styles of play, defence and control with the long pimples and hard attack with the short pimples. Often she is defensive on the receive and very positive on her own serves but also she is prepared to twiddle during the rallies (even though this is harder than with the ‘shake-hands’ grip). The former European Top 12 winner Ni Xialan (Luxembourg) had great success with this style of play.

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