The Modern Game: Recent Changes
The modern game is changing dramatically at the moment. For a number of years now, men’s table tennis has focused on the short game and the player who has had the best control in the short play situation has almost always been the winner.
The player who has been able to take the most advantage from the short play and who has been able to get on the attack first has been the one who has come out on top. But the majority of the short play has been a ‘jockeying’ for position and has usually involved opening eventually with the FH flick or sometimes a topspin over the table if the ball drifted long. This scenario no longer applies!
What is happening now is that the whole receive strategy has been revolutionised by BH over-the-table attack. A great many of the world’s top players use the BH attack against most short serves which has revolutionised short receive. Positive short receive is now the norm and gives the receiver a big advantage in that it increases the alternatives and creates the opportunity for the receiver to get in immediately rather than just returning short on most occasions. Instead of dropping the ball back short the receiver attacks the serve and is into the topspin rally without any delay. This puts much more pressure on the server.
The problem for the server is that not only does the receiver attack with the BH from both the FH and the BH side of the table, but that he/she opens with spin, both sidespin and topspin. The ‘Schlager’ flick where the player comes round the side of the ball against a backspin serve means that the ball is returned with topspin and a sidespin kick. With the BH over-the-table stroke it is much more difficult to detect what the wrist is doing and where ball will go. It is rather easier to pick up the ball over the table with this BH shot and the wrist can be used to full effect. The wrist action which can be created over the table on the backhand side is greater than the wrist action that can be created on the forehand side.
The second aspect of development in the modern game is in the highly professional use of the reverse serve. The basic ‘pendulum’ serve has been used for years but the reverse variation is now used much more often and top players are able to switch from one to the other at will. As the wrist action is so late the receiver has little time to read top or backspin, or length or direction. The reverse short serve to the FH for example is often effective as many players have more problems with the ball spinning away from them.
As a result the variation in this serve now gives the receiver much more to think about and therefore gives him/her less time to react. The more alternatives the mind has to process when ‘reading’ the play the longer this will take! Following on from this there is also the possibility that other serves which swing away from the opponent’s FH may well become more popular; ones such as the BH or the ‘axe’ serve.
The third area of evolution is in powerful symmetrical play and strong topspin pressure from both wings. In the men’s game now on the BH side, there is very little drive play. The flat shots are used less and less. The main feature of male play is more and more topspin from this wing: this of course means that the opponent has little or no respite from the pressure. In the past it was always possible to switch into the BH and get a weaker return – not any more. We even get the situation where a switch wide to the BH results in a power BH topspin return, which can be an outright winner!
We can say that the biggest changes in the development of the game over the last 5 years or so have been in the improvement in the service and receive scenario and on the BH side. It is rare that you see men players flat hit any more, spin is nearly always the shot of choice on both BH and FH.
What is being seen too on the FH side is deception with shoulder rotation and this is something which may well develop further. By this we mean that when the player lines up the shoulders to play the FH, the opponent instinctively starts to move to react to the direction of the shot. If at the last second before starting the forward swing, you rotate back a little more then it’s possible to engineer a complete change of direction. This deception in rotation can be used with the FH from both the FH and BH sides of the table and can be very effective. With a little practice it is also possible to fake in both directions, to look as if you are playing in one direction, then to hit in the other!