Speed the Essential Component
Rowden May 2016
Speed is the essential component of the game. There are 4 types of speed required at international level:
1. Ball speed (or power). At the higher levels it is vital that the player can weight the shot and play with real penetration, whether with spin or not is irrelevant. Against some players the flat shot will win points, against others a measure of spin will pay dividends. With the new plastic ball, power and ball speed will assume more importance and power is always more important in the men’s game. The most effective spin with the plastic ball is off-the-bounce fast topspin as this allows the lesser spin to be most pronounced over the shortest distance.
2. Speed of foot. Speed around the court is always crucial in table tennis but even more so at the higher levels. Arriving at the ball early enables players both to choose what they will do and to do it better (play stronger strokes), which allows them to dictate the game. Players must also of course have the right systems of footwork for their individual style of play otherwise their speed may be wasted and their reactions ineffective.
3. Rapidity of play. Top players have the ability to play quickly and give opponents very little opportunity to play their own game (time pressure). Keeping up the momentum of the rally until you can finish off the point with placement or power is particularly prevalent in women’s table tennis.
4. Speed of adaptive intelligence (the capability to react to new and different situations). At the highest levels this of course is the prime speed. If you think how a table tennis player reacts to what the opponent does and the time involved, the number of decisions which take place is phenomenal:
● What has the opponent just done, where is the ball going to impact on my side and how (with what speed, power and spin)?
● What alternatives do I have in terms of shot selection?
● Do I have time to reach the ball and to utilize all of the alternatives or will some be better (more effective) due to the time pressure?
● Of the suitable alternatives which will be the best to use?
● Having decided on the best, where and how do I play the ball to gain the biggest advantage both in respect of my shot and the recovery?
To attain international standard, speed of adaptive intelligence is essential and world-class players will be highly effective in at least two other categories of speed. In addition all top athletes will have weapons and/or tactics they can depend on to win the big points.
It is crucial to bear in mind too that speed can be variable and it is beneficial to use it in this way. However fast you are able to play being predictable at the highest levels (and playing at the same speed too often) will usually play into your opponent’s hands. It is also noticeable that the plastic ball can be used very effectively at a slower pace as the speed dies rapidly with a lesser power input and the ball tends to drop down quickly below table level.