Table Tennis of Tomorrow Part 1
Rowden May 2014
Today’s table tennis is developing towards an all-round type of game and players need to have all-round skills; there is no room for obvious defects or weaknesses which will be quickly spotted and exploited by good opponents. Players have to be just as strong in attack as in controlling the play and there has to be a good balance between the two. The aim has to be a high level of overall consistency while manoeuvering for position to get in your strong shots: of course shot selection and the appropriate moment is vital, you have to pick the right occasion and the right shot to make your strong attack.
Speed is at the heart of table tennis and is the cornerstone of developing the sport. However this is not just speed of the shot but covers all areas: the quickness of thought and of adaptive intelligence which gives fast adjustment to change, the speed and correctness of footwork, the point of contact with the ball, the sudden change of direction, angle or pace etc. Players must also consider the best use of timing within the element of speed: the primary timing point for maximum speed is late rising. Contact at peak is neither really fast nor deceptive and at this stage the spin is starting to have effect. As a primary point peak is not so forceful and is becoming out of date. Within this element of speed the player must also have the capability of controlling the speed of the opponent, whether by his/her own natural qualities or by using other means such as tactics or material.
If speed is at the heart, change is the animating principle behind and the nucleus of the playing style: changing at the right time makes the style effective against any opponent and changing before the opponent does makes him/her play our game! Over the last few years the game has changed dramatically and become much faster, with the BH used much more over the table to attack the short serve. As a result the whole area of short play has been revolutionised; no longer do most top performers play ‘safe’ and drop short, they open immediately and the counter-play situation is reached much more quickly. This has also brought about a mental readjustment in the approach to short play, being more innovative and aggressive over the table. Future development will almost certainly involve stronger confrontation and more and quicker changes and also probably more precision in half-long service and more potent long serves. We will enter an era of total unpredictability.
Change however must be looked at over its widest aspects. Accurate placement and rapid, unexpected change in placement is the key to controlling the opponent and the play. Combining placement with all its change of direction with speed, with change of pace, more or less power, short and long and use of angles, provides the ultimate unpredictability and keeps the opponent permanently off balance. But change embraces much more, the desire to take the initiative, to improvise and innovate; the mental state must particularly be in tune with the idea of change and ready to accept all aspects of this. The mind must be receptive to the need for and the moment of change and adaptive intelligence should be cultivated and developed. Change is more often than not reflected in the awareness of the player concerning how he/she plays; just how well developed is the player’s self-knowledge and understanding of how he/she performs and gets effective results? At the highest level the theme must be that we ourselves initiate change, not the opponent!
To utilize the vital components of change and speed to the full we need to be mentally psyched up to take the initiative at all times. This means we need not only the skills but the will! We also need to focus on the ‘intent’ to innovate at all times and to be more and more creative in our play. When serving we must be ready to attack all the time, at the earliest opportunity and then keep the opponent under pressure. Any attack needs to be constant, not necessarily more and more power, but keeping the opponent off balance until we can actually win the point. The importance of the quality of the first opening ball in this scenario cannot be underestimated. In fact if you improve the quality and effectiveness of your attack systems, your opponent will struggle and you will have better control of the rallies.
In the receive situation as in rallies we must keep control until we can take the initiative, do different things, use more or less spin or speed, change placement first. We should also appreciate the importance of linking the 2nd and 4th and 4th and 6th balls to maintain advantage. Even defenders should apply pressure to the opponent, pushing with variation, short/long, fast/slow, spin/float, while they maintain control and seek the chance to counter-attack. If you cultivate a variety of good serves you will have more opportunities to attack on the 3rd or 5th ball, if you work at faster footwork you can continue your attack longer and stronger. All these aspects will help you understand your own style more fully and where you are able to be most effective. Each player is of course above all an individual and must look to develop his/her particular strengths and specialties to the full.
Players find in modern table tennis that it’s no longer possible to play all shots from a stable base. More and more because of the increased speed of our sport, players have to improvise and in almost every situation. Often the only alternative is to use the speed on the incoming ball and to endeavor to block to a difficult position for the opponent, while trying to retain stability for the next stroke. If it’s not possible to take a strong offensive initiative it’s important to be able to control the play in such a way as to keep the opponent off balance and uncomfortable in the rally, until you are able to create the chance for the next strong attack. There is no room for weakness during any period of improvisation or for playing safe, while waiting for the offensive opportunity. This will only let the opponent back in.