Timing in the Men’s Game
Rowden Fullen (2007)
The vital importance of timing in the men’s game cannot be overestimated. Even though our game is faster than ever before, with the big ball top men have time to get into position and to play the return. In theory two top 20 world players at a distance of 3 to 3 and a half metres from the table should be able to keep the ball going for a very long time. What we have to bear in mind particularly is that a table tennis ball due to its light weight slows rapidly through the air and players have around a second to get to the ball at this distance from the table — this gives them more than ample time to recover and assume a good position for the next ball. If evenly matched, players should have difficulty in winning points with pure power from this sort of distance.
What is tending to happen at top level is that players are winning points from the mid-distance and the one who drops further back off the table will usually lose. Longer serves are coming back into use, especially the long serve to the BH side, as the server hopes to force opponents back from the table into a less advantageous position, or to force them to play a weaker return. The player who drops off the table is compelled to adopt a containing game and the player who dominates from the mid-distance is much more likely to win the points with power and pace, angles or even with use of the stop-ball. The player who retreats also has of course much more ground to cover and will suffer more pressure because of this aspect.
It is important that players observe their own movement patterns critically. Many players for example move diagonally backwards when they are switched from the wide FH to the wide BH – this obviously gives them more time but equally gives the initiative to the opponent and allows their adversary to move in and occupy the mid-distance. Players have to be aware of the position they will move to and take up when they are switched.
Players must also of course comprehend exactly what the ‘mid-distance’ signifies to them. This will vary dependent on the height, reactions and type of shot the player uses. What may suit Samsonov may well be completely different for Kreanga whose topspin strokes have a pronounced arc. Players should be looking at the position where they feel comfortable and where they are most effective. Mostly this will mean being in the best place to use the incoming pace to maximum effect – this will also of course usually minimise the time the opponent has to fashion a strong counter.
A common tactic in Europe is to make the first attack to the body or the crossover in the hope of unbalancing the adversary, so that a further attack to the wings will force the opponent to retreat from the table and adopt a less favourable position further back. All players must be alert to the purpose of such manoeuvres. It is tactically advantageous in the men’s game to occupy the mid-distance, to do this first and to hold this position whenever possible.