Timing over the Table
Rowden Fullen (2005)
When you watch many of our young stars performing on the table, one of the first things you notice is the inadequacy of the short and the ‘mid-field’ game. Usually the power strokes, the loops, drives and smashes are quite strong and well developed, but it appears that youngsters ignore the value of the short and linking play. Yet it is in fact expertise in just these areas which will allow them to get their strengths in during the game.
In almost all cases players are predictable and safe in pushing play — they take the ball at ‘peak’ or relatively late and give the opponent time to think and to play. In addition they often do very little with the ball, just return safely. By playing in this way they don’t obtain any advantage from ‘mid-field’ play, rather they allow the play to drift into a control situation where both they and their opponents have an equal chance to break out and win the point.
It is vital to retain the initiative in over-the-table play. In this way you can create many opportunities to get in and open up the play. How many players consider the point that there are basically 4 different ways to push — with control, speed, spin or deception? In addition there are all the various timing points from very early to very late. Just think if you combine the different methods of pushing with a variety of timing points, you increase the options enormously!
Quite often at top level players take the ball early so that they allow the opponent as little time as possible. However they use variation in the racket angle at contact to create lesser or greater spin. The opponent then faces a fast return with very much backspin or almost none and has limited time to react. Top players are also good at varying length with the same stroke movement. The half-long serve can be dropped back very short or pushed back long and fast, but both from the same early timing point.
However it is not only early timing that you can use to good effect. Many players overlook the value of very late-timed strokes, which can in fact be just as effective and deceptive. Consider the scenario where you come in to push the ball at a late timing point and just roll the wrist instead and play an attacking shot. Both early and late-timed strokes can be difficult to ‘read’ as the player has a variety of options and can change from one to the other almost instantaneously.
With the older type of push stroke, with much use of the wrist and the ball taken closer to the body, it was a little harder to create time and room to open on the next ball and to achieve enough back-swing to engineer good spin. This type of push was also often played from a low stance, so if the opponent were to hit the next ball hard, not only was it necessary to move to the ball but also to come up into a counter-hitting position.
It is obviously of particular importance to consider the technique involved in executing early timed push strokes and consider this in the light of how you play the stroke, where the racket finishes and how your execution of this individual stroke will affect the next shot you will play.
The most common modern technique is to take the ball well in front of the body, with little or no use of the wrist. Instead the stroke is executed from the elbow and the primary input is from the forearm. The stance is relatively upright and subsequent movement in any direction quite simple. If you consider this action in some detail, you may well arrive at the conclusion that there are a number of advantages.
Less use of the wrist gives rather more control in early ball play, without lessening the amount of spin you can feed into the shot. It is also possible to use a very fast action with this type of stroke, which makes it difficult for the opponent to ‘read’ the amount of spin and the length. But most important of all as the stroke is taken well in front of the body and finishes in a central position from a relatively upright stance, it is very simple to switch on to the attack. Because you switch on to the attack from a forward position and the arm is drawn back quickly, not only do you have space to play the shot but also you have good elastic energy input which you can use in the stroke.