Women: Is practice in Europe relevant?
If we want to compete against the best women in the world, then we need to study how they play and what tactics they use. What do we find when we carry out an in-depth evaluation of how points are won and lost in women’s play at top level?
The first thing we discover is that usually where we have 2 normal attacking players, over 80% of all points are over by the 5th ball. This means that the serve, the receive and the next two balls are of critical importance and if we wish to live at top level this aspect needs a great deal of practice in every session. It is obvious that the receive and the serve and 3rd ball are vital and as much time as possible should be spent in developing these. However other aspects are just as significant:
• Effective Pushing over the Table
• Specialty Strokes
Even at the very top levels it is noticeable that women play better in a fast game and encounter more problems in opening or in using the push to create opportunities to get into the fast game. Also many of the women have some difficulty ‘flicking’ the short ball. It is therefore critical that these areas are addressed in training and from a young age.
Equally women are able to control the ball in the rally at quite high speed and from this situation manoeuvre to gain advantage. The control of speed and the ability to use placement to catch out the opponent are critical areas too. Any ‘specialty’ strokes which are unique to the player and different and unusual are obviously a bonus, as the opponent will not have trained against such shots and her ‘grooved’ automatic responses will often not be able to cope with new and unusual situations.
When we assess top women’s play we also quickly recognise that there are other relevant tactical aspects. For example:
• Serve is usually of some benefit and gives around a 2 to 3 point advantage every game
• Women still win points with the long serve and women even in the top 10 in the world still put the long serve off the table. This is also not just the odd point but as many as 3 to 4 points a game
• When the game is tight (9 – 9 or deuce) top women either play longer points or go for the 2nd or 3rd ball
• Many balls are played into the body
It would seem that far too often in Europe the women play nice-to-look-at, flowing, topspin rallies, but don’t try to win the point! Much of our training too seems based on rally play. When European women meet the Asians they are immediately at a disadvantage against the serve and receive and the early strokes and even more so against the Asian stop/start style of play.
Equally the Europeans are less effective in the ‘control of play’ situation and do not seem to understand the necessity for the control element prior to breaking out to win the point.
The true measure of a player’s level is in how she controls the safe play prior to making the opening.
In the women’s game much is about the control of speed (this is why so many women play with material which helps them to do this more effectively). Top women tend to play just fast enough and with enough variety to stop the opponent getting in a power shot, while at the same time sparring to make an opening to win the point themselves.
It would appear that if we are to make inroads into the Asian dominance in women’s play that many of the aspects we have highlighted need to be addressed in the training halls throughout Europe. This particularly applies to the serve/receive and first one/two strokes. If we cannot compete in this arena then we will never have the opportunity to utilize many of the tactics we work so hard on in training!