I quite often get private messages on social media from fellow table tennis enthusiasts, asking me a few questions about how they can improve their own unique game.
Although these questions are usually specific, sometimes I get questions which can, with a bit of personal tweaking by each individual, be universally applicable to all table tennis players in general.
That’s not to say, though, that these questions (and answers) are by any means unimportant; they are extremely crucial to us all who play the sport! It’s just that in sport we rely on the so-called ‘basics’ or ‘fundamentals’ in order to build a solid foundation that helps us to become the best we can possibly be.
One of these such questions was about the service and receive aspect of the game – or more specifically, whether we should try to flick our opponent’s services, or rather opt for a more defensive push instead.
This is, of course, a rather difficult question to answer, namely because the answer changes from person to person, playing style to playing style etc.
However, I will try and give as conclusive an answer as I possibly can, with which you will hopefully be able to apply to your own unique preferences, when it comes to tactics:
Top Tip: (in general) you should play a receive that is comfortable to you, whilst at the same time, is specifically tailored to suit your own unique game plan!
It goes without saying that consistency in table tennis is extremely important in order to place ourselves in an advantageous place within competitive matches.
Playing strokes (or receives) that are comfortable (i.e., are not forced or unlikely to go on the table) is a vital part within the consistency aspect of the game. If we can learn to know our strengths and weaknesses, and apply those to each individual shot, then this will hold us in good stead when it comes to judging which shot we should play.
For example, playing a push return against a backspin serve may be the best choice in some cases, if it is more comfortable than playing a fast (or spinny) flick. Likewise, if playing a flick is your strength, then by all means play that receive instead of a push return!
However, the second part of today’s Top Tip is just as, if not more valuable than the first; that is to say, that in many cases, one may argue that playing a receive of service that is specific to your own unique game plan is actually worth the risk of playing a more difficult (or uncomfortable) shot.
There are many reasons for why one should opt for a more uncomfortable receive of service, in some certain cases.
For example, you may want to apply some unexpected pressure to your opponent by playing a fast backhand flick, resulting in a probably very defensive and ‘easy’ next shot for you to attack. Or you might want to play a ‘strange’ receive with tonnes of sidespin-backspin like some of the pros can, at times, be seen to have done, in order to disrupt and change the rhythm of the game a little.
What I mean to say here is this:
sometimes we need to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions to win matches.
Although this is the case, we must not forget two essential things when judging how to receive a service: the necessity of a good amount of consistency within our game and the importance of playing a shot that is tailored to our game plan.
If you are an aggressive player that likes to ‘get in’ first, then perhaps a flick shot is specific to your own unique game plan. If you are a defensive player, then perhaps you might want to play a push return. It really just depends on your own playing style and what suits your plans.
There is one more thing that I want to add, and that is that you shouldn’t at all feel limited by being only able to play unique and game plan orientated shots.
Variance is a key thing all sportsmen must make use of in order to gain an advantage within a match, and I hope that my advice today will not be taken without the notion that changing up the receives we play is of the utmost importance if we want to win table tennis matches.