World class defenders have always had good attacks. A little joke we used to make was that lesser opponents had to play well to force them to chop at all. But today’s modern defenders have taken their aggressive play to a new level. Attacking players can learn a great deal from watching top defensive stars.
First, these defenders use their forehand loops against almost any ball they can reach — and against many varieties of spin. They are determined to land some kind of offensive shot whenever possible, and adjust their strokes to do so. Many attackers take the opposite approach by swinging very hard at certain balls that fit their strokes well, while making errors or backing off on other balls that are more difficult. The lesson is to develop a loop stroke that you can adapt to use against any ball, while sacrificing a hard swing in some cases in return for consistency. Don’t worry, you won’t forget how to punish a set-up!
Second, defenders really hustle with their footwork. You won’t catch these guys pushing a pop-up with their backhands because they couldn’t turn the corner in time to hit a forehand. Try changing your own sense of what is reasonable to expect in terms of movement. Rather than getting angry at a botched stroke, give yourself a little kick instead when you fail to reach an easy ball with your feet.
Finally, defenders move into and away from the table all the time, comfortable to play balls from all depths. Most attackers should do more of the same, or at least recognize that a little retreat can pay big dividends at times. By backing up and spinning a bit (ideally with shots landing deep on your opponent’s side), you can sometimes gain consistency without sacrificing too much in the point. Your opponent’s attacking shots can also be easier to handle with more time. There’s nothing more frustrating to an opponent than having several strong attacks returned safely, followed by losing the point through an error or your renewed attack.
Take these tips from top modern defenders, and your own attacking game will be the better for it.
About Carl Danner: Carl Danner is a rare gem you find in table tennis. As a former nationally ranked and rated player, he offers a lot of insight into the game, especially when it comes to understanding the physical mechanics, movements, and techniques involved in becoming a better player. Director and Secretary US Table Tennis Association Foundation from 2004 to 2008 and current USATT High Performance Committee Chair, Danner is passionate, qualified, and committed to growing the sport of table tennis.