This is certainly a problem for a number of players who can be high level training partners but are lacking something in matches. First of all you need to distinguish that there can be a big difference between training and matches and it is important at stages to try and narrow that gap as much as possible. Here are some tips to improve your matchplay.
|Improve Your Matchplay|
How mixed is your training? Are you doing a lot of fixed placement drills (i.e 3 point forehand and falkenberg). Are you focusing too much on topspin drills? Are you covering all the important areas of your game which need to be covered in order to be effective in matches. Here is a checklist to go through.
Vital Skills for Matchplay
Service - This is on the higher end of the scale for matchplay as the service is the foot in the door and helps setup points from the word go. A strong serve can really swing the course of a match. You need to spend time practising serves, whether it be in individual service practice or by starting more of your table drills from a short serve and backspin ball before going into a topspin drill.
Short and Long Pushing - These are often areas overlooked in training but are both very important to maintain in matches, especially short plays. It is best to include short pushing as part of your training warm-up just for 5 minutes or so, this is a skill that must be sharpened, especially for short receiving in matches. It can be the difference between you having the initiative to attack or being put straight on the defensive. Similarly a good long push can be a weapon, don't think that a long push is a gift to your opponent, a firm, deep push with good backspin to the right place on the table can also be very effective in a match. Take the opportunity to include these in your drills at least semi-regularly.
Opening Balls - The opening ball is a very important ball in a match and achieving a high level of consistency and accuracy are important in order to execute in a match. Again, starting drills from backspin ball and serve is a great way to focus on a more match based situation to help with this. You should aim for a success rate of at least 80% to be really effective in training.
Non-fixed Drills and Anticipation - Not knowing where the ball is going is a key difference between fixed training drills and matches. Try to increase the number of non-fixed drills you do in practice in both placement and ball variation.
i.e Random ball placements for topspin or first backspin ball (unpredictable placement), serve receive 80% long and 20% short (add in irregularities to a drill), serve and attack (genuine reaction to service to mimic a match scenario, also improves point play).
Address The Problem
Michael mentioned that he struggled to win matches to help improve his ranking. Sometimes it means you are just not focusing on matches enough in training. Improving skill and technique are great and a pivotal part of practice, however the end goal of training is usually to be able to win in matches.
You need to know why you aren't winning. Are you too inconsistent? Clearly if you are able to train effectively with top 500 players then this isn't the case. Is it tactics based? Are you forming the right game plan to play against your opponents? Is it pressure and mental based?
The first step when you are losing matches is to focus on where the problem is. Usually in the case where training level is much higher than match level, the simple problem is that the focus is too much on drills and not enough on winning and executing match skills.
The first step I would take is to try and focus in on more non-fixed drills and match type drills and really try and get more of a sense of what goes well for you in matches. Making a more detailed record or diary/notes after each match could also help so you can see if there are patterns occurring in matches that you lose. If you are still having problems, always seek advice from your training partners and coaches as to their observations of your problems. A different perspective can often be helpful if you are willing to accept some criticisms.
Play More Matches
The best way to learn how to win matches is to play more matches. More exposure to match situations is important. You can also but punishments or prizes on the line to add pressure or start from half way 5-5 or 8-8 to add more pressure. This forces you to focus on the most efficient ways to win. You can also play handicap scoring matches, allowing the other player a point headstart i.e 4-0. When you are losing this is the best time to focus on cutting errors and finding the best ways tactically to win points. These are things which can really help sharpen your ability to execute well in matches.
Some Further Articles to Help
If the problem is to do with handling pressure, try reading this http://www.tabletennismaster.com/profiles/blogs/when-the-pressure-is-on
If the problem is more skill based, this is a good place to start
Winning consistently against lower players
If anybody else has tips for improving match level, please don't hesitate to give more feedback. Thanks for the question Michael and I hope this helps a little.