Tuesday 2 February 2016

8 Tips on Expanding Your Table Tennis Tactics Against Choppers

Playing defensive players is often a thorn in the side of many players, even if they have well developed skills and perform well against offensive players. Most players don't have as many opportunities to practice with defensive players or play matches with them and as a result lack the experience to form good tactics in matches. I always find with my students, particularly younger kids that even if their game is improving a lot they can have trouble with different rubbers or slower styles. Here are 8 simple tips on different tactics which can be useful against defensive players, more specifically choppers. See more from my Coaching Blog.

What are the Goals of Defensive Players?

Defensive players are looking to develop ways of playing less orthodox balls or achieve a lot of variation and consistency. Why? Forcing errors is the most probable outcome which results in them winning a point. They want you to misread the spin, make timing errors, rush or be indecisive and they have weapons to achieve the cause. They are also able to take a long period of time to setup for attacking balls by waiting for the opportune moment where they can get into position.

Tips for Beating Choppers

What Tips and Tactics are Useful for Winning Against Defensive Players?

1. Always observe their bat before a match. Knowing your opponents equipment before you play is very important in getting your game plan ready. I have seen matches of younger players rushing in to start and then coming back after the first set and asking if it is short or long pips they are playing against. Know what you are up against, always ask to see their bat before you start.

2. Take your time. Not only in points but between points also. It is important against defensive players to be methodical and tactical and so it pays to stay relaxed and constantly evaluate your performance against your game plan. Rushing against a defensive player will not do you any favours and is more likely to cause a large number of errors.

3. Identify the change from defense to offense. When does your opponent attack? How frequently? Is there a specific ball (i.e light topspin) which your opponent is more likely to attack? Is there a place on the table where your opponent will attack more, for example does your opponent only attack in the pivot zone when you give a soft push? Does your opponent only open when you push back a chop?

It is important to identify the scenarios in which your opposition can pose more of a threat and try and shut them down. The other factor is of course whether or not it is easy for you. Are you a good counter player, do you play better against topspin? If you are able to feed off your opponent attacking instead of defending then you can set these situations up for your benefit!

4. Spin and Speed Variation: Don't always go for the big shots. Variation is one of the best weapons you can use against a defensive player. Change the spin and pace, make them misread and make timing errors. You can make life just as difficult for them as they do for you. Play heavy topspin loops or less spinny loops, how does the defensive player react to them? Does their return have less or more spin? Does their return bounce higher and offer an opportunity. Make them constantly have to read the ball and make adjustments so that you, as the attacking player, can keep the advantage in the points.

Saive utilizes great tactics against Gionis!

5. Depth and Placement Variation: Defensive play requires a lot of footwork, especially for choppers. Focus not only on side to side placements but also on depth. Try dropping some chops short and moving your opponent back into the table and then push them back out and at the same time aim body and wide. Move them around as much as possible. Being a strong chopper requires a lot of athleticism so it pays to push your opponent to their limits with footwork. A tired chopper may make more easy errors and bad judgement calls, so be sure to exhaust them at every opportunity!

6. Play to your strengths. If you have particular shots that work against defensive players be sure to try and set them up as much as possible. I used to have a very strong flat smash against choppers and I would take 6 or 7 loops of different spin, depth and placement to setup the ball that was best for me to drive on. A lot of the tips above can help with playing this setup.

7. Don't be scared to push. Some players, once they start attacking, feel the need to continue attacking. If you play a long pips or anti play, there is a compounding effect where the more spin you put on the ball, the harder the next ball will probably be. Sometimes, pushing is like hitting the reset button. If the ball is getting too heavy (backspin), don't be afraid to push and start again. Just be careful with your push, make sure your timing is good, close the angle off a little to keep the ball low and if you don't want your opponent to attack, be sure to avoid the placements you should have identified earlier.

8. Focus on strong service setups. Defensive players find comfort in being further back from the table and having more time. Service is a great time to get the upper hand on them while they are close to the table. If you can setup a strong serve and opening you may be able to score some easy points if your opponent is less effective at close or mid range.

So there you have my 8 tips on playing defensive players. They may seem simple but they can often be overlooked. If you combine them all together then you can become a better competitor next time you play a chopper. If you have less experience playing choppers or strange rubbers be sure to take any chance to play with any players with different rubbers, even if they are lower level than you. It will help you get a feel for how the rubber works and what you can do against it, this will help you gain experience and further ideas about tactics.

Hope this was helpful! :)


  1. Matt,
    As always... great discussions and suggestions. Of the various tactics you discussed, for me Tip 4 is spot on, especially the admonition not to always go for the big shots. In the heat of a match I tend to forget a very important mantra: the objective is to get just one more shot on the table than your opponent. Yet my impatience wants me to blast "just one more" (usually to my disadvantage).

    I do have a question relative to the long pip - short pip issue. I do understand the problems long pips can create for the opponent -- I dislike playing against them myself -- but what I don't understand is what particular/unusual difficulties do short pips present for the opponent? Can you please explain this issue?

    Thanks.... Caesar

    1. Hi Caesar! :)

      Short pimples are often well known for taking spin and pace off the ball. Where long pips can often reverse the spin, short pips will return a dead ball - particularly when a player blocks with them. This means a player was to make adjustments to lift or topspin the ball a bit more even when they are countering or playing against a block.

      One particular difficult is when a player flat hits against you with short pips which is also common, the return can often go into the net. There is some downward force with the ball and also nothing to work with in order to return the ball. This is why a player like Lily Yip (the best example to give you) is able to block comfortably against people attacking, because the short pips will help take all of the speed and spin off the ball. The changes in pace can make it hard to build up any kind of rhythm when you are on the offensive.

      Hope that is a useful answer for you :)

      Take care!

    2. Thanks for reply, Matt. Oddly enough I actually do use short pips myself (on the backhand side only), and I began to use them for the sole reason that it helped me with defense against spinny serves. But beyond that I wasn't clear what other benefits there were, especially as seen by an opponent. Your explanation cleared it up for me. Thanks.


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