Wednesday 26 October 2016

How to Win Crucial Points in Table Tennis Matches

We all have them, moments in matches where the pressure builds to a significant point. Sometimes the point can be the difference between taking a lead, winning a game or even winning a match, sometimes turning from losing to winning momentum. The question is how do you treat these points? The same as other points or differently? And how do you go about preparing yourself to win when the point bears a lot of value? Well that's the topic of today's blog!

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What serve to do in pressure situations?
Let's think of some examples of when points may hold more value. You could be tied with your opponent in a crucial set, say 9-9 and 1-1. You could hold set or match points, or be looking to start a set with a lead. It could be the first point after changing ends in the deciding game. Perhaps you have lost 3-4 points and need to stop momentum, the first point after a timeout?

These are all situations where you may find winning a point can be extremely beneficial, not just for the scoreline but for your confidence.

Point Structure:

The key to being able to succeed in pressure points is the ability to plan a point and execute a pattern of pre-determined strokes, this is known as a set play or set piece. These are most effective on serve but can also be used on receive if you can gain an initial advantage and control.

Most players fail to plan their points before they play, tending to go with the flow and play basic tactics like looking for opportunities to attack or targeting a weaker area of the table. A deeper level of analysis is required to advance to becoming a tactically sound player.

In order to be able to structure your points you need to be able to predict responses to each of your shots, creating spin, variance and placements which will help increase the probability of a favourable return in order to continue the plan. We will talk about that in a moment.

Know Your Strengths:

Winning points in crucial situations should solely gravitate around your strengths as a player. This is not a time to be thinking 'how can I keep them off my backhand (if it is weaker)', it is a time to be thinking, I'm ready to play a forehand anywhere, what specific part of the table am I likely to execute the best shot from, how can I make the ball go there and how do I want the ball when I arrive.

Your point setups should always revolve around the strongest areas of your game, this way in crucial situations you will be able to have a high level of confidence and reliability. Focus your point structure around your strongest areas.

Creating Set Plays:

You could almost consider it 'designing' points. Connect an effective serve to a particular reaction. If I serve long and fast topspin and land a perfect elbow shot to the middle, how will my opponent react? Well if they are not expecting the serve, usually if they don't move the return will be a reflex shot, usually float no spin to the middle of the table. Your next move? Move into position for a forehand. Where do you play? A player caught off balance at the elbow usually moves away from the ball to play a forehand, so the balance shifts away from their forehand side, usually in the form of leaning or stumbling. With the balance going in the opposite direction it's a perfect change to play out to the forehand corner.

This is one example of a set play which could be used in a tight situation. The most important thing about set plays is the execution of the serve. If the serve starts the chain well then life becomes much easier. If I serve long topspin and I miss the elbow, the result becomes very different.

Another example is playing a sidespin reverse short down the forehand line. It becomes very difficult to return the ball down the line because of the spin direction, leaving a high likelyhood that the player will flick the ball with their forehand, crosscourt to your forehand (if you are both right handed).

If you have successfully made the player move across the table to forehand receive you should be primed to make a nice early counterloop down the line to the backhand corner with nobody home.

That is how a setplay works, it is a structured chain of pre-planned shots, if executed well, resulting in a point.

Watch how each points is played out, the angles, and deliberate moves

How Do I Know If the Play will Work?

You need to examine your opposition, look at their strengths and weaknesses and tailor a tactic to them. Look for serves they don't receive particularly well. Areas of the table they may not cover well. Faults in their movements or balance in certain plays.

In order to plan points effectively you need to be very aware of your opponents game in order to exploit them when it counts the most.

Take Your Time Before the Point:

Take a moment before each point to revisit your game plan and to focus on how you are going to win the point. Remember simple tactics are great but try and be more analytical and give your points some thought. If you have the chance to towel break before an important point i.e 9-9 or 12-12 etc then be sure to take the moment to clear your head and bring your focus back in on the point ahead of you.

I hope these tips are helpful and make you think a bit more about how much thought process should go into winning a point and following an overall strategy in a match!

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  1. Hey Matt, my son has recently been in love with table tennis. He is still exploring a career in this but I am sure he would love to read about these tips. Thanks alot.


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