Monday 22 January 2018

How to Defy the Odds and Make a Comeback in a Match

Well it has been quite a long time since I have added to my Coaching Blog and with a new year turning over there is no better time like the present to try and get some new help topics out there. This blog is on how to look a large score deficit in the face and fight back to win a match. We saw this on a couple of occasions in 2017 including Xu Xin's intense 7th game comeback against Lin Gaoyuan and also Timo Boll's famous comeback against Lin Gaoyuan as well, without meaning to pick on one person of course.

Timo Boll's massive comeback against Lin Gaoyuan
So obviously there are no guaranteed skills or concepts that can ensure a comeback but here are some tips for when you are facing a likely defeat or a difficult scoreline:

Remain Positive:It might seem like an unbelievably cliche concept but one of the main reasons that people lose when they are down 2-0 in a best of 5 match (for example) is because they give up or become too negative. Your opponent already has everything they need to position themselves for the win, if you throw in negativity as well then there is a next to zero chance of any kind of comeback. It is more often swings in confidence and mentality that help create comebacks, so it is vital to remain positive and remember that it has been done before by other players and possibly even from your own experience. Try and remember occasions where you came back on an opponent before and reassure yourself that anything is possible!

Analyse Your Current Position:It is important to know how you ended up trailing in the match in the first place, was it a lack of focus? Tactical mistakes? Unforced errors? Was your opponent just too good for you on the day? In the last scenario it's always going to be an uphill struggle but often there are small things that can be altered which can make big differences in the scoreline.

This is a time to reflect on how you have been winning and losing points, in particular how the crucial points of the match have gone. Did you have game points you were unable to convert? Tight even scorelines where your opponent took a lead? Winning these points is vital especially in close matches. I wrote a blog on how to win crucial points previously.

Having a full scope of your current position is the only way you will be able to launch a strong comeback, you need to know where you are so you know what needs to be changed in order to flip the tables.

Change, Adjust and Move Forward:After getting your thoughts together on where you have been failing so far in the match it is important to evaluate your game plan. Your game plan is your overall strategy for the match. This is the opportune moment, whether it be between games or during a timeout, to adjust and adapt your game plan so you can create a more effective plan moving forward.

Perhaps you need to take more risks, perhaps go the other way and be more tactful and less aggressive, maybe your placements need to be more precise or you need to put more pressure on weaker areas. What is it that you haven't been doing in the match which could help you win more points and take control of the match?

Various Strategies When Trailing:

There are a few different things that can work when you are behind, one of them is to play like you have nothing to lose. Often putting ourselves on the front foot and being more aggressive can give a big confidence boost and can also help put your opponent on the back foot, caught off-guard. Going for broke helps hone focus and allows you to throw caution to the wind, taking with it the pressure of being down so much.

Another strategy is to take your foot off the pedal and try and play a completely different tactic, sometimes attacking may have gotten you into a hole and doing simple things like deep heavy pushes and well placed blocks can change the game. If it even forces a few errors from your opponent then they can also begin to lose confidence in their attacking game which can result in game-changing momentum shifts.

You can also look at altering your service game or pulling out some plays that you may not usually use, try and give your opponent a few surprises and really increase the variance of what you are doing so that there are no patterns for your opposition to follow.

Focus One Point at a Time: 
Above all this is the absolute key to beating the pressure of a large deficit. When you are trailing it is very easy to think of how many points you would have to win in order to come back, the magnitude and difficulty of it. It is vital to focus only on the single point ahead of you in order to really hone in and give yourself a chance.

This is a very common point made by players who stage comebacks, they just focus on one point at a time. A comeback always starts with one single point, that is the first step. If you give your attention to one point individually and then go through a process of evaluating and then moving onto the next point then it becomes possible to win 2-3 points in a row. All of a sudden there is some momentum, perhaps some extra confidence, maybe you tie the game up or even take a lead. Starting with one single point can create many, many changes in a game.

Of course, this iconic comeback from Timo Boll was no different and began with a single point. In this case the significance of a single point was the difference between winning and losing the match. Each point won not only gave Timo hope for a comeback, but also added huge amounts of pressure to Lin Gaoyuan - a player who has struggled with pressure situations before.

The morale of this is, never underestimate the importance of each individual point in a table tennis match. A point can signify the end of a match, the end of a run of points, a turning point, a confidence booster, a pressurizer. This is beyond all else, and along with positivity is really the key to causing swings in a match and bringing yourself back into a game. Attitude and mentality is everything, especially when you are facing defeat in the face.

So as generic and cliche as these ideas may seem, they are very important. A comeback of even a few points can shake an opponent, even one who is a stronger player than us, it can give us momentum and carry us to the finish line. The important thing is, when you are down it doesn't mean you are out, fight until the very end!

If you have any areas of the game that you are struggling with or questions, please send them to and I will be happy to answer them or write new blogs on those topics! 


  1. Matt coached someone to a victory after they got down 2-0 to me, and they had lost to me 3-0 earlier in the day. The change was simple tactically but I don't think the player would have realized the change without Matt's help. Unfortunately he knows what he's talking about :(

    1. Oops haha sorry about that! It was at Hawkeye right? The Chinese kid from Canada I was coaching?

    2. Yep. That loss has stuck with me because I lost being stubborn and dumb, not because of lack of skill. Was a fine job by you though.

    3. It's good to have matches like that which stay with you, you learn a lot more about the game from losing matches than winning. This blog's foundation is basically me having to teach myself table tennis for my whole childhood and just constantly losing and then learning so much from it all. Maybe next time I will coach you instead :D They asked me if I will go to Hawkeye again this year so we will see.

    4. A fine analysis. It's also useful to remember the player on the other end of the comeback. Losing a match in which you've had a commanding lead can be soul-crushing. There is a similar and important set of skills to access when attempting to stop momentum shifts that have turned against you.

  2. It's good to have matches like that which stay with you,

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  3. Hi! I'm Sejong univ. student in South Korea. I have a assignment that comment someone's blog post related to favorite topic. What do you think about Chinese rubber such as Hurricane 3? I think it is hard to use for General people.

    1. Hi there! I think Hurricane 3 is too hard for most players to develop their game. Usually H3 is requiring a high degree of technical accuracy and competence to be able to compete with it, this is why China are commonly using it because they have very strong technique training.


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