Wednesday 18 April 2018

Attacking the Half-Long Ball in Table Tennis

Perhaps one of the most under-trained elements of table tennis is how to deal with the half-long ball. Sometimes it can be a loose serve or short push, sometimes it can be a long push which is too shallow, and on some occasions it can be intentional to draw out a softer opening or a push return. This article will deal with some ways to improve how you deal with the half long ball in practice and matches.

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Attacking the Half-Long Ball in Table Tennis
Image courtesy of ITTFWorld
Recognizing Depth: 

First of all it's important to learn to judge when the ball is short and when it's long. For the sake of remaining assertive and active in points (check my recent blog here), you should only think of a ball as short or long, half-long is classified as long and therefore presents an opportunity to open with an attacking stroke.

Usually some things to look at when your opponent is serving or pushing the ball to indicate depth are:

- Tightness in forearm and wrist, often too much tension and tightness makes it difficult to play short and results in a loose ball (higher or longer)
- Body position, a player not in good position will also struggle to control a short ball.
- Lack of conviction in long push often results in a shallower ball placement rather than an effective, deeper push.
- Where the first bounce lands on service can help indicate the length of the serve - in many (though not all) situations, a bounce closer to the server can result in a long serve, whereas the first bounce being closer to the net will result in a short serve.

Once you are able to consistently recognize when a ball is going to be long (one bounce before leaving the table area), you will be in much better position to deal with the ball. Often recognizing a long ball is a major step in becoming better at handling the scenario.

Tips for Playing a Half-Long Opening:

In most situations where you are receiving a half long ball, it is almost always better to open with topspin, unless you are playing somebody where pushing creates a tactical advantage. So how do you go about opening off a half-long ball?

Judge the contact point: This is often the most difficult skill when it comes to attacking half long, as many players are scared of hitting the table and injuring themselves or damaging their racket. Against a half-long ball you have to decide to either hit over the table surface, or let the ball begin to drop a little. This requires some experience, but mainly comes down to body positioning.

Position Yourself: Getting in position for a half-long receive can be difficult as the ball is still relatively short for a long ball. On this occasion sometimes it can be acceptable to reverse your footwork position, moving the foot on the side of your playing hand forward in order to get closer to the ball (as you would with a short push). This helps you get closer to the ball contact and in turn allows you to judge your contact point better, also you don't need as much body weight transfer so you can rely more on hands and touch while still adding some force from that (now forward) leg.

Don't Overplay the Shot: This is more of a touch and judgement shot, you should aim to keep the ball low to the net and try and generate as much spin as you can. This stroke requires good touch and a more precise knowledge of how to adjust your swing and racket angles. Remember your goal is not to kill the ball, it is to initiate an attacking sequence and avoid being passive on a long opportunity. A good phrase to consider with this shot is 'go through the motions' - make your stroke technically sound but focus more on the feeling of the shot rather than generating a large amount of power.

Focus on Gripping the Ball: You really want to focus on gripping the ball as much as you can, either to help kick the ball up more if the ball is later in the bounce, or to brush more over the top of the ball as you accelerate forward. Players who try to hit the half-long ball too flat often have a lot of difficulty.

Commit to the Shot: This is probably the most important thing to remember when making this shot. Be decisive and confident, you need to be completely sure of what you are doing. Any hesitance or reluctance will come through in your stroke and you end up under-playing the ball or changing your mind and pushing at the last second, these are even less effective in a point than just choosing to push the ball back.

How to Practice for the Half-Long Response:

Half-long balls are present in training frequently and any opportunity can be used to practice this area of the game. You can do multiball training for opening off half long, or practice opening against half-long serves.

The best thing you can do is always be prepared for the long ball. If you are doing drills where your partner serves short then you should be ready on all occasions to open if the ball drifts out. This is a common mistake made by players who get stuck into mindless drill patterns and continue a sequence simply because it's part of a fixed drill i.e trying to short push a half-long serve.

Similarly you can also be active in opening off loose short pushes in practice. It's hard to practice specifically half long training because it's not really beneficial to your training partner to be playing half long all the time. A good drill is perhaps to serve short, have your partner play half long, open the ball and your training partner either blocks or counter-attacks.

I hope this post will help you improve how you approach half-long balls in practice and matches! If you have any questions feel free to email me at!


  1. Thanks coach! I am new at this game, I only have started playing since month ago, But I have improved so far. When to attack was one of my conerns, your article helped a lot... Much love

  2. Great post, Matt. Attacking half-long serve is not easy at all. At the intermediate level, guess the serve is long enough to flick is so hard.


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