Because He Had To

Zoltan Fejer-Konnerth

By Carl Danner
We’ve all marveled at great players making great saves of critical pointsin key matches. Perhaps your own local heroes also achieve some returnsthat seem incredible. How could anyone have the nerve to pull off thoseshots?

It turns out that nerve has little to do with it. While you might imaginea player measuring things out and deciding to go for the acrobatic play. itseldom actually happens that way. Instead, players react to desperatesituations using whatever technique they have available, in the hope itmight work. When they happen to pull off the shot, they can look likemagicians.
There are ways to increase your chances of impressing your friends with anear-miracle save. Start by adopting a neutral grip that equallyadvantages your forehand and backhand. That way, your racket willnaturally square up to a reasonable angle for a block on either wing,without any further action on your part. This is helpful when sticking outyour racket in a hurry, because there ‘s no time to do anything else.
Get in the habit of adding at least a little topspin to your offensiveshots and blocks. That topspin is very helpful for bringing the ball downon the table, and can help you better control a hard-hit or oddly-spun shotfrom your opponent.
If you set up your opponent with an easy ball (we all do at times), try torelax rather than tense up. Then go to the side of the table you figurehe’ll most likely target, and see if you can make reasonable contact for ablock. A decent position and soft hands will help you return many hard-hitshots. You only need to get a few of these back to wow the crowd, andperhaps get your opponent to question his own offensive tactics.
Finally, give up on no ball, no matter how desperate it seems. If youropponent is smashing the ball four feet away from you, try to make it threefeet instead. See how many extreme shots you can at least touch with yourracket. Because you can’t judge immediately where an opponent will aim hisattack of a set-up, don’t assume it will be out of reach and give up — youmight be wrong, and miss for lack of simple preparation. And even if youcan’t return an opponent’s potent forehand, the fact that you touched theball (or perhaps nearly returned it) will prey on his mind a little and maycause him to tighten up on the next one.
When great players make great returns, the reason is often simpledesperation combined with a willingness to fight for the shot with goodtechnique despite the odds. A similar approach can also pay your dividendsthrough saves that may earn a critical point, or even reverse the momentumof a match. Try these techniques, and your share of local hero-worship maygrow a little faster than you anticipated.

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