Many table tennis coaching articles focus on advanced players. But what if you are new to the sport, and just want to win a few matches (or beat your buddies)? Here’s a little menu of approaches that can help:
1. Attack first: Usually, the advantage goes to the player who takes the first topspin shot in the rally. We call this opening, and it can be terribly important to do it before your opponent does. It’s usually better, for example, to open with only a moderately-strong shot rather than wait longer in the rally for a perfect opportunity.
2. Topspin deep: When you play topspin shots, try to hit them deep on the table. This makes them much more difficult to counter attack strongly, and forces your opponent to move more (or even back up) to cover the whole table.
3. Make your opponent move: Most players are much better if they can stand in one place. You will get more errors and easy chances for winners from your opponents if you force them to move. This includes not only side to side, but in and out as well. A great tactic is to serve or drop the ball short to one side, and follow it with a deep ball to the other side. Recognize also your own need to move, and ask your friends to make you do so in practice sessions or games.
4. Vary the direction of your shots: Even when you can’t force your opponent to move, it’s a good idea to avoid hitting multiple shots in a row to the same location. Change it up at least a little so that your opponent has to keep adjusting to different positions.
5. Consistency beats power: You may be tempted to hit the ball really hard while viewing some misses as an acceptable cost. This usually doesn’t work very well, as opponents tend to get better at returning these (or making them more difficult to hit) as the match goes on. Hitting a bit less hard but more consistently (say, at three-quarters power) is a much better approach that’s used by most top players.
6. On tough serves, the ball goes where the racket goes: Returning spinny serves is one of the biggest frustrations for newcomers to organized play. To help you cope quickly, be aware that your shot will tend to go in the same direction as your opponent’s racket went at the time of contact. For example, if her racket moved up and to the right, your return will go up and right if you don’t adjust. Watch your opponent’s racket closely, and you can get better and better at reading the spin and aiming your return accordingly.