Tips and Tricks with Carl Danner: When To Give Up On Your Strength

By Carl Danner

Most players have favorite shots, and preferred locations at which to aim them.  For example, players with strong backhands often feel they should win backhand to backhand counter-driving rallies against almost any opponent.  Strong spinners may feel confident aiming their best loops anywhere, reasoning that no one can return such a great shot.

Until they do return it — again, and again.  The problem is that some opponents will like playing against your strength.  Someone has the best backhand counter, and it may not be you.  Someone loves blocking loops like yours, no matter how hard you swing.  As a strategic player, you need to be open to the possibility that your favorite shot may not be good enough in a given match.

When that happens, what’s your option?  There are several ideas to try. First, just aim the ball differently.  Hit backhands up the line, or to the middle.  Loop at different spots around the table.  Getting away from a grooved practice shot (like backhand to backhand play) might do the trick.

Alternatively, consider an indirect approach.  Pressure your opponent in other ways that may win points on their own, and also detract from the effectiveness of his strongest play.  Serve tight and make him open the point against a short ball, rather than just serving topspin andcountering.  Invite him to loop first against well-placed pushes, and follow up your block with a topspin attack.  Try a long pushing rally, if you have the patience and touch to keep him from looping a winner. Whatever shots you use, forcing him to move more is another key.  The bottom line is that the harder he has to work at doing everything else, the less focused he may be for his tough shot that’s giving you so much trouble.

Reducing the pressure can also help.  Take a little spin off your loop, to possibly cause problems for a grooved block.  Dial back your objective for the point from hitting a winner, to continuing the rally so your opponent can’t attack strongly.  You might find the change of pace to be disruptive to an opponent’s grooved stroke, and it will take some pressure off your own shots.

Ultimately, the toughest decision is whether you have a fundamental problem at all, or whether someone is just getting hot (or lucky) in a way that will pass.  Unfortunately, you may need to make this decision quickly, as a five game match can go by fast.  Practically speaking, I would say that a change of tactics is certainly merited by the time you are two games down, and probably sooner if a disturbing pattern seems to emerge in the points. Knowing when to vary your favorite tactics (or pull the plug entirely) can be a key to competitive success.

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