Zoltan Fejer-Konnerth

By Carl Danner
Most points in competitive table tennis matches are decided in the firstseveral shots. But many players neglect an important dimension of theserve and its return, and may cost themselves matches as a result.
The key is this: Are you more comfortable beginning your attack againsttopspin, or underspin? Most of are better either one way, or the other.Too many of us also don’t think about which way works best, or what we cando with our serves and service returns to encourage the attackingopportunities we want. For example, I have often seen players (includinghighly-coached juniors) repetitively serving underspin, and then strugglingto hit an opening loop against the underspin push they get back. If theyland their loop, these same players might play very well against theiropponent’s topspin returns in the rally that might follow. But by choosingto serve underspin., too many points are lost in the initial effort to getto the type of strokes they really wish to play.

Similarly, is your opponent more comfortable opening against topspin, orunderspin? Here again, most players are stronger either one way, or theother. So your choice of how to play the points can also hinder youropponent.
To benefit from this idea, you need some match intelligence — both onyourself, and on opponents. Just being aware of this dimension can helpyou appreciate your own strengths, and preference. Watching some frequent
opponents play against others can be an eye-opener, if you have neverobserved in this way before. Once you know what seems best for a givenencounter (topspin or underspin), it’s not that difficult to modify yourservice pattern in the right direction, or to decide whether rolls andflips should replace pushes in your returns. Ideally, you should be ableto play well both against topspin and underspin, while matching up yourchoice of services and returns to a consistent approach for a givenopponent.
Not only can you play better by paying attention to how points are opened,but you may have more fun in rallies that are more comfortable for yourstyle. Give this approach a try, and put some more wins in your pocket andsome more smiles on your face!