Every opponent provides us with information about his prefered playing style through his ready stance. The following lines give an overview on the observable characteristics and how they can be exploited.
We will consider many different parts of an opponents ready position and spot common weaknesses. Please note, that we speak of weaknesses here, because the given solutions force the opponent to execute strokes which are most different to his current state and therefore apply the biggest time pressure to him of all given options.
That doesn’t mean that a player who waits in a backhand stance and grip isn’t able to jump around, change his grip and make a strong forehand return, but it costs him much more time than a ball to his backhand side.
1. Distance to the table
As a rule of thumb, the taller the player the further away from the table he will stand. Certain playing styles also prefer a slightly bigger distance to the table.
The obvious way to exploit this is serving short. However, most players are used to this because it is such an obvious solution and we have to observe the opponent over a longer time. Many players with a big table distance automatically step in towards the forehand side to cover this area. If we see this behaviour we can exploit it by playing long to the middle or backhand side against his movement direction.
Once our opponent is afraid to step in we have reached our goal and serve short again and start the short/long cycle again if needed.
The behaviour after the enemy stepped in is important aswell. We get two types, he steps in and immediately steps back or sticks to the table. If he sticks to the table we play the crossover point and incase he steps back, drop the ball short again.
At a professional level most players automatically step back to attack the next ball with great power. Because they do this that often, it’s a common strategy of both player to drop the ball several times short which leads to dancing like movements.
If the enemy stand close to the table he will have trouble returning balls to his crossover point. The second best option against close to the table players are long parallel or diagonal serves if we can catch the opponent off guard because his return won’t have much power.
2. Player size
In the previous point we saw how the size of an opponent affects his ready stance. But not all tall players back off from the table and not all short players stand close to the table. So how can we make use of this information?
Tall players have long arms and legs which enables them to cover greater distances than shorter players. However, due to their longer arms the also have a bigger crossover point which should be our number one target.
Against short players we still have this valid option but they have a smaller crossover point compared to tall people. Due to their short arms and legs they have problems with wide balls. In a righty vs righty match against a short player we might serve a backhand type serve from the middle breaking into the wide forehand side and continue with a backhand attack to the backhand to force the short player to cover greater distances.
We should additionally remember that shorter players can’t apply as much power as tall players and if we can force them to play at least at half distance we have a big advantage. This holds true against upcoming juniors aswell.
3. Player weight
Many players make the error of assuming that opponents with a beer belly are way slower than their thin counterparts. However, to a certain extend additional weight doesn’t affect a players playing abilities because the most fat is located by nature in such a way, that it doesn’t detain the persons ability to run or react fast.
Nevertheless, the extra weight has to be accelerated first and is hard to stop due to the inertia.
If we want to exploit this, we can’t just increase the speed mindlessly, but focus on fast directional changes left/right or short and long.
4. Relative position to the table
The usual position is given with a player waiting on his backhand side in a forehand stance and his elbow roughly on the prolonged left side line. This enables him to cover the whole table with forehand and backhand after a little footwork.
The most crucial part is that we are able to play a forehand drop shot to pendulum serves breaking into our backhand. If we stand more in the middle we can’t play the forehand as fast against such serves and are often forced to play with the backhand. We saw in the article about spin evasion that the incoming clockwise sidespin has its biggest effect on the backhand. These thoughts are illustrated below. We note the greater length of arrow 2 which results in a longer reaction time.
To counter this we have to bring our wrist forward or topspin the ball. Most intermediate players aren’t able to do this techniques but stand towards the table middle and struggle with above mentioned serves. Because the serve is the most common they think they have a weak backhand and switch to pips or anti rubbers to cover this particular weakness. However, with these rubbers they are limited in their possible strokes and the error lies in a technical glitch in the ready position and not the backhand in the first place.
The more a person shifts his ready position to the forehand side, the easier he can return short balls to the forehand. As usual we still have the crossover point to play into and probably won’t get strong returns if we play long to the forehand.
Below we see green zones where the given opponents position is vulnerable. Three major reasons characterise these spots as weakness. The crossover point at 2, the distance to the ball for 1 and fast balls to position 3, where each position needs an extended arm to reach this zone and might not be able to respond with power, especially if caught off guard.
A common strategy against heavily backhand oriented players is to play to their crossover point to force them to move even more towards the forehand side and play a wide backhand afterwards.
This strategy and the strategy below assume that our opponent tries to play the side he’s currently in if we play the crossover point. For example, if an opponent in a forehand stance always plays the backhand if we play his crossover point our above strategy won’t work.
Against players who stand at their backhand corner with a forehand stance we can play the crossover point to shift them more to their backhand and then play a wide forehand ball afterwards. Both strategies are shown below.
We remember that good players adjust their ready stance depending on the servers position and his handedness. Against a lefty we can stand a little more towards the middle because he can’t play into our wide backhand if he serves from his backhand corner as most lefties do.
We should alter our serving position to test the opponent if he moves accordingly. If he doesn’t, we might start serving from the middle with a backhand type serve into his wide forehand or make a tomahawk serve from our forehand. Last but not least the different angle in which the ball is coming into the enemy regularly causes trouble for most opponents on all levels.
5. Distance of the bat to the body
Many amateur players try to copy professional stances of european players with a wide, deep stance and their bat that much in front that their arm is nearly straight with the bat close the the table end line. This causes problems because if they step in, their arm is already straight and they can’t guide the ball anymore.
To exploit this we simply play short serves with all spin variations. To give an example for the proper technique: We step in and bring our opposite shoulder back to bring our playing arm’s shoulder in front. As we do this, we extend the arm towards the ball. We shouldn’t have a fully extended arm at the ball contact to be still able to guide it. We try to bring our torso forward by moving our head towards the ball.
6. Blade height
We consider three cases, blade below table level, blade resting on the table and blade above the table level.
If the blade is below the table level then the opponent tries to hide his grip and forehand or backhand orientation. However, we still see his elbow position and can exploit this as usual. At a certain time he has to lift his lower arm above table level to cover himself against short balls. Most of these players have troubles against long bottomspin balls because if they try to loop them they have to stop their upward motion bring the paddle down and then loop the ball which is quite time consuming.
Nevertheless, hiding the information by holding our lower arm below the table level until the opponents ball contact as a receiver should be the way to go and can be observed on most of the chinese top players.
In the second case the bat is resting on the table. This enables an opponent to easily play close to the table techniques like the backhand loop over the table and forehand flicks.
We can exploit this by playing fast to his elbow or the point where his bat is resting. We remember that close to table techniques favor all spins but bottomspin. If we want to contain the opponent we should play short, heavy backspin which prevents that the enemy can flick the ball with power or loop it on the backhand side.
The last case where the blade is above the table height mostly signals us, that the opponent doesn’t stand wide or holds the bat strangely upwards. Incase his base of support isn’t wide, we might throw him off-balance by long and spiny balls to his free side or at least get a weak return. A high bat position also makes it easier to give a ball backspin so we might get returns with a strong backspin.
7. Relative position of elbow and bat
We distinguish between three cases, backhand, forehand and neutral orientation.
In the neutral case, the opponents tip of the blade and his lower arm point towards us in a line. Every deviation to the left from our point of view leads to a forehand orientation and every deviation to the right to a backhand orientation.
If we want to exploit the non neutral stances, we have to play to the opposite site, therefore forehand for backhand orientation and vice versa. In this way we apply the most time pressure.
We can exploit this even more if we recall which sidespin type harms which side the most and assume that the opponent actually switches to the respective side on which we play.
If the opponent waits with a backhand orientation we concluded that we have to play to his forehand. Because he is under time pressure, he might make more errors than usual regarding the correct blade angle and sidespin might break even more. Counter-clockwise spin has the biggest effect on the forehand side and is therefore our sidespin of choice. Applying the same thought process for the forehand orientation we get the following rule of thumb:
- If the opponent waits in a backhand orientation, play counter-clockwise sidespin to his forehand.
- If the opponent waits in a forehand orientation, play clockwise sidespin to his backhand.
So far the neutral orientation looks like the holy grail because it doesn’t possess the weaknesses of the other orientations. Theoretically this holds true but practically this stance can still be exploited because we are still creatures of habit.
If we play to the cross over point of an opponent he has to decide if he wants to use forehand or backhand. In the following lines we learn how our habits make us vulnerable and finally lead to one of the above cases.
As a side note, habits are not completely bad, because they help us to make fast decisions under stress. They become bad habits if the opponent notices and exploits them. We then have to break our habits to avoid being locked up.
Incase a player decides every time independently if he wants to play forehand or backhand he might take too long to make strong returns.
A player who favors the backhand or forehand can be contained in the same way like we did under point 4, the corresponding image is shown below again with the forehand orientation on the left and the backhand orientation on the right.
After we decoded the opponents habits we can exploit them as explained above.
8. Blade angle
An open blade angle is good against backspin but weak against everything else.
The closed blade angle is good against fast serves and topspin but weak against backspin.
If the blade is perpendicular to the table surface we can reach every angle in the shortest amount of time but are vulnerable to nearly all spin types.
9. Relative feet position
Below we see the three types of feet positions, forehand, backhand and neutral stance. In the neutral stance both feet are parallel, the backhand stance has the right foot in front and the forehand stance is characterised by the opposite feet position.
The neutral stance guarantees a good shot connection and leaves all options open but lacks final power for the strokes. The stance is also vulnerable to powerful attacks to the body which may lead to falling of balance.
The non neutral stances are able to endure powerful shots and can apply much power on their name giving wing. However, on the opposite wing we are often forced to play a passive game.
Footwork wise the neutral and forehand stance offer the most and best options, especially the lack of a proper cross step for the backhand prevent the backhand stance from being recommendable.
To sum it up again for our exploitation purpose, the forehand stance leads to an passive game on the backhand and mostly opens one playing side. The neutral stance is pretty solid but has its weakness in powerful attacks to its middle. The backhand stance leaks proper footwork for big distances and has a small power zone, which are areas where this stance can apply significant power.
We consider the most common options for shakehanders, the neutral, backhand and forehand grip.
The neutral grip enables us to switch to every grip in the shortest amount of time but doesn’t possess a characteristic strength nor weakness like the other grip types.
The backhand grip is useful for flips but bad for techniques which aim for a contact point below the equator.
Opponents with a forehand grip are able to perform good forehand flips and backhand pushes. The neutral and forehand grip are also useful for flicks, which favor speed over spin.
Against a forehand grip we can exploit the passive options this grip leaves for the backhand. The same holds true for a backhand grip, due to its weakness against bottom spin.
We remember that grip changes for every ball depending on the desired effect are usual and the way to go. Therefore we can hardly exploit the grip of professional players. However, many amateurs just know or play one grip over the match distance and we might gain a small advantage by using this against them.