Deliberate practice in January/February
One of the most important thing to progress in table tennis or in anything else is deliberate practice. This means having goals in training, practice matches and even competitions and permanently monitoring them (a great book on this is Bounce, strongly recommended). I have been doing it better this season and it’s likely one of the reasons of some of the good progress I’ve made.
Here is what I’m focusing on currently. One could say there are too many points, but each is in a very specific part of training, so there isn’t actually much overlap.
Position: Bending more
As pointed out several times by our coach, I’m standing too straight, not bending over enough. This negatively affects all my shots, on both sides. For example there is almost a direct correlation between a missed FH loop and me standing too straight.
I’m trying to fix this, seeing already some small improvements. Main problem now is that too often during the heat of the exchange I stand up. But hopefully with time, it will be automatic.
Serves: Fast serve down the line
There is a serve, which I feel could give me a few easy points while also making the opponents think more, but which I don’t manage to do efficiently enough yet. It is the fast serve down the line when serving FH pendulum from the BH corner. This serve is occasionally used with success at top-level too and the few times I executed it well, it surprised my opponent.
The problem is that too often, it goes either high or too much on the left and misses the table. So I have been trying to find a better technique for it. So far, the best one seems to be with a horizontal bat, held very close, going quickly inside-out. This gives it good speed and top-spin, while providing consistency on the angle and placement. Deception is not the best with it, but I can start it like any other serves at least so it’s not too bad if used sparingly.
It’s been working well in serve training so far. I know need to try it in practice matches.
Hits: Flat quick drive
I’ve had trouble against pimp-out players and besides the challenge in adjusting my tactics, a big issue is my historical weakness in hitting the ball fast and flat, especially on the FH.
Therefore I’m trying to use this shot more, in order to improve it and get good sensations. I’m doing two specific exercises. First I’m training it against the robot, to practice the move and get more speed. Second, during practice matches against weaker players, I serve more flat and long to get 3rd balls that I can hit flat and fast.
This has never been my strength so it will probably take a while to get much better. But I cannot leave it as such a glaring weakness in my current game.
Tactics: Playing more on the BH
There is a more general tactical improvement I must do in 2017, which is ball placement. During matches, I often place the ball randomly, without taking much my opponent into account. Very bad.
But just “improve placement” is a bit too vague of a short-term goal. So I’m starting with something much simpler, which is to play much more on the BH of my opponent. The vast majority of the players have a better FH than BH so in general it’s a good tactic. I hope that by starting with making the conscious decision to play the ball on the BH, later I will be able to make more complex placement choices too.
It’s been promising so far. Last week I played practice sets against Tomi. First 2 sets were tight, but I lost them. He is solid on both sides, but still his FH loop was hurting me much more than his BH. Next 2 sets, only change I did was putting the ball more on his BH and I won the sets nicely.
Main weapon: BH loop
It’s said you should know what your main weapon is and develop a game so you can use it. Lately, my BH loop has been working better and better. When I do the basics right (footwork, racket placement, being relaxed), I produce a fast and spiny BH loop that gives trouble even to strong players.
The challenge there is that this “weapon” needs some warming up, and doesn’t work at all if I get tight.
My focus here is just to keep developing it. As my confidence in it grows, I think I will be able to use it more and more in matches as well.