As discussed previously, the essence of the modern defensive style is the use of backspin and spin variation to force mistakes from the opponent and setup the forehand topspin counterattack. That said, here are my long pip tips for the modern defender.
Tip 1 – Service
The modern defender needs to make the most of his own serves. He should always be ready to use the classic 3rd ball and 5th ball pattern used by attackers, and should use the same serves the attackers use to achieve this.
In addition, the modern defender should also allow his opponent to attack his serve, but the secret to this lies in forcing the opponent to put the ball where you want to receive it, so that you can begin the setup for your own counterattack. Watch Joo Se Hyuk or Chen Weixing when you can, and notice that they are not afraid to give their opponent a long ball on serve, but that most of the time the opponent is forced to attack to where they are waiting – typically to the backhand where they use the long pimples to vary the spin and set up for their own powerful forehands.
Tip 2 – Tempt the Opponent
Don’t make all your chops so hard to hit that your opponent gives up attacking and starts to push all the time. You need keep tempting him to attack by putting the occasional ball a bit higher or shorter so that he can start an attack. The spin variation that you use will keep him making mistakes. A good player will do this as part of his plan so that he is ready and waiting for the attack, whereas beginning players do it by accident and are caught unprepared.
Tip 3 – Hide the Contact
When it is possible to do so while maintaining good technique, take the ball below the level of the table so that your opponent’s view of the ball is obscured. This will make it that much harder for him to guess the spin on the ball. When combined with twiddling this can be a very effective tactic.
Tip 4 – Wait for it
The modern defender needs to fight the urge to prepare too early for his counter attack. An experienced attacker will notice the start of your stroke and switch the ball to the backhand side, catching you out of position. Anticipation is good, but guessing is not.
Tip 5 – Dare Your Opponent
If you have quick footwork, you can sometimes get away with standing further over to your forehand side, so that your opponent has a tempting gap to aim at on your backhand. He will be more likely to attack to the gap, so you should be prepared to quickly cover the attack and start using the long pimples heavily spin the ball in return, generally to his forehand. He will probably go with a slower crosscourt loop that can be attacked for a winner.
Tip 6 – Balance is Important
Not just your own balance, but the balance between your defense and attack. You will need to find the right blend for each opponent – sometimes you will have to attack more, sometimes less. Be aware of whether your current plan is working and be prepared to make adjustments during the match.
Tip 7 – Go Deep When You are Deep, or You’ll be in Deep …
In general, when you have been pushed back from the table, you will be better off placing your chop returns deep to the back of the table in the middle of the line of play so that your opponent cannot drop the ball short easily. (Note – many players will advise you to hit to the middle of the endline – this is not quite correct. Hitting deep to where you will be in the center of the line of play will work better.)
A planned short chop with float can be useful though, as many opponents will try a drop shot and should pop the ball up due to the lack of backspin. You had better be charging in behind your float though!
Tip 8 – Get Back
Both modern and classic defenders need terrific footwork to make their style effective. Usually the side to side movement is relatively easy – it is the in and out footwork that is the hardest and which is most often exploited by opponents. Practice coming in and going back until you are smooth, fast and balanced in both directions. Many attackers have only this one trick in their arsenal against defenders, so if you can take it away from them they don’t have a Plan B.
Tip 9 – Stay Up
Refer to Tip 8 – and ignore that tip if you have accidently placed the ball high and short. If you try to go back you will be vulnerable to a wide ball on either side, or even a drop shot. Instead, stay in close and block the coming attack – it’s surprising how effective this can be against an attacker who is expecting you to be going back from the table. Don’t try to hit the ball too hard, just stick your bat out and put it back on the table – the surprise will do the rest.
Tip 10 – Be Able to Chop with the Normal Side
A warning to those modern defenders who plan to speed glue the normal side of their bat and attack with it – make sure you can control the ball when chopping with the inverted rubber. You need to be able to provide some spin variation as well – only being able to float the ball back is going to get you in a lot of trouble very fast. Have a look at the best modern defenders – even they have to chop the ball sometimes with their speed glued rubber – and I’m willing to bet that they are quite a bit faster around the table tennis court than you are!
Tip 11 – Be Realistic
Many players watch Joo Se Hyuk or Chen Weixing playing and decide that they want to play the same way. Be aware that these players took years to master these styles. If you have been a speed gluing attacker, don’t expect that slapping a sheet of long pimples on your backhand will make you a world-beater. These a reason that there is only a few modern defenders in the top 100 – it’s an incredibly difficult style to master. You can have a lot of fun trying though!
Tip 12 – Know Where You Are
Using long pimples will allow you to stay closer to the table and still control the ball – but be careful not to get caught too close to the table when using your normal side of the bat. Watch the best modern defenders and you will notice that they go back a step or two when chopping with the normal side.
Tip 13 – Hang ’em High
Don’t be afraid to to throw in the odd high chop ball that is heavily spun. Many attackers have good power loops from low balls, but find it difficult to change their stroke when attacking the high chop ball instead. Find out how your opponent plays the high heavy chop and topspin lob early on – if he keeps looping then you know you have a safety margin since he will not be likely to smash the ball past you, so you can put you chops up safer and higher. If your opponent can smash the high ball with ease, try the occasional floated high ball and see whether he picks the change in spin.
Tip 14 – Pick a Side for Your Attacks
At the advanced level , once you have gained control of the rally and are attacking your opponent, stick to attacking with your forehand. If your opponent places the ball on your backhand side, either use your footwork to play a forehand, or chop the ball with the long pimples on your backhand. Trying to twiddle the bat and keep the attack going with your backhand loop is a recipe for disaster – it’s very doubtful that you will be able to get the bat angle correct in time.
At the lower levels, smart use of the twiddle can allow you to use your long pimples on the third or fourth attack for variation. Don’t twiddle too early – have a couple of tries at putting the ball past your opponent with your normal side first. But if you have hit a couple of attacks and your opponent is comfortably returning them, a quick twiddle and hit with the long pimples will throw most lower level opponents off. Twiddle back to the smooth rubber for the next attack though – or else you will be asking for trouble.
Tip 15 – Open Up and Say Ahh!
Up to the intermediate level, it is possible to win a lot of points by hitting with the long pimples, simply due to your opponent’s unfamiliarity with them. So make the most of it and hit every now and again.
At the advanced level, you had better know what you are doing when you try to open up with the long pimples – some opponents will handle it better than others. Give it a try and see. Try from both the backhand and forehand at least once. At the pro level, watch the top defenders and count how many times they open up with their long pimples – you can probably count it on the fingers of one finger. By the time you get to that level you will know why as well!