By Eric Owens
This column will be a collection of table tennis training tips and advice by Eric Owens, who is a US Men’s Singles Champion, Pan Am Gold Medalist, North American Doubles Champion, and a multi-time member of the US Table Tennis Team. Eric’s training regimen includes regular practice on a Newgy table tennis robot. Read this and his future installments to get rare glimpses into how a top player integrates robot practice into his training.
While most players try their best to serve short, it is inevitable, especially during extremely tense moments of a match, that the serve unintentionally goes half-long. Capitalizing on this mistake can be the difference between winning and losing.
The difficulty with attacking this type of serve is recognizing that the serve is indeed actually going to bounce off the end of the table. Not attacking long serves is a common mistake that nearly every player is guilty of.
The first thing that needs to be done is to train the eye. If you cannot determine almost immediately that the serve is going to bounce long, you will be indecisive when returning the serve. The only way to improve this is practice against thousands of half-long balls.
Using the Newgy Robot:
Place the head of the robot downwards to make the bounce the same as a serve. Make sure that every ball is bouncing slightly off the edge of the table. If you are concerned about hitting the edge of the table with your racket, increase the speed of the ball to have it come off the end of the table a little farther. In the beginning use the lowest backspin setting and the placement should be in one spot on the table (i.e., a half-long serve to the backhand). The repetition of the balls should give you enough time to start in ready position, attack the serve, and then completely return to the ready position.
(Editor's note: this translates into a Ball Frequency setting of only 1–2. See Short Returns Of No-Spin Serves for additional editor's notes on setting up your robot for serve practice. )
When returning serves, the first movement should be to set up for an attack, as if you know the serve is coming out long. The reason for this is that it is much easier to step in if the serve turns out to be short rather than long. If you step in first and then the serve turns out to be long, you will most likely be making the common mistake of pushing a long serve because you haven't allotted enough time to see if the ball is going to come off the end of the table.
Keep your body as low as possible because you will be striking the ball when the ball is on its descent. The follow through should be forward and well over the table. Don't be nervous about hitting the table, after lots of practice you will be attacking serves that barely come off the edge of the table with confidence and little concern of striking the table.
Attacking these types of balls will give you an offensive advantage and put tremendous pressure on your opponent to keep his serve short. The added pressure often results in unintended half-long serves. So keep the pressure on!