Part Five: The Counter-Driver
By: Richard McAfee
Constant changes in equipment, gluing methods, and training methods have had a large effect on the evolution of styles within our sport. The decade of the nineties has seen the decline of two styles, the passive chopper and the passive half-distance topspin player. In their place, a stronger more balanced attacking style has emerged, the All-Round Attacker. This can be seen in both shakehands and penholder versions, with the penholder version incorporating the new reverse penholder backhand loop technique. Recently, the switch to the 40mm ball has changed both stroke techniques and tactics; and even now, playing styles are evolving quickly to take full advantage of the new ball's playing characteristics. Table Tennis is an ever-evolving sport that requires both coaches and players to constantly update their knowledge.
The purpose of this article is to examine the eight styles currently in use at the World Class Level. If you are uncertain of your style or wish to better identify which style is best for you, then please read What Style Should You Play. These styles include:
- The Attacker, Pips-Out Penholder, Traditional Style
- The Attacker, Shakehands Hitter
- The Attacker, Inverted Looper
- The Attacker, All-Round
- The Counter Driver
- The Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper
- The Attacking Chopper
- The Close-to-the-Table Defender
This series of articles will provide you with the strengths and weaknesses of each style, along with some suggested robot drills to help you develop your game. In reading the descriptions you may find that your personal style will have attributes from more than one. However, you should be able to recognize your dominant style (“A” style) and your secondary style (“B” style). Each article will also give you some suggestions on tactics to use against the other styles of play. Hopefully the style descriptions will serve as a guide in analyzing your own.
Often referred to as "walls", this style plays close to the table and redirects their opponent's speed and spin against them. Using forehand and backhand counter-drive and blocks, this style seeks to force their opponents into making errors. This style mostly uses topspin simply as a means to get into a counter-driving rally. Often this style of player lacks real finishing power, and rarely uses a fast loop or hard kill shot.
- Good hand speed and touch on blocks.
- Strong backhand block and counter-drive.
- Rarely makes a simple mistake.
- Ability to open up angles and force their opponents to move a lot.
- Fast hand speed and quick reactions.
- Ability to control the speed of play by clever counter and block variations and exact placement.
- Lack of any real power.
- Balls directed wide to the forehand.
- Backhand opening against underspin.
- Slow heavy medium height loops to middle or backhand.
Suggested Robot Drills
Fast Push Techniques
The Chop Block, A Winning Variation
Combining Forehand and Backhand
The Phenomena of Speed and Anticipation
Forehand Loop Against Backspin
Developing Your Serve Game
How to Effectively Return Short Services
Increase Your Reaction Speed Using the Newgy Robo-Pong 2000
The Basic Eight
Tactics Against Other Styles
Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Penholder: Keep your serves short, only serving long as a surprise tactic. A fast, well-angled serve to their backhands will often result in soft return. The key to defeating this style is successfully countering their first attack. Try to play as much backhand counter to backhand block as possible. To win the point, first backhand counter down the line, then attack the exposed penholder backhand.
Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Shakehands: Same general advice as playing the pips-out attacker. However, you should direct a high percentage of your backhand counters towards your opponent's middle.
Against the Attacker — Inverted Looper: Serve short anywhere with an occasional fast dead serve to the player's switchpoint if he uses the shakehands grip. Make your first attack safe; slow backhand rolls and heavy slow forehand loops can be very effective. Attempt to extend the points as long as possible. When you do get a chance to attack hard, attack down the lines.
Against the Attacker — All-Round: Use short serves anywhere or long serves to the backhand. Do your best to force him/her into a countering exchange. Focus on placement to win the points, not changing speeds. Avoid using too much variation; this player is the master at variation and will beat you at your own game. Extend the points as long as possible.
Against the Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper: Use mostly short serves and attack or counter to the middle. If he/she covers the middle ball with the forehand side, then counter the next ball wide to the forehand. If he/she covers the middle ball with the backhand side, then counter the next ball wide to the backhand. Keep your opponent jammed in the middle and they will not be able to use their strong loops. Also alternate between short and long counters to keep this style from staying in their preferred mid-distance range.
Against the Attacking Chopper: Use short serves to stop the chopper's attack. Then make a safe topspin opening using your forehand. Do not rush your attack but mix your topspins with pushes, counters, and kills. You will need to play long points and try to frustrate the chopper into making attacking errors.
Against the Close to the Table Defender: Use long mixed serves and lure your opponent into over attacking; often this style player has a weak first attack. Direct most balls to the backhand side, using safe counter and topspin strokes. If this player's angles are preventing your attack, play steady to the middle of the table to reduce the possible angles. Finish with a kill shot rather than a fast loop.
- Jena Newgarden