By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach
All players will at some time find themselves in a defensive situation. For many topspin players, it is only natural to also use topspin when making defensive returns. These returns fall into two categories based on the player's distance from the table. Mid-distance returns are most often referred to as "Fishing". From long distance, lobbing returns are used.
This short topspin defense stroke is contacted from mid-distance before the ball has begun to descend. Most often used on the backhand against a driving loop, this stroke resembles a long blocking stroke with a little added topspin. You are just trying to redirect your opponent's power back to him/her.
The Fishing Defense is often effectively used against looping players who lack a strong flat kill stroke. To be effective the ball most be kept deep and at a medium height (shoulder height). At this height, it is difficult for the looper to generate enough power to finish the point. When using this defense, it is important to move your returns around to try and force a weak shot and then to counter-attack.
Basic Stroke Elements
- Redirect your opponent's power back to him/her, using a short stroke
- Make friction contact (spin) with the ball
- Contact the ball before it descends
- Contact is above the center of the ball
- Return should be deep and medium high (opponent's shoulder level)
Key to Success: On the backhand side, always try to center the ball directly in front of the body. If you are reaching for the ball, you will lose control of your returns. Also, try to move your returns around the table forcing your opponent to move as much as possible.
Topspin lobs are used when a player is deep from the table. To be effective, the lob must carry a lot of spin and land deep on the table. This stroke is executed with a long upward stroke, which carries the ball high into the air (10 to 15 feet high). I often tell my students to imagine themselves carrying the ball up an elevator shaft to emphasize the "lift" element of the stroke and obtain the necessary height on their lobs.
Basic Stroke Elements
Contact the ball as it is descending
Use a long upward stroke
Contact the bottom of the ball and brush upward
Make as much friction contact (spin) as possible
Return should be deep and bounce high on the table
Key to Success: The use of sidespin is very important when using a lob return. From the forehand side, add left to right sidespin (for right-handers) by contacting the outside surface of the ball. This will cause the ball to bounce sharply to your opponent's right on contact with the table. This leaves your opponent little choice but to return the ball directly back to your forehand side. Knowing this, you can anticipate the return and setup to counterattack.
Robot Practice Techniques
Your Newgy Robot is a perfect partner for practicing your defensive topspin techniques. The key is to duplicate the downward angle that would be produced by your opponent attacking the high defensive returns. This can be easily accomplished by using your Newgy Robo-Caddy. First of all, place your Robot in the Caddy and raise the Caddy to its highest position above the table. This will give you the downward angle you need to duplicate your opponent's smashes. Now set your Robot head for topspin and set the ball speed at a high level (7 to 10) and you are ready to practice your Topspin Defense.
(Editor's Note: See "Alternative Set-up For Wide Angles and Smashes," by Yeushan Goan for diagram on how to set-up your Newgy robot to simulate smashes.)
Fishing Defense Practice
Set up your Robot as described above and to oscillate over your backhand side of the table. Back up so that you are contacting the ball just before it begins to descend (from 6-8 ft. from the table). Now practice using your backhand "Fishing" defense returns. When you begin to feel comfortable with your returns, set the Robot to oscillate returns over the whole table. Practice "Fishing" with your backhand and counterattacking with your forehand.
Set your Robot as described above and to oscillate over one half of the table, either backhand or forehand side. Back up so that you are contacting the ball as it is descending, below table height. Practice making lob returns until you can keep the ball deep on your opponent's side. Practice both forehand and backhand lobs. Remember to try and add sidespin to your returns to control the direction of your opponent's returns. When you feel comfortable with your returns, practice mixing lobs and counterattacks. The ability to play some defense is an important skill even for the most aggressive player.
- Jena Newgarden