A few months ago, two of my table tennis students started serving really high bouncy serves. Previously, their serves were quite low. Now, they seemed to have a very high backswing and impacted the ball very hard forcefully down into the table. Hmmmm…. What happened? I did some thinking…. And thinking… And thinking… Then I asked them, “Are you guys trying to copy someone? Why did you change your serve?” Yes, in fact, they had seen a recent photo of a Fan Zhendong with a very unique backswing that looked “cool” and they were trying to copy his cool look. I quickly explained to them that he was Fan Zhendong and had a very different serve. For his touch, feeling, motion, and spin, that motion was totally appropriate for him but wouldn’t be the best option for them. They agreed and quickly regained their low-bouncing serve. So why did I share this story? I share this true story to illustrate that some table tennis players you SHOULD COPY and some players you should NOT copy. There are some players that you can copy various aspects of the game, but possibly not all aspects of the game.
For example, you should try to move as fast as Xu Xin, but carrying an extra 50 lbs might make it a bit more challenging. Maybe you should consider playing more backhand and not stepping around to play so much forehand.
Another example, you should try to give variation balls and change-ups like Jo Waldner, but you realize that you only practice 2 hours per week and don’t have the touch. So instead you remind yourself to develop subtle variations go quite so extreme.
Another example, as a chopper, you should try to develop a powerful forehand loop like Hou Ying Chao, but you are now 87 years old and don’t have a table tennis coach working with you daily, so instead you decided to continue your consistent chopping and occasionally mixed it up with a controlled hit.
Another example, you should try to serve as low as Dimitrij Ovtcharov, but after 2 knee surgeries, you realize that you might need to change your body position because you can’t bend down that low.
In conclusion, keep in mind that copying the table tennis pros is a great way to improve, but you must keep in mind who you are and who they are. I love watching Jo Waldner, but I play really poorly after studying his game. I try to copy him and I can’t. I try to hit those same shots and I don’t have the touch. Check out this video and see some of the amazing shots that he can land. It seems almost effortless for him to control the most powerful loops with a simple block.