Coaching Forum Article

Part Eight: Close-To-The-Table Defender
By: Richard McAfee
USATT Certified National Coach

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:

  1. The Attacker, Pips-Out Penholder, Traditional Style
  2. The Attacker, Shakehands Hitter
  3. The Attacker, Inverted Looper
  4. The Attacker, All-Round
  5. The Counter Driver
  6. The Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper
  7. The Attacking Chopper
  8. 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.

Close-To-The-Table Defender


This style is built around a chop/block executed from close to the table. Players of this style most often use combination rackets with long-pips or anti-spin on one side and inverted rubber on the other. Players of this style use underspin blocks to force weak topspin shots from their opponents. They will then attack the weak topspin with a well-placed drive or loop. This style is often the master of placement but lacks real finishing power.


  • Very consistent close-to-the-table chop/blocks.
  • Excellent serve and receive game.
  • Very accurate forehand drives.
  • Excellent short game using pushes and drop shots.
  • The ability to absorb their opponent’s strong opening shots.
  • Often use the speed and spin of oncoming shots to make their returns stronger.


  • No real power.
  • High looping balls directed to the backhand.
  • Hard balls directed towards the wide forehand.
  • No spin serves, loops, and pushes will often cause errors.


Suggested Robot Drills

Forehand Block
Backhand Block
Topspin Defense
Fast Push Techniques
The Chop Block, A Winning Variation
Develop Your Push With Robo-Pong
Kill that Chop
Forehand Smash
Forehand Loop Against Backspin
Developing Your Serve Game
How to Effectively Return Short Services
Increase Your Reaction Speed Using the Newgy Robo-Pong 2000

Tactics Against Other Styles

Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Penholder: Keep most of your serves short. Press backhand to backhand exchanges. Do not over hit. When attacking, go most often down-the-line. Extend the points as long as possible.

Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Shakehands: Same general tactics as above. However, direct more balls at your opponent’s middle.

Against the Attacke — Inverted Looper: When serving, keep most serves short and try to follow with a safe 3rd ball attacks. Then vary your blocks until your opponent makes an error. When receiving mix up your returns between drops, flips, and long pushes. If you push long cut the sidelines of the table to force your opponent to move.

Against the Attacker All-Round: Against this style, you will need to attack more often. However placement, not speed or spin, will force errors from your opponent.

Against the Counter Driver: Against this style, you must be very steady in your play. Also, slow down the tempo of your blocks below the speed the counter driver enjoys. When you get an opportunity to attack, a kill is preferred over a loop.

Against the Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper: Keep your serves short. Block fast and wide to the forehand. When your opponent backs up to loop, drop short, then attack if possible. Use a combination of deep and short blocks to keep the mid-distance looper moving in and out. Attack down the line when possible.

Against the Attacking Chopper: Similar tactics to playing a counter driver. Play steady, moving the chopper in and out, as well as side-to-side. Kill any loose returns.

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