Anticipating shots is obviously very important in table tennis, as it gives you that extra millisecond to react in the best way possible to your opponent’s shot.
It’s something that occupies a large portion of the way the game’s played. Another large portion is reacting to shots that you did not anticipate, or have little time to prepare for.
There are some shots that you feel lucky to just get a paddle on and even luckier to put the return in play. However, with a just a few tweaks to your game you can be doing much more with those shots.
Return a ball with less effort
First of all, keep in mind the harder your opponent hits it at you, the harder you can return it, with less effort.
Just like in baseball, if you get a hard fastball down the middle, it’s harder to catch up with but it takes less of a swing to knock it out of the park.
In baseball when you know a heater is coming, you choke up on the bat. Well, you can’t choke up on the paddle in table tennis, and you don’t have those seconds to predict what is coming at you.
The key is in your grip, the angle of your paddle, and the swing.
Actually, the lack of swing is a better way to put it.
If you do get a shot that you have little time to react to, the best response is more of a punch, or a flick than a swing. Also, the tendency is to back up when a hard hit is coming.
If you catch the ball on the rise and angle your paddle in such a way so that you can simply punch it back, it greatly reduces your prep time and often produces a solid return.
Adding just enough wrist flick into it will give it the necessary spin to fall into the court. This shot can really catch your opponent off guard and can also keep you in the game against a flame thrower.
The Underrated but Deadly Flick
The flick is an important and advantageous skill to master. It can help give you a jump on your opponent’s short serve and when used correctly can even score you a few quick points.
Mixing it with the chop and push can give you great variety in your returns. Both are similar to mini topspins but are trickier than they sound due to the limited backswing.
To execute the forehand flick:
Set in your ready position, when the ball comes short to your forehand side, slide your closest foot to the ball forward up close to the table. Extend your arm out to reach the ball and then bring your forearm up, spinning the ball forward keeping your wrist fairly stiff.
Used with less or more spin and combined sometimes with a simple push over the net can give your opponent great difficulty in returning the ball, leaving you to control the game and attack.
Watch Timo Boll as he executes his forehand flick. His wrist is fairly rigid and he approaches the ball like he’s going to chop, but he swings his arm up and spins the ball…
To perform the backhand flick:
In the ready position, when the ball comes to your backhand side, slide the closest foot to the ball (depending on whether the ball is hit far- backside or in the middle, you may want to be able to use both feet to slide up) forward and extend your arm out to the ball.
Upon contact with the ball, lift your arm upwards to spin the ball.
The wrist is generally a little looser on the backhand. When more advanced, adding in a flick of the wrist can help out with spin and is tricky for your opponent to read. But mastering it first without the wrist flick will give you better accuracy and stability to increase your skill. Same goes with the forehand flick.
Notice Timo on the backhand flick how he uses more of his wrist upon contact. This is trickier to control and should be practiced when more advanced…
Because of the position he’s in with respect to the ball, near the middle of his body, he uses the same foot as his forehand flick to move forward. But the other foot should be used on far backhand shots.