Playing against a wheelchair player requires a specific strategy. First, you must begin the match with a fighting spirit. If you start the match feeling sorry for your opponent, you probably won’t give your best. Determine in your mind prior to the start of the match that you will give your very best and not worry about the sympathy factors.
Some players go back and pick up every ball for the wheelchair player so that he doesn’t need to wheel back for every ball. If you want to do it, that is very nice of you. However, for most players, it is a big distraction. If you are distracted by this, you can ask the tournament staff to provide you with an umpire or ball boy that can perform this task. I feel that you should be nice to the wheelchair player, but you should not be forced to retrieve every ball and take you out of your normal rhythm.
Before the match begins, check the wheelchair player’s racket to see what type of rubber he is using. About 95% of wheelchair players are using pips or anti.
When serving against a wheelchair player remember that the serve needs to go off the end of the table. If the wheelchair player feels that the serve is going at a wide angle off the side of the table, then he has the option to let the ball go. If he lets the ball go and does not play the rally and the ball goes off the side, then the point is a let. If he lets the ball go and does not play the rally and the ball goes off the endline, then it is your point. So, don’t feel unnecessary pressure that your serve needs to be in the exact center of the table. If your serve goes off the sideline, then the point is a let.
After the serve, you are allowed to play any ball anywhere on the table. Your serve return and your rally can go as wide as possible. Many players get stuck on the fact that they need to serve off the end; so they have the mindset for the rally and play all the balls down the middle. There is a huge advantage of using the angles during the rallies.
If you serve short and the wheelchair player cannot touch the ball, he is allowed to continue to let the ball bounce on his side of the table until the ball drops off the table. If the ball drops off the side of the table, then the point is a let. If the ball drops off the end of the table, then it is your point. Again, during a rally, you are allowed to hit the ball as short as you want or as wide as you want.
During the rally, try to vary the depth as much as possible. He probably plays very close to the table, so jamming him on the back line (near the body) should be your target. Also, very short topspin and no spin serves work well. If he pushes the serve, it should give you an easy pop-up. If he leans clear over the table and flips the serve, then you can attack quickly and catch him leaning over the table. If you serve short backspin and he pushes back short, then try to use the angles on your push. If you serve long, try to serve deep to the elbow (the transition point between forehand and backhand). Many wheelchair player like to play about 70% backhand and only 30% forehand. So be prepared for their transition point to be slightly more to the forehand side of the table.
Remember that wheelchair players often play against standing opponents. However, standing opponents (like you) rarely play against wheelchair players. So be willing to take your time between points, look for weaknesses, and be willing to adjust your strategy based on what is working what is not working.
1. Play your best – don’t easy off
2. Check his racket prior to the start of the match to see if he has unorthodox rubber
3. Get a ball boy
4. Use the angles
5. Find his transition point
6. Jam him deep to the middle
7. Be prepared to adjust and re-adjust your strategy
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