Most club players are unable to excel in table tennis because of their poor footwork. Many players blame their beer belly or their age or their footwear or their training partners. However, the aspect of footwork that I will be describing in this short article is an aspect that every player can improve upon, regardless of their age, rating, or physical condition. Today, I want to show you the importance of anticipation as it relates to footwork in table tennis. There are three elements that I want you to remember.
First, move into position based on your hit. If you are positioned at your forehand corner and you hit cross court, you are probably in a good position for the next hit. If your opponent decides to hit down-the-line, then you can adjust your position. But covering the cross court ball will force your opponent to hit the more difficult ball or to hit the easy ball to your position. From your forehand corner you hit to the middle, you then need to move to the middle of the table. From your forehand corner you hit down-the-line to your opponent’s backhand, you then need to shift your feet to the backhand corner in anticipation of the next ball. Again, there is no guarantee that the ball will go cross court. The only thing that you are trying to accomplish in this first element is that you cover the easiest and deadliest hit from your opponent – cross court.
In order to practice this first aspect, I would recommend starting simple and perfecting the first ball first. Start by serving to the corners and preparing with your body position for the cross court return. You can do the same with serve return. Have your training partner serve short backspin, you push deep to either corner, then prepare cross court to block his loop.
Second, adjust your position again based on what you see. If you have moved into position on the backhand side of the table but your see your opponent’s racket angled toward the middle, then re-adjust your position based on what you see. About 90% of the time, the angle is correct. Players usually don’t double-fake you. If their angle is showing that they are hitting to your forehand, then usually they truly are hitting to your forehand.
In order to practice this second aspect, I would recommend learning how to watch the ball as it approaches you, then learning how to watch your opponent’s racket after your hit. Warm-up forehand to forehand with your training partner. Ask your training partner to occasionally switch your backhand. You should be able to see his angle change prior to contact. If you can see the angle change and are able to adjust, then you are on the right tract. If your training partner hits the ball to your backhand… the ball is crossing the net… then suddenly you realize that he switched, then you have not properly been watching his angle. Start with simple drills like this, then get more advanced as you perfect this new skill.
Third, be ready to make small, split-second adjustments with your feet. The anticipation based on your hit and the anticipation based on your opponent’s angle are very general. You might think that your opponent is placing the ball to your middle-forehand, but in fact, he placed the ball to your wide forehand. In order to maintain balance and control, you must make the final adjustment with your feet.
In order to practice this third aspect, ask your training partner to block for you in the forehand ½ table. You hit everything to his forehand while he moves you slightly. Your feet should be making 1-2 micro moves before every hit. The world’s best players usually take about 2-3 mini-steps between hits.
Remember the three aspects – your hit, your opponent’s racket, and your final adjustment. If you can master these three aspects, then table tennis will seem easier, you will seem to have more time, you will be reading the ball better, and the game will flow much easier.
Here is a demonstration video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDY_tmfBw8I
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