I was somewhat dissapointed with the results of male and female defenders in the WTTC and would like to make some analysis here what I think why the defenders are not really getting better compared to the Chinese top attacking players. Some facts first: In May 2015 ITTF ranking there is no male defender ranked in top ten. JOO Saehyuk is no.16, Gionis is no. 19. In women it looks slightly better with Wu Yang and HAN Ying being no. 7 and 9 and SEO Hyowon and Li Jie being ranked 12 and 20. Amongst these 6 players only Wu Yang made it to the round of last 8 in the WTTC. Why is this? I see several challeges:
- athletithism of all attackers increased
- Power and speed increased by material development (blades and rubbers)
- the new plastic ball apparently reduced spin a bit making it more difficult to increase the inverted backspin for the attacker
- Professionalization as in other sports like football means that video analysis possibilities make it possible for the trainers of attackers to discover any weekness of defenders and exploit it with targeted individual training and coaching. You may argue that this is the same for defenders, but they currently have more limited capabilities than attackers, I am afraid.
This last point leads me to the question, what can be done to reduce the gap again between defenders and attackers on the top? I know that it is nearly unpossible to adopt all stroke capabilities in just one player! But if you don’t increase your flexibility here, you won’t get any nearer to the top again.
- Increase twiddling bat capabilities! Players like Joo mainly defend with pimples out on backhand, rubber in on forehand. Players like Ma long basically exploit the fact that he knows he will get a push ball back from Joo when he plays a push ball to his backhand. Since this is not choppy enough he will get a fast unpredictable topspin to almost any place on the table. This is often not retrievable. Defenders should use pimple in with heavy chop (Gionis occasionally does it already) to prevent fast initial topspins.
- Defend deceptive floats on forehand! When confronted with heavy topspins down the forehand most defenders either block back the ball or defend with heavy chop. Both generally is too predictable and mostly punished by better attackers. You should try to change between heavy low chops and low but “empty” faked chops in order to make the attacker loop the ball far off the table. This strategy is highly “underused” by defenders.
- Use the right long pips and use it more often with forehand! Look at Joo against Ma Long. At lated the third or fourth topspin is a slow, short and heavy loaded one either into backhand side or forehand side of the defender. When taking it with forehand it should be more often returned with long pips heavy chop. When this stroke is really mastered and you have the right long pips it will be very hard if not impossible to spin this ball up again. Defenders should “long” for heavy loaded slow topspins.
- Attack more with backhand when confronted with pushes! Gionis and Filus already do this quite a bit more than before. Use pips-in to spin the ball up, break the rhythm of the attacker and put more pressure on him. Alternatively push-lifting the ball with long pips can also be way to mess-up the game of the attacker. Gionis and Filus are already doing this a bit. This strategy should notably adopted more by female defenders who generally push far too much with backhand still.
- Rethink pimple choices. Generally I see short pips in modern table tennis critically even if Wu Yang made it to last 8 in WTTC. Top players always manage to play fast topspins and the they generally get the ball back too high from the short pips and can get in with a “winner”. I would like to see Wu Yang trying out TSP Curl, Milkyway or Feint Long III and twiddle the bat for backhand attacking! I think Joo chose Feint to be able to block and smash the ball occasionally with it. These capabilities do not really help and do not impress better attackers. I think he would be better off against a Ma long with long pips like the ones Wang Xi in German Bundesliga uses. Generally I would like to see a match between Wang Xi and Ma Long to verify this.