Analysis of performance of defenders in WTTC 2015 China


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.
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3 thoughts on “Analysis of performance of defenders in WTTC 2015 China”

  1. I noticed that soft long pimples function better with the new plastic ball, I already used Akkadi L2, Toxic 837, Toxic 755 (middle softness), Feint III and the ball tends to go higher than soft rubbers like Octopus, Feint Soft, Caos, and TSP Curl p-1 (in my opinion the pimples too separate). I agree with the analysis, but I think that, Joo noticed this with the soft rubber, that’s why, he probably changed to Feint.

    The material became more faster (blades and rubbers), what do you think about to use rubbers with more tackiness and more slow (sponge thickness)?, may be we can neutralice the speed with control, like in the old times, when defenders have a hope against attackers.
    J.P.

    1. Hi John, I think two rubber in sides times unfortunately are over. Main reasons being: If sponge it thick, chop goes often off the table, if sponge is thin, you get less chop and can’t really use the attacking advantages of a rubber in. But I was surprised to see one Japanes player apparently using this variations at the US Open 2015. Have a look at Satoshi Aida.

  2. Hi Markus,

    Thank you very much once again for your very detailed analysis. You must be spending a lot of time on this blog and it is very much worth it.
    While I do agree with the challenges you have pointed out for modern-day defenders (especially the video analysis is an aspect I didn’t recognize yet), I don’t think that there is any reason to be disappointed with their performance at this WTTC.

    Firstly, there were some great upsets in favour of defensive players earlier on in the tournament, the most spectacular, but not the only ones, being Pattantyus vs. Chuang Chih-Yuan and Bilenko vs. Fukuhara, both instances in which a lower-ranked defender has beaten a player from the Top 10.

    Secondly, given the draw there was no way more than one defender would reach the quarter finals. Of the six you mentioned, Han Ying wasn’t eligible to compete and all of the others except for Li Jie would have had to beat the world no. 1 and eventual world champion to get there, and Li Jie had already outperformed her seeding with the victory against Doo Hoi Kem. So, given that Wu Yang was only one set away from beating Ding Ning and securing a medal and that a defensive doubles pairing actually won the only European medal in the tournament, I think we can be very satisfied with these results.

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