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Liu Guoliang: Genius of Table Tennis Tactics

Liu Guoliang is the best table tennis coach in the world. He is ultimately responsible for the performances of all of the top Chinese players. He is very good in Psychology, Tactics and Player Development. It particularly focuses on mental training and preparation. The is the “secret of China Team”. In this Rio 2016 Olympics, you will see how Liu Guoliang prepare for the tournament.

Line-up with the German National Team

Without Liu Guoliang, Chinese National Team (CNT) can’t achieve such domination in table tennis. I will analyze the tactics of Liu Guoliang in WTTC 2014 China vs Germany (ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships).

First, this is the lines up vs Germany:

  1. Ma Long
  2. Zhang Jike
  3. Xu Xin
  4. Ma Long
  5. Zhang Jike

Why Ma Long first? because he knew that at that moment, Ma Long is more consistent than Zhang Jike, and he wants that Ma Long will play the 4th matches. He wants to terminate at the score of 3-0 or 3-1. If Zhang Jike loses or Xuxin loses, that Ma Long will be the decider to make China win 3-1.

Xu Xin jumping up to win the Gold Medal for team China
Xu Xin jumping up to win the Gold Medal for Team China

He estimates that China can lose 1 game, so it’s very clever to set up like that. And he knows that Ma Long is the “king of beginning – who plays very well without warm up”.

And in the worst case, if China is 2-2 vs Germany, Zhang Jike is a “Slower startup” players – who plays better at the late, will make China win 3-2. The safest lineup for China.

  • Ma Long should win 1-0
  • Zhang Jike should win, but not sure
  • Xu Xin should win (because German team has 2 best players: Otcharov, Boll)
  • Ma Long takes the 4th position, China is leading 2-0, and Ma Long will make it 3-1
  • Zhang Jike only if Ma Long loses. Zhang Jike has his place for the decided match (2-2 score)

You should watch the match LIVE! And you will see the intelligence of Liu Guoliang. He gave to their players the huge confidence!

Coach Liu Guoliang Tactics Genius in Table Tennis

Watch this video.

Liu Guoliang is a smart guy

He has built a “secret communication” with the players. For example, at 9-9, or 10-9, he clapped his hand 3 times, and shouted “Cho-lei”, that means to “serve short, topspin and attack 3rd ball to finish the game”. He knows that at this intense moment, the opponent will choose the safe solution to return the ball (flip to the middle of the table). This was the case of Ma Long vs Timo Boll.

Liu Guoliang knows how to communicate with their players
Liu Guoliang knows how to communicate with their players

Liu Guoliang understands well his players

He knows that Zhang Jike performance was not good in this WTTC.

  • Zhang has won difficultly 3-2 vs Robert Gardos
  • Zhang backhand is softer and has a problem with the backhand quick attack player like Robert Gardos
  • If Zhang Jike plays quick Backhand-Backhand, he lacks power, he has won the match because of the right tactics and the experiences from coach Liu Guoliang
  • Zhang has won Robert Gardos with difficulty at the Hong Kong Open 3-1

Liu Guoliang knew that and expected a loss versus Germany in this final.

Liu Guoliang’s tactics to counter quick backhand style

The backhand of Robert Gardos is not powerfull, however, its a quick backhand over the table. His backhand is more an active block than a backhand loop.
However, he has a good variation and aggressive playing style. If Zhang Jike can’t break in, he will have such a difficulty. But Liu Guoliang is clever, he asked Zhang Jike change the tactics, one shot to Robert’s middle, and then attack his wide Forehand. These tactics take out the strength (backhand weapon) of Robert Gardos.

Zhang Jike has difficulties versus Robert Gardos playing style
Zhang Jike has difficulties versus Robert Gardos playing style

Dimitrij Ovtcharov versus Zhang Jike in the Final

As we know, Ovtcharov has prepared very well for this match, the most important match of his table tennis career. Ovtcharov has trained to increase the power of his hip, waist by the exercise with the heavy ball. His backhand is most powerful backhand in table tennis.

Ovtcharov special drills to improve the power of his backhand
Ovtcharov special drills to improve the power of his backhand

If Zhang Jike can’t increase the quality of his backhand (the speed), we will lose.

Ovtcharov has well prepared for the WTTC Final match
Ovtcharov has well prepared for the WTTC Final match

Liu Guoliang has known this issus at this WTTC. Zhang Jike always has a difficulty with the backhand aggressive playing style.

Tactics of Ovtcharov

What is the tactics of Otvcharov in this match vs Zhang Jike?

  • He played very good at the beginning. Aggressive right at the starts. (Zhang Jike is a slow starter, strong at late game, but weak in the opening).
  • His weapon: Backhand is very fast and strong.
  • Good tactics: 1 ball to the backhand of Zhang Jike. And next ball is fast attack to wide forehand of Zhang Jike

First set, Ovtcharov has won 3 points in a row with this tactics. If you have seen the match LIVE, and hear the ITTF comments, you will understand. Set 1, Otvcharov has won 6-0, very good tactics.

My analysis

Before watching this match, I predict that Ovtcharov will win. However, the fact that he won 3-0 is a little surprise for me. At this moment, Ovtcharov is ranked higher than Zhang Jike on the world ranking.

Zhang Jike cant break in the backhand rallies with Ovtcharov
Zhang Jike cant break in the backhand rallies with Ovtcharov

Zhang Jike should improve the ball’s quality and change the tactics. Backhand to backhand with Ovtcharov is very difficult now. I’ve watched also the second set, and I know that Otcharov will win this match. The mental psychology of Zhang is not good in this tournament. He lacks motivation and aggressiveness.

Tactical aspects I’ve learned

What we have learned from this WTTC final match between China and Germany:

  • If you are a coach, please defind a “convention communication” make a sign with your players.
  • For example, at 9-9, if you want your player serve long and attack, clap your hand 3 times.
  • If you want your player plays slowly, makes fewer mistakes at the “critical moment”, clap your hand 2 times, and shout “Cho-lei”

Tactics and Strategy to outplay backhand oriented players

If you can not outplay the backhand (his backhand is stronger than yours). You should change the tactics. How?

  • Shut down the opponent weapon
  • Force him to play Forehand – Forehand
  • Serve short, and sidespin to the middle and wide Forehand
  • Now, the ball will mostly returned to your middle and Forehand
  • Then you loop, counter attack, and pivot
  • The game will change to Forehand – Forehand rallies instead of Backhand – Backhand system
Ma Long the ace card of Liu Guoliang in this final
Ma Long the ace card of Liu Guoliang in this final

Next part, I will analyze how Ma Long dominated Ovtcharov in the final WTTC Team Event.

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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

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