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Quick Identify Opponent’s Playing Style in Table Tennis

Table tennis is a very technical and tactical sport. During a match, you must quickly identify the playing style of your opponent. Then you can find a good tactic & strategy to win your game.

One of the most important skills you must develop as a table tennis player:

  • Ability to quickly size up your opponent
  • Quicky analyze his playing style
  • Find good tactics to counter his strength (that’s why you need a coach).

How to quickly identify the playing styles

In table tennis, there are many playing styles: looper, two wings looper, hitter, block and one wing looper, penhold short pimples hitter, penhold looper, reverse penhold backhand RPB player, defender, modern attack defender, long pimple blocker, puncher, long pimple defender, close to the table quick attack, push-control, driver, etc.

Here are my tips:

During the warm-up, you should regard his position, his footwork, grip, racket. You can identify if your opponent is:

  • Forehand dominant player
  • Backhand dominant player

With this information, you can pre-plan good tactics, where to serve, and where to attack. Think about it, and you get confidence.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov: an example of backhand dominant playing style
Dimitrij Ovtcharov: an example of backhand dominant playing style

“Look at his grip, position, legs, distance from the table, where is his elbow point”

Forehand dominant playing style

The forehand dominant player will have these characteristics. You can quickly recognize them:

Forehand dominant player:

  • He uses forehand grip. His index finger is a little high.
  • Right foot is well behind the left. Look at his ready position during warm up.
  • Stands on the backhand side. They prefer to stand at the backhand corner to “pivot”
  • Elbow point is on the backhand side
  • He loves to pivot (using forehand to attack around his backhand corner)
Ma Long a good example of the forehand dominant playing style
Ma Long a good example of the forehand dominant playing style

Serving tactics to counter forehand dominant player

Where to serve and how to serve is very important during a match. Your objective is to reduce his strength (pivot attack). The best tactics are:

You should serve to the weak spots:

  • Long into the wide forehand and backhand side
  • Short into the wide forehand side

Forehand player has 3 weak spots: Long at his backhand side, and short and long at wide forehand. If you keep serving long at his backhand side, he is forced to use his weaker side (backhand) to answer your serve. If he wants to use his strength (forehand), he needs to step around. That’s why the serve (short and long) at his wide forehand will make him surprise. You can win the point directly or get the huge advantage to attack the next ball. By mixing up these 3 weak spots, you will reduce greatly his strength (forehand pivot attack).

Tactics: make him expose his weak backhand, remove his strength (pivot)

Weak Spots of the Forehand dominant player
Weak Spots of the Forehand dominant player

Backhand dominant player

A backhand favorite player will have these characteristics. You can easily spot it out during the first set of the match.
Backhand dominant playing style:

  • Rarely runs around his backhand to pivot
  • Return all the ball of his backhand side and mid-table with his backhand

By looking at these details like:

  • A backhand dominant player uses backhand grip. His thumb is moved very high to the handle.
  • Feet are parallel.
  • Stands near the center of the table. They stand in the middle of the table to use his backhand attack.
  • The elbow point is more on the mid-forehand side. (use his backhand side to cover as much of the table as possible)

Serving tactics to counter backhand player

The weakest point of the backhand player is his elbow. You should serve to move his elbow around. By doing this, you make them under pressure, and reduce the quality of their shots.

You should serve to

  • long down the elbow/ wide on the backhand side
  • short on the forehand side, and short on the elbow

You serve long to his backhand side to force him to move to his backhand corner. And then serve long directly to his elbow, will make him move. He hesitates at this point, to use the forehand or the backhand. Serve short to the forehand side also remove this initiative backhand attack, and force him to move further to the right. And then you attack to his left (backhand) to win the point.

The tactics to counter the backhand dominant player:

  • increase stress and make his elbow shift further to the forehand side
  • making him very vulnerable to a ball on the wide backhand
  • serve short to the forehand side and near the middle (look at the red spots on the photo)
Where to serve to counter backhand dominant player
Where to serve to counter backhand dominant player

Tactics: Move his elbow position, Shift to the right and then back to the left

This article gives you a guideline, how to serve, where to serve to 2 principal playing styles. You can easily quickly identify your opponent.

There are many other tips to counter various playing style. Like how to counter left-hander, how to counter blocker, hitter, anti-spin or long pips player. I will explain it later.

Table tennis Tactics | Quick Identify Opponent Playing Style

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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.

2 thoughts on “Quick Identify Opponent’s Playing Style in Table Tennis”

  1. For double game, you should serve short with sidespin. If your teammate is on your left, serve short with pedulum serve. So then the ball is returned to your teammate position, so then he can attack the next ball. Search “table tennis serving rule pingsunday” for this explication.


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