Strategy To Win in Table Tennis: Serve and Attack

Strategy at table tennis: Serve and Attack

Most of us, amateur table tennis players, don’t understand well the table tennis strategy and tactics. Some players know about the “3rd ball attack”, but in a real match, they don’t know how to serve and how to do the attack effectively. Today, I will show you a general strategy in table tennis which helps you win your match. It’s “Incorporation of serve and attack”.

Most effective tactics to serve and to attack

Strategy and tactics are very important in table tennis. It helps you understand the mechanism of the game. It answers your question like “Where to serve?”, and “Where to attack?”.

You must understand the purpose of your serve.

In China, the player is asked to “imagine” the schema, the pattern of the rally before doing the serve. And if this pattern works, they will repeat it for perfection. That’s one of the reason, why Chinese players are so good. They play very fast, no error, like a robot. Because they have a better training system in their daily routine.

Based on the Chinese coaching system, the basic strategy in table tennis include “serve” and “attack”.

  • Serve is your tool to set up the attack
  • Attack is your winning condition
Ma Long: The master of serve and forehand attack tactics
Ma Long: The master of serve and forehand attack tactics

Two types of “winning conditions”

In general, there are 2 types of winning condition in table tennis: Powerful forehand attack, and Quick backhand attack:

  • Forehand strong attack. Normally, the best position to perform the forehand attack is at the pivot position (at your left side). Because at this position, you have the largest view. You can easily control the direction of your attack: to the opponent’s wide forehand, wide backhand, or at his elbow.
  • Backhand quick attack. Backhand is not as strong and powerful as forehand attack. However, the backhand mechanism is different. You hit the ball in front of the body, which is quicker than forehand stroke. In general, the second winning condition is the quick backhand attack (loop, drive, or active block).

I will explain the best tactics for 2 types of players: Forehand dominant, and Backhand dominant players.

Chinese player and coach: Master the tactics to gain advantages in real match
Chinese player and coach: Master the tactics to gain advantages in real match

1. Strategy for Forehand Favorite attacker

If you are the forehand dominant player (you like using your forehand to win the point), you must use this tactic.

First, you need to understand well your advantages and your winning conditions. Most forehand dominant players have these effective winning patterns:

Your winning conditions:

  1. Powerful Forehand attack to the opponent backhand corner. This is the main pattern and it works most of the time. This tactic uses your strength (forehand at the pivot position) to play against the opponent weakness (his backhand). That’s the reason why this tactic is your main winning condition. You should use this tactic 80% in a match.
  2. Powerful Forehand attack to wide Forehand or Elbow. This the variation of the previous pattern. If your opponent gets used to your attack, you should change the position. Attack to his wide forehand or to his elbow. If the opponent blocks well with his backhand, you attack to the wide position and can win easier. Use this strategy as the variation, 20% in your match.
  3. Forehand attack (at the pivot position). This is the case where you want to play all in. Use mostly pivot forehand attack to dominate the opponent. This strategy is used a lot in China. This playing style will give so much pressure to the opponent. Use this pattern to finish the match quicker, or to increase the pace of the game.
Ma Long is one of the best Forehand Dominant Player in the world
Ma Long is one of the best Forehand Dominant Player in the world

How to serve if you want to use your forehand to attack first

Now you need to incorporate your serve to achieve your goal “Use your forehand to attack”. As you are the forehand dominant player, if you can use your forehand early in the rally, you increase the chance to win the point. Remember these steps:

  1. Serve to set up your Forehand attack
  2. Read the opponent’s style
  3. And think about the tactics before serving

A good coach can help you win the game easily. He shows you the where to serve, and where to attack.

It depends on the opponent’s playing style that you will decide how to serve, and where to serve. An experienced and professional player can win the game easily by analyzing the opponent’s playing style. There are 2 scenarios. 

1. If the opponent prefers to return your service with backhand (push, flick)

The opponent likes to use the backhand push, or backhand flick to return your serve. You should have a specific serving strategy:

  • You serve mi-long or long to their backhand corner
  •  80% of the case, the ball would be returned to your backhand side (“The diagonal law”)
  •  Now prepare yourself to pivot using your favorite Forehand attack

2. If your opponent prefers to return your service with his Forehand

The second scenario is when your opponent like playing his forehand to return your serve. Now you can’t use the tactics in the first scenario (serve long to his backhand corner). They will definitely attack (loop kill) your long serve. You should change your serving tactics:

  • Don’t serve long, they will attack, vary your service, 80% short ball to his backhand, and 20% long ball to his far Forehand to surprise him
  • The return ball will mostly be returned to the middle and at to your Forehand side
  • Prepare yourself for the long return ball, and counter-attack his return with your Forehand
Service Tactics is the key to win your table tennis match
Service Tactics is the key to win your table tennis match

You are now equipped with the good strategy to incorporate your serve into your playing style. We move to the second case, if you are the backhand dominant player.

Table tennis tactics: Table tennis is like a chess with the speed of light.

2. Strategy for Backhand Dominant attacker

If you are Backhand dominant player, you will win the point with the quick and strong backhand attack (like Zhang Jike, or Dimitrij Ovtcharov’s playing style).
Your winning conditions are:

  • Quick Backhand attack to the opponent Backhand corner. This is your main tactics to win. Use your strength to counter the opponent’s weakness (assume they have weak backhand, and stronger forehand).
  • You win by variation of placement and rotation. The backhand attack is not as strong as forehand topspin. You win with the fast pace and good placement.
  • Attack 80% to the backhand corner, 20% to his elbow (mid table) and to his wide forehand for variations. The best strategy to use backhand in table tennis is “variation” and “placements”.
  • You like steady and quick backhand attack close the table (up to mid distance from the table).

How to serve and when to serve in this case? Your goal is “using your fast backhand attack just after serving”.

Zhang Jike, a typical quick backhand attack playing style
Zhang Jike, a typical quick backhand attack playing style

To do that, you need to follow these guides.

1. If the opponent prefers to return your service with his backhand

If your opponent like using his backhand to return your serve (flick or push). You can use these serving tactics:

  • You serve mostly long, mix up with topspin, and no-spin serve. This trick will make it harder for him to flick or to push your serve.
  • 80% the return ball will go to your Backhand corner. Learn to add sidespin to control the placement of the return. Use more pendulum serve to get the ball returned to your backhand corner. Now attack with your favorite quick backhand.
  • Where to attack with your backhand? Attack to his Backhand corner, and his elbow (mid table) as a surprise.
  • Tips to win: Consistency is the key. Don’t hit too hard with your backhand, but focus on speed and consistency.
  • Long service to his backhand. These tactics will force him to return the ball to your backhand position. The game turns out to Backhand-to-Backhand exchange game (which is your strength).
Dimitrij Ovtcharov backhand: One of the most powerful backhand of professional players
Dimitrij Ovtcharov backhand: One of the most powerful backhand of professional players

1. If the opponent prefers to return your service with Forehand

If your opponent loves to pivot your serve with his forehand. You need to modify the match strategy.

  • Serve mostly short to mid (his elbow) and his wide Forehand
  • Serve underspin, sidespin and no spin (for variation)
  • Most of the time, ball will be returned to your mid-table and your backhand side
  • Now use your favorite Backhand to attack, flip, or loop the ball. You attack first! That is the goal!

These are the basics table tennis tactics that you should apply during a match. It’s based on my own experiences of coaching and playing.

Advanced technique: Use reverse pendulum serve as Zhang Jike for more effect. Sidespin will make the ball mostly go to your backhand, and it’s hard to keep the ball short. (because the ball with sidespin has energy).

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