When I coach, I always encourage players to attack with topspin. There’s a lot a variations you can do with topspin – slow and spinny, fast and low, topspin with sidespin. It’s very versatile – you can play topspin against any spin your opponent gives you. And you have a good safety margin. The topspin lifts the ball over the net and drags the ball back down on the other side of the table.
But there are situations when a flat hit is absolutely fine, and may even be the best option.
A flat hit can be very fast and difficult to defend against. One of my team-mates – Loic – has a very powerful flat hit. When he hits the ball I generally can’t get anywhere near it. Wham! There it goes! If I get 1 in 10 back, I’m doing very well.
The key is to use the right shot in the right situation. So in this blog post I will explain when you should topspin and when it is ok to flat hit.
Flight of the ball
Let’s start with the flight of the ball. It’s very important to understand the difference in the flight of the ball when you topspin and when you flat hit.
When you topspin, the ball goes in an upwards motion over the net and the spin brings the ball back down.
When you flat hit, the ball goes much more in a straight line (although there may be a little bit of upwards movement depending on how flat the contact actually is).
This is pretty basic stuff, but a very important difference to understand.
Now let’s consider the height of the ball.
If the ball is higher, it’s absolutely fine to topspin, but you can also play a flat hit fairly consistently too. This is because you have a good margin (see diagram below) to hit the ball in a straighter line over the net. But you must hit the ball at the peak of the bounce, where you will have the biggest margin.
If the ball is lower, you have less margin to hit the ball in a straighter line and it becomes much harder to flat hit consistently. In this diagram below, you can see that the margin has nearly disappeared. There is a tiny bit left. It is possible to flat hit the ball when the ball is lower but you have to be very accurate. You need to get the timing of the shot, the bat angle and the throw angle spot on.
If the ball is lower, the better option is to topspin the ball. When you topspin the ball you do not need to worry about your margin as the flight of the ball is different. The topspin lifts the ball up over the net and drags it back down the other side.
In this diagram, you can see that there is no danger of the ball going into the net. I have created a big margin with the arc of the topspin shot. As long as the contact is good (lots of brush to create topspin), then the ball will clear the net and come back down the other side.
You also need to consider what type of spin is on the ball.
If your opponent plays a topspin shot you have the option to either topspin or flat hit. This is because the ball is likely to jump up a bit (because of the topspin), so there will be some margin to flat hit if you want to. What’s the better option? It all depends on how high or low the ball is and your playing style, but both options will work.
If your opponent plays a light backspin ball, the more consistent option will be to topspin the ball. It is still possible to flat hit these (especially if they are a bit floaty), but you will have less margin, as the backspin will keep the ball lower and the backspin will drag the ball down when you hit. But if it is light backspin, you might be able to hit through ball and the backspin won’t have too much effect.
If your opponent gives you a heavy backspin ball, the best option (by far), is to topspin the ball. It’s incredibly difficult – almost impossible to flat hit a heavy backspin ball consistently. This is because the ball is likely to be very low (so you have no margin) and the heavy backspin will make the ball drag down a lot more when you try to hit it. You might squeeze the ball over occasionally, but you will miss a lot more than you hit. So you need to lift these balls over the net with some topspin.
Topspin or flat hit?
I think either option – a topspin or a flat hit – is entirely valid if used in the right situation.
Players get into trouble if they always try to flat hit everything. But sometimes, if the ball is higher, a flat hit may be a better option than playing topspin.
It’s useful to be able to play both shots – topspin and a flat hit. This will add more variety to your attacking game.
If you normally topspin everything, try throwing in the occasional flat hit. The different speed, spin and timing of the shot can easily catch your opponent out.
If you normally flat hit everything, learn how to topspin too. This will give you many more attacking options and allow you to consistently attack low balls.
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