Choosing the right tactics

I recently posted a video on YouTube of me playing a match against Jarek Chrzanowski. Jarek likes to go back from the table and will return all my hard attacks with mid-height lobs. He’s like a brick wall and I find it really hard to get through him.

In the video, I asked viewers to give me some suggestions of tactics I should try when I next play Jarek.

And the response was fantastic. I got over 100 responses (and increasing). Some were short tips. Others were very detailed. But almost all responses were constructive. When I put out a video like this, I’m always a little nervous about what others will say (the internet can be brutal). But I have been blown away by the quality of the responses. So thank you to everyone who gave some feedback!

Now, I am left with another problem. I have a long list of tactics which others have suggested. But which ones to choose?

It reminds me of a passage from Larry Hodges book ‘Table Tennis for Thinkers’…

“Tactics isn’t about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. Tactics is about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work.”

I have created a list of the most common tactical suggestions below. If you want to read through all the suggestions, go to the comments section on the video.

  • Use drop shots to bring him into the table
  • Hit wider angles
  • Add some sidespin to your topspin attacks, to send the ball wider
  • Vary spin attacks and flare attacks
  • Hit off the bounce to take time away from Jarek
  • Serve short and then a strong 3rd ball attack
  • Keep moving him in and out
  • Use more pushes and chops
  • Attack his backhand more
  • Return his serves more aggressively

A couple of less serious suggestions too…

  • Play in a smaller room
  • Try a head shot
  • Get him drunk before playing

This is a very short summary. Within the comments there was a lot more detail and specific tactics to try.

So how do I choose the right tactics? Which ones will have the best chance of success? I can see that all the tactical suggestions may work, but I have to choose the tactics which I can actually do.

For example, many people suggested I use drop shots to bring Jarek back into the table. This is a tactic which could definitely work. But I don’t think I have ever practised drop shots. This is clearly a gap in my game and something I need to work on. So if I was to play Jarek right now, I would have low (or no) confidence I could pull off effective drop shots. So this wouldn’t be a good tactic for me at the moment. 

Similarly, others suggested adding sidespin to my topspin attacks. Again, this could be a very effective tactic. But I’m not that skilled at playing topspin attacks with plenty of sidespin. I can do it a little bit, but not with enough quality or consistency to cause Jarek problems. I will need to develop this skill a lot more before I can actually apply it in a match. 

But there are some tactics I could easily adopt right now. I can certainly use shorter serves (to keep Jarek at the table) and then execute a stronger 3rd ball attack, before he has had time to move too far back.

I can also mix up the play more by using a few more pushes and chops so Jarek can’t get too comfortable back from the table and just fish and lob.

And I think there is huge potential to target his backhand more, especially if I attack wide with more speed. This will bring Jarek out wider and open up the other side of the table for me to attack.

And there is one more suggestion which I found very intriguing. A couple of people commented that I shouldn’t move Jarek around so much. I should play more balls to the same position and wait for the right ball to switch direction. The idea being, that if I keep varying the placement all the time, all I am doing is keeping Jarek really alert to randomness. There is a predictability in my random play. He knows I will keep attacking different positions, so is ready to deal with this. If I played smarter, I could keep him a little more static and less alert to sudden switches. Would this work? It’s certainly something to try.

There is no fixed solution. I will need to do some experimenting to see what works. Jarek may have an answer to some of the tactics listed above. But there may be one or two tactics which change the dynamics of the match and enable me to win. My task is to find out which of these tactics are most effective against Jarek. 

I was due to play Jarek this week, but he had to cancel as he picked up a bad gash on his leg when he crashed into some barriers. This is a hazard of his playing style. He is often at the back of the court, knocking over barriers!

When I do play Jarek again, I’ll give an update on what tactics I tried, what worked and what didn’t work. 

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