Many players at the beginner and improver level find it difficult to play forehand topspin strokes against backspin balls during match-play. They might be able to do it in training drills but when it comes to matches it doesn’t work.
It could be that they don’t drop their bat low enough. Or they don’t use their legs to push up to help lift the ball. Or they don’t play the stroke with enough acceleration. Or they don’t finish with the bat high enough. Or there is simply just too much to think about to execute the shot correctly and not enough time to prepare!
Whatever the reason, the end result is often the ball ends up in the net. The player then loses confidence and reverts to playing safe and pushing backspin balls, again and again and again. They know they can play forehand topspin. They know they should do it. But it just feels too risky.
If this sounds familiar to you, then here’s a simple way you can get your forehand topspin into your match-play. Instead of trying to play forehand topspins during general rallies, focus on using it for a third ball attack.
Serve a forehand backspin ball from the backhand corner of the table. This maximises your forehand playing zone. Serve to the centre of your opponent’s side of the table. This makes it harder for your opponent to find a wide angle with their return. More often than not the ball will be returned as backspin to a central position to your side of the table. You then have the perfect opportunity to play your forehand topspin shot.
This third ball attack sequence removes some of the randomness from table tennis. So even before you serve, you can start preparing for the forehand topspin third ball attack. Rather than waiting to see what sort of return you get, you are anticipating what you’re opponent is going to do. This means you can prepare for the forehand topspin quicker. And as your opponent inevitably pushes your backspin serve back to you, you are ready, waiting to play a forehand topspin.
The more you do it, the better you will get. You will have more confidence and you will then find it easier to play forehand topspins during general rallies too.
A note of caution. At the beginner and intermediate levels, it is very likely that a backspin serve will be returned with backspin. At more advanced levels there is greater possibility your serve will be returned with a flick or topspin. So if you’re going to use this serve / third ball attack to build your forehand topspin confidence, do so against players of an appropriate standard.
Third ball attack video tutorial
In this video, Chinese coach Tao Li, demonstrates the forehand 3rd ball attack, focusing in particular on your position after service to maximize your forehand attacking zone. Well worth a watch.