We won the league! Having finished second for the past two seasons, this year we finished top of Division 1 in the Cambridge league.
I am chuffed. This is my first ever Division 1 title in local league. I finished with a 63% win percentage, which is my highest total in Division 1 so far.
But the league title was only possible because of my excellent team-mates James Ward (97%), Daniel Hearne-Potten (90%), Daniel Smalley (83%) and Yordan Zaykov (66%). They all got a higher win percentage than me.
I now have a league title, but I am the worst player in the team! So whilst I am very happy with the achievement, I still have plenty of work to do to improve further.
In this blog post, I look at what went well during the season and what areas of my game let me down and need improving.
The good stuff…
Looking back over the season, there are definitely lots of things I am pleased about.
Attacking table tennis
It can be very easy for me to slip into ‘passive’ play – pushing and blocking a bit too much. But this season I really did try to be more positive in my play. I attacked more. I used my forehand topspin more. I even attacked with my backhand! This attacking play helped me beat a few players I had not beaten before and get closer to some of the better players
I actually lost three or four games by attacking too much (and missing my attacks), but I felt much happier losing in this way. I felt I learnt something useful in these defeats, which helped for future matches.
My backhand drive has become much more solid. This is something I have been working on for a long time. There is still lots I need to do to improve my backhand, but it is no longer the glaring weakness it once was.
This has given me a more balanced game. I don’t feel the need to always pivot to use my forehand. I feel much more confident taking on opponents in backhand exchanges.
The final area I think went well was how I controlled my nerves. The first few seasons I played league table tennis I was a nervous wreck! But now I am much better at focusing on the process of playing, e.g. service strategy, reading spin, ball placement and match tactics.
I am now far less concerned about whether I am going to win or lose, who my opponent has beaten, what my win percentage will be and what others will think of my results. All this leads to tight, anxious and passive table tennis. Which is not good.
My aim for all my league matches was to play in a way which would allow me to sleep well at night. This means trying to play good quality table tennis, using my best shots or applying specific tactics to trouble my opponent. The end result didn’t really matter. As long as I felt I played well, I was happy.
In three matches, I recovered from 2-0 down to win 3-2. Of course, it would be better if I started quicker and was not 2-0 down in the first place! But at least these comebacks showed me that I was able to keep a cool head, change my tactics and turn a match around.
The bad stuff…
There are LOADS of things I need to do to improve, but I feel these are my top priorities…
I have been told by several coaches that I am too upright when I play. I completely agree! I make good intentions to keep low, but after I have served or returned serve, I’m usually revert back to an upright position. Damn it.
This means I can’t use my legs effectively, especially when attacking. And therefore my attacking game suffers. I struggle with low balls. I make more errors. My shots lack energy.
I know what it feels like to stay low and engage my leg muscles properly. It feels great! My attacking technique instantly gets better. I generate more speed and spin. But I need to do this all the time – not occasionally.
Returning serves is still the area where I lose too many points. This has always been a weakness. I am much better than I used to be, but my receives still majorly let me down in some matches.
In some games this season I would make 5 or 6 receive errors. Straight away I am giving my opponent a big head start. I need to keep working hard at reading the spin, and playing a return which (a) lands on the table and (b) puts my opponent under pressure.
Backhand topspin vs backspin
Playing a backhand topspin against a backspin ball is still proving to be elusive in competitive matches. I have it pretty much sorted in practice. But in a match, I will still do a backhand push 90% of the time. This is disappointing.
In division 1, there is less backspin rallies anyway. It’s more topspin, topspin, topspin. But if I do get a backspin ball to my backhand, even if it is a weak backspin ball, I’m not taking advantage. I need to be able to attack these balls and put my opponent under pressure.
I’m not too sure what the answer is to this one. I’ve been working on it for 5 years! I need to work out a plan of action over the summer months.
So I have plenty to work on. But I do have quite a bit of motivation to improve at the moment. And now the league season has finished, I will have more opportunities to train alongside my coaching sessions.
My goal for next season will be to get a 70%+ win percentage. If I can make improvements to my stance, use my legs more effectively, return more serves and get my backhand topspin working, then I think I have a good chance of doing this.