Learn how to counter-attack (and take your game to the next level)

One of the players I coach likes to finish our coaching sessions with some match-play. I ask him how he wants me to play – defensive, attacking or mix it up? He always wants me to play my best and give him everything I’ve got.

We have some good games. I usually come out on top, but it’s close. After we finished one week, he said he found it difficult when I attack too much. He goes into automatic blocking mode and becomes too passive.

So during our next session we worked on options for counter-attacking. When we played a few games at the end – he blocked less and attacked more and I found it much harder to win points.

So for your benefit, here’s a couple of things we worked on, plus a simple training drill you can do.

Note: This blog post is aimed at more advanced players. If you are at beginner level, you should try and master blocking first. Read my blog post ‘Frustrate your opponents with steady blocks, aggressive blocks and trick blocks‘ or watch my video ‘How to block heavy topspin‘.

Attacking options

If you’re playing an attacking player and you want to do more than just block, you have a couple of different options.

  1. You can play a counter topspin close to the table
  2. You can play a counter loop further back from the table

Both options are effective but in different ways. Let’s take a look at each option in more detail…

Counter topspin close to the table

First of all, here’s a video of counter topspin attacks played close to the table by some of the best players in the world.

Impressive stuff!

If you want to try and play this shot, this is what you need to do:

  • Stay close to the table
  • Start with your bat higher than normal
  • Close your bat angle
  • Play a short topspin stroke, aiming to brush the ball a little
  • Try and contact the ball before the peak of the bounce

The key here is to play this shot with a short stroke and early timing. You really don’t need to take a wild swing at the ball. This is very hard to do when playing close to the table and the ball is coming to you fast.

Instead keep the stroke short. If you’re opponent is attacking, the ball will have plenty of speed already. So you don’t really need to add loads of speed yourself. Just work with the speed on the ball.

It’s fine to sacrifice power with this shot, because you will be rushing your opponent. This is the main benefit of this shot – it’s very quick. If you play the shot with early timing, the ball will often be past your opponent before he has had a chance to recover from his original attack. This is a thing of beauty when it works!

Counter loop further back from the table

Here’s a video of Ma Long, possibly the greatest player ever, doing lots of counter loops back from the table.

Note: Not all the shots in these videos are counter-loops. Look out for the points where Ma Long is back from the table and looping).

Ma Long really is a spin machine!

So to play a counter loop, this what you need to do:

  • Step back from the table
  • Have a bigger backswing
  • Contact the ball at the peak of bounce or when the ball is starting to drop
  • Spin upwards
  • Your bat should finish up by your head

The key for this shot is to use a longer stroke with plenty of acceleration. As you are back from the table, you will need a longer stroke and some speed to get the ball back over the net and deep on your opponent’s side of the table.

If your stroke is too short or too slow, you won’t be able to get the looping spin on the ball and your opponent will find it easier to keep on attacking. But if you can get the heavy spin (loop) on the ball, it will kick off the table and give your opponent difficulty.

This is an all-body shot. As you can see from the video above, Ma long is using his legs, his waist and a lot of arm acceleration to get the speed and spin on the ball way back from the table. It’s high energy and athletic.

It’s a lot of fun playing counter loops and you can hit some spectacular shots. But it does take a lot of practice to get the footwork, timing and contact right.

Training drill

So how can you practice counter topspins close to the table and counter loops back from the table?

Here’s a simple drill you can do.

  • You serve
  • Your partner topspins, you block, your partner topspins again, you block again
  • After two blocks, you counter attack the next ball (this could be close to the table or further back, whichever you want to practise).
  • Play out the point

As you get the feeling of going from a block to counter-attack and your consistency improves, you could either block only once or don’t bother blocking at all. So you serve, your opponent topspins and you counter-attack the third ball.

It’s easier to begin with if your partner attacks to the same position, e.g. middle of the forehand side. But as you improve, you can make the drill harder by getting your partner to attack to different positions.

Take your game to the next level

As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog post, counter-attacking is a more advanced technique. Before you can counter attack effectively, you need to be able to have consistent spin shots first.

But if your strokes are already good, then counter-attacking can take your game to the next level. There is nothing wrong with a good block shot, but you can give your opponent even more trouble with devastating counter-attacks.

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