One of the more awkward playing styles in local league table tennis is the big flat hitter. Rather than attacking with topspin, they prefer to hit through the ball with a very flat contact. You play a slightly loose shot and then BHAM! The ball gets smashed past you. You trudge off to the back of the hall to collect the ball. Next point, BHAM! The ball flies past you again.
It can be demoralising getting smashed off the table by a big flat hitter. Their attacks are fast, powerful and difficult to return. It’s not easy to react to the speed of their flat hits. Even if you do get to the ball, the lack of spin makes it difficult to block the ball back.
A flat hitter can be inconsistent. Some games they miss lots of their attacks. The next game they all their attacks go in. If you play a flat hitter when they are in form, you can be in big trouble.
What should you do when you play a big flat hitter? Below are a few tactics I use when facing this type of opponent…
Keep the ball low
My top piece of advice? Keep the ball low. It is much more difficult for a flat hitter to attack balls which are low. This is because they hit the ball in a straight line, rather than spinning the ball up over the net. If the ball is low, there is less margin to flat hit a ball over the net and get it to touch the other side of the table.
A low, long push loaded with backspin will be nearly impossible to flat hit. But a floaty push, which is a little high is easy for a flat hitter to attack. A fast, low topspin is harder for a flat hitter to attack. A slow topspin which goes higher over the net is easier for a flat hitter to attack. A return of serve which is kept low = harder. A return of serve which pops up high = easy.
You get the idea. A flat hitter can only attack effectively if the ball is high enough. So keep the ball low.
Avoid their hitting zones
Flat hitters love balls which are a little high and land in the middle of the table. This area is their hitting zone and they will smash balls past you. So avoid these hitting zones. A long, low ball is much harder to flat hit. A sort push (with plenty of backspin), will also be difficult. In general, keep placing the ball in awkward positions, either long, short or wide and they will make many more attacking errors.
Flat hitters thrive against opponents who play a little slow, e.g. floaty pushes, steady blocks or slow topspin attacks. To generate power for their big attacks, a flat hitter often uses a longer stroke and will put plenty of their body into the shot too. This is much easier to do if the ball is slow, as they have time to get their feet, body and bat into position to execute the attack. However, if you play with a bit of speed and rush them (fast pushes, blocks and topspins), it is a lot harder for them to set themselves for the big hit. You will force them to use shorter, jerkier strokes and if your placement is good they will have to hit whilst off-balance too. Again, they will make more attacking mistakes.
Target their non-attacking side
Often a flat hitter will only attack on one side. This is usually the forehand, although I have played backhand flat hitters too. If you face this type of flat hitter, simply target their weaker side. For example, if you face a flat hitter who only attacks with their forehand keep placing the ball wide to their backhand. Serve to their backhand. Push to their backhand. Block to their backhand. Topspin to their backhand. Be relentless in targeting their backhand. You will either prevent them from attacking completely or force them to take riskier attacks using their weaker side or stepping around and playing forehand attacks from the backhand corner.
Don’t be too passive
When you play a very aggressive flat hitter, there is a temptation to play passively. You become more concerned with their aggression, rather than focusing on your own game. You may find that your strokes become a bit tentative, stiff or jerky. The result? You will play weaker shots and then BHAM!, the ball is smashed past you again.
So you must put them under pressure and give them something to worry about too. If you’re usually an attacker, keep playing your attacking game. Play fast topspins to different positions on the table. If you’re usually a defender, keep the ball low with heavy backspin and you will force errors. If you don’t put them under pressure, they will get into a rhythm and keep playing their big flat hits.
A big flat hitter can be difficult to play against if you get intimated by their power and give them easy balls to hit. However, there is a major limitation to flat hitting – the ball needs to be high enough to drive it over the net. You should exploit this limitation. Keep the ball low and they will make more errors. Avoid their hitting zones, play fast shots to keep them off-balance, target their weaker side (if they have one) and don’t play too tentatively. If you do all of this, you will have much more success.
What tactics do you use when playing a flat hitter? Let me know in the comments box below.