“Attack the middle.”
“Focus on attacking the middle.”
“For goodness sake, just attack the damn middle.”
Welcome to inside my head! This is the conversation I often have with myself when my topspin attacks keep being returned and I’m not winning many points.
When I attack, I always go for the corners. I love attacking the corners. I’ve spent a lot of time practising attacking corners. It’s what I’m good at.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Often I have great success attacking the corners. But it becomes an issue if my opponent starts reading my attacks too easily. I become predictable and my opponent can block or counter-attack with ease.
This is where ‘attack the middle’ comes in. It’s a great position to attack and can be a game-changer. I don’t do it enough, but when my brain forces my body to comply and attack the middle, it works! It works brilliantly.
Let me explain what I mean by attacking the middle and why it can be so effective.
What do I mean by ‘attack the middle’?
When I say ‘attack the middle’, what I really mean is attacking an opponent’s crossover point. Most of the time, this will be located more in the centre of the table, rather than in the corners.
The crossover point is where a player has to decide whether to play a forehand or a backhand. This is roughly the area in line with an opponent’s playing elbow. This is not a fixed position on the table. It will keep moving depending on where your opponent is.
I like to use the term ‘attack the middle’, rather than ‘attack the crossover point’. In a fast paced match, it’s not always easy to exactly pinpoint an opponent’s crossover point. I find ‘attack the middle’ a bit easier to visualise when playing. But, of course, my ultimate aim is to hit that crossover point if I can.
Why is attacking the middle effective?
Attacks to the middle can be very effective as you force your opponent to make a decision. When you attack an opponent’s forehand, they have no choice. They have to play a forehand. When you attack an opponent’s backhand, they have no choice. They have to play a backhand.
But when you attack the crossover point, your opponent has to decide whether to return with their forehand or backhand. Your opponent has to move left or right, to get in a good position to return the ball.
If they don’t move, you’ve got them! Your opponent will be forced to play an awkward shot or won’t be able to return the ball at all.
Length and speed
To make an attack to the middle even more effective, you want the ball to land deep and you want to play with some speed.
If your attack drops short or is too slow, your opponent will have more time to make a decision and move left or right to play with their forehand or backhand.
A quick attack, where the ball lands near the end of the table is much harder to defend against. You take time away from your opponent. He or she will have little chance to react and nine times out of ten, you’ll win the point.
Here’s a great example from the final of the 2016 German Open between Ma Long and Vladimir Samsonov. In this video, you’ll see Ma Long win two points in row by attacking Samsonov’s crossover point. Samsonov is one of the best blockers in the world. But Ma Long attacks so fast and deep, there really isn’t much Samsonov can do. Throughout this match you will see lots of instances where Ma Long attacks the middle. It’s a great tactic to use against a blocker.
Attacking the middle can be a game-changer
My habit is still to attack the corners, but I’m trying to attack the middle more. In one match recently, I was losing 6-8 in the deciding game. The match was slipping away. My attacks were being blocked too easily.
Then my brain finally woke up and had a chat with my body and I started attacking the middle. I won the next 5 points and the match.
I was happy the tactic worked, but also annoyed with myself that I had left it to the end of the match to attack the middle. Had I done this earlier in the match, I’m sure I would have won more comfortably.
So if you don’t currently attack the middle, give it a go. You may be very happy with the outcome!