Thursday, July 17, 2008

no coach? no problem -steph

Ever feel helpless and alone without your coach there? Overwhelmed? Naked, even? Feel like you just don't know where to start? There are a lot of people out there who simply don't know what to do with themselves without someone sitting outside of the barriers to help them during a match. I will admit that I am one of these people. It's gotten a lot better as the years have gone by, but let me tell you that at my worst, I was a complete basket case; I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and no matter if I won or lost, I had no idea how it had happened. Then one day, after getting a sound yelling-at and long lecture from my coach, my self-coaching improved by leaps and bounds. I'm now going to share his words of wisdom, and hopefully they'll help out someone else as well.

There are basically three things to focus on: how to receive your opponent's serves, how your opponent receives your serves, and how your opponent sets him/herself up for winners. If you can more or less get these three points down, that's 80% of the game.

How to receive your opponent's serves is the most straight-forward part. Presumably when you practice and train, you practice how to receive all different kinds of serves, so to take care of this part, you really just bring out what you practice at the club or at home: pay attention to how your opponent's racket strikes the ball when he/she serves, the ball's rotation (if you can), the speed of the serve, and how the ball moves in the air as it comes toward you. For example, to distinguish between a heavy underspin serve and a no-spin serve, pay attention to what part of the racket your opponent uses to contact the ball:

Forgive the crudeness of the diagram, but it gets the point across... If your opponent contacts the ball with the right half of the racket, the ball will have little to no spin, and if he/she contacts the ball with the left half, the ball will have a lot of spin (this is assuming your opponent is right handed and is serving a forehand serve).

Next, figure out how your opponent likes to receive your serves so you can have an idea of how your serves are most likely going to be returned to you. For example, pay attention to see if your opponent is more likely to drop shot your short serves or push them long. Also, look to see if any of your serves give him/her a lot of trouble. When you have this part of your opponent's game more or less figured out, the match becomes a lot easier, because you can anticipate serve returns and set yourself up accordingly.

The last part is the tricky part, especially if you're playing against someone you've never seen before. Every person has his/her favorite plays, and absolutely everybody is different. Also, every person has his/her strengths, and his/her serves will basically reveal what kinds of points he/she prefers to play. For example, a player whose shots aren't strong, but are fast, and who is super consistent will probably let you be aggressive and attack the ball so that you will get into rallies that favor him/her. You can figure that this person will probably serve long a lot to thrust you directly into a rally in which he/she is comfortable and confident, and/or serve just off the end of the table to get you to open with a shot of mediocre quality and start a rally that favors him/her. Once you see what kinds of points your opponent likes, avoid those situations at all costs. You have to do whatever it takes, even if it means venturing outside of your own comfort zone a little bit, to make your opponent uncomfortable and to keep him/her off-balance. Sometimes if your opponent gets annoyed enough because you aren't giving him/her the rallies he/she wants, he/she will start missing easy shots, giving you freebie points.

Like I said, these three points are only about 80% of what it takes to win a match, or at least keep it close. The rest is concentration, stamina, your own shot making skills, and how you feel that day. However, if you can figure out these three elements of your opponent's game, it makes figuring out how to play him/her that much easier.