In today's blog post, we look at four key elements (or skills) that are absolutely crucial if you want to develop into the best possible table tennis match player.

Frequently mentioned by table tennis coaches around the world as the 'entry' to each and every point, they are:

  1. Service
  2. Receive
  3. First attack
  4. First block

These four skills create a core of the 'entry' standard to each point whereby the server aims to serve and attack and the receiver aims to receive and either block or attack.

As a player, it is vital that you build a high standard in these key areas to create a good solid grounding for your development.

1. Service

The important thing to learn when mastering the basics of matchplay service is the ability to serve well and execute under pressure. This is achieved through experience and also with the right training.

What that means is that you need to simulate a pressure environment in service practice and in training matches. This could be something as simple as using physical punishments for fault serving (i.e. press-ups) or, as we saw recently in the Chinese National Team training, getting your teammates to watch you as you execute a serve. This piles on the pressure of not wanting to make an error and forces you to execute perfectly.

On top of this specific matchplay element, you must also work on service variation, efficient service practice, and certain serves for set plays.

Remember, your service is your entry to the point for half of the match and it is crucial to structure your every move from that starting point.

2. Receive

Receive training is often built into matchplay exercises, however, if you wish to practice receiving more frequently you can do one of two things.

  1. Pair up with someone doing service practice and practice receiving their serves.
  2. Structure your drills so that your training partner always serves.

Often we feel it necessary to always start our own drills with a serve. Don't! If you wish to work on your receiving then dedicate some time to drills where your training partner serves and you focus on making a tight receive.

3. First Attack

Opening balls and looping are base elements of table tennis. The real key is to open with firmness and confidence and commit to the shot you have chosen to play. In order to do this, it's important that you understand shot selection, bat angles, and forehand techniques.

If well executed and well placed, a solid first attack gives you a firm foothold on the point. Combined with a good first serve, you are already on your way to winning the point.

One of the key things to remember, which I mention frequently in my articles, is that your first opening ball does not have to be hard and fast, it needs to be on the table. In saying that, you don't want to give your opponent an easy ball. So, aim for spin, placement and table depth.

A good solid deep-table loop can cause problems, as the topspin will cause the ball to kick up. This makes the shot more difficult to play against. A more shallow placement presents more opportunities for your opponent to counter attack.

A good way to practice table depth shots is to do multiball and place a towel over all but the back 20% of the table. Your aim is to get the ball to land in that back 20%. To achieve this you need to maximize the transition of power from your legs, through your core, and into your stroke. Achieving table depth is much harder to master than simply hitting the ball hard!

4. First Block

The ability to block is often overshadowed by attacking techniques in training but rest assured, having the ability to block can often give you a strong advantage over attacking players. It is a very sustainable technique and has an uncanny ability to disrupt rhythm.

When faced with an opponent making their first attack, the first block is a vital shot in your game and it's all about blocking consistency. Blocking consistently not only makes you a well-rounded player but also a much more valuable training partner - which can be very important in some training environments. After all, everyone wants to practice with a good blocker!

Final thoughts

No matter what other areas of the game you bring your focus to, these four key areas should always form the core of your training and development. Without them, you disadvantage yourself against other players.

Put simply, you cannot afford to have significant weakness in any of these four areas or it will be exploited and you will pay the price for it in your matches. So think to yourself, of these four elements, are there any areas in which you need improve? If so, put in the time and effort to do so.

As many coaches say, your ability to counterloop, rally, and play big shots is irrelevant if you can't execute in these four simple areas of the game.

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by Matt Hetherington