How To Defeat Your Table Tennis Nemesis

The following blog post was written by table tennis player and coach Matt Hetherington and describes his experience of finally defeating his unnamed table tennis nemesis.

Have you ever had an opponent who you just can’t seem to beat? Someone who irritates you, pre-empts your every move, and leaves you with simply no idea of how to win points at all?

Losing multiple times to the same opponent creates a psychological disadvantage in your future showdowns. I will give you a personal example…

Losing 14 Times In A Row

In 2010, I lived with another table tennis player. We were good friends. We trained together. And we travelled to many tournaments together.

But… during 2010 he beat me 14 times in a row at various tournaments! It’s safe to say he was my table tennis nemesis.

After about the 5th or 6th time I was utterly defeated. Each time we played my mind was blank. I gave up before I even began. I was frustrated just for the mere fact I had been drawn to play him again and again. He had robbed me of all my chances of winning events. Even if I beat the top seeds, I would lose to him, and he would win the title.

So what did I do? Losing 14 times was at least 13 times too many. I realised I had not spent anywhere near enough time reflecting on my matches with him.

What was I doing wrong? What was he doing to beat me?

Time For Some Analysis

The answer was simple. He was a very good blocker. Very consistent. He would just stand at the other end of the table and place the ball, move me around, waiting until I was off-balance to counter-attack.

My solution up until that point had been to try and overpower him with winners. But that was his game and I was playing right into his hand. I needed to focus on what wasn’t his game. What he didn’t do well. I found two chinks in his armour…

  1. His attack was nowhere near up to standard with his blocking.
  2. His backhand opening was not so great.

I spent some time watching my friend play against other players who would consistently beat him. What were they doing to win points? Simple, they were pushing hard into his backhand and crossover.

  • Either his weak first attack would give them a genuine opportunity to hit a winner.
  • Or, if he returned the backspin ball with his own push, they cut out mistakes by focusing on consistency and controlled spin.

Focusing on consistency felt a bit counter-intuitive. After all, he was Mr Consistency. Wasn’t I just playing his game? But, in fact, consistent players outperform against wild, aggressive players because they win off their opponents mistakes.

To have a chance of winning, and finally defeating my table tennis nemesis, I would have to hit more balls on the table and take my time. Something I had been seriously failing to do.

So, after some frustration, I took a short break of a couple of weeks and prepared for the upcoming tournament.

Our 15th Encounter

I met my friend in the men’s singles final. I took off to a great start, did everything right, and lead 3-1 in games (it was a best of seven). In the 5th set, I started to revert to my old ways – trying too hard to hit winners. He won it 20-18. Well fought.

It went all the way to the 7th set. I was continuing to make the same mistakes I had before and again my mindset changed to, “OK, great. He’s going to beat me AGAIN”. He led 4-2 in the 7th set and I called a timeout.

I sat down and closed my eyes. This had to count. I had to stop and return to my game plan. I got up and went back to the table with a renewed sense of confidence. I stuck to my game plan of consistent looping and controlled spin, and I won the final set 11-5 (a 9-1 point ratio in my favour, post-timeout).

I had finally ended a 14-match losing streak by simply taking the time to watch my opponent and think about how I could win points against him. My mentality was, in the end, the big winner. Changing my mindset helped me to take my time and stick to my pre-conceived game plan.

So, I encourage you all to think deeply about the people who continue to frustrate you. Who is your table tennis nemesis? What can you do to defeat them? What do others do to succeed against them? And then make it work by having complete confidence in your assessment.

I hope this post helps you to rise up and take out someone who’s had a hold over you!

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