Reprinted from the February, 1997 issue of Table Tennis Talk
Whenever you're practicing, always place the ball where you would in a tournament match. What you do in practice you will do in a match. But where should you place the ball?
For now, let's just talk about fast topspin or counter-driving type rallies. Most beginners and intermediate players place the ball to two spots: either the middle backhand, or the middle forehand. Top players place the ball to three spots: wide backhand, wide forehand, and middle.
If you place the ball to the middle backhand or forehand area, your opponent doesn't have to move to play his shot. If you put the ball wide to the corner, your opponent will have to either move or reach. Either way, he will not make as strong a shot on the average.
The middle is a trickier area to play because it's somewhat of a moving target. Your opponent's middle is roughly his playing elbow, the midway point between his forehand and backhand. When you play a ball aggressively there, your opponent has to: 1) decide whether to play forehand or backhand; and 2) move. This is a "double-whammy," so strong shots to the middle are often better than shots to the corners. (Some players favor the forehand or backhand somewhat, and so the "middle" might be a little to the side of the elbow.)
A very bad habit of many players is to place the ball to the middle backhand or forehand area when drilling, and to never practice shots to the middle. I'll say it again: what you do in practice you will do in a match. Change the way you drill, and add points to your rating!
Related subject: how do you return these shots hit at your middle? If you have good footwork and a good forehand, you should probably try to play forehand whenever possible. (And there are those with such good backhands that they should favor them, but this is rarer.) A general rule would be this: If you are close to the table or have little time, favor your backhand; if you are away from the table, or have extra time, play your forehand. When playing the forehand, remember to get out of the way of the ball by moving away from it, so you can use your entire forehand hitting zone.
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