Table Tennis Tidbits #4 By Robert Ho

By Robert Ho | July 29, 2017, 2:23 p.m. (ET)

Xu Xin 

 TABLE TENNIS TIDBITS # 4    By Robert Ho   9-13-15


Positioning To Serve and Receive

Xu Xin, a frequent #1 male from China over the past 2 years, Ma Long, current Men’s World Champion, Fan Zhendong, current 4th ranking Chinese male, Timo Boll, past German Men’s and European Champion, women Kasumi Ishikawa and Ai Fukuhara of Japan, and Ding Ning, current Women’s World Champion from China have all been observed to have something in common-- standing just outside their backhand sideline when executing their forehand serves.  They apparently wish to maximize the opportunity to use their forehand in responding to the return of service.  By implication they are also daring the opponent to return the serve toward the opposite side of the table because they (the servers) are confident in their footwork and speed of response to deal with such a return.  It is also the case that they feel they can recognize the likely target of the serve return soon enough and that they can move rapidly enough to backhand loop the service return if they so choose.  On the other hand, when Ding chooses to use her “tomahawk” serve she usually stands slightly inside her backhand sideline.

Such forehand dominant play may also compensate for a weaker backhand attack (reverse penhold backhand loop) in the case of Xu..  By contrast Fan Zhen Dong and Ma Long have very strong backhand loops .  Xu Xin is very fast with excellent footwork and he is spectacular to watch.  However his backhand loop is significantly less effective, in my opinion, than Ma’s or Fan’s and is a factor in his not having won the world title (yet) in spite of having been #1 over many months though not continuously.

Nevertheless at every level of international play, and even below, the server frequently stands outside the backhand sideline to use the forehand serve.  The main exceptions seem to be when the forehand server is perhaps using a tactical ploy; also choppers are more likely to forehand serve within the their backhand line of the table, in part, to facilitate the use of their backhand response.  Current German and European Champion Dimitri Ovtcharov may use either his forehand or backhand serves (conventional or tomahawk) at almost any point within either sideline.

A shrewd understanding of what advantages may be gained by one’s serves against a specific opponent requires observant awareness of the opponent’s responses to variations in one’s serves.  Among some gifted players such a productive assessment may be gained even in an initial match against an opponent not previously observed.  Previous observation or match encounters are otherwise necessary for most players to acquire optimal service advantage.

It is more common in receiving serve for a player to stand with the medial foot just inside the backhand sideline, again to facilitate a forehand return.  Past World and Olympic champion Ma Lin of China would often position himself outside his backhand sideline, so confident was he of  his ability to identify the course of the serve and his ability to move to use a forehand return; nevertheless there were instances where his confidence betrayed him.  Very aggressive choppers (of whom there are few) may position themselves near their backhand corner to raise the threat of an aggressive forehand return; more frequently choppers receive serve from a position closer to the middle of the table or even toward their forehand half of the table.