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Table tennis strokes more than meets the eye

Connor Hayes
Eric Wu practicing at IM West.

EAST LANSING, Mich.- It seems simple. Table tennis can be distilled down to hitting a small white ball back and forth. But as Michigan State club table tennis’ head coach Steve Gonzalez knows there is much more to the sport than just getting the ball over the net.

He took some time out of a recent practice to demonstrate the techniques his players have been working on perfecting, and explain the mental strategy to the game that a casual observer may not pick up on.

The Serve

When most people think of the traditional Table Tennis serve, they likely imagine somebody trying to lace a 100 mph past their opponent. Surprisingly, deception often ends up being a more important factor.

“There are lots of different difficult serves to return that don’t have a lot of spin on it,” said Gonzalez. “The key is to surprise your opponent. The key is to know when to hit fast, and when to hit it slower. A good player can hit it fast if he needs to and slow it down if he needs to.”

There are several different types of serves that vary in speed and spin.

The Return

It is important that the returner is paying attention to the server’s body language, because what they do dictates how they will have to play the ball.

“The key to returning a serve is reading your opponents serve, said Gonzalez. What that means is to read which kind of serve she puts on it. If you could read which spin your opponents serve is, that’s half the battle.”

The Loop

After the ball is hit back by the returner, the subsequent play is referred to as “the loop”. The name of the game in the loop is control. Each player is fighting to get into a position where they feel they are controlling the pace and direction of the point at stake.

“There is a strategy that you want to follow so that you are always in control of the table,” said Gonzalez. “You want to always be attacking with a lot of speed and spin.”

Once a player is able to gain the control of the table they generally have two different plans of attack.

“Option A: I’m going to hit where he is not, or Option B: I am going to hit into his weakness.”


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