If you’ve been playing table tennis for awhile there is a good chance you don’t give flat hitting a lot of thought. Either you are so comfortable with hitting that it has become second nature, or you rarely flat hit. Table tennis is after all a game of spin, and the loop is the dominant and preferred shot for the modern game. There are still plenty of players that incorporate hitting into their game, and maybe it’s a good idea to look at hitting from the hitters perspective.
The most common mistake of intermediate level hitters is trying to hit every ball. Balls that are below the level of the net can’t be flat hit. These same players often don’t adjust their stroke for changes in spin. Even if hitters are not imparting a lot of their own spin, they have to respect the spin that is already on the ball. A hitter should always be looking to contact the ball at the top of the bounce or possibly just before the top. A good example of a short pips hitter is He Zhiwen. You will notice that early in rallies he tends to roll the ball rather than hit it. As the rally progresses the ball tends to come up where it can be more easily attacked. Many short pips hitters use this rolling shot more than looping.
A typical mistake made by some players is to not practice drives and flat hits. Regardless of your primary playing style, there are some balls that need to be hit solidly. While a good topspin ball is usually the safer shot, a strong forehand drive or smash is often harder to return. A shot with raw speed is not easily chopped, blocked or looped. It is still important to choose your moments, and not ignore placement. A good blocker can sometimes send back your best hits with equal speed, while using far less effort.
Some paddles are more conducive to a hitting game. If every ball could be hit, it would seem like a fast carbon blade and short pips would be the ideal set up. It’s unlikely this super fast combination will work for many players. Short pips are great for hitting but most inverted rubber works fine as well. Your equipment choice needs to compliment your overall game, not just your strongest shot. I’ve seen some pretty strong hits, even with defensive blades.
Why is the flat hit misunderstood? Often the shot is not as flat as it appears. There is almost always some spin involved. Hitting a ball flat is not mindless slapping at every ball that is at least a few inches high. Hitting well is a skill that requires training, and is not always as easy as many players think. Common mistakes are swinging too hard, accelerating too soon, and having the wrong racket angle. Hitting is an essential skill, as much as looping, blocking, or returning serves. You can’t, and shouldn’t try to hit them all, but some balls are just asking for it.