If serendipity is a chance occurrence in a happy or beneficial way, table tennis appears to be a very serendipitous sport. Even if you remove all the nets and edges, there are times when players are just in the right place at the right time. If you should be so fortunate to be perfectly lined up to drive a shot into a undefended area of the table, it will take more than luck to actually execute the shot. Luck probably didn’t have much to do with you being in the perfect spot either.
Most players can make great shots if they are in the perfect position. The real skill is getting into that perfect position. This has become very clear to me when I find myself playing matches. The common denominator with the players who I struggle the most with is their ability to consistently be in position. The ability to be in the right place at the right time is no chance occurrence. Drills can help with footwork and timing, but inevitably, timing and footwork will be different in matches. I typically recommend a nice mix of drills and matches. The advanced player not only has to be physically able to move to the right spot, but more importantly, recognize where it is, and when to get there. It’s all about recognizing patterns.
Pattern recognition is the ability to match new information with information already stored in the brain. All of your opponents will play with different patterns. Certain patterns develop throughout the course of a match. The stronger your established patterns, and the quicker you can recognize your opponent’s patterns, the better you will play. Even if your opponent is much quicker than you, there is a chance to win, if you can recognize their playing patterns. In table tennis, being in the right place at the right time isn’t a matter of luck or serendipity. It’s about recognizing a shot before it happens, because it’s all been done before.