Table Tennis Placement and Free Parking

YouTube videos of Jan Ove Waldner have introduced the value of great blocking to a new generation of players. No less impressive are the blocks by Oh Sang Eun. The veteran Korean player maneuvers the best players in the world into awkward positions and manages to finish points with perfectly placed, often uncontested, backhands.

Not everyone can play this style but all players can learn something from these types of players. Video highlights make great entertainment, but even the greats don’t always play out points as well as their videos would suggest. If you are continually losing points because you are getting maneuvered out of position, it’s time to take a good look at why. Unless you are playing Waldner or Oh Sang Eun this shouldn’t be happening too often.
All players will sometimes find themselves out of position but there are reasons it happens to some players more. Some can’t recover after their own best shots. I recently played a match where my opponent abandoned his forehand corner so often I began to think of it as the corner spot in the game of Monopoly. I couldn’t believe how often I landed on “Free Parking.”
The path to being out of position sometimes starts before the ball is even served. Are you setting up to receive serves too close to the table? Are you not getting into a good playing position after your serves? Are you frequently playing backhands from the forehand side of the table? Do you find yourself letting balls drop too low? Are you playing too far away from the table? The further back you play, the more area you will have to cover. Being able to play back from the table is a great skill and a sign of a skilled player, but many players retreat too quickly and too often.
It is interesting that developing players often get to the point that their strokes have developed past the point of their actual playing level. Consider the 1300 level player with a 1900 loop or serve. The reason they are often not playing at a higher level can be explained by another board game that does not have a Free Parking space. The table tennis rating system is similar to, and was designed after the system for ratings in chess. I know how to play chess. In reality, all this means is that I know how the pieces move. If I choose to I can move my rook as well as the greatest masters of the game. I just don’t know when to move it, where to move it, or why. To actually get proficient at chess can take years of practice and study. Table tennis is no different. Like chess, table tennis has many possible strategies. Not every opponent will leave a portion of the table available for free parking. You’ll win more and enjoy playing more when you can end your matches with a checkmate.

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