Player Archetypes: Attacking Styles
by Han Xiao
Recently, I received a question from Adam Formal about player archetypes. Since Adam does some coaching, he wants to know what some of the common player archetypes are and how to decide which style or archetype fits a particular player. To answer Adam’s question, I will do a two part series on player archetypes. In the first part, I will focus on more attacking archetypes and will follow with a second part on defensive oriented archetypes. Although there are some styles that lie in between, I will try to cover as many common archetypes as possible.
- Close to the table hitter
This archetype encompasses a number of specific playing styles, but usually refers to a pips out player since players using inverted rubber rarely hit or smash in order to initiate attacks at intermediate to advanced levels. The close to the table hitter will use quick off the bounce hitting and placement in order to put the opponent off balance and disrupt the opponent’s timing. A player who has very fast hands, lightning reflexes, and a quick first step can ideally fit this archetype. It is an archetype that does not require a great deal of power or stamina compared to some other styles, but does require a cerebral approach and an analytical mind to be most effective.Using this style effectively depends a lot on good control of timing and rhythm as well as excellent shot accuracy. Accuracy and timing are far more important than shot speed, despite the overall speed of the style. In addition, close to the table hitters need to have an excellent serve and receive game in order to maximize the potential of the style. The most difficult aspect of playing as a close to the table hitter is probably the ability to deal with heavy spins. This includes skills such as blocking, hitting against heavy topspin, and lifting heavy backspin.Although this player archetype is becoming a rarity on the world scene, the best example of this player archetype in the last couple of decades is Liu Guoliang. He Zhiwen of Spain is an active player of this type. This video of Liu Guoliang demonstrates how this style plays in general.
- One-winged forehand looper
The one-winged forehand looper has a much stronger forehand than backhand, especially regarding the ability to topspin loop. This might be for one of a number of reasons. For example, the player may simply not have developed a strong backhand loop, the player may be a penholder, or the player may play with pips or anti on the backhand side. This type of player will be actively looking to use the forehand to attack aggressively, both close to the table and away from the table. One-winged forehand loopers need a high degree of physical fitness as well as great footwork and anticipation. They also need to be able to generate easy spin and power on the forehand in order to put the opponent on the back foot. Some players are naturally more coordinated and generate power easily on the forehand side, making them more ideal candidates to play this archetype.One-winged forehand loopers need good serves to consistently set up follow-up forehand attacks. We also mentioned the need to generate excellent shot quality from the forehand side. Having very sound footwork technique is also a necessity to play the style effectively. Finally, an underrated skill for this archetype is the ability to rally and defend well from the backhand side. This can be blocking, fishing, lobbing, or even chopping once in a while. Since most opponents will try to attack the perceived weakness of the one-winged forehand looper, having a solid defense from the weaker wing is a key for this player archetype.Two of the best examples of this style at the highest level in recent years include Jun Mizutani of Japan and Ryu Seung Min of Korea. Although Mizutani is a shakehand player who can backhand loop, he heavily depends on his forehand to attack. Here is a video of the two players playing against one another.
- Close to the table two-winged looperUnlike one-winged loopers, two-winged loopers can be more easily classified based on their preferred distance from the table. Two-winged loopers who prefer to attack from quite close to the table are generally very aggressive with their timing and play more similarly to close to the hitters, but with the added element of spin. Close to the table two winged loopers need many of the same traits as close to the table hitters, but also require a bit more power and physical fitness in order to generate the spin and speed necessary to make the style effective.This player archetype doesn’t necessarily need to have as strong of a serve as a one-winged looper or close to the table hitter. Of course, having good serves helps at all levels of play, but this playing style can more easily apply pressure early in the rally even when not given an ideal service receive. Being able to apply heavy spin and/or execute very quickly timed loops while close to the table is the staple of this player archetype. Because this is a very aggressive playing style, having a strong serve return is ideal, especially having the ability to attack directly on the serve return. Developing a very reliable drop shot is also advantageous. Like close to the table hitters, learning to deal with heavy spin is key, as looping heavy backspin or counterlooping heavy topspin while standing very close to the table can be quite difficult. Being able to rally from mid-distance at high levels is also essential.
This is probably the most common playing style among world class players, with many of them having the ability to step off the table to rally when required. However, some of these players really embody this player archetype with their preference to control play from close to the table, including Timo Boll of Germany and Koki Niwa of Japan. Here’s a match between these two players where you can see this player archetype at work.
- Mid-distance two-winged looperMid-distance two winged loopers are usually much more of a controlled attacking style than close to the table two-winged loopers and play many more rallies. These players look to attack continuously while taking a step or two back from the table. This is a less common archetype than the close to the table two-winged looper, and requires very different characteristics. It usually takes quite a bit of stamina, the ability to move both quickly as well as cover large distances, and the physical strength to hit spinny and penetrating shots from off the table.
This type of player doesn’t rely as much on serve and serve return, but relies a great deal on being able to win the majority of longer rallies, especially rallies that end up with both players a few steps off the table. This means that this player archetype needs to be extremely consistent, both in attack and defense. Specifically, the ability to defend both close to the table and away from the table is essential, as well as the ability to transition quickly from defense to attack and vice versa. It is not an easy style to play, but is very stable in competition.
This archetype is becoming more and more of a rarity in international table tennis, similar to the close to the table hitter. However, some players still play a variation of this archetype even though they can play as a close to the table two-winged looper when necessary. Examples include Adrien Mattenet of France and Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece. Here is a match between these two players to exhibit this archetype.
Of course, many players will be a mix of multiple archetypes, but generally fit best within one. As players get more advanced, they need to be able to execute all the essential skills and weaknesses become smaller. However, you can still categorize most attacking players easily based on their strengths into these broad categories. For example, most of the strongest shakehand players on the Chinese national team such as Ma Long, Zhang Jike, and Fan Zhendong can be most appropriately categorized as close to the table two-winged loopers. They are very good mid distance and far from the table compared to most players, but they look to play aggressively close to the table and dictate the match.
Next week, we’ll take a look at some defensive player archetypes as well as some examples of well-known world class players who fit those categories.