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Tip of the week: Learn Control First on Receive

(by: Larry Hodges)

In this age of the banana flip, where no serve is so low or spinny that it can’t be attacked, players often neglect to learn the most important part about receive – ball control. This means the ability to read the serve and return it consistently anywhere on the table without trying to kill it.

Instead, many players blindly attack every serve, often erratically. This is generally the right thing to do against deep serves as long as the attacks are consistent and well-placed loops (or for some, drives), not just loop kills. But against short serves, where you can both rush, angle, and short-ball your opponent, many players jump right to the banana flip, attacking everything like the world-class players often do. (Though world-class players don’t attack every short serve – they still push short and even long as a variation.) Attacking the serve may seem the “cool” thing to do, but doing it every time makes you predictable as well as erratic, since you do it even against serves that are difficult to attack, but easy to return effectively in other ways.

For example, if a server mixes his serves up very well, and occasionally throws a very heavy, very low short backspin serve, it can be difficult to flip since you have to adjust to so many different spins. Why not perhaps half the time or more just push it short, or perhaps an aggressive deep push? If you aren’t comfortable doing that, that’s the whole point – you haven’t developed the ball control part of your game, which includes both pushing short and long, and controlling the next shot if the opponent attacks.

Against short serves, the most important thing to learn is ball control. Learn to flip, yes, but also learn to push short or long (against backspin or no-spin). If you flip every time, the opponent knows it’s coming and can just wait for it. Why make it so easy and predictable for him? The primary goal of the receive isn’t to win the point; it’s to neutralize the serve. If you do that, and force neutral rallies that way and win half the points, then you should be able to win the match on your own serve. Especially if your opponent is erratically and predictably trying to flip all your short serves!

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