Brief Tactical Analysis of Fegerl vs Ovtcharov
Butterfly Table Tennis Coaching
by Han Xiao
Recently, one of the more exciting matches I’ve seen is a match in the European Championship men’s team finals between Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany and Stefan Fegerl of Austria. There were a number of excellent rallies in this match leading to extremely exciting points, so even without analyzing the important tactics here it was a great match to watch. Here is the video:
The most important thing to point out here is how the players play out their own serve and how dependent the modern serve game is on how you manage the opponent’s ability to backhand flip. Ovtcharov deals with opponents who can backhand flip by planning to overpower the opponent with the first counterloop. Note how Ovtcharov baits Fegerl to backhand flip very often in the match with a fairly straightforward pendulum serve into the middle or backhand side. Since Fegerl’s first backhand flip is more of a spinny opening and doesn’t have a lot of power, Ovtcharov as a power player knows he can overpower the first ball. Ovtcharov backs up a half step after serving to anticipate the backhand opening, and can either backhand loop the first ball or step around to tee off. This is a very standard way to play out your own service if you have the spin and power advantage over the opponent and you feel comfortable doing this. If Ovtcharov had trouble making this first counterloop or taking control of the point with this first powerful shot, he would have needed to adjust his strategy.
Fegerl’s play on his serve illustrates how to play against the possibility of strong backhand flips very well. Unlike Fegerl, Ovtcharov has an extremely strong, driven backhand banana flip. He has the ability to hit outright winners on the service return with pace and spin, which he demonstrates a few times during the match. However, Fegerl is able to neutralize this return for the most part with his serve combination. The primary serves Fegerl uses are hook and reverse pendulum serves, which can be difficult to control when receiving with a backhand banana flip. More important than the type of serve, however, is the placement. Fegerl serves primarily to wide angles, both wide to the forehand and wide to the backhand. When he serves short to the forehand in particular, he makes sure not to serve too short. This is a mistake that many players make, as serving very short can make it easy for the opponent to flip aggressively. Fegerl serves so that the serve is in fact very close to being half long, making it very difficult to backhand flip even if Ovtcharov can move to use his backhand to receive. Fegerl also mixes in some reverse pendulum serves to the middle and wide backhand. What makes his serve really work well, however, is his ability to serve a variety of very deep and spinny serves using the same motion as his hook serve, usually wide to the backhand corner. This prevents Ovtcharov from being able to move early to receive serves short to his forehand using his backhand, and in fact Ovtcharov is caught moving too early several times and appears completely unprepared for the deep serve. A very deep and spinny serve is one of the best ways to punish an opponent who is standing too close to the table or takes a wrong step and therefore is not able to retreat to the appropriate position to loop the serve.
Once the rallies begin throughout the match, there isn’t too much to say from Ovtcharov’s perspective. He is obviously the stronger player in the rally, especially physically, and overpowers Fegerl many times in the match. What’s more interesting is when Fegerl finds some success in the rally. Although Fegerl wins some basic attacking points where he plays aggressive topspins, he also does amazingly well when Ovtcharov plays aggressively by playing some great close to the table as well as mid-distance defense. This involves using Ovtcharov’s pace and not trying to get into a competition of who can hit harder in the rally, as well as placing the ball to wide angles when possible. Since Ovtcharov sometimes backs up to mid-distance when consistently attacking in the rally, blocking soft to wide angles is very effective and there is a lot of ground to cover for Ovtcharov. This puts Fegerl in a good position in a number of points, allowing him to move closer to the table and take some heat off of Ovtcharov’s following attacks. Where Fegerl gets into trouble in this match is when he tries to go toe to toe with Ovtcharov, often getting overpowered despite playing excellent points. Sometimes against a player who just has much better shot quality, it is more effective to play with the opponent’s pace and use timing and placement against the opponent in the rally.
This was an amazing match in terms of point quality and just an incredibly enjoyable match to watch in general. Although many points came down to who lasted longer without an unforced error or the player who was able to get the initiative, there were still some strategic value in watching how the players constructed the points, which we have discussed. Hopefully you also learned something from watching.