(By Larry Hodges)
No matter what your level is, at some point you’ve had to go up against some up-and-coming junior player. If he or she was your average up-and-coming junior, and you are an average adult, and the two of you were roughly equal in level, then the following was probably true:
The junior was faster and quicker than you.
You spent much of the match on the defensive, trying to withstand a barrage of fast attacks – many of them hitting, some of them missing.
So how can you increase your chances against such a player? You can’t match him in quickness. But you can beat him with control and tactics. The key is to use your own strengths but vary your shots enough so the fast-attacking junior can’t get into a rhythm. Play solid shots with few unforced errors, force the fast-attacking junior into erratic shots, and you’ll take control, even if it seems the kid is taking most of the shots.
When Attacking: You don’t need to be fast or quick to attack the first ball in a rally. So focus on making steady aggressive shots to start off each rally (such as looping), and force the fast-swinging junior to go for difficult counterattacks. The catch is you have to vary your attack. If you do the same type of attack over and over, the fast-swinging junior will find a rhythm, and his shots will become too strong and steady. You also don’t want to turn it into a speed contest, if the junior is faster and quicker. Try attacking at different speeds, at different depths, with different amounts of topspin, and change directions constantly. Down-the-line shots are particularly effective against juniors who often drill too much crosscourt. Aggressive, angled shots give smaller juniors difficulty, as they don’t have your reach.
When Not Attacking: Play ball control with lots of variation. Fast-attacking juniors have difficulty timing their attacks against varied shots, or against extreme spins. When you loop, focus on lots of topspin, deep on the table. When you push, push very heavy and deep. Both of these tactics will force lots of errors However, many players make the mistake of playing too passive, and giving the fast-attacking junior easy balls. Make sure you choose which balls he gets to attack, and which ones you get to attack. Lobbing is often a good tool against juniors, as is any type of defense, but only when forced to. Even if they can’t hit as hard as you, do you really think you have a better chance to win if you let them smash at will? (A small minority of players can say yes to this.) But if you do play defense, the key is also to vary your shots to force mistakes. Juniors are very good against predictable shots and can sometimes get into what seems an unstoppable rhythm. But usually this is because of a lack of variation in the shots they are facing. Don’t let this happen to you!
Psychology: This is often the most difficult aspect. Remember, the fast-swinging junior plays fast and aggressive for a reason – he’s been trained to do this! If he’s near your level, and is training regularly, he’s a serious threat. Many players, while consciously knowing this, subconsciously play down to junior players with safe, passive play, and pay for it.
A final note to fast-attacking juniors: Keep attacking fast and aggressively, but play players who vary their shots as much as you can, and learn to adjust to them. Not only will you get better this way, but you might learn how to vary your own shots and add another dimension to your game.
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