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Larry Hodges

Coaching Tip of the Week: How to Play the Attacker/Blocker with Dead Rubber

(By Larry Hodges)

 One of the more difficult styles to figure out is what to do against a player who attacks and blocks with a “dead” surface – either a slow inverted surface or short pips. The inverted may be slow because it’s designed that way (often for beginners) or because it’s old and used. Most advanced players uses livelier sponge, and that’s what most players are used to playing – so when they play one of these deader surfaces, with the opponent attacking and blocking, it can be difficult to figure out. Here are three key things you should do against such players.

First, get used to the dead surface as quickly as possible. Rally against it early in the match as much as you can. The worst thing you can do is lose the match because you never felt comfortable against it. And that’s the key – you have a stronger weapon with your livelier surface (a gun to this sword), but he’s used to playing such surfaces, and you are not used to his. So get used to it, and then you’ll have him outgunned. Often this just comes down to racket angles and stroke direction, where you have to aim higher against the deader incoming surface. But the reality is that most players over do this, and so go off the end more often than into the net. Make the adjustment so you are comfortable rallying against the dead surface, and you’ll be in control.

Second, spin the ball. Dead surfaces can’t counteract your spins as well as a livelier surface. If you put a good topspin on the ball, they are limited in how aggressive they can return it – and most likely will either block it slow (giving you time to attack that ball) or be erratic. Either way, once you are used to their surface, you are in control and you win. Heavy backspins also should give them a problem – they can’t loop nearly as effectively, and if they push it back, it won’t be as heavy as a push with a livelier and grippier surface. Once you are used to it, you should relentlessly attack these softer loops and weaker pushes.

Third, and perhaps most important, depth is your friend. If you put the ball short, an opponent with a dead surface has three advantages. First, he can rush you, and if you are being rushed against a surface that you aren’t completely used to, you already have two strikes against you. Second, he can angle you, and the extra control from a deader surface makes this easier against a short ball. Third, it’s easier to attack a short ball with a deader surface than a deep one, since it’s all about precision, and the shorter ball puts them closer to their target. So keep the ball deep on the table, and the opponent loses all of these advantages and instead struggles to make any effective return that you can’t jump all over, once you are used to his surface.

Just remember that there’s a reason why few players use these dead surfaces – they are bringing a sword to a gunfight. If you are scared of the sword, then you will likely lose. But if you follow the principles above, then you’ll be Indiana Jones to that swordsman.

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