Player Archetypes: Defensive Styles
Butterfly Table Tennis Coaching
by Han Xiao
Last week, we focused on identifying common attacking archetypes, what their characteristics are, what traits a player needs to excel with the archetype, as well as some general tips for excelling with each play style. This week, we’re going to do the same with some defensive player archetypes that are very common. Although there are very few pure defensive players remaining at the professional level, especially on the men’s side, there are still some players that play defensively relative to their peers that we can point out as case studies of each archetype.
One of the most common defensive archetypes is the blocker or the blocker/counterattacker. Although many types of blockers exist and they play with slightly different styles, the goal of most blocking players is the same: to use close to the table blocking to negate the opponent’s attacks, force them out of position, and in doing so either force the opponent out of position or create counterattacking opportunities. At very high levels of play, it becomes more rare to find pure blockers and more common to find players that use blocking to set up counterattacks. In order to excel as a blocker, it is important to have excellent anticipation, balance, and stability. In addition, lower lower body and core strength is very important so that the blocker does not get overpowered easily by strong attacks. Finally, a blocker should have a very good feel for the nuances of ball placement and how to keep the ball out of the opponent’s comfort zones. These are essential traits for a player if they want to pursue a blocking style.In terms of skills that blocking players must develop, an excellent service return is probably towards the top of the list due to the necessity to prevent easy points by the opponent and negate the first attack consistently. Blockers must also continuously improve their ball placement, being able to keep the ball out of the other player’s power zones. Being able to block with different spins and varying the pace of blocks is also an important skill for a blocker. Counterattacking skills are a bonus for this player archetype.It is very difficult to find this style in international play, but Amelie Solja is an exception on the women’s side. Here you can see an example of how she uses her pips, variation, and placement in her play.
On the men’s side, the closest example I could think of in recent years is Oh Sang Eun of South Korea. Although he is not a pure blocker, blocking or safely counterspinning off the bounce defensively to set up counterattacks is the foundation of his game and has been for many years. In this highlight video, you can see that although there are some attacking points, the majority of his best moments involve negating the opponent’s attacks and forcing them out of position.
- One-winged blocker/one-winged looper
This is a very specialized hybrid style that actually plays quite similarly to the one-winged looper that we discussed when focusing on attacking styles. However, the reason I am also including it in this week’s defensive archetypes discussion is that when using pips or anti on the backhand, this style becomes much more defensive at most levels of play. It is actually a rather distinct player archetype where the player blocks or chop blocks very defensively with the backhand side, while looking for opportunities to finish the point with the forehand if possible. Overall, this style of player will try to finish the point much more aggressively than the usual one-winged looper sometimes and will not force as many forehands from poor positions, preferring to play more defensively with the backhand side of the racket. To play this style, a player needs to have great anticipation, balance, and placement like most blockers, but also preferably has some of the natural power and explosiveness necessary to play a one-winged looping style.In order to play this style effectively, not only must the player have an effective serve return in order to prevent too many easy winners by the opponent and possess some of the other skills of blockers, but also should have an effective serve to be able to win some points on the third ball attack. It is necessary also to be able to anticipate transition points from defense to attack much like attacking choppers, which we will discuss later.A good example of this playing style is Liu Song from Argentina. In this video, he is playing Marcos Madrid of Mexico who plays a very common two-winged looping style. You can see how this style likes to operate, playing a typical blocking game sometimes while looking for the opportunity to initiate attacks with the forehand, especially off the serve.
This is probably one of the first defensive styles that many people think of, and one of the most fun to watch. Choppers defend from mid-distance as well as far from the table, using primarily backspin strokes to negate the opponent’s attacks. They can also employ spin variation in the form of nospin chops as well as fishing in order to confuse the opponent. Choppers attempt to force errors out of the opponent through consistency, spin, variation, and placement. In addition, modern choppers, especially on the men’s side, have begun to incorporate more attacking and counterattacking into their games, especially from the forehand side. Choppers require excellent footwork and range of motion and great stamina as the player’s primary traits. It also of course requires a very patient player to be a great chopper.There are a lot of important skills choppers need to improve in order to develop, including serve return, chopping placement, spin variation, consistency of chopping, etc. However, the most important skill for choppers to develop is probably footwork, especially lateral range, the ability to move to cover attacks into the body, as well as footwork in and out of the table. Also, choppers who counterattack need to be able to anticipate when the opponent is being forced into a weak shot and how to transition from defense to attack and back again.On the women’s side, there are a number of pure choppers playing at a very high level internationally. One example is South Korea’s Seo Hyowon. In this video, you can see some of the skills necessary to be a high level pure chopper, especially the level of footwork necessary to cover attacks to the middle and wide angles as well as to move in and out of the table.
On the men’s side, the epitome of the modern attacking chopper is Joo Se Hyuk of South Korea. Here is a video of his highlights.
I won’t say too much about fishers and lobbers, but they are a separate archetype of their own especially in beginning to intermediate play. These are players who attempt to force mistakes out of their opponents mainly by fishing and lobbing away from the table. This style requires almost the exact same traits and develops similarly to choppers, but is not as effective at advanced levels. Many professional players, however, use fishing and lobbing to great effect when required, such as Jun Mizutani of Japan. The French national team also consistently includes players who are excellent at defending away from the table and counterattacking for spectacular points. This point from Adrien Mattenet of France recently made the rounds on the Internet as he defended valiantly against Sweden’s Per Gerell before finally losing the point.
As you can see, there are a few different common archetypes for defensive players and some of them are quite viable at advanced levels. Although the modern game makes it very difficult at the professional level for defensive players to excel, at intermediate levels it is still quite effective to play defensively in competition if you possess the right characteristics and know how to play to your strengths.