Tip of the week: Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style
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Tip of the week: Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style

Tip of the week: Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style
(By Larry Hodges)

When a conventional player plays an unconventional style, they each face a different fundamental problem. The conventional player has to deal with the fact that the unconventional player is used to playing conventional players while he is likely not as used to playing this unconventional style. The unconventional player has to deal with the fact that he has, almost by definition, an inferior style, or it would be the conventional style. The conventional player has an edge IF he gets used to the unconventional player. The problem is he often goes into the match with a number of trained habits or reactions that will hurt his play. He may even know what some of these problems are, but they are so ingrained into his game from playing conventional players that the habits are hard to break in a sport where you are forced to react quickly and reflexively. Here is a list of the Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style. But remember – they are onlyguidelines, as unconventional styles vary.

  1. Don’t jam the table in rallies. He’s more used to your game than you are used to his, so you need more time to react to his shots.
  2. Keep the ball deep. He’s used to your game more than you are used to his. By going deep, you give yourself more time to react.
  3. Serve long. If you like to serve short and attack, then you may find yourself in a trap as your opponent can hit quick, off-the-bounce returns and rush you with shots you may not be comfortable against. This is especially true against racket surfaces you are not as familiar with.
  4. Find the weak spots. By definition, all unconventional styles have weaknesses or those styles would be conventional. Find the weaknesses and play into them. This is where it might be helpful to do some scouting or ask the advice of coaches or advanced players who are familiar with this player or style.
  5. Test them out early with whatever you have and see what works.
  6. Spin or no-spin. Most unconventional styles have trouble either with heavy spin or no-spin. (The latter is especially true of pips-out, especially longer pips.) Test them out.
  7. Do not go into game two without being completely comfortable against this style. You should fight like crazy to win game one, but don’t worry about losing that game as long as you know exactly what to do in game two, and are now comfortable against this unconventional style. Ideally, you should do this earlier in the first game, but unconventional styles have a long history of winning game one and then losing three straight.
  8. Do not rely on conventional tactics until you test them and verify they work. Before the match you should literally list all the things you do against conventional styles that likely will not work in this match. Often you will want to do the exact opposite of what you would do against conventional players. Remember that unconventional players have developed their style against conventional players, and so are often at their best against conventional tactics.
  9. Be flexible in your tactics. If something doesn’t work, try something else. If something works but stops working, put it aside and try something else, and perhaps come back to it. Often the unconventional player can adjust to any one tactic, but cannot do so against multiple options. So work out multiple options against whatever he does and make him 
  10. Keep your cool. It’s very easy to mentally fall apart early in a match against an unconventional player. Accept the fact that his unconventional play is often based on the idea of throwing weird stuff at you, with the idea of forcing you into mistakes. But in so doing, he’s also playing a weaker style. So don’t worry about making a few careless mistakes or even blowing a game. Once you figure the player out, you can come back from almost any score – as long as you keep your cool and focus.


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