Week after week, students walk through my door and say, “Please Coach Samson, I really need your help with serve return.”
There are many ways to return serves, however statistics do prove that at the US tournament level, the push is the most common way to return a serve, and yet pushing is one of the most neglected strokes in table tennis. Many offensive players focus on their flips, loops, counterloops, and smashes. Many defensive players focus on their blocks, chops, and lobs. Very few players focus on their timing, racket angle, placement, body position, spin variation, wrist action, depth of the push, and other variations. In this article, I want to give you a four quick tips on how to improve your push.
The best timing on the push is early, quick, right off-the-bounce. This will take the time away from your opponent and he will be less likely to finish you with a powerful loop or smash. Early timing also keep your push lower; because you can’t produce much power on the push, keeping the ball low is very important. Early timing also allows you the chance to push long or short. If you mistakenly let the ball come too deep and contact it at the top of the bounce or on the fall, you will likely be force to push long or medium long. Early timing also allows you to push at a sharp angle forcing your opponent to move away from his ready position and give up a large portion of the table. Early timing is important for:
1. Surprising your opponent
2. Keeping the push low
3. Varying the depth
4. Using the angles
The racket angle on the push will differ greatly based on your rubber, the opponent’s spin, and your timing. However, there are a few obvious statements that I need to make. Check your opponent’s racket prior to starting. As the match progresses, continue to evaluate your racket angle to see if that woucl possibly be the cause of errors. Keep in mind that if your opponent serves heavy backspin, your angle will need to be quite open. If your opponent serves no spin, your angle will be slightly more closed. If your opponent serves topspin and you choose to push, your angle will need to be very very closed. Pushing against no spin, sidespin, and topspin serves isn’t very common at the lower levels. However, at the elite level, players have perfected the ability to flip all types of serves as well as push all types of serves. So why would you want to push a short topspin serve? To change things up!!! Your opponent thought that you would flip… His racket is high… He is slightly back away from the table… then suddenly, you step forward (with early timing) and push short on his topspin serve. What a surprise! Remember:
1. The racket angle will be different for every match
2. Check your opponent’s rubber
3. Continue to re-evaluate your angle
4. Realize that you can push against any type of spin
When contacting the ball early on the push, the amount of wrist on the push is very minimal. On this particular push, the wrist action would be better described as a wrist twitch. Your wrist will a very small amount but the quick acceleration is still important. When approaching the ball, keep your wrist very relaxed. If you choose to push short, keep it relaxed through contact and follow through about two inches past the point of contact. If you choose to push long, slightly tighten your wrist and fingers at contact and follow through about twelve inches. If you choose to add more spin to the long push, then you can use a bit more wrist. If you choose to add less spin, then you can lock your wrist. For the no spin push, keep your wrist locked and your angle set; at the point of contact, don’t slice through the ball, but lift up slightly on the ball. So why would you ever push with little or no-spin? Variation! Keep in mind that winning isn’t all about you! It really isn’t! Think about it…. You cannot win a single point! The only way to win a single point is if your opponent misses! By learning to add these variations that I’m describing today, you will be able to confuse your opponent, make him less consistent, and keep him off balance with your variations. Keys to remember…
1. The wrist twitch is very small but very important
2. The follow through is extremely short when pushing short
3. The follow through is much longer when pushing longer
4. The amount of wrist that you use can help control the amount of spin you impart
The placement of your push is important and the key location will be based on the type of ball you are dealing with, your positioning, your opponent’s positioning, your strengths and weaknesses, and your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. This might seem overwhelming, so let me just simplify it and give you a couple general rules for pushing placement… Short pushes are usually good because the table is in the way, so short pushes become more challenging for your opponent to attack. Just remember that the short push needs to be low! Angled pushes are also good because they force your opponent to move. Even if your opponent reaches the ball, he will likely give a weaker loop and be out of position for the next hit. Just remember that he might use the angle back against you. Instead of admiring your spectacular push, be ready for the return. Surprise pushes to the backhand and middle transition point are usually good because your opponent’s body is in the way. A surprise to the forehand can easily be played with later timing. Whereas a surprise push to the backhand is pushed back or missed outright with a poorly timed loop. Even when you make an ideal push, be ready for worst case scenario. When pushing short, be ready for a fast flip. When pushing deep to the backhand, be ready for a powerful loop. When using the angle, be ready for an angle push return. Stop admiring your awesomeness and get in the game. General pushing rules…
1. Placement is one the most important aspects of pushing
2. Short pushes are a great option but remember to keep them low
3. Angle pushes are a great way to get your opponent out of position
4. Deep occasional pushes to the backhand can be a tough surprise for your opponent to handle
Pushing is one of the most neglected strokes in table tennis. By applying these principles of timing, angle, wrist, and placement, you will be on your way to having a better serve return, controlling the short game, and forcing errors from your opponent! As with any stroke, it takes months and month of intentional practice!
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