By Larry Hodges, USATT Hall of Famer and Certified National Coach
One of the biggest differences between players at any level and players a little below them are their blocking skills. When watching two attackers of about the same level play, often the quickest way to judge who is the stronger player is by whoever handles the other’s attack better, i.e. who blocks better. Or watch the best players in the world, especially the Chinese, and when they aren’t counterlooping, watch how proficient and consistent they are blocking. Spectators often see the flashy attack shots, but often the biggest difference between these top players and those a level weaker are their blocking games. Here are twelve tips on improving your blocking game. (These are primarily for inverted and short pips players.)
- Be quick and decisive when blocking. Blocking is not for the weak of heart, and is not a passive shot. Even soft blocks should be aggressively soft, i.e. a change of pace, not just a weak block.
- Block aggressively against loops that land short and against slow loops. If you block these passively, you’ll face the consequences. Loops that land short are easy to attack (with aggressive block, smashes, or counterloops), while if you return a spinny loop passively the spin takes on your racket more, making you less consistent.
- Keep your blocks deep unless you are dead blocking. Deep blocks force the opponent off the table, cut off their angles, and give yourself more time to react to their next shot. Shorter blocks are usually easy putaways for opponents who are in position.
- Block to all three spots – wide corners and opponent’s middle, where they have to decide whether to use forehand or backhand. Avoid blocking anywhere else. Why would you?
- Often change directions at the last second. This is especially easy and effective on the backhand, in particular by aiming wide to the backhand, then blocking aggressively to the wide forehand at the last second.
- Against faster loops use the opponent’s own speed to redirect the ball back aggressively. Think of it as a video or pinball game.
- Blocking at the higher levels requires just as much footwork as attacking. Be light on your feet, and step to the ball; don’t reach except as a last result.
- Master the forehand down-the-line block. Many players are handicapped by only being able to block forehands crosscourt. This turns them into punching bags for opponents who know where your next shot is each time.
- Learn to change the pace with dead blocks, and perhaps chop and sidespin blocks. But if you are going to use these shots, practice them both in drills and practice matches.
- Consider learning to topspin your blocks, essentially mini-loops. Many players don’t realize that many or most top players block with topspin off the bounce, almost mini-loops.
- Study opponents to see how soon you can pick up where they are placing their attacks. If you do this, your subconscious will pick up on it, it’ll become second nature, and you’ll begin to react sooner. You don’t need fast reflexes to have fast reactions; fast reactions come from proper training over a period of time.
- When you force a weak ball with your blocks, change from a blocking mentality to attack mode. Far too many players force an opponent into making a weak return – and then continue blocking. Your blocking has done its job; now’s the time to attack!!!