Guess or Not to Guess?
By Samson Dubina
In table tennis, there are 2 aspects of anticipation. The first is to have a reasonable guess as to where your opponent will hit the next ball. The next aspect is watching his body position and racket angle and adjusting based on the direction of his swing.
Before serving, I look at my opponent and try to think how he might return various serves. For example, this opponent (with very poor footwork) forehand loops well, forehand pushes well, backhand flips well, and can’t backhand loop or forehand flip. From those quick observations, I can next decide what I’m going to serve. If I serve long to the backhand, he will probably push or block, depending on my spin. If I serve short to the forehand, his only option is to push. If I serve short to the backhand, he could flip or push.
As you can see from the above examples, when serving, you should think about what you opponent can and cannot do. You should somewhat guess how he want to receive based on his ready position, body language, and past history of receives. However, when serving, you should also be prepared to adjust in case he does the unexpected. These same principles apply to rallies. If I loop a forehand from my backhand side to my opponent’s forehand, I need to adjust with my body and get ready for the cross-court block. Still, my racket needs to be in front, I need to be on my toes, and I need to be watching my opponent’s racket in-case he does something unexpected.
When receiving serve, you should NOT guess. You should be about 1 arm-length away from the table to prepare for the long serve. If the serve is short or half-long, more forward and receive the serve. If you guess what spin is coming, you will often be wrong. Watch your opponent’s body position, toss, backswing, and contact point. Then adjust your swing based on the spin and bounce.
Anticipation is important. Sometimes after a serve or in a rally, it is ok to make an educated guess. Just remember not to fully commit until you see for sure where the ball is traveling. Also remember to continually adjust and re-adjust with your feet.