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Exterminating a Ping-Pong Pest
Dick Miles
June 28, 1971
The 10-time U.S. table-tennis champion, recently back from that famed sporting-diplomatic trip to Red China, offers some very undiplomatic advice on disposing of that nemesis of all players, the monotonous fellow who merely blocks your every shot
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June 28, 1971

Exterminating A Ping-pong Pest

The 10-time U.S. table-tennis champion, recently back from that famed sporting-diplomatic trip to Red China, offers some very undiplomatic advice on disposing of that nemesis of all players, the monotonous fellow who merely blocks your every shot

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Because Fink has committed himself to crowding the table, he, too, has a time disadvantage. For instance, if you can find a weak spot in his defense and can hit the ball there sharply enough with an element of surprise, he may not have enough time to maneuver his wall-like racket into position. The problem is to find his weak spot.

It exists. It is the same weak spot all blockers have. It is the area in the neighborhood of the right hip. Any ball hit there, even softly, becomes awkward for the blocker to handle, for the right hip marks the no-man's-land between the forehand and backhand block. For him to hit a backhand requires a contortion, but to switch from backhand to forehand requires the reflexes of an Olympic fencer, and even then the forehand will be cramped. Either shot figures to produce an error or a setup return.

So your strategy against the blocker, though not necessarily easy to execute, is theoretically clear-cut. On each point you will wait to single out one of his returns that gives you enough time to turn sideways and take it in your forehand driving stance. Then hit your drive to that no-shot-land, that gulf at Fink's right hip between his backhand and forehand block.

The best procedure is to begin each point with a series of pushing exchanges, your push against his block. Your own shots can go anywhere on the table. At this stage of the rally the only important thing is to keep the ball in play. Meanwhile, Fink will probably be crowding you into your backhand corner. Never mind. As soon as you have the rhythm of the rally and feel ready to make your move, take one of Fink's returns and push back at him a relatively slow-traveling ball, this time, however, making sure that your push has been angled from your own backhand court deep to his backhand court. And, as you make your return, step around your backhand to your left and into your forehand driving position. Notice that it is the slowness of your own push shot that gives you the time to get into position.

Seemingly, this maneuver leaves your forehand side unguarded, but if Fink does block there his angle is limited (because you have pushed to his backhand) and you can still reach the ball with your forehand. More likely, he will again block to your backhand—but this time you will be waiting with your forehand drive to attack his weak spot. Your first forehand need not be a kill, it need only be severe. But it must be well placed. Top-spin it to that break-off point between forehand and backhand. It is your second drive—presumably on Fink's weak return—that wins the point. If you blast it hard enough you can afford to hit it anywhere on the table, but once again your best target against a blocker trapped at the table is that undefendable forehand-backhand area.

One last thought. You are not irrevocably pledged to attack just because your slow push shot got you into position. If your nemesis blocks the ball back too low, too fast or uncomfortably wide to your forehand, do not panic. Just push the ball back and start the whole maneuver over again.

Now, to really send your Fink home a broken man, let me finish by showing you two spin serves that are easy to execute but tend to demolish the average basement player.

You know, of course, that the service rule states the ball must be thrown into the air from your open palm. Well, now you know. Moreover, it must be struck as it descends. This eliminates the chance of applying spin by rubbing the ball against the racket with palm or fingers, or achieving speed by throwing the ball into the racket. (If Fink is swindling you on his serve, quote the rule.) But even within these limits a little know-how and a sponge bat can produce half a dozen aces a game.

One of the easiest serves to learn, though quite potent, is the forehand sidespin serve. The spin is achieved by dragging the racket across the ball from right to left. You should stand sideways to the table, feet apart, with your left foot pointed toward the net and your right foot perpendicular to the table. Your racket is held out far to your right, and your wrist is well back so that the back of your right hand and your forearm form a V. The wrist maintains this position throughout the motion. Toss the ball about six inches into the air.

The swing is a right-to-left grazing motion across the back center of the ball. The grazing action cuts down the ball's forward motion and keeps it on the table. The faster you swing and the finer you graze the ball the more spin you will get. At first, in trying to slice the ball thin, you may miss it completely, but an hour or two of practice should produce a Fink-shaker of a serve.

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