If you’ve ever played intermediate-level competitive table tennis you’ll know all about flat hitters. Players that poke and slap the ball instead of looping it.
Their technique is questionable at best. They do all sorts of weird and wacky things. And yet… the decent ones aren’t half difficult to beat!
Last week, Harrie (check out our new podcast together – if you haven’t already) had a huge result in his Medway league match. For the very first time in Division 1, he won all three of his singles matches – and against three very decent players. He was over the moon! Just two days earlier, he’d been pretty down after losing to yet another flat hitter in his other league.
And I can’t blame him. Losing to these “technique-less savages” appears to be totally unfair.
Here you are, trying to do all the correct things – spin serves, looping, footwork – and you’re losing to a guy who refuses to move his feet and just whacks every ball that comes his way! The injustice.
The thing is, table tennis isn’t like Olympic Diving. The winner isn’t the guy with the prettiest looking style. And unfortunately, in table tennis, some rather ugly styles can be very effective at the intermediate/local level.
So how do you beat these tricky opponents? What is kryptonite to a flat hitter? Here are my thoughts. Hopefully, they’ll help Harrie when he next comes up against one.
3 Things You Shouldn’t Do
I’m going to start with what not to do when you find yourself playing a flat hitter at table tennis.
#1: Slow loops
Unfortunately, I’d been working on Harrie’s slow loop just three days before he played ‘Mr Flat-Hitter of Maidstone’. Slow loops are great. But they aren’t a good idea against flat hitters.
In fact, if you asked flat hitters what their favourite style of opponent is, I reckon they would say slow loopers.
With a slow loop they have the time, the height, and the topspin they need to play their trademark flat hit. It couldn’t be any easier for them. They can wait for the ball to bounce up and then whack it with all their might.
A clever flat hitter might serve long backspin into your forhand side, inviting you to play a slow spinny loop. Don’t get lured into his trap!
Instead, if you’re able to play a more powerful loop – do that! If that’s too risky, there’s no harm in digging the ball back and waiting for an easier ball to loop. A flat hitter is unlikely to pull out a Ma Long style open up!
The key point is, wherever possible, avoid slow looping against a flat hitter.
#2: Topspin serves
It’s much easier to flat hit a topspin ball than a backspin ball (unless you have a dead bat – but I’ll come back to that in a bit). So, you want to avoid giving flat hitters topspin balls to hit. That means no slow loops. But also, no heavy topspin serves!
Some intermediate players still choose to serve with what you might call a ‘rally’ serve. Basically, just a long topspin serve that gets a topspin rally started – like you’d do in a training drill.
A flat hitter’s eyes will light up at this type of serve. They will be able to slap it right back at you and take the initiative from the start.
Harrie doesn’t serve like that anymore. He’s advanced to more fancy serves. But fancy topspin serves aren’t going to be much good either. Your flat hitting opponent might not be particularly skilled at reading the spin on serves, but they do tend to have a sixth sense for detecting hittable balls. Somehow, they’ll instinctively know which of your serves have topspin and will aggressively pounce on them.
But make sure you check the rubbers on your opponents bat before you start the game (after the knock up). If they have dead rubbers (no spin/grip) they’ll actually find it easier to hit through balls with a little bit of backspin. This isn’t the time or place to get into the physics of it all, but it’s worth knowing.
- Spinny bat flat hitters want topspin to hit
- Dead bat flat hitters want backspin to hit
You don’t normally find too many players in competitive table tennis with completely dead (anti-spin) rubbers. But if you do, you’ll find out pretty quickly that they’re really good at flat hitting your long pushes!
#3: Start flat hitting yourself
After watching a flat hitter whack all of your best topspin loops, it can be tempting to revert to flat hitting yourself.
“I’m not giving him any more topspin to hit”, you say to yourself.
So, you start taking the ball earlier and get into these fast and flat counter hitting rallies. It’s exciting to watch and you’ve definitely changed the dynamics of the game.
The only issue is… you’re probably not as good at flat hitting as he is!
The rallies will be fun, but you’ll undoubtedly make more unforced errors than he does, and he’ll be slightly better at putting away those point-ending killer slaps.
3 Things You Should Do
Ok, so we’ve covered what not to do. Here are a few things you should try against a flat hitter.
#1: Keep the ball low
This is probably the most effective way to neutralise a flat hitters kill shot. The whole reason why coaches teach their players to loop instead of hit is because it allows you to attack balls that are at net height or below.
Flat hitters hit the ball in a straight line, so in order to whack it onto the other side of the table, they need a ball that is above the height of the net.
With years of practice, they can get quite good at slapping balls that are only very slightly higher than the net. But they can’t do the impossible. If they try to smash a low ball, it’ll either go into the net or off the end of the table.
So, your serves need to be low. And your pushes need to be low. When you’re looping/attacking, try and keep those shots low as well – although this is admitedly harder to control.
A low heavy backspin dig/push can be a very effective shot to play. Virtually impossible for a flat hitter to attack!
It’ll probably force them to push the ball back or, if they’re feeling confident, they might go for a roll shot or a dodgy looking open-up (because they can’t really loop).
Harrie’s Training: I’ll be working on these low digs with Harrie during our next training session on Saturday. His pushing is ok, but it could be a lot better and more dangerous.
#2: Keep your loops deep
My second tip for making it difficult for your flat hitting opponent to flat hit the ball is… keep your loops deep!
If you’re an attacking player you are going to have to spend the majority of the game looping. Don’t do slow loops, but do make sure your loops are deep.
The trick is to get your loop to bounce on the white end line on their side of the table (or just before it).
Flat hitters tend to stand quite close to the table and try and take the ball slightly early or at the peak of the bounce. They definitely don’t want to take the ball late and let is drop. By looping deep, you are giving them a ball with no time to rise to a nice height for hitting. Or you’ll force them to take a step back, which makes flat hitting riskier.
Strong deep loops can completely destroy a flat hitter, the only problem is… most intermediate players aren’t that good at controlling the depth of their loops. They just go wherever they go.
So get practising! Maybe do some multiball where you put a towel on the table to cover all but the last 6 inches. Then start looping and see how many you can get deep enough to miss the towel but still make it onto the table.
Harrie’s Training: This is definitely something I need to work on with Harrie. I’ll try and record a video to show you what I mean and how well he does!
#3: Loop kill
So, the best way to stop a flat hitter from attacking at will is to keep the ball low and keep your loops deep. But what should you proactively be doing yourself?
I’ve already explained that slow loops are a bad idea, so it makes sense that fast loops (or loop kills) are your best option against a flat hitter.
Instead of a steady slow loop game, you want to wait for a ball that is slightly higher, or slightly slower, or comes more into your hitting zone, and then go for it with a winning shot. Take your chance once you get it and put the ball away.
Your opponent is probably standing quite upright and not moving his feet. But you need to be crouched down, leaning forwards, and on your toes, ready to spring into position for a big loop.
When you’re receiving, you might be able to loop kill their serve straight away – if you’re quick enough to get into position.
When you’re serving, a third ball attack is a good strategy. But if the third ball isn’t ideal for a loop kill, be patient, and prepare yourself for a big fifth ball attack instead
If you play a strong backspin dig you should be able to loop kill whatever you get in return. If they push, you can go for a heavy spin loop kill. If they try and roll the ball or play an awkward loop, you can loop kill right through the ball.
Harrie’s Training: After watching one of Harrie’s match videos, I think we need to work on his ability to hop round the corner and play a strong forehand loop when a player keeps pushing into his backhand side.
How to Beat a Flat Hitter
So, here it is in six easy steps…
- Don’t slow loop – this is exactly what they want!
- Don’t serve topspin – it puts you immediately on the back foot!
- Don’t flat hit yourself – this is their game not yours!
- Do keep the ball low – they’ll struggle to attack it!
- Do keep your loops deep – again, it’s much harder to hit!
- Do loop kill – when you get a chance, put the ball away!