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William Henzell's Blog January 27, 2013

My past two training sessions have been a lot of fun. Petr Korbel from the Czech Replublic has been visiting Australia to do some work for the ITTF and to promote table tennis. Petr is a legend of the game with a bunch of World and European Championships medals to his name. You can see some footage of him playing here

Petr and I did two exhibition training sessions in Melbourne and I got some good insight into where my game is at right now. World class players make you pay for your weaknesses and after our sessions, I realised I've got a lot more than I did 6 months ago, when I was in the form of my life at the Olympics!

Petr has a very strong backhand topspin and was one of the earliest pioneers of the backhand sidespin (banana) flick. That's when the opponent serves short to you and you are able to play a spinny, backhand topspin / flick. The shot has revolutionised the game and allows the receiver of serve to play attacking shots instead of the traditional defensive pushing game. He has almost perfect timing on his backhand which looks extremely smooth and flowing.

I noticed some areas of concern in two parts of my game especially. Firstly, my return of serve has deteriorated considerably. It's to be expected as I generally only have 1 or 2 different training partners here and I know all their serves inside out. Often I can see what serve they are going to do before they even do it, which comes from hours of seeing the same serves over and over. But against Petr, I felt like the ball was coming quickly at me and I barely had time to react, let alone get a good read on the spin. It's not like he was serving so much faster than my usual partners, however it's not knowing what spin is on the ball that makes it hard. It reinforced to me just how important it is to read the opponent's body, arm, wrist, racket accleration and follow through when serving and not just look at the ball coming towards you.

This area is one of the main reasons why I benefited from playing in the professional leagues in Europe for so many years - you come out each match day against players you've never played against before and are forced to come up with solutions very quickly. If there is a tricky serve that you can't read, you must adjust and evolve or else you will lose and won't be a professional player for long. I would suggest to all players reading this to make sure you play against as many different serves and players as possible instead of just against the same small group over and over.

Secondly, my ability to move quickly and efficiently when the ball is coming at varied speeds, lengths and heights is worse than before. Good players have efficient technique which means they can mix between different shots easily and quickly. I can't be entirely sure what shot is coming until the he hits the ball which doesn't give me much time to prepare and react. It's easier to see where lower ranked players are going to hit the ball (usually because of larger, slower arm / body movements or longer backswing before the shot) which of course makes it much easier for me to predict and start preparing for my shot early.

The good news was that my open rallying game is feeling good. I was able to hold my own well when I got into open backhand to backhand rallies or close to the table topspinning rallies. My task now is to try to work hard on my service and return of service game. I'll try to get my training partners to do mix of the position they are serving from (might mean serving from the middle of the table instead of the backhand) and throw in more variations. The tournament season is fast approaching and I'm still a long way from where I need to be!

Published date: 
Fri, 02/01/2013 - 08:45