Table Tennis

While table tennis appears simple, excelling requires well-rounded technical mastery. From proper grip and footwork to spin techniques and shot selection, core skills form a strong foundation. This in-depth guide covers the essential skills and tactics critical for competitive table tennis improvement. Whether you’re a beginning player learning the basics or a seasoned veteran seeking to refine your game, focusing on these table tennis fundamentals will elevate your abilities.

The Forehand Grip

A proper forehand grip allows optimal racket face control:

  • Place index finger tip on backside of handle for directional stability. Balance racket between thumb pad and index finger.
  • Let the handle rest gently on the last three fingers in a relaxed grip for finesse shots requiring touch.
  • Avoid gripping too tightly. This reduces wrist snap and rapid racket adjustments.
  • The forehand grip turns the racket face naturally for power on forehand wing shots.

Master a stable yet responsive forehand grip suited to your hand size.

The Backhand Grip

The backhand grip reverses hand position to generate power from the opposite side:

  • Rotate the racket head to orient it the same as forehand, but switch finger positions.
  • Place thumb tip on backside of handle for added support and direction.
  • Let the handle diagonally sit in the crook between thumb and forefinger.
  • Relax the other fingers wrapped around the grip.

Smooth transitions between forehand and backhand grips builds all-court versatility.

The Penhold Grip

The penhold grip is a popular alternative:

  • Grip the paddle handle as if holding a pen or chopstick between the thumb, index and middle fingers.
  • Wrist flicks and turns drive shots using the penhold rather than forearm rotation.
  • Provides deceptive shot angles but requires adapting footwork for mobility.
  • Favored in the Asian table tennis world but catching on worldwide.

Try each grip style and choose what generates most power and control for your game.

Ready Position and Footwork

Proper footwork provides balance and efficient court coverage:

  • Assume a shoulder width ready position with knees bent and weight balanced on the balls of both feet.
  • Take small quick steps and shuffle smoothly without crossing feet. Drop into shots with legs, not just arms.
  • Move laterally then plant both feet to brace for forehand or backhand groundstrokes.
  • On serve returns, start split stepping in place to react quickly anticipating the ball direction.

Agile yet controlled footwork sets the foundation for powerful shots when set and balanced.

Forehand Drive Technique

The forehand drive is table tennis’ essential offensive weapon:

  • Use a closed racket angle on initial forward swing and contact point to lift under spin.
  • Uncoil the trunk and shoulders to whip the racket horizontally forward brushing underneath the ball for topspin.
  • Follow through fully over the top down the line of play. Add wrist snap for extra spin.
  • Strike the ball out front at comfortable arm’s length for full extension. Rush shots cause mishits.

Fluid forehands that clear the net and land deep with controlled topspin pressure opponents into mistakes.

Backhand Drive Technique

The backhand drive mirrors forehand mechanics on the reverse side:

  • Rather than horizontal swing, lift the racket straight up then uncoil downward with legs and core leveraged for power.
  • Maintain a closed racket angle at contact to drive topspin. Follow through down and across the body.
  • Many players use a “shakehands” backhand with smooth continuous stroke like shaking someone’s hand.
  • The one-handed variation allows greater reach and deception aiming wide angles.

Repeat drilling smooth, fluid backhand drives trains muscles to generate reliable power reflexively.

The Serve

Serves initiate point play requiring a series of precise techniques:

  • Toss the ball high enough to fully extend on contact. Consistent tosses land in the same box each time.
  • Make contact slightly in front of body between waist and shoulder level.
  • Brush up behind the ball transferring body weight forward with a flat racket angle.
  • Snap wrist fully through the contact point for spin. Follow through directly forward toward the receiver.
  • Use legs to push off the floor into the serve rather than just the arm.

Master spin and placement to either attack or set up your next shot strategically.

The Push

Pushing floats back high floating returns:

  • Wrist lays back through contact guiding ball upward. Almost a squeezing motion.
  • Light touch on the ball prevents it from popping up too high. Minimal energy transfer forward.
  • Use short motions like wrist flicks rather than full strokes.
  • Varies placement, pace, and underspin for inconsistent bounces challenging opponents.

The short push disrupts attacking rhythm and requires opponents to generate their own pace.

The Chop

The defensive chop leverages underspin:

  • Angle racket back sharply. Swing high to low making crisp contact on the bottom half of the ball.
  • Chop down through the ball transferring heavy backspin. Follow through towards the table.
  • Takes touch to avoid pops that sit up attackably. Drop racket angle as needed.
  • Vary spin and direction to disrupt anticipatory opponents.

Chopping back returns with unpredictable underspin defuses power and resets to neutral.

The Block

The block is a key transitional counterattack:

  • Catch the ball as it descends from the peak using precise timing before it can accelerate downwards.
  • Maintain a solid fixed racket angle punching straight into the ball rather than swinging through it. Almost a bunting motion minimizing pace.
  • Counter topspin with backspin by slightly closing the racket face.
  • Quickly step in with the opposite foot to take the ball early when in attack position.

For advanced players, the block chops momentum and transitions defense into instant offense.

Angling the Racket Face

Altering horizontal racket angle drastically impacts spin and speed:

  • Open racket on contact to decrease speed and increase topspin. Great for keeping shots low across the net and high over the table.
  • Closed racket flattens shot trajectory adding speed. Ideal for fast loops. But requires precise touch to avoid sailing off the table.
  • Square racket position blocks and counters pace for quick reset exchanges searching for a definitive attacking angle.

Learn to adjust horizontal racket face deftly depending on your intention with each shot.

Ball Spin Basics

Table tennis revolves around managing spin:

Topspin – Forward brushing action imparts downward dip so the ball curves down onto the table for consistency. Generates speed.

Backspin – Low to high chopping motion at ball contact creates sharp underspin forcing opponents to generate their own power. Key for defense and disruption.

Sidespin – Angled racket face applies spin to bounce balls sideways, wrong-footing opponents. Changes rebound trajectory unexpectedly.

Anticipating how spin will affect the bounce and curve enables both keeping shots on the table and finishing points.

Shot Selection Strategy and Setting Up Winners

Each shot carries strategic advantages in the right situation:

  • Drop shots in the front court when opponent is deep.
  • Fast loops and drives to force opponent movement laterally.
  • High deep serves and pushes to force opponents back then charge the net.
  • Drop shot then loop combination to bait and switch.

Thoughtful shot choices based on positioning set the stage for winning setups.

Receiving Serves

Receiving serve well prevents opponents from gaining early advantage:

  • Start in ready position split stepping to react to fast serves.
  • Read body language for early clues on placement.
  • Try pushing soft off pace returns to take immediate control.
  • Be prepared to counterloop hard serves by meeting speed with speed.

Don’t allow servers easy points. Put them immediately on the defensive instead.

Attacking and Defensive Strategies

Vary attacking and defensive styles situationally:

Attacking – Take the initiative on weaker serves. Find ways to get around passive blocking returns using speed and angles. Look to end points quickly when in attack position.

Defensive – Chop and push to counter fast loops. Vary spin, placement, and speed to disrupt offensive pressure. Absorb pace and reset to neutral rather than forcing risky counters. Prolong the point until finding attack opportunities.

Shifting strategically between attacking and defensive playing styles keeps opponents off balance.

Using Combination Plays

Stringing together multiple successive shots amplifies effectiveness:

  • Serve and loop allows looping the return for immediate offense.
  • Push then attack takes pace off initial before attacking aggressively the next shot.
  • Loop then loop doubles up on topspin drives ratcheting up pressure.
  • Quick loop fake followed by a drop shot or tip scores outright.

Combination shots compound challenges presented to opponents.


While table tennis appears deceptively simple, excelling requires immense technical proficiency across spinning, footwork, transitions between attack and defense, and shot selection. But be patient. Building a diversified table tennis toolkit over time strengthens all-around capabilities helping you dictate play on your terms. With a solid foundation, aspire to eventually play an entire match rarely repeating the same shots twice as you flow freely between an arsenal of punishing offensive weapons and disruptive defensive counters. Mastery arrives when opponents cannot predict whether looping drives or slicing drops are headed their direction next. Achieving that table tennis fluidity where diverse techniques blend together instinctually delivers lasting competitive advantage while keeping gameplay enjoyment high.

Here are some additional frequently asked questions about basic table tennis skills:

What are the most important skills for beginners to learn first in table tennis?

The forehand drive, backhand drive, proper footwork, and basic serve are vital foundations. The push and block help build early point rally abilities. Focus on fundamentals before advanced techniques.

How do you practice table tennis by yourself?

Use a table tennis robot or backboard to drill consistently. Do solo drills like shadow swinging for movement. Watch video of your strokes to self-analyze. Play games like trying to hit targets around the table edges.

What type of grip allows the most power?

The shakehand grip generates the most powerful forehand drives for most players by allowing full body rotation and arm extension. Penhold grips also produce heavy spin and speed. Avoid clenching the paddle tightly in any grip.

Is footwork as important as strokes in table tennis?

Yes, footwork is absolutely critical alongside strokes and serves. Balance, coordination, weight transfer, explosive first steps, and controlled lateral shuffles determine quality of strokes. Proper positioning expands reach and options.

How can new players practice spins? Use an angled piece of plywood or box lid propped up on the table at different angles. Looping balls into this makes them rebound with heavy spins to develop feel for brushing and slicing technique.


Categories: Table Tennis


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage. Eddy Tom


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