Before sharing some tips on how to win at basement ping-pong, a little history. Contrary to popular belief, ping-pong or table tennis, was not invented in China. Yes, the Chinese play the game very well, but the sport originated in England. Although origins of the game may go back even further, tennis enthusiasts popularized the game by trying to take their favorite sport inside during the Victorian period. They used everyday objects to play. A line of books served as the net, a cigar lid as the paddle and rolled-up string for the ball. Soon, entrepreneurial types moved to make the equipment better and equipment improvements continue to be part of the game.
There have been a couple of significant changes to the game since most baby boomers learned to play. After the 2000 Olympic games, the ball size was increased from 38mm to 40mm. A bigger ball is slower and less receptive to spin. The bigger ball counters some of the increased speed and spin brought on by racquet improvements. Another change: most tournament games are played to 11 points with players alternating serves every two points. It used to be standard practice to play to 21 points and alternate serves every 5 points.
Some interesting table tennis facts
- At the 1936 World Championships contested in Prague, two defensive players battled for one hour for just one point. The whole match took 4 hours of time.
- Table tennis was banned in the former Soviet Union from 1930 to 1950 because the sport was believed to be harmful to the eyes.
- Parker Brothers trademarked the name “Ping-Pong,” thus, forever creating confusion over whether to call the game ping-pong or table tennis. Some make the distinction that table tennis is the sport and ping-pong is just a basement game. Like most, I’m using the terms interchangeably.
- The most popular table tennis grip in recreation and professional play is the shakehands grip.
One of the great things about the sport of table tennis is that there are so many people who think they’re great at the game. Here are a few tips to work on that should help you beat those people:
How to win at basement ping-pong
- Track your opponent’s racquet. If your opponent’s paddle moves down — which means a backspin is being placed on the ball — you’re more likely to hit the ball down, unless you make an adjustment. If your opponents racquet moves to your right when he’s putting on a spin, you’re more likely to hit the ball to your right, unless you make an adjustment. The key is to zero in on the direction that your opponent’s racquet is moving in and make adjustments accordingly.
- Mix up your serves. Use different lengths, different speeds and different spins. Be consistent about not missing serves, but inconsistent in terms of the type of serve. The serve is a big part of the game — don’t just put the ball in play. Put a ball in play that gives you an advantage.
- Work on the “double bounce serve.” The double bounce serve, where the ball would bounce twice on the opponent’s side if left alone (with the first bounce being mid-table), is a very effective serve in table tennis. It makes it hard for your opponent to return the serve with a powerful return. It also makes it challenging for your opponent to return the serve short and decreases the angles available to your opponent.
- Go on the offensive. Usually, the person who goes on the offensive in an attacking style, is more likely to win the point. For most players, the forehand is the stroke that allows them to attack the best. Use your footwork to put yourself in position to hit attacking forehand shots.
- Play out every point. Don’t anticipate that you’ve hit a winner. The ball might just be coming back.
- Master a third ball attack. After an opponent returns your serve, look to finish with a powerful shot. For example, a short serve to an opponent’s forehand will sometimes cause the return to pop up. Be ready to finish.
- Identify and exploit your opponent’s weakness. When warming up, hitting several balls right in the middle and determine if your opponent is more comfortable hitting forehands or backhands. If they’re more comfortable hitting forehands, hit to their backhand at critical stages in points. Or continue to hit several shots in a row to your opponent’s weaker side. If you’ve ever seen Nadal attack Federer’s backhand with his topspin forehand in the game of tennis, you’ve got the idea. Many amateur players have a decided preference as to which side they’d like to hit the ball. Figure which side that is before the match even starts.
Master these tips and you should be on your way to beating most players. Watch this video to see a classic match-up between an attacker and a defender in table tennis.