Table tennis is a brilliant sport to get into at any age. Why? Well, because unlike many other sports, such as football and tennis, you can continue playing competitive table tennis well into your 50s, 60s and beyond. Learn to adapt your game and you can even still have a good chance of beating the top young players!
So what are the keys to staying competitive as an older player?
The most important factor in the modern game of table tennis is aggression. The top players are all aggressive players and they play aggressive table tennis. They look to dominate the rallies and put pressure on their opponent. But don’t get me wrong, an aggressive player is not the same as an attacking player. Attacking is the opposite of defending; aggressive is the opposite of passive. You can be an aggressive attacking player (like young Fan Zhendong), but you would struggle to play like him in your fifties. You could also be a passive attacking player (this is a bad way to play in the modern game). Similarly, you can be an aggressive defensive player and play a defence game in an aggressive way, or you could be a passive defender (again, not a good idea). The key is being aggressive, not passive.
Have you heard of He Zhiwen?
He Zhiwen is 52 years old (the same age as my dad) and ranked 79th in the world! That’s pretty unbelievable. He is still battling it out against players in their prime (20s-30s) and often coming out of top. How does he do it?
- He stays very close to the table. At 52, He Zhiwen doesn’t have the physical capacity to play a loop to loop game away from the table. To stop this from happening he keeps himself very close to the table. He is rarely more than an arm’s length away. This means that he doesn’t have to cover much distance and he also cuts down the amount of time his opponents have to react to his shots. This makes his shots appear more aggressive and harder to deal with.
- He has strong serves. As an older player serves are really important. I can’t think of any advantages of being young for serving. Therefore, the serve is a level playing field for the older player. He Zhiwen has very tricky serves and he used them well to set up his favourite forehand kill shot. If you are an older player, and you want to be able to compete against the younger players, you must work on your serves and make them a strength.
- He attacks early in the point. He Zhiwen is always looking for chance to play his forehand kill shot and finish the point. This is a good tactic for an older player. You should try and develop a big shot that can end the point and then look for any opportunity to play it. Younger players can afford to play spinny loops over and over again, looking for opening, but as an older player you don’t really have that option. Instead get very good at one big shot. He Zhiwen uses his forehand as he is a penhold player but you could just as easily use your backhand and develop a strong backhand counter that you know you can win points with.
- He is aggressive on defense. There are time when you will need to be able to play defense. This could be at the start of the point, before the first topspin, or after your opponents begins attacking into you. In these moments He Zhiwen is brilliant at staying aggressive. The fact that he stays so close to the table helps but then he is also applying pressure with his hard block/punch shot and looking to pin his opponent on their weaker side, or find wide angles to get them off balance and set up his kill shot.
If you are an older player who is still serious about playing top-level table tennis He Zhiwen should be a role-model! Have a look at some of his matches on YouTube and try to imitate his style of play and tactics. He has proved that it is possible to play professional table tennis in your fifties, and beyond, as long as you are aggressive and adapt your game accordingly.