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Watch your opponent



When in a tournament, and playing new, unfamiliar opponents, you can improve your performance against a specific opponent if you have scouted him while he is playing matches. Even top players do so (well, they use videos and call it studying the opponent' or 'preparing matches'. Anyway, I think live scouting has some advantages, specially since you can direct your attention to things that can't be as easily seen in video, or not seen at all).

The whole point is simple: Anything you'll see, think in how to deal with it to your profit.

What To Scout

Here are some ideas regarding what to pay attention when scouting a player. You could pay attention to:

1 - His Footwork:

Try to answer this questions: How does he deal with shots out of his power zones (elbow, extreme FH...)? Does he reach or moves to the ball? How often does he step around his BH? What percentage of the table is he covering with his FH / BH. Discover the exact spot where shots to the elbow or pocket hurts him more. This point is dependent on the player's body, it's not a fixed point in the table.

2 - His Grip:

Does he change it when switching from one wing to the other?.Does his grip favor one wing? Does he hold the racket loosely or tighly? Does he use a lot of wrist? Does he adapt the grip to play certain strokes (like flips)? Do you think that his changes are a weakness (like in players that use his BH from all over the table, and have to change his grip fo play a proper FH) or a strength (like in Waldner, to improve the use of wrist and play deceptive strokes)? If they are a weakness, think in how to take profit of them. If they are a strength, think in how are you going to play him, to prevent him to use that wrist against you.

Also, what grip is he using for serves? Does he use the same grip for all serves, or is he changing from serve to serve? This is of the uttermost importance, since you have to inspect...

3 - His Serves:

If you have problems returning serves, watching future opponents serve will improve a lot your performance when playing against them. You have to find out what serves does he use (and most players have a reduced set of good serves) and what variation is he employing. If you still have problems understanding his serves, watch how are his opponents returning his serves.

Find out when (on which serve & serve return combination) does he go for a 3rd ball attack. Find out what are his surprise serves. Also, find if there are any serve returns that put him in problems (like an angled, off the bounce fast push)?

4 - His Serve Reception:

Try to find an answer to this questions: What serves is he receiving aggressively? Can he atack serves? How does he deal with a <name some serve here> serve? How's his flip? Can he push fast/short/spinny?

5 - His Ready Stance:

For some players, this greatly defines how aggressive will be his service return, and how steady is he planning to play. Some players change it tactically. See if you can take profit of this, like in a surprise serve.

6 - His Footwork:

If the player is a looper, his footwork will be FH oriented, and he will stay mostly at his BH corner. Find out: When does he step around and FH loop? Can he recover his position when one of his hard shots come back (blocked, fished or whatever)? Also, watch how he deals with angled balls, and balls to the middle (elbow or poket). If he is predictable on this, you can take a lot of advantage on this.

7 - His Style:

Is he a looper, a hitter, a blocker or a chopper? Does be play close or far from table? Is he consistent? Does he take chances and play risky shots? Is he steady? Can he use both wings with equal effectivity? If he is some sort of defensive player, find when and how does he play his attacking shots.

You can play specific tactics against different styles. You should start the match having more than just a vague idea of how are going to play him, because unless you play some unorthodox style, he'll probably know how to play you, and that puts him at advantage.

8 - His Equipment:

If you got problems playing long pips or antispin players, watch him rally against other opponents, paying attention to what spin puts each player on the ball, and to the spin that the offending rubber produces / returns. Watching both players' strokes and keeping in mind all the time what spin has the ball makes that a lot easier.

9 - His Shot Placement:

Find where does he place his power shots. Also, find where does he place his desperado shots, touch strokes, and specially the changes in ball direction he can do when blocking or pushing. Inspect not only the placement, but the direction of the strokes.

10 - His Concentration:

Find where his concentration peaks or is at his worst. Take profit of this knowledge to get cheap points.

Also, find how good is his score control: Does he has comebacks often? Can he raise his level of play? Can he handle pressure well? You may need to scout him against several (the most, the better) opponents to tell that.

11 - His Secret Weapons:

Scout him when playing a tought opponent or a tight match, and watch him do his best serves and shots. Watch him getting cheap points against other players in order to prevent him to do the same to you.

12 - His Tactics:

You can beat opponents that have better (or sounder) strokes, technique, footwork, physical shape or just plain talent if you win the tactical game. Tactics have such great influence over any other item in the game you could consider that renders it much less effective. You should get an idea of what tactics can employ your opponent by watching him play as many opponents as possible, and find changes in his play and in his opponent's play. See how the changes reflect in the score.

13 - His Strengths & Weaknesses vs Your Strengths & Weaknesses:

While scouting a player, you have to think on how are you going to play him. You can play your strengths on his weaknesses, your weaknesses on his weaknesses, or your strengths on his strengths. Avoid your weaknesses on his strengths.You can choose to let him play his strengths on shots that force him to take chances (that's what a chopper would do: he would allow his opponent to use his forehand all the time, but never giving an easy ball).

How To Scout

Each one of the things listed above can be easily inspected if you direct your attention to it. However, to truly take profit of scouting, you have to pay attention to all of them at the same time. This demands as concentration as when you are playing a match, since there are a lot of factors to take into account.

To get a decent insight of a player's game, pay attention to him. Not to the rally, not to BOTH players at the same time (as a spectator would do), but take into account how his opponent plays (so you can tell what's going on). Pay special attention to the shots he consistently uses. Pay attention to forced errors, unforced errors and the like. Watch what strokes the player has, and how most points are finished.

Also, you could take notes. Nobody does this, but I believe that it is very effective. If you play a player that you previously scouted, you'll do it at least a 10-20% better (wich is a lot already). If you have notes regarding your opponent's play, his tactics, and specially some pre-defined tactics of your choice that you think that you can use successfully against him, you'll do up to 100% better. Make a simple list (well if you can handle a long and detailed list, by all means do it), and MEMORIZE it. Just don't play the match as if you where pre-programmed by your own list, but have it mind during the match.

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Last Update : 06 November, 2002

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