KONG ON PLAYING PENHOLDERS
(Chung's Notes: This interview appears in the June 2002 edition of "Table Tennis World". The reporter is Li Kefei.)
Reporter: We believe you have an excellent understanding of how to play against the penholder style. Can you share with us your experiences?
Kong Linghui: Penholders in general have weaker backhands, although the Chinese are different than the foreign players in this respect. Our players have added the reverse backhand loop to their skills, and that certainly has helped them initiate attacks on the backhand side. Also, the Chinese penholders are strong in 3rd ball attacks, and they are more "venomous" with their attacks. They are weaker in rallying, but have very refined first-3-ball skills. Most penholders are in Asia, and players from countries like Korea tend to be one-sided loopers, and have relatively greater weakness on their backhand side.
R: How does your strategy differ when you play Ma Lin, compared to playing Kim Taek Soo or Chiang Peng Lung?
K: There are definite differences. I play Ma Lin a lot, and we are very familiar with each other. The Chinese players use different sponges, and they are a little more awkward for me to play against. Chiang is also quite different from Kim. Chiang has good blocks, and is not the one-sided inverted looper that Kim is. Kim blocks and smashes with his backhand, but his main weapon is the forehand. So everyone is a little different. In general, players like Chiang do not have the rallying abilities of the shakehanders, and their ability to initiate attacks or create spins on their backhand is weaker.
R: When you play Chiang, where do you place your shots?
K: It depends, and usually against penholders we attack the right side and then the left because they are strong in stepping around from their backhand position, and they are relatively weaker on their forehand side. That means their power is little weaker from their forehand side. If you can return that shot to their backhand, you would have the advantage. Of course it depends on actual conditions. If you cannot stop their attacks from their forehand side, you would be under pressure.
R: I feel that when you play against players like Ma Lin, you usually flip with your backhand, and follow that with a backhand counter or quick loop. You are very quick with that backhand shot, and when the opponent forced a step-around shot, that would not be a high quality one. Then you would seize control of the point by attacking their forehand or counter-looping their weaker loops.
K: In general, if I could do that, then it would be great. But your opponent will definitely try to limit you and not let you play your strategy; he would not want to get into a rallying stage, and instead try to use his first-3-ball skills to control you. In a match, we are always trying to control and limit each other. In the rallying phase, the shakehand style is a little stronger, but you need to be able to return serves well to get there. To control the penholders you need to return serves with varied placements: this limits the power and the usage of the penholdersâ€™ 3rd ball attacks, and much improves your chances. But if you cannot do that, then you may not be able to play the rallying game.
R: I remember one time when you played Ma Lin, he would step around as soon as you flipped the ball, and not wait for your backhand counter. Was that a breakthrough for him?
K: Yes, that's because he is familiar with my style, and can predict my placements and spin variations. So he could start moving earlier. Against less familiar opponents, he would need to be a little conservative until he feels things out.
R: I feel that Ma Linâ€™s step-around forehand loops down the line pose a greater threat to you, is that correct?
K: Strong loops down the line are a threat to everyone. Kim Taek Soo also does that a lot. In general, penholders have greater abilities to step around and loop from the backhand position.
R: Ma seems to avoid your backhand, and instead attack down the line a lot.
K: That depends on the quality of my returns. If I handle my forehand side well, he would choose other lines of attack, for example to my middle or cross-court. In general penholders now loop down the line more frequently, including from the forehand side, because that poses a bigger threat.
R: I feel that you block off the cross-court shots very well.
K: Not necessarily. Once you are in a match, and have played a couple of games, you will understand your opponent's basic looping lanes. In the beginning you would need to cover the whole table, but after a while you can predict where the shots will be placed by observing the patterns.
R: Among amateurs, shakehanders often push deep to the penholdersâ€™ backhand, or serve deep to their backhandâ€¦
K: In high level competition that wonâ€™t work. Because players now can step around and attack so well, it will be foolish to push deep to their backhand. It is best to flip or to flick the ball to reduce the power of their attacks, and then try to get to the rallying phase.
R: How do you control your backhand down-the-line shots?
K: Primarily it is in the wrist, and then it is the waist. You have to shift your weight also. If you only use your hand, you will not have consistency.
Copyright Chung Lau
Last Update : 05 January, 2003
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