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This article is intended to provide and introduction to what are called tactical styles.

We all know that there are attacking styles and defensive styles. There are and even mixed styles (as those players that BH chop and FH loop). There are players who rally a lot, going for the touch strokes. There are spin variation players, and players that wait for opponent's errors (even forcing them). There are twiddlers that can play any stroke with any of 2 very different rubbers. There's any flavor of blocker you can think of, using any equipment combination. The list is endless...

Then, what is a tactical style?

Obviously, all styles are are tactical to some extent. Any looper has to face decisions such as "where do I place my next shot?", "what serve should I do now?", "will my next shot be a safe slow loop or a risky topspin?", "Does a change of pace benefit my opponent or me?", and so on. These are all 'tactical decisions', and are of crucial importance on the development and result of the match.

But the looper is still a looper, playing strokes / variations / gears / sub-styles / whatever on a looping style, as he still has the mindset of a looper. He can play any stroke, but he does that without changing his mindset, in the hope that he can go back to his game.

I call "tactical players" those players that will do ANYTHING, and employ any possible tactic to win. A tactical player has to be well-rounded enough so he can play any style, switch between styles, or even play any mixture of styles at will. He has to do so with the sole intention of winning, and play for the maximum effectivity.

A side note: What I call "tactical players" or "tactical styles" can be a different thing of what other people call "tactical players" or "tactical styles".

Regarding the style changes (Note - From now on, have in mind that "a style change" can be as short (and often it is) as just one stroke), here are my comments for a tactical player (or a wannabe one):

  1. Changing styles because your opponent forces you to do so, is a weakness and means that you are not imposing your game. Some players (tactical or not) do this in desperation (let's say they start chopping when the opponent forces him to move away from the table), and as a result they end winning. This forced changes can't be avoided, but should be minimized. Changing styles to put the opponent in troubles is good, and the way to go.

  2. You have to employ a certain style by SPECIFIC reasons. This means that you have to think a lot and fast, and be aware of lots of things. Most tactical players play a highly speculative style. This is a bigger weakness as the level of play goes up, since opponent's putaways are more dangerous. You have to go for the shots, play risky and aggressively. Most tactical players are in fact some sort of defensive players, with certain attacking capabilities. Learn to BH loop, open the point to set up your attack, attack serves, push and block aggressively, and your opponents will be in GREAT trouble.

  3. Such wide selection of styles demands a very thoughtful choice on equipment, and the way it is used during play. Most tactical players use a combination racket, and some of them twiddle. This has some advantages and disadvantages:

Some advantages of using a combination racket and twiddling:

  • Twiddling will give you an additional 100% in variation and tactics. In fact a player with a combination racket that doesn't twiddle is more a mixed style player than a tactical player, since most rubbers (other than inverted) LACK the versatility to play different styles. Inverted does, but as it's difficult to play some styles with it, the use of other rubbers than inverted is advised...

  • Changing rubbers gives you the option to play different styles. Also note than twiddling is more that flipping the blade, as it involves adjustments in tactics, technique, grip, mindset, footwork...

  • Using equipment with high control allows you to go for extreme pace / placement shots.

  • You'll play better a style (or stroke) if you have the right equipment. This makes so highly recommendable the choice of a combination racket, that doesn't matter what the following disadvantages say...

Some disadvantages of using a combination racket and twiddling:

  • You don't develop certain areas of your play since you play a low risk game with certain rubbers: Returning serves with antispin or long pips is not an option: Your opponents can use this to their profit, and you won't improve your serve reception.

  • Playing with defensive or passive rubbers has the added disadvantage that you don't play as actively as you could. This is a huge disadvantage, but the use of somewhat unconventional strokes can overcome that (hitting with long pips and the like), but it's something rather difficult to master. Instead, I recommend to play defensive strokes more aggressively. Also, opponents can take profit of predictable passive rubbers (antispin / long pips).

  • You can (and will) be caught with the "wrong" rubber for the style you want to play. The consequences of this can be minimized if you have a wide shot selection with both rubbers, but it will make you lose the initiative or the control of the rally sometimes. This is a big problem, and the main reason why there are so few twiddlers at high level (There are only defensive players, who give initiative to the opponent on purpose).

  • The hardest thing to master for a twiddler is that he can end using several grip variations for different combinations of strokes and rubbers. There is nothing wrong with it, and I recommend it. But it takes some time to master, and can make improvement difficult.

  1. You have to master lots of strokes. This makes the tactical play so demanding technically that no young player at high level plays like this. Learning a two winged looping style is much easier and quicker (thus can be perfected far beyond than what any tactical player can handle) than learning how to play several different styles (that involves different footwork, techniques, grip, mind setting...). That is of course at VERY high levels. At any other level, tactical players are very often tough opponents.

  2. You have to know your own limitations: All players have to. You just have to know your game better and deeply because you happen to select what parts of it are you going to use.


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Last Update : 06 November, 2002

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