Timing is Everything on Table Tennis

 I Never Thought about Timing

After my very first training lessons, I was happy to found myself able to perform a decent opening forehand loop to an underspinny serve or a push. My backhand opening loop was not as good, but I was still getting it right about 50% of the times. It was definitely a great move forward by the time.

However, when I went back to playing matches incorporating my recently acquired skill, I realized something wasn’t right. After my opening loops, I couldn’t really continue attacking the ball and I lost all initiative, reducing my game to blocking from the table.

I won some points when my opponents weren’t able to return this first opening loop. But if they could, I was then forced to play just defensively. It wasn’t after some more matches and the observations of my coach that I realized what was happening: I was staying too close to the table.

Zhang Jike  away table tennis timing
He’s not too close – can’t even see the table!

The Two Zones: Playing Close and Far from the Table

People that call table tennis “ping-pong”, when they first watch a professional game, their first reaction is: “wow, these people are playing so far from the table!”.

The notion of playing away from the table isn’t anything new to me. So I was surprised when I found out that I was being guilty of not moving away enough to have time to continue attacking the ball.

jan ove waldner table tennis rally loop timing
Waldner playing far from the table

After my opening loops, if my opponent returned the ball either with a block or a loop, my reaction was just staying where I was and block back until I had an easy ball. But, as I said, that took all the initiative from me, because I wasn’t able to attack.

My coach wisely pointed out: “you need to step away from the table. Then you’ll have more time, you’ll be able to prepare for your shot and you’ll be able to keep on looping and attacking”.

It was genius! An easy solution for a very important problem that was causing me to lose many points. I was happy to find out.

More Time Doesn’t’ Mean Easier

Well, obviously, it wasn’t that easy. My forehand loop was fine and powerful, but there was a completely new issue that I was about to discover: the timing feeling away from the table is way different from the timing feeling on the table.

When you play on the table, the shots are fast, you mainly loop or push and you can do one, only one, opening loop when you have the chance. After that, you either keep on blocking on the table, or you have to move back.

But when you’re playing away from the table, the ball’s trajectory is much longer (not very much, really, but in table tennis everything is micro, so this difference is big).

Therefore, you have to wait a longer time to hit the ball. My body wasn’t use to it, so I was hitting the ball way too early, out of balance, with a weird posture, or completely missing it. Darn!

It was frustrating to find that my technically correct and efficient forehand loop next to the table didn’t work when I was away from the table in a loop rally.

There’s a quote that I like on timing: “You have MORE time than you think; but, you may still not have enough time!”, by Coach Len Winkler (found through an EmRatTich Table Tennis video – can’t remember which one)

wang liqin forehand counter loop timing
Wang Liqin practicing his great forehand counterloop

Ways of Improving my Timing Away from the Table

And it still doesn’t, really. I’m working on it right now.

My exercises are: moving in and out the table, continued forehand and backhand looping rallies away from the table, mixed opening loop to an underspin and looping to a topspin, etc. It’s all about moving in and out the table, finding the different timing, being able to recognize the shot and adjust accordingly.

It’s really exciting! I feel like a whole new section of the game has opened to me. I’m far from mastering it, but just the opportunity to play in that zone is thrilling. I’m sure it’ll eventually convert into winning points.


What are you working on right now? Leave a comment and share your progress!


  1. pingpalhal
    October 5, 2017

    I wish I could practice this more. Moving in and out from the table, but my two practice areas(my garage and my practice partners studio) are both areas with not a ton of room behind the ends of the tables. What I noticed the first time I played at a club inside a gymnasium was how much that open room changed my perspective on the table and the game. I had to constantly remind myself that I could move around. Because I can’t make it to this club very often I have to try to figure out a way to train this in some other way(although I have no idea how that will happen)

    1. Jose Montoro
      October 5, 2017

      That’s a good point. Having enough space is completely necessary for this game! You have to be able to move around. Hopefully, you’ll find a space that allows you to do that!

  2. Dhiraj
    October 5, 2017

    It would be great if you can record videos of your games which will give a better perspective of your game.

    While you play away from the table, its also equally important to understand the distance of the opponent from the table and what angle he can generate to put you in trouble. Your weaker loop return can change the game in no time. A lot depends on the wrist action of your opponent as that determines his ability to create deeper angles and in quick time to completely catch you off guard.

    1. Jose Montoro
      October 5, 2017

      That’s a good idea! I do record some games, but I figured it would be too boring for the people here to see them, ha! maybe next time I’ll edit them and upload some. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Ron
    October 6, 2017

    You got it right.. Just watch ” in pai” sudaypong by Eam raat thich..
    It will explain a bit more…

    Moving one step backward after hitting the backspin is a ‘thump rule”
    However, a lot depends on the quality of your topspin…


Comment if you can relate!

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