Playing effective table tennis defensive strokes is vital if you want to take your game to the next level. As the old adage goes: the best offense is a good defense. Whether in war or at the ping pong table, learning the skills necessary to build a defensive posture is vital to ensuring long-term success at the table.

While some may see a defensive stroke style as less effective than offensively attacking the ball, true defensive playing shows a mastery of patience, technique, and strategy. A true defensive stroke-master can learn to anticipate the types of attacks heading your way from your opponent.

In table tennis, if you can successfully learn the art of defensive playing, you can not only learn how to anticipate your opponent’s next move, but you will soon gain control of the flow of the game – and more effectively ensure victory.

Here are the table tennis defensive strokes you must master to throw off any opponent and gain the upper hand:

Before You Begin: Master Your Defensive Stance

The first step to learning proper table tennis defensive stroke techniques begins with your form and stance. Ensure that your feet are set apart at just over the distance between your shoulders – giving you a solid center of gravity. Keep your knees slightly bent, and make sure that you have some space between your body and the table. Keep your paddle in a neutral position, not too far from your body.

This defensive posture will not only help you gain the vital moments necessary to anticipate your opponent, but it can also cause your opponent to attack a bit more, as they sense you falling back. With the following defensive strokes in your arsenal, you can quickly turn the table on your opponent.

Table Tennis Defensive Strokes To Help You Control The Flow Of The Game

1. The Strategic Serve & Smash

The first defensive stroke to learn is the smash. Defensive players will often utilize the smash following a controlled and strategic serve that allows them to anticipate the third ball return.

If your opponent attempts to make an aggressive heavy shot back your way on the third ball, you can respond with a devastating smash technique. To smash, give yourself the space to step back and rotate your body. Bring your paddle up high, and down to forcefully smash the ball back toward your opponent. However, you should aim your smash precisely, so that you know exactly where the ball will hit on your opponent’s side. This offense-out-of-defense move will be sure to shock your opponent! 

2. The Lob Shot

If you are facing a high ball, a nice way to slow the return is by lobbing the ball back toward your opponent. If you can, add some spin to the lob shot to further impact the movement.

To lob, bring your paddle up from below the ball’s trajectory in a strong but controlled movement. The upward motion will send the ball high into the air and give it enough time to slow down that your opponent will find it difficult to accurately respond quickly.

The below video by Pingskills gives a brilliant overview of how to play this shot:

3. The Push

Another important defensive stroke is known as the backhand push. With a push, you stand close to the table and hold your paddle up with its blade pointed parallel with the table. 

When the ball approaches, return it to your opponent’s side with a short, controlled hit from your paddle. When done correctly, the backhand push will change the height and velocity of the return with enough force to throw off your opponent’s anticipated shot. 

The below video by Pingskills gives a brilliant overview on how to play this shot:

4. The Drive

As opposed to the backhand push, the forehand drive allows you to more accurately hit the ball back toward the sideline or baseline of the table, which will help you avoid any aggressive smashes from your opponent. 

To complete a forehand drive, stay near the table and keep your paddle facing the table in a closed position. Time your hit so that you impact the ball at the peak of its bounce, then allow the paddle to come back down, dragging the motion of the return front and up.

The below video by Official ITTF gives a detailed overview on how to play this shot:

5. The Chop

The final defensive stroke to add to your toolkit is the chop. A successful defensive chop can be done with either your backhand or forehand. 

With a backhand chop, your body will rotate to your left while for the forehand chop it will rotate to the right. With either direction, aim the paddle to undercut the ball, aiming from the back to the bottom which may require a prep swing. 

To complete the chop, swing the paddle and immediately complete a gentle scoop motion at the point of impact. This will help return the ball with a strong chop motion that will confuse and throw off your opponent.

The below video by MHTableTennis gives a detailed overview on how to play this shot:

Master The Defensive Stroke & Control The Game

Among the defensive strokes listed above, the word you will notice most often is controlled. In defensive play, every aspect of your play – from your stance to your strike – should be completed in a calm, controlled manner. As your opponent attempts to disarm you, surprise them at every turn with your controlled demeanor. With defensive strokes, you can quickly take control of the pace of the game. Continue to practice these strokes, and in no time you will find yourself mastering the table!

You may also want to check out our write-up on choosing a table tennis paddle that is optimized for control! Defensive play styles benefit greatly from paddles that provide a great deal of control. All too often, players struggling with their defensive play have overlooked this important decision.