Mastering the strong short game is crucial at the intermediate to advanced level because it allows you to attack first, which gives a huge advantage during the point. There are three primary ways to receive a short serve – short push, long push, and flip. Each player has a preference with which they use more often, but it is vitally important to perfect all three so that you have more options.
Over the last twenty years, the short push (also know as the drop-shot) has been the main receive for most of the world’s top players because it neutralizes the point and doesn’t give the server the opportunity to attack first. To develop this shot, have a training partner or robot serve the ball short with backspin. Bend your knees, step forward with the right foot, push the ball on the rise, and finish with a two inch follow through straight toward the middle of the net. Taking the ball early is the main key. The earlier you contact the ball, the shorter you can make your drop shot. Try to keep the ball low and have the ball bounce twice on your opponent’s side of the table.
The long push is very effective as a variation for those opponents that are creeping-in too close for the short ball. It also works well against blockers, pips-out attackers, and anyone with a weak attack from one particular side. Perform the same technique listed above except that you now need to squeeze your racket slightly harder and make a slightly longer follow-through.
In the last several years, the flip has become more popular especially after Zhang Jike won the world championships and Olympics. Zhang Jike specializes in the banana flip, which is a slightly longer backhand flip over the table – which almost looks like a loop. The flip is best performed by bending your knees, stepping forward with the right foot, starting the racket as low as possible to the table, then spinning the ball up and forward with the wrist and forearm.
Perfecting these three elements of the short game will allow you to control the start of the point and give you the first attack. Remember – the short game probably won’t win the point outright; so think of your short game as a setup short to be finished with a great loop. Combining a strong long game with a strong short game is the perfect combo for success.