How To Avoid 3rd and 5th Ball Attacks


1. Why Avoid 3rd Ball, 5th Ball Attacks?

2. What Does Your Opponent Want to Do?

3. What Do You Want to Do?

4. Analysis of How 3rd Ball, 5th Ball Attacks Work.

5. Stopping 3rd Ball, 5th Ball Attacks

  • Scouting Opponents
  • General Advice
  • Close to the Table Players
  • Defenders / Away from the Table Players


Part 1 - 65MB, 30min

Part 2 - 65MB, 30min

Practical Example - Paul Pinkewich vs Dennis Makaling - 16MB, 4min

Practical Example (with commentary) - Paul Pinkewich vs Dennis Makaling - 20MB, 7min

Note: Username and Password for all Month 1 videos is gtgOC3 (that's O as in Orange)

Video Summary

1. Why Avoid 3rd Ball, 5th Ball Attacks?

  • If you play an aggressive style, you want to attack first, not play defence
  • If you want to play a pushing only game, you want to stop any attacks and keep the game tight and controlled, so that your opponent can't attack freely.
  • But if you want to maximise the effects of your long pips / antispin, you probably want to encourage 3rd and 5th ball attacks, but ensure that your opponent cannot attack strongly.
  • If you make you returns too difficult to attack, your opponent might give up trying, and you will end up playing a pushing game, which might not be want you want to do.
  • If your returns are too loose, your opponent will have no problem making strong 3rd ball and 5th ball attacks.
  • Make your returns attackable but difficult, then opponent is still encouraged to attack but can't dominate you with his power play.
  • If your opponent can make strong attacks, this is bad because
    1. It may be too much power (speed and spin) to handle
    2. Placement - you can't cover all his options,
    3. He may get at your inverted rubber when you aren't prepared for it
    4. He may put the ball into your playing elbow, or where you are not waiting for the ball

2. What Does Your Opponent Want?

  • a predictable amount of spin
  • a predicable type of spin
  • less movement needed by him - he would prefer to have the ball returned to a predictable place where he can run his favorite attacking patterns
  • quick points - finish the point  before you have a chance to settle into the rally, and start using your long pips or anti to control the rally. Or for defenders, attack you before you can get into your chopping position back from the table
  • predictable use of your long pips/anti
  • high or mid-table returns, which make easier targets for his attacks
  • low risk of counterattack to throw off his rhythm (especially on 5th ball setups)
  • to get at your smooth inverted rubber when he wants an orthodox return


3. What Do You Want?

  • you must take away his confidence to hit with power
  • you must vary spin, placement, type of stroke
  • counterattack occasionally or even more often to upset his rhythm (depending on how successful your counterattacks are)
  • be tight with the return of serve, but not so tight that he completely gives up on attacking (unless this is what you want)
  • you want to have a good chance of knowing where his attack is going to, at a speed and spin that you can handle. This gives you the chance to start crafting the point in the way that you want.


4. Breakdown of a 3rd ball, 5th ball attack

3rd ball attack

  • relies on a setup serve, which comes back loose enough to put away with power
  • usually will be a topspin variant, or a sidespin disguised as a backspin, something to make the ball come up just enough to attack strongly
  • it is often a long serve (which is very difficult to return short) with heavy spins that are hard to control (but easily read), but also sometimes a tight serve with disguised spin to get the ball popping up
  • if your opponent can't get the strong 3rd ball, a smart opponent will attack less strong, use good spin and placement, and set up a 5th ball.

5th ball attack

  • may be an aborted 3rd ball, or a planned 5th ball.
  • if a planned 5th ball, good serve to give him his preferred opening attack, which sets up his pattern of 5th ball kill.
  • most players have a few preferred patterns of 5th ball attacks

5. Stopping Strong 3rd Ball, 5th Ball Attacks

5A) Scout Your Opponent

  • Attack patterns will depend on the opponent - ie compare William Henzell to a Simon Gerada, Alex Swanson, Kiet Tran. All these players have different favorite attacking patterns.
  • You need to know beforehand what his patterns are, or at least be paying close attention so you can adjust as the match goes on.
  • I'll deal with scouting your opponent in more detail elsewhere in the course, but for now it's clear that the better you know your opponent, the better your chances of avoiding the type of returns that he prefers for strong 3rd ball and 5th ball attacks.

5B) General Advice

  • Try to use your strengths first, but if that ain't working you need to be open to going with weaker areas of your game in order to get better variation - remember, it's important to give your opponent something that he doesn't like, even if it means using a type of return that is not your favorite method.
  • Return of serve - get rid of the predictability your opponent is looking for - variation in return type, spin, deception, placement side to side, depth, inverted vs junk rubber, counterattacking. Predictability is only safe against weaker opponents.
  • give him the attack, but use your placement, spin and type of return to force him to attack only where you are waiting for it with your lp anti to handle it.  Make it risky for him to try to attack in other positions. Use your return type and angle of return to force certain lines of play, where you can be waiting with your long pips or anti, or perhaps ready to block fast with your inverted.
  • counterattack more often to take away his chances to initiate, or force him to initiate from a different type of return than his favorite patterns

5C) Close to the table push/blockers

  • pay attention to the angles you are giving your opponent - you must stay in your sweet spot for those possible angles - you still have to move even though you are playing close to the table. Don't leave wide open avenues of attack.
  • Small steps if you have time, lean if you have to.
  • use pressure - if you return the ball slow, it must be short or a surprise location. Faster paced returns off the bounce increase the pressure on your opponent by cutting down his recovery time, as well as reducing his reaction and decision making time.
  • No silly mistakes - increase the pressure but don't go mad  - take calculated risks. There is always a limit to how hard you can hit with the long pips or anti - you must know that limit and stay within it. If there is more backspin on the ball, or his return is higher, then you can hit faster.
  • even at the top Aussie level, there are plenty of mistakes made by aggressive opponents due to careless or overambitious play. Your goal is to make your opponent earn every point. Playing good percentage table tennis is something that is 100% in your control - make sure that you are making the most of it.
  • Don't guess where the ball is going - watch and anticipate - this will improve your decision making and you should get better as the match goes on, as your learn to read your opponent better.
  • Intelligent twiddling can help here - must not be overused since you don't want to confuse yourself.
  • Don't back off the table - you are giving up wide angles, and the ability to pressure your opponent. Everything becomes less effective as you step away due to the increased time your opponent has to react to your strokes.

5D) Long Range Defenders

  • Attackers want to catch you
    1. in the playing elbow
    2. stuck up close to the table
    3. wide on either side
  • if getting 3rd balled a lot, return tight as possible and get straight back into defensive position (depth) - move through that no man's land between close to the table and your preferred defensive depth as fast as possible.
  • if getting 5th balled a lot
    1. can give him a slightly more tempting return of serve to try to encourage him to go for 3rd balls that aren't set up properly
    2. cut down your counterattacking a bit, and get straight into your defensive position, attempting to control his angles so his strongest shot is straight to your pips/anti to allow you to go into rally mode.
    3. return more with your inverted rubber and load up the backspin. Your opponent will have to lift the ball more, and take some pace off. This gives you more time to long pip or anti the next stroke. Now you are into your rally mode where you should have a strong chance.
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