Reflections on style of play

Misaki Matsutomo is one of my favourite players and her style is one of those I’d like to emulate

“Your style is power play,” my training partner stated, “which will work well against females but not against males”. I was taken aback, I’d never consider myself powerful, but it got me thinking. His point was that during a social session he noticed I didn’t attack the net or push to the mid court much. Maybe I was favoring certain shots and didn’t realise it…

Power players typically smash, drive or lift and their main characteristics are aggressive play, sturdy physique, and lower limb problems. I mostly play doubles and I’m comfortable with pace…Not too fast, not too slow. My pace is maybe faster than some girls but netplay is my weakness. I’m probably average-size for an Asian woman and I don’t have any lower limb problems yet…so I’m no power player.

Yesterday we practiced smashes down the line during training. My training partner has a decent smash and wants to improve his power. By contrast, my smashes are slow and lack accuracy. They give opponents time to drink coffee, read the papers and think where to put the shuttle. As my coach emphasises, placement is important when you don’t have much power. When smashing in doubles, better players can get it back and put you out of position. My coach advised try to kill if there is an opportunity, or hit to where you can expect a certain reply, otherwise set up your partner.

I fail miserably in mixed doubles. My coach gave some pointers that could maybe improve my game. The front and back formation only works when attacking, he advised. If you don’t have the attack, it’s not ideal to stand front of back because it exposes gaps in the court. To gain back the attack, pushes or drives can be effective. Be sure to cover the cross court reply. The man lifts straight so he can more easily defend his opponent’s smash and try to gain back the attack. Women usually lift cross court. Men sometimes lift to the women to push her back as she’s typically weaker in the backcourt. My coach also advised don’t block too high because it’s just an invitation “please kill me”. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been killed at the net. Surely I can improve here.

Training has really improved my game. When I first started playing I used to wait for the shuttle to come to me and drive it straight back at the body of my opponent. Thanks to training I have become more active on my feet and better at hunting the shuttle. My backhand is no longer such a liability (I can cover the backcourt and fumble fewer net kills). My coach makes a great teacher and I think we’ve developed a good coach-player relationship. I’m comfortable discussing my deficiencies and working to correct them with him.

Since my style of play has evolved, I’ve been looking for a lighter racquet which allows for faster maneuvering around the net and front court. I use a Li Ning N7 (Cai Yun) which is beautiful but heavy and moderately stiff. A more even balance and flex racquet might help allow better control smashes and drops. I could surely use a bit more control against advanced opponents. But so far I’ve tried a few racquets without any noticeable success.

Each player has their own style of play and individual preferences for their racquet, grips, strings and shoes, etc. It’s not a case of one-size fits all. If you try to follow what your friends do, it might not be suitable for you. I’ve learned alot by talking to key people and through trial and error. We learn through our mistakes. It’s harsh but it’s one of the best ways to improve.


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