Table Tennis Doubles for Champions Interview

Table Tennis Doubles for Champions – An Interview With Larry Hodges

It’s no secret that here at Racket Insight we’re huge fans of Larry Hodges. He posts a regular blog over at TableTennisCoaching.com which is worth bookmarking for any table tennis fan.

Larry himself is a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, and editor of the USA Table Tennis magazine amongst many other achievements during his 50+ years in the sport. That’s without mentioning multiple national singles (hardbat!) and doubles titles, as well as coaching some of the best US international players of the last half century.

Larry Hodges

If you can trust anyone’s writing about table tennis, it’s Larry’s. Which makes it helpful that he’s published 12 table tennis books (10 instructional, 2 novels).

A vast majority of the literature and videos about table tennis center around playing singles, making a book about doubles strategy particularly valuable.

Doubles matches also happen to be far more strategic than singles, with raw skill playing less of a part. In the same way Lionel Messi can’t always drag his team to victory by himself, a single strong table tennis player can’t win a doubles match by themselves.

We’ve been fortunate enough to interview Larry about his new book, exclusive to Racket Insight. I’m sharing the interview in full here, followed by my own thoughts about his book at the end.

Table Tennis Doubles for Champions

Larry’s latest book is a treasure trove of interesting doubles insights.

Including Larry’s trademark humour and anecdotes from 50+ years of doubles experience, there are few better sources to learn from.

Every page has some useful tip or hint that you can apply to your doubles game. Many of which you’ll struggle to find written about anywhere else.

If you want to get better at doubles, ‘Table Tennis Doubles for Champions’ is a great place to start.

Larry’s kind enough to drop some absolute gems in this interview alone, which should convince you that reading his book will instantly get you winning more doubles matches. Let’s jump into the interview:

Section 1: About The Book

Larry: I’ve coached a lot of doubles over the years. While coaching a doubles match last year it dawned on me that there wasn’t really a book about how to play doubles.

It seems a huge void that needed filling. And so I began jotting down the important points. Then I started talking to top players and coaches about doubles and kept notes. And so, a book was born!

Larry: I tried to write it for all levels of play and seriousness. For example, some will only be interested in the tactical aspects or how to find a good partner, and less interested in doing the work needed to develop doubles footwork. (But they might be interested in how to play against the various types of footwork.) 

Larry: The most fascinating aspect is in seeing how various styles can work together. I’ve found that almost any two styles can play decent doubles together, but it often takes a lot of experience by both players to learn how to adjust their games so they can work together best. 

For example, I’ve played a lot of doubles with Ty Hoff, and our games worked together. Then I played doubles with Steve Berger, a chopper, and learning to play with him was like learning table tennis all over again. And yet, we figured it out and won several national titles. 

Section 2: About Doubles Strategy

Larry: It depends on the partner. With some, you approach it analytically and discuss how to fix the problem. With others, you approach it almost with humor. Once, while playing doubles with Ty Hoff against Dan Seemiller (former top 20 in the world, even better at doubles, and interviewed in the book), with Ty serving and me looking to play forehand, I got aced to the wide forehand by Dan’s receive twice in a row. Ty just looked at me and said, “Larry!” I adjusted. 

You also have to approach these things with the idea of figuring out whether your partner can stop making a specific miss (say, missing put-aways against high backspin), or whether you have change your tactics so your partner doesn’t face those shots. It’s best to discuss this with your partner. 

If your partner is missing a shot that you know he can make, or that your team needs him to make, then be patient and encourage him to keep doing the shot. For example, I have an aggressive receive in doubles. If I miss a couple times and my partner gets on me about it, then I may hold back on what may be the strongest part of my doubles game – and so our team would be weaker. 

Larry: There’s more incentive to play well if you are playing with a friend and want to win as a team! However, if two players who don’t know each much outside of table tennis play well together, it can be a “businesslike” partnership. 

Regarding skill, you’ll probably do better with a great player than a much weaker player no matter how much you are friends with the latter. But if you are friends with someone, then you might work together to become a powerful team that can beat “better” teams. 

That’s why rating doubles is fun – you can take a weaker player under your wing, teach them to play doubles well, and then win those events. (See the section in the book on playing with a stronger or weaker partner.) 

Larry: There’s a small advantage to it, but I never considered it a huge advantage. From a coach’s point of view, except in very rare cases, usually at the highest levels where you might have a pure doubles specialist (usually a lefty), I doubt if a player is going to change to a tackier rubber just to be a better doubles player. So you should normally go with what you use in singles. 

Larry: Definitely, if it’s part of the player’s game. Anything you do in singles can be effective in doubles if done at the right time. I used to be very good attacking backspin, but if someone caught me off guard with a chop block, it would be tricky to play effectively whether singles or doubles.  In doubles, where players are already moving about, a sudden dead ball can be effective against some players. 

Larry: Receive. Jasna Rather talks a bit in her interview about Lupulesku’s doubles play, and the part that always impressed me was the almost magical returns he’d do that would tie up opponents. Dan Seemiller also ties up opponent’s with his receive. 

Section 3: About Modern Doubles Play

Larry: Mostly it’s gone the same way singles has gone – fewer and fewer styles, with two-winged inverted loopers dominating in both. 

Back in the 1990s, for example, lefty Wang Tao had a ferocious forehand loop to end the point, but the flips and short pushes with the short pips on his backhand often set up his partner, the penhold all-out forehand looping Lu Lin. They may have been the best men’s doubles team in history to that point. But you’re unlikely to see that type of combo anymore. 

Larry: You can’t really judge different eras against each other. A simple browsing of the doubles titles at the Worlds shows who dominated each of those eras. Often it would be the best singles player combined with a doubles specialist. But Wang Tao and Lu Lin always stood out for me. It would be interesting to see them at their peak against modern teams, especially early in a match when they (especially Wang Tao) would likely mess up their modern counterparts. But every generation generally improves on the previous ones, and the modern ones would likely adjust and win in the end. 

Larry: That’s a tough one, but the most important thing the coaches of the top teams will be telling their players in each match will likely be how often to push short, push long, and flip. Some opponents you want to bring over the table where they feel jammed, so you push short a lot. Some teams like to get right into topspin rallies, and so will flip more serves. 

But since you mentioned mixed doubles in particular, that means they will likely push long and heavy against the opposing woman, who won’t have as much power as the men, and so their softer loops can be counterlooped for winners. 

Larry: Focus on serve and receive and everything else will often fall into place. Learn to serve short and low, and to loop the long serve and push the short serve back short (along with other receives as needed), and your partner will be your best friend. 

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Racket Insight’s Book Review

I’ve been a qualified coach for 10+ years, with a majority of that time spent coaching players to become great singles specialists. As a result, Larry’s book was enlightening even for me.

Almost every page had some unique insight that I underlined and noted to introduce into my coaching (and playing) techniques.

What’s even better is that the book covers advice that’s useful for everyone from complete beginners through to professionals. Larry’s really clear in pointing out how strategies might differ depending on the level you’re playing at.

The interviews provide a rare insight into the world of professional table tennis with Dan Seemiller a particular treat. I pulled out a quote of his that I think neatly summarizes how useful Larry’s book is:

Just about everything is different [in doubles]. The strategy, movement, teamwork, and the rules all change”.

That just about sums it up. Get the book so you can get a huge advantage playing a format very few players know how to play really well.

Who knows, it might be your key to a first tournament win.

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The Controller

David's been playing Table Tennis since he was 12, earning his first coaching license in 2012. He's played in national team & individual competitions, although he prefers the more relaxed nature of a local league match! After earning his umpiring qualification in England, David moved to Australia and started Racket Insight to share information about the sport he loves.

Blade: Stiga WRB Offensive Classic | Forehand: Calibra LT | Backhand: Xiom Musa
Playstyle: All-Round Attacker

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