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Third Ball Attack in Table Tennis by Coach Victor Fossoh

What is a third ball attack?

The third ball attack in table tennis is a powerful offensive strategy that involves attacking the opponent's return of serve with a strong shot. Typically, the server will attempt to serve a short or long ball that forces the receiver to move quickly and make a difficult return. The third-ball attackers will then position themselves to take advantage of the return and promptly attack with a forehand or backhand shot. This strategy can effectively put pressure on the opponent and gain control of the match. However, executing successfully requires good timing, footwork, and shot selection.

Coach Victor Fossoh in action at the OTTC
Coach Victor Fossoh in action at the OTTC

Why is it important

It will put your opponent under pressure; you will take control of the rally and gain an advantage in winning the point.

How to setup a third ball attack

To set up a third ball attack in table tennis, you need to follow these steps: 

  • Serve the ball with a spin that forces your opponent to make a return that is easy to attack.

  • Move to a good position to receive the return, ideally close to the table and with your body positioned to the side of the table.

  • As soon as the ball bounces on your side, take a quick step towards it and hit it with a powerful attack shot. The timing and positioning here are crucial. Aim to place the ball in an area where your opponent will have difficulty returning it. It's essential to practice this technique to get the timing and positioning right.

How to anticipate the third ball

Anticipating the third ball in table tennis requires good observation skills, quick reflexes, and knowledge of your opponent's playing style. Here are some tips to help you anticipate the third ball: 

1. Pay attention to your opponent's body language. Notice how they position themselves before the serve and move after hitting the ball. This can give you clues about the type of shot they are likely to play next.

2. Analyze your opponent's playing style. Try to identify patterns in their shots, such as the areas they tend to target, their preferred spin, and the type of shot they use to return your serve. This information can help you anticipate their next move and prepare your response. 

4. Practice your footwork. Being in the correct position to receive the ball is crucial for anticipating the third ball. Work on your footwork to quickly move to the right spot and be ready to make the shot. Combining these tips with practice can improve your ability to anticipate the third ball in table tennis and gain an advantage over your opponent.

5. Where you serve. It's all about percentages. If you can work out and take advantage of these responses, you stand a better chance of anticipating correctly. The speed of the serve will determine the ball's direction – Fast will come back in the same direction. 

How to improve your third ball attack

  • Serve to suit your playing style

  • Always expect the ball to comeback

  • Anticipate how your serve will be returned and prepare for the standard response

  • Recovery position based on the serve you produced – What type of spin you produced

  • Ball placement – work out the percentages

  • Because of your anticipation and quick response, you will have a split second to decide where to hit the third ball. If unsure, the hip or elbow is not a bad place to aim for

  • Just because you are in a position to attack doesn’t mean you have to apply 100% power on the 3rd ball. You can use good spin and placement to dominate the rally and prepare to win the fifth ball.

  • Use the third ball strategically to set up your next attack, particularly your forehand attack. Instead of always hoping to win the point directly after the third ball, focus on dominating the next shot. This approach will help you prepare to win the fifth ball and maintain control of the game.

What are the good habits to develop to attach a third ball

  • Have the desire to attack first or be aggressive with your shots

  • Develop a good setup serve for your attack

  • Predict the placement of the returned ball

  • Learn to move in a pattern – big or small steps

  • Add power to your attack. Power from the ground.


  • Always put a side spin on the ball to direct the ball in a particular direction

  • Speed, spin, and location of your serve

  • Always factor in the side spin on your serve because it will pull the ball in a particular direction 

  • Don’t focus on killing the third ball. Focus on consistency, Speed, and placement


The third ball attack is a crucial table tennis technique that requires mental and physical preparation. To execute a successful third-ball attack, players must focus on developing a good setup serve and be willing to attack immediately after the serve. Perfecting a third ball, in most cases, is not a technique problem but rather a mental problem. By practicing and changing the habit of pushing or chopping the third ball, players can improve their overall gameplay, put their opponents under pressure, and increase their chances of winning matches.

Victor Fossoh leads OTTC's Clinic Series sessions. Don't forget to be on the lookout and sign up for the next one!



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