Technical 2

Observations on Protour Finals

Rowden Fullen 2002

BOTH MEN AND WOMEN

  • Short play is vital in both the men’s and women’s game, a little loose or long and it is easy to lose the point directly. It is important that one is able to control the serve, drop short, push long, flick and deceive
  • When the first ball is looped with a little more spin even the world’s best players block or hit the ball out (especially the men). The slower ball is also of value in changing pace in the rallies.
  • The ability to open hard against the first backspin ball and not just spin all the time is a vital asset in both the men’s and women’s game.
  • The serve — it is vital to be able to serve tight, it’s also important to experiment to do different things with the same service action.
  • It’s important to be positive at top level and open on the half-chances. It’s equally important to be able to play tight.
  • Receive with the forehand whenever possible so as to be in a good position to cover the table with the forehand on the next ball. Some players especially those with very good backhands take the serve with the backhand side in the middle (Kreanga, Chuan, Steff).
  • Most men at top level have a deeper stance than the women with the right leg further back (right-hander). In this way they can cover the mid-table area more easily with the F.H. side. Some however do have a squarer stance, especially those who have strong backhands or who open more on the 2nd ball.
  • Many serves now at top level are half-long and not very short — to encourage the receiver to open so that the server can counter hard.
  • Often if one is able to open with a slower pace, especially to the backhand wing, the opponent plays into the net. This is a characteristic of the bigger ball.
  • Even at the top level players miss short balls they should be able to kill because they play too far back and are too slow coming in.
  • Most players open on the half-long balls.
  • Many players serve into the net trying to keep the ball short.
  • Many players are still not thinking of the stance with the new serving regulations and of how to use the body to best effect. Most have kept the old action and just try to remove the arm. In some cases servers take two to three movements (especially the women) to get into a good position for the next ball.
  • If players can open on the first ball, many flick to the opponent’s body.
  • After the first hard hit or loop most players can take the return ball early (with block or ‘stop’ stroke) if they are countered hard.

MEN’S GAME

  • Most 2nd ball pushes in the men’s game are short returns.
  • It would appear that the ready position in the men’s game is changing. Many of the top boys and the younger top men stand squarer now so that they have more options in short play (the right leg is not so far back anymore). The one exception is with penhold players who want to play more forehands.
  • Most men players use forehand over 75% of the table.
  • Most men players receive the serve with the forehand side.
  • Men use ‘fade’ return more.
  • All top men have the long, fast serve in their arsenal.

WOMEN’S GAME

  • Many women players even at the highest level have problems playing a strong backhand shot, when they have played the previous ball out wide to their forehand side.
  • Many women players open with the backhand from the middle of the table on the 2nd ball. This is easier for them and involves less movement. Most of them stand closer to the table too so this is a viable option.
  • Top women have the capability to open safely on the backhand side.
  • Many women players at top level have a technique to play backhand from the middle of the table on the second or third ball. Often they push with sidespin out to the opponent’s F.H. corner so that they are in a good position to play their stronger forehand on the next ball.
  • Men use fade return more, why not women?
  • Against long serves to the backhand side, almost all top women come round and use the forehand to loop or drive.Long serves win points in the women’s game and are still used in the men’s too.
  • Many of the top Asian women are good at killing through topspin balls.

FOR THE FUTURE

  • Even better short play. Open more and take balls earlier on the push with different spins.
  • Women must train to kill looped balls.
  • With the big ball when playing counterloop to counterloop there are too many balls in the net. Even at the highest level players are not adapting to the differing trajectories.
  • Similarly against a hard, flat hit or fast loop it’s not easy to ‘lift’ the next ball. Players must work at reacting quicker and in a different way to this type of ball. Perhaps the answer is to play a slower spin return.
  • Many players still have problems executing and handling the change from drive to topspin or vice versa with the big ball.
  • Women must be able to play positively against the wide ball to the backhand side after playing a ball wide to their forehand.
  • Most women must think to create more topspin on the first opening ball.

Girls

PengLuyang Serve analysis Short 30
Half-long 21
Long 4
Receive analysis FH Push 30
FH open 5
BH push 0
BH open 13

17 years, WR No9. Opens with BH from the middle even though has a ready position with the right foot well back. On receive pushes the 2nd ball long and either spins the 4th or hits hard.

Chang Chenchen Serve analysis Short 15
Half-long 10
Long 7
Receive analysis FH Push 30
FH open 11
BH push 5
BH open 3

15 years, LH. Often serves to the opponent’s FH or middle.

Lu Yun-Feng Serve analysis Short 1
Half-long 0
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 0
BH push 1
BH open 0
Frida Johansson Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 11
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 10
FH open 3
BH push 1
BH open 4

Too many movements after serve and before playing next ball. Almost always pushes short.

Ai Fukuhara Serve analysis Short 6
Half-long 4
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 1
BH push 6
BH open 10

Much backspin on short serves, one of the few modern players working with heavy backspin. Pimples on BH, 563.

G. Pota Serve analysis Short 1
Half-long 3
Long 4
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 0
BH push 3
BH open 4

Good fast BH control, speed power and direction. Very square stance, even with right foot well forward.

Huang I-Hwa Serve analysis Short 1
Half-long 5
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 2
FH open 4
BH push 1
BH open 1
S. Hirano Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 7
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 1
BH push 4
BH open 0

Women

T. Boros Serve analysis Short 7
Half-long 2
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 7
BH push 1
BH open 3

Uses good variety of serves including high throw. Prepared to open with control on 2nd ball.

M. Steff Serve analysis Short 8
Half-long 1
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 10
FH open 4
BH push 0
BH open 3

Serves like men from BH side with FH plus reverse. LH World ranked 7. Not always enough spin on first opening FH. Short play good and ready to open over the table, especially with BH topspin. Often BH loop on 3rd ball. Opens with BH from middle but tends to push from middle with the FH to control the table for the next ball. After loop from either BH or FH she is good to come in and take the next ball early with block or drive. Weaker v 1 - 2 to BH then out wide to FH side.

N. Struse Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 0
BH push 14
BH open 1

Square stance, strong BH, uses from middle on 2nd ball.

Guo Yue Serve analysis Short 25
Half-long 11
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 11
BH push 10
BH open 8

LH WR 15 Born July ‘88. Good 3rd ball FH, good short returns. Good BH after playing FH out wide. Against high throw serves she moves to middle to receive with the BH.

Zhang Yining Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 5
BH push 2
BH open 7
Niu Jiangfeng Serve analysis Short 15
Half-long 6
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 8
FH open 1
BH push 4
BH open 7
Li Nan Serve analysis Short 11
Half-long 0
Long 5
Receive analysis FH Push 12
FH open 5
BH push 0
BH open 0

Uses high throw serve

Lin Ling Serve analysis Short 14
Half-long 2
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 3
BH push 0
BH open 15
Guo Yan Serve analysis Short 13
Half-long 14
Long 7
Receive analysis FH Push 15
FH open 10
BH push 4
BH open 7

Good reverse serve

Lau Sui Fei Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 1
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 1
BH push 1
BH open 0

PH. High throw serves

Fujinuma Ai Serve analysis Short 5
Half-long 0
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 1
BH push 0
BH open 0
S. Johansson Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 6
Long 8
Receive analysis FH Push 7
FH open 1
BH push 8
BH open 3

Most serves with backspin and all to BH side, needs to vary more. Plays too far back and controls in the rallies. Must win more points.

Unemura Aya Serve analysis Short 6
Half-long 3
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 0
BH push 1
BH open 5
Li Jia Wei Serve analysis Short 8
Half-long 5
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 1
BH push 1
BH open 6
Jing Jun Hong Serve analysis Short 9
Half-long 1
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 0
BH push 2
BH open 7
Tie Yana Serve analysis Short 13
Half-long 2
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 4
BH push 6
BH open 3

Boys

Qiu Yike Serve analysis Short 9
Half-long 11
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 13
FH open 4
BH push 1
BH open 1

WR No 1 Junior

Yang Xiaofu Serve analysis Short 7
Half-long 0
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 2
BH push 0
BH open 0

Square stance

J. Axelqvist Serve analysis Short 14
Half-long 5
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 16
FH open 4
BH push 3
BH open 2

FH serves and reverse from BH corner. Often opens straight.

C. Suss Serve analysis Short 7
Half-long 5
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 7
FH open 4
BH push 1
BH open 3
R. Sakamoto Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 3
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 8
FH open 1
BH push 4
BH open 1
D. Zwickl Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 3
BH push 2
BH open 0
G. Tsubois Serve analysis Short 10
Half-long 2
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 1
FH open 3
BH push 7
BH open 4

Men

K. Kreanga Serve analysis Short 5
Half-long 10
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 4
BH push 6
BH open 2
W. Schlager Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 2
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 3
FH open 1
BH push 1
BH open 0
V. Samsonov Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 1
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 2
BH push 1
BH open 0

Tries loop 3rd ball with FH

Chuan Chih-Yuan Serve analysis Short 12
Half-long 3
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 2
BH push 4
BH open 7

Good short serves, opens well on 3rd ball. Opens well with BH on 2nd ball.
Very square stance even with right foot forward.

J. M. Saive Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 1
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 0
BH push 0
BH open 0
T. Boll Serve analysis Short 15
Half-long 11
Long 1
Receive analysis FH Push 23
FH open 5
BH push 0
BH open 3

Square stance, feet wide. FH serve from BH including reverse.

Wang Liqin Serve analysis Short 8
Half-long 3
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 2
FH open 9
BH push 0
BH open 0

Aggressive v serve, opens whenever possible.

Wang Hao Serve analysis Short 14
Half-long 3
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 7
FH open 12
BH push 0
BH open 0
A. Smirnov Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 4
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 0
BH push 0
BH open 2
Qin Zhijian Serve analysis Short 12
Half-long 2
Long 2
Receive analysis FH Push 5
FH open 13
BH push 0
BH open 0

High throw serves

D. Heister Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 2
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 2
FH open 4
BH push 0
BH open 0
Kong Linghui Serve analysis Short 3
Half-long 5
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 6
FH open 0
BH push 1
BH open 1
M. Maze Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 0
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 4
FH open 0
BH push 0
BH open 0
P. Karlsson Serve analysis Short 4
Half-long 2
Long 3
Receive analysis FH Push 0
FH open 2
BH push 2
BH open 4
Ryu Seung Min Serve analysis Short 2
Half-long 9
Long 0
Receive analysis FH Push 8
FH open 4
BH push 0
BH open 0

Service Statistics

Boys/men

Predominantly short serve or half-long and in the region of 95% in these areas. The figures for the top boys as opposed to the top men are almost identical and there is no significant difference between Asian and European players.

Girls

  • Asian players, short or half-long serves, 84% girls and 87% women.
  • European players, girls 67% and women 72% for tight serves.
  • F. Johansson Swedish junior around 26% long serves.
  • S. Johansson Swedish champion around 44% long serves.
  • G. Pota European junior champion around 50% long serves.

Compare this with Guo Yue, best girl in the world and 15 in the women’s rankings.

  • = 97% short or half-long serves.

Women

  • Asian players, over 90% short or half-long serves. (Ignoring one or two players who serve long as a matter of style).
  • European players, around 72% short or half-long serves.

Compare this with S. Johansson only 55% short or half-long serves.

Stance Men

Ma Lin PH Right foot well back Wide 8 FH from BH
A. Smirnov Right foot back Medium 8 FH from BH
K. Kreanga Square Medium 19 FH from BH Reverse
Qin Zhijian LH.PH Left foot back Wide 17 FH from BH
D. Heister LH Left foot well back Wide  6 FH from BH
W. Schlager Right foot back Wide  6 FH from BH Reverse
M. Maze LH Square Wide  4 FH from BH Reverse
J.M. Saive Right foot back Medium  4 FH from BH Reverse
Wang Hao PH Right foot well back Wide  3 FH from BH
V. Samsonov Right foot back Wide  4 FH from BH
Kong Linghui Right foot well back Wide  8 FH from BH Reverse
Chuan Chih-Yuan Square Narrow  8 FH from BH
T. Boll LH Square Wide  8 FH from BH Reverse
P. Karlsson Right foot back Medium  9 FH from BH Reverse
Wang Liqin Right foot back Wide 12 FH from BH
Ryu Seung Min PH Right foot well back Medium 11 FH from BH Reverse

Stance Boys

J. Axelqvist Square Medium 15 FH from BH Reverse
C. Suss Square Wide 15 FH from BH Reverse
G. Tsubois LH Square Wide 16 FH from BH
D. Zwickl Square Wide  7 FH from BH Reverse
Yang Xiaofu Square Medium  8 FH from BH
Qiu Yike Right foot back Wide  9 FH from BH
R. Sakamoto Square Wide 14 FH from BH Reverse
  • MEN 135 FH serves. No BH.
  • BOYS 84 FH serves. No BH.

Stance Women

Fujinuma Ai LH Square Wide  5 FH from BH High throw
Lau Sui Fei PH Square Narrow  5 FH from BH High throw
M. Steff LH Very square Wide 20 FH from BH Reverse
Zhang Yining Square Narrow 20 FH from BH Reverse
S. Johansson Square Wide 18 FH from BH Reverse
Lin Ling Right foot well back Medium 12 FH from BH 7 BH
Guo Yue LH Left foot back Medium 17 FH from BH
Li Nan LH. PH Left foot well back Narrow 16 FH from BH
Guo Yan Square Medium 10 FH from BH
Unemura Aya Right foot well back Medium   8 FH from BH 2 BH
Niu Jianfeng Right foot well back Medium 10 FH from BH 1 BH
Jing Jun Hong Right foot back Narrow 12 FH from BH
T. Boros Square Wide 14 FH from BH 1 BH + Rev
Li Jia Wei Right foot well back Narrow 15 BH
N. Struse Square Wide 12 FH from BH 4 BH
Tie Yana Square Narrow  6 FH from BH 10 BH

Stance Girls

F. Johansson Square Medium 18 FH from BH Reverse
Peng Luyang Right foot well back Wide 11 FH from BH
Hirano Sayaka Right foot back Medium  9 FH from BH
G. Pota Over-square Medium 8 BH. Varied
Huang I-Hwa Right foot back Wide  8 FH from BH (Sidespin)
Ai Fukuhara Right foot back Narrow 18 FH from BH Reverse
Chang ChenchenLH Square Medium 18 FH from BH (Fast)
Lu Yun-Feng LH Left foot well back Medium  4 FH from BH
  • WOMEN FH Serves 185 BH Serves 40 (But 3 players 32)
  • GIRLS FH Serves 86 BH Serves 8 (only Pota)
Girls Women Boys Men
Square 3 9 5 4
Side/Square 3 2 1 7
Sideways 2 5 0 5
Narrow 1 6 0 1
Medium 5 5 2 5
Wide 2 5 5 10

SERVICE

Girls Women Boys Men Total
Short 59 = 40% 161 = 61%  97 = 55%  59 = 59% 54.6%
Half-Long 61 = 41%   60 = 23%  63 = 36%  29 = 29% 30.9%
Long 29 = 19%   43 = 16%  16 = 9%  12 = 12% 14.5%

RECEIVE

Girls Women Boys Men Total
FH Push 65 = 45% 88 = 33% 53 = 51% 86 = 48% 42.1%
FH Open 25 = 17% 54 = 20% 21 = 20% 58 = 33% 22.7%
BH Push 21 = 14% 52 = 19% 18 = 17% 15 = 8% 15.3%
BH Open 35 = 24% 73 = 27% 11 = 11% 19 = 11% 19.9%

The women quite simply play more backhands. They push receive more than the men and they open more than the men on this wing. They stand squarer and often move in to the middle of the table to push or to open with the backhand. The men on the other hand more often than not stand more side to square (though many of the juniors and younger seniors are getting nearer to square, eg. Boll, Maze and Chuan) and prefer to receive with the forehand whenever possible so that they can control the table with the forehand on the next ball. The men both push receive and open more than the women on the forehand wing.

The female players use the long serve more than the men, but there is not such a great difference in the short and half-long serves at the very top level in the men’s and women’s game.

Perhaps the most informative factor is in the difference between the junior and senior players of both sexes. Both the boys and girls use the half-long serve more than the senior players. At senior level the service game becomes noticeably tighter.

As far as the stance is concerned the women generally stand squarer than the men and are in a better position to play backhands from the middle. They also don’t have as wide a stance as the men.

The men and the junior boys used no backhand serves.

Of the girls only G. Pota used the backhand serve. No Asian girls did. A number of the Asian women (44%) used the backhand service, but if you ignore the 3 players who used this as a tactic the percentage went down dramatically to just over 4%. European women utilized 16% backhand serves.

Statistics Men’s and Women’s Play

Rowden Fullen(2002)

Stance

Younger men and juniors have a more square stance, Boll, Maze, Chuan Chih-Yuan, Zwickl, Süss.

Men square stance = 25 – 30% Women = 60%
Men receive with F.H. = 80% plus Women = 53%
Men receive with B.H. = 19% Women = 47%
Men long serve = 10% Women = 16/17%
Men serve with B.H. = 5% Women = 20%

Seniors serve tighter than juniors, both men and women.

Asian women short serve = 65% European = 50%
Asian women long serve = 13% European = 30%

Counter-play is still the main tactic in women’s play and not loop.
There is little or no change with the forehand serve action after the new serve regulations. Most players just try and move the arm out of the way and haven’t thought out in which ways they can make the serve more effective with the new action.

Long Pimples Simplified

Rowden Fullen (2000)

In learning table tennis our actions are ‘automated’ by constant practice, in other words we train so we don’t need to think when we play. In fact we play better when the body is on autopilot. Because of this major difficulties occur when we encounter something unusual, an atypical response. When for example we see a ‘push’ action our brain interprets this in a fraction of a second as backspin.

If however the ball comes over as topspin then we are confused and all our instinctive, carefully automated reactions are worse than useless. We then have to try and introduce a ‘thinking response’ into an automated system, which tends to throw everything out of tune. We are again like beginners, faced with a totally new situation. Reactions that we have built up over countless thousands of training hours are not only of no help to us but they in fact actively hinder our understanding of the new situation. This is why training against pimpled rubbers at an early age is so important, because it widens the boundaries of our instinctive reactions.

The most deceptive long pimple rubber and the one with most effect is without sponge and on a fast blade, so that the ball springs off the blade very quickly. Many players don’t understand that what is happening is that they are in effect getting their own spin back. If they for example put heavy backspin on the ball and the opponent pushes the ball back the return will not have backspin (even though his or her stroke is down and forward) but an element of topspin. A long pimpled rubber with a thicker sponge will usually return the backspin ball as ‘float’, while the rubber without sponge can send back a ball with considerable topspin.

This of course occurs because most long pimpled rubbers have little or absolutely no friction capability. Whatever spin you initiate, this stays on the ball, because whatever stroke the opponent plays doesn’t have any effect. You loop, the ball comes back with your spin still on it, unchanged. You therefore get back backspin. You push, the ball comes back with your original spin, topspin. Your mind only has to accept the fact that whatever the opponent does with his or her racket is completely irrelevant!

 Long Pimples

Of course long pimple players use their rubbers in many differing ways. Time is always an important factor when trying to read what is happening. The long pimple defender gives you more time to play your shots and to read the spin or lack of spin. The long pimple block player or attacker on the other hand gives you no time at all and this is when life can become very difficult.

Another factor that many players and coaches overlook is that power also affects the return ball. The harder you hit the ball with a closed racket, the more spin you create. Thus the harder you hit the ball against long pimples, the more backspin you get back on the return ball. It is often a better tactic to play slower balls or balls without spin to this type of rubber.

A big problem too is that few if any of us play with ‘pure’ spin. We loop not only with topspin but with sidespin too. This therefore results in us getting a return ball with backspin and a sidespin ‘kick’. This too is the reason for the ‘wobbling’ effect we often see on the return. The ball is in fact not rotating truly but is spinning in an irregular fashion and the axis changes as one spin or another predominates.

Many long pimple players for example are aware that sidespin is extremely effective with their rubber. They serve a short, heavy sidespin serve and when you push return they in turn block/push the ball back very fast and from an early timing point. You then receive a ball with topspin (from your push) and a sidespin ‘kick’ (spin still remaining from the serve). You also have little or no time to think or read what is happening.

When playing against long pimples it is in fact your own experience that lets you down. It is not what your opponent is doing with his bat that is important but what you did with your last shot. You therefore have to re-train your mind to remember exactly how you played your last ball.

Predictably this is not easy and even after you train yourself to do it, you will often have lapses, where your ‘automatic’ training kicks back in and you make the most basic and stupid mistakes. When this happens don’t panic, just keep calm, try to remember what you should be doing and have the confidence and courage to do it.

The Journey from Reverse to Material

Rowden Fullen (2006)

The job of any coach is to help his players to reach their maximum potential – but the coach must bear in mind that all players are individuals and different and will only achieve the maximum if they allow their own special talents to develop and to flower. There are many different ways to the top especially in the women’s game and it is up to the coach to make available a number of alternatives to the player and to suggest the right direction for him or her.

On some occasions the coach can readily see that the player should use pimples by the way he or she executes the stroke (perhaps a ‘punching’ action on the backhand side). Often however it will come down to what the player can or cannot do with the ball in a match situation. First has the player good technique in both slow and fast loop and drive play and smash on FH and BH sides. Does the player have difficulty in creating strong topspin? In the case of many girls for example, rarely can more than one or two out of every ten create real topspin. If players have difficulty in creating or in controlling spin there can be a good case for material of one kind or another.

There are basically seven differing types of rubber surfaces on the market and we will look at these in some detail –

  1. Reverse (normal rubbers Butterfly, Donic, Stiga, Yasaka, etc.) usually with soft rubber sheets and softish sponge around 35 – 40. Used by top men and women in Europe and by the top men in China on the BH side. Very good for looping and the best control for blocking.
  2. Tacky reverse (Chinese rubbers DHS, Double Fish, Friendship, Globe, etc.) with sticky rubber sheets and usually a harder sponge (around 39 – 45) than that used by top European players. Mostly used in Asia as a FH rubber for the top men and women. Very few players in Europe use this type of surface, except former Asian players. (Used successfully by Drinkall and Knight in the European Youths).
  3. Anti-spin (Made mostly in Europe, Butterfly, Donic, Stiga, T.Hold, Yasaka but the odd Chinese such as RITC 804). Anti can come in two types, almost no spin or a with a little friction. Usually the rubbers are very slow with good control and the ball is slow off the racket.
  4. Short pimples are between 0.6 – 1.0 in length (rubber sheet only) and made by both European and Chinese companies, Butterfly, Donic, Friendship, Globe, Neubauer, Stiga, TSP, Yasaka, etc. Short pimples vary very much nowadays and some sheets are capable of creating much spin while others have much less friction. Generally shorter, broader, grippy pimples will create more spin. For maximum effect very soft sponge is a must (30 – 35 but no harder) and top women normally use a thickness of 1.6 –1.8mm sponge while the men tend to go a little thicker, between 2.0 and 2.3 mm. Men of course hit the ball much harder.
  5. Medium or half-long pimples vary between 1.1 – 1.4 mm. and are made by both Chinese and European companies, Butterfly, RITC, TSP etc. These pimples too vary in grip (some have a more anti-spin surface). The characteristic of half-long pimples is the ease with which players can open against backspin and yet still play a good counter-hitting game with effect.
  6. Long Pimples (with friction) are between 1.5 – 1.8 mm. and are made by both Chinese and European companies, Butterfly, DHS, Donic, Prasidha, RITC, TSP, Yasaka, etc. There is an element of friction with these pimples and they are used by many defensive players the world over usually with a thin sponge varying between 0.6 – 1.2.
  7. Long pimples with an anti-loop effect (between 1.5 – 1.8 mm. too) are made primarily by two companies, Neubauer and Hallmark. These pimples are hard and feel more like plastic than rubber. They have absolutely no friction and all the opponent’s spin is returned. Maximum spin reversal is achieved by using the rubber sheets without sponge although often a very thin sponge (0.4 – 0.6 for example) can be helpful in controlling hard hit balls when in blocking mode.

NB. In the case of all pimple rubbers there must be no less than 10 pimples to a square centimetre and no more than 30 to a square centimetre. In the case of all long pimple rubbers the aspect ratio (ie. The pimple length divided by the pimple diameter) must be larger than 0.9 but not more than 1.10).

If we look at these seven categories in the light of their ability to affect or change the spin on the incoming ball we get results somewhat as follows –

Reverse normal =100%
Reverse tacky =100%
Anti-spin =5 – 12%
Short pimples =75 – 95%
Half-long pimples =65 – 75%
Long pimples with friction =30 — 35%
Anti-loop long pimples =0%

Misconceptions about Long Pimples

Rowden Fullen (2006)

Wobbling/Disturbing Effect

Occurs when a ball is played with more than one spin, for example topspin and sidespin. When this type of ball contacts a hard, long pimple (such as without sponge, plastic pimples and on a fast blade), it then springs off the surface very quickly and the spin already on the ball, remains on it. You therefore get back the same as you applied, (but reversed of course, your topspin comes back unchanged, as backspin), backspin, with a sidespin kick. The ‘wobbling’ effect occurs because you have two differing axes on the ball at the same time and both are trying to assert themselves.

Spin Reversal

Most spin reversal is where you have a red, long pimpled rubber, with thin, hard, widely spaced, plastic type pimples and on a fast blade. The ball kicks off very quickly and there is no time for it to be affected by the rubber. The plastic type pimples have absolutely no grip and when thinner and widely spaced have minimum contact with the ball. Because they are hard they don’t bend so much and therefore the ball is not held on the surface.

Herbert Neubauer has done his own exhaustive testing on long pimpled rubbers and the effect of rubber colour and blade weight and speed on return spin. As a result his long pimpled rubbers were originally only manufactured in red because the same rubber in black produces considerably less effect. He has also proved that pimples have most effect when used on a fast and even heavier blade. Of course it is now possible to have double-sided blades, fast on one side and slower on the other to suit the style of the individual player, so having just one fast side is no longer a problem.

Speed Reduction

There can be some speed reduction with thinner and softer pimples which have a cushioning effect during the contact phase. However you must always bear in mind that if the pimple surface is softer and the ball is held longer, then there will be less spin reversal. Most players who are able to play short returns on service receive or in a rally have good feeling in the wrist.

Control

When we consider control we must look at how the player is using the rubber. Long pimple without sponge may have good control when you go back and play defensively, but the same rubber can have control problems when you try and block close to the table. Against a fast loop the ball just springs off the racket too quickly. A layer of sponge will help with blocking control as the ball is held longer on the bat, but you will of course lose effect. Even with a normal, reverse rubber most players will have discovered at some time in their playing career that it’s much easier blocking with 2.0mm sponge than it is with 1.0mm.

Effect versus control is always a major point for discussion with long pimple users. In most cases it is a question of whether to try sponge or not and if so how thick. In the final analysis it is often a matter of feeling and ‘what works for me’.

Long pimple players all play differently even with the same rubbers and selection of the best playing materials is a highly individual matter and usually one for some experimentation.

Catapult Effect

Catapult effect or speed just doesn’t exist. If you throw a table tennis ball against a stone wall as hard as you can, it will bounce back fairly sharply – if you do the same against a pair of thick curtains, the ball will drop almost directly to the floor. There is just no way a ball will rebound faster off a soft surface than off a hard one. While elasticity levels of both sponge and rubbers will continue to increase we must bear in mind that the resilience of the surface cannot create energy, but only minimize energy losses.

The big difference between the hard rackets of the ‘50’s and the modern sandwich rackets is that the surface is much softer and more ‘tacky’ allowing the ball to sink in and be gripped. As a result the contact angle used to strike the ball has altered dramatically. Players are able to strike the ball with a much more closed racket angle, which results in very much increased topspin. Using a more closed racket angle not only can players achieve much more spin, but also they have the capability of hitting the ball much harder and still getting it on the table! Striking the ball with a closed racket angle with power means SPIN and the harder the player can hit the ball the more spin will be generated.

What we are able to say is that players nowadays, because of the way in which they contact the ball can feed in much more power, hit the ball much harder, but still get it on the table.

Speed

We must really consider speed over three areas, speed off the racket, speed through the air, and speed after the bounce on the opponent’s side of the table.

  • Off the racket – For the same incoming speed the ball will always kick off the harder surface more quickly.
  • Through the air – For the same power input the ball hit flatter with a ‘hard’ bat will always reach the opponent’s half of the table more quickly than the spin ball which is looped with a pronounced arc and must travel further.
  • After the bounce – The flatter ball without so much topspin (a short pimple counter-hit for example) tends to have a similar angle in and out, (physics, angle of incidence = angle of reflection.) The ball may acquire a little topspin after bouncing because the bottom of the ball is held momentarily by the table surface and the top moves forward. However this will not be a significant amount. On the other hand the topspin ball will shoot forward after the bounce and the outgoing angle will be much smaller than the incoming.

In the case of the topspin ball struck with a much more closed racket, the ball will of course have a much more pronounced arc and much more spin through the air. During the last stage of its flight the ball will dip down sharply on to the table. A particularly important aspect is what happens after the ball hits the table. Spin is converted into forward or backward momentum. Topspin will add to the speed of the shot after the ball has bounced — the bottom of the ball stops but the top shoots forward increasing the topspin. We have a much smaller angle after the bounce and the ball shoots forward low and fast, much faster than the flatter ball with less spin.

What has tended to happen over the years is that we are so accustomed to this accelerating effect of topspin after the bounce that we play automatically without thinking about what we are doing. It is when we play against pimpled attackers for example and the ball comes through more slowly after the bounce that we often have problems.

The Guide to Long Pimples

Lars Borg (2005)

What is a long pimpled rubber?

On the ITTF list of approved rubber sheets, long pimpled rubbers are categorized as those where the aspect ratio of the pimples is more than 0.9. The aspect ratio is arrived at by dividing the length of the pimples by the breadth — a sheet with pimples of 1.8mm length and 1.7mm diameter will have an aspect ratio of 1.06. To be approved the aspect ratio is not allowed to exceed 1.1. This in effect means that very long and thin pimples are not permitted. Most pimpled rubbers today have a length of between 1.5mm and 1.8mm. On the 2005 ITTF list of Authorised Racket Coverings there are 79 different long pimpled rubbers listed.

The playing characteristics of long pimpled rubbers.

The most deceptive long pimple rubber and the one with most effect is red, hard, without sponge and on a fast blade, so that the ball springs off the blade very quickly. Many players don’t understand that what is happening is that they are in effect getting their own spin back. If they for example put heavy backspin on the ball and the opponent pushes the ball back with the pimples, the return will not have backspin (even though his or her stroke is down and forward) but an element of topspin. A long pimpled rubber with a thicker sponge will usually return the backspin ball as ‘float’, while the rubber without sponge can send back a ball with considerable topspin.

Once you understand the above then all the rest of the ‘hype’ about long pimples is very much simplified. So-called spin reversal becomes obvious, you play topspin you get back backspin, you push you get back topspin. Whatever the opponent does with his or her racket is largely immaterial. Even the ‘wobbling’ balls are easily explained — these occur when you play with a none-pure spin, when for example you loop with topspin and sidespin (as most of us do) and you get back a backspin ball with a sidespin ‘kick’, simply because there are two different axes both trying to assert themselves at the same time. The most important consideration when playing against long pimples is not what the opponent is doing with his or her racket, but what you did with your last stroke.

Another factor that many players and coaches overlook is that power also affects the return ball. The harder you hit the ball with a closed racket, the more spin you create. Thus the harder you hit the ball against long pimples, the more backspin you get back on the return ball. It is often a better tactic to play slower balls or balls without spin to this type of rubber.

Of course there are one or two other aspects to consider – with some long pimples it’s easier to play short or low returns or even initiate some spin. Certain players are able to get much more effect from their pimples than others. The sponge (if used) will also have a considerable impact on what you can do with the rubber. A rubber without sponge will have maximum return effect, thin sponge will often have more control (but less effect) and it’s much easier to hit with thicker sponge.

Spin Reversal.

The long pimpled rubbers with the most pronounced anti-spin (or spin reversal) effect are quite hard and the individual pimples feel more like ‘plastic’ rather than rubber.

Wobbling effect.

The most pronounced effect is usually where the pimples are more widely spaced and less ‘rubber’ comes into contact with the ball. The flexibility of the pimples can also give unusual reactions but of course very soft pimples are easily broken.

Control.

Where long pimples are shorter, wider and more densely packed the control and spin elements will usually be higher. These are of course the reverse characteristics to the more ‘anti-spin’ types of long pimple. A thicker rubber base will also give a slower rebound speed and more control as will a thin layer of sponge. Softer pimples which are more flexible can help in returning balls short on the opponent’s half of the table.

Speed.

We must really define what we are talking about in terms of speed off the racket. Pimples with no sponge will give very quick recoil from the wood of the racket and at times it may be difficult to control hard loops. Pimples with medium or thick sponge will have a slower rebound from the racket and it can be easier to control topspin.

Spin.

Some pimples have a ribbed or rough surface and therefore have the capability to produce spin. This is still relatively small when compared to the spin created by reverse or some short pimpled rubbers. Often too the softness of the pimples or sponge or the thickness of the sponge will play a much larger roll in creating spin than the actual surface of the pimples.

Frictionless Long Pimples: the Next Stage

Rowden Fullen (2008)

The prime question for frictionless long pimple (FLP) players as they look forward to life after the ban should not be – ‘Which material should I now use?’ Instead it must be – ‘Where am I going now in terms of my playing style? How do I want to play?’ The change of material will mean of course that many things will change –

  1. More alternatives and possibilities will be created.
  2. The FH side will need to be adjusted too.
  3. Strokes will change and some new ones will appear.
  4. Footwork will need to change.

With FLP many players just blocked with the pimples and the rubber caused the opponents to make errors or to return high balls so the pimple player could kill. Now lower returns will mean more use of topspin, more movement and more variety of shots. The game becomes more complicated for the pimple player and new things need to be learned.

Anti can be one of the simplest solutions as it allows the player to use very similar stroke techniques. However anti will give less spin reversal (if the rubber could be made much harder and faster it would help) and will be easier for the opponent to predict. The rubber must therefore be used much more aggressively and a highly active style entails more risk.

Players could also use an approved long pimple with either no sponge or a very thin sponge (0.4 – 0.6) which would be very similar to the anti. There are one or two long pimples (Friendship and TSP) on the market which give some effect.

However with grippy pimples players have to look at direction (where they are going and which type of game they want to play).

  • Long pimples (0.5 – 1.2) – more defensive, away from the table.
  • Long pimples (Ox – 0.6) – offensive blocking/devious game.
  • Short/medium pimples (1.5 – 2.0) — more aggressive attack.

Players must also bear in mind that most or all of these will require adjustments on the FH side and there will be a number of changes for the player to consider.

  • Distance from the table; it may be necessary to practice from differing distances.
  • Preparation for attacking shots will be different.
  • Movement will increase and movement patterns will differ.
  • The range of shots will increase –
    More topspin, less smash.
    Drive/spin with pimples.
    Variation in pushes, spin and no spin with differing racket angles.
  • Twiddling, pushing and hitting with both rubbers.

Players must now bear in mind that compared with how the game was developed with FLP, spin variation will now be much more important. Now it will not be the characteristics of the rubber which cause the opponent to make errors, but the player’s ability to change and influence the spin on the ball which will create openings. This new game will be more difficult and will need more training and practice, but at the same time it will give players more opportunities to do different things and to develop.

With short/medium pimples timing is much more critical if players wish to achieve real advantage. The push for example can be taken very early and played with no spin or very much backspin (depending on the pimple type and grip). Drive play requires the ball to be taken at peak or 1 – 2 centimetres before for maximum effect. Usually active play needs short strokes over the table and good use of the wrist. Play with short/medium pimples can be dynamic with good variation of pace and many short/long balls, but often requires fast feet and reactions and positive play on the FH wing too to keep the balance.

Alternatives

Rowden June 2018

Power is not only what you have, it’s also a matter of what the opponent thinks you have!

This makes your own confidence, positive thinking and outward behaviour crucial in any sporting encounter. In addition you will meet many differing opponents who will cause you differing problems so it’s crucial too that you have alternatives to cope with new/strange/unforeseen situations.
Placement – This is the first and one of the most common alternatives. It’s important that you can play to various areas of the table, diagonal, out to the angles, straight and to the crossover. Of course this should be trained too so that you can play on the diagonal then out to the wide, short angle, or on the diagonal then straight, or straight then into the crossover, or target the crossover then out to the wings etc.
Change of Pace – This is also an important alternative, the ability to play hard and soft, long and short and to be capable of moving the opponent in and out. This can be achieved of course with a variety of strokes, soft, chop or sidespin blocks with or without differing levels of spin etc. Or drive, forcing blocks or topspin.
Change of Spin – Although less spin is created with the plastic ball, spin still has its place in the list of alternatives. Sidespin is especially effective with plastic, both on service and within the rallies. And although loop to loop is no longer a prime tactic, especially in the women’s game, the early ball fast topspin can still be effective as can the later timed slow topspin as this can slow rapidly over the table and does not come on to the opponent.
Slow Ball – This can also be very effective with the plastic. The slow roll ball especially if taken early, comes through more slowly than the opponent expects and tends to stop shorter on his/her side of the table.
Effective Mix – Of course it is even more effective if you can mix the above alternatives, for example roll a slow ball return off the opponent’s serve, drive hard to the BH, chop block short to the FH, then flick into the body. The possibilities are endless and with constant change you give the opponents little or no time to settle into their normal rhythm of play.
General – All development must be geared towards success in competition. Your training should not of course be predictable, but should include all aspects of the varied alternatives so that you become well versed in their use and are able to switch easily from one to the other depending on the game situation. Many world class players (such as Boll and Schlager) have in fact gone on record as saying that much of their early training in younger years was wasted or was not directed to the right areas and impacted on their development.
Always bear in mind that many of the top players you meet will train against much more strength and power than you can feed into your shots. It is therefore important that you can bring something different to the match, something that your opponent doesn’t train against often as this reduces the effect of his/her usual automated game. Once your opponent has to start thinking about what is happening and how to change his/her game to cope with this, then he/she is immediately less effective.
The other crucial aspect to consider is your own best distance from the table. Where are you most comfortable, from which distance do you win most points? It’s vital that most of the time, most of your shots are played from within this area; equally it’s important that you are efficient in the two areas either side (closer to the table and further away) so that when forced out of your comfort zone you can still keep the ball in play until you can return to your best position.
Finally you must address the problem of habit in the light of how our game will scientifically develop over the next years. Habit closes the mind. It’s all too easy when you’re young to let yourself drift into playing long strokes, operating too far away from the table, developing the wrong movement patterns for your style, not developing the style that best suits you, not focusing on short play areas etc. Such habits may not impact much on your game now, but just wait five years till the day when you are trying to compete at three or four levels higher. You will likely find that change is next to impossible. Best to understand when you are young that the mind is like a parachute, it works only when it’s open.

Fundamentals of Table Tennis

Rowden 2011

• Table tennis is all about CONTROLLING the play (which means being consistent) until you can win the point by some form of CHANGE (more power or spin, different timing, better placement or angle, softer, shorter ball etc). These combinations of change whether in speed, spin or placement are the way our game is going to develop. This aspect of change must be executed by you FIRST before the opponent can do it

• Serve and receive and short play are an essential ingredient to getting in your own strengths – if you can’t control these areas then you will not be able to reach a high level. In Europe we are not precise enough in serve/receive and short play and are limited as a result in what we can do with the subsequent ball. Always look for the opportunity to go on the offensive and try to develop your attack system and your own personal style within the serve and receive scenario
• If you move faster you are better placed and have a sounder base to attack strongly. There is then a better chance that your first attack stroke will have quality. If you can play quality shots you will get weaker returns and have more chance to dominate
• Speed is always the most important factor in any style. Speed includes quickness in all areas, bat, body and mind, change and tactics, footwork, reactions and adaptability
• Winning the battle of placement enables you to use your tactics to the fullest extent. Attack should as much as possible be constant and varied and should keep the opponent under pressure in one way or another. However bear in mind that change in any form can keep the opponent off balance and create openings
• To progress to higher levels players must be innovative and creative. Too many players are conservative and fail to take the necessary risks to achieve greatness
• The mentally strong will win the initiative battles
• Always consider the differing types of power, these are part of the various forms of change. Power can be:
1. Full (90% sufficient)
2. Medium (60 – 70%)
3. Using the opponent’s force (40 to 50% of own to gain 70 to 80% effect). This is a safe way to be aggressive
4. Absorbing the opponent’s power

Note:
• In today’s game all-round skills are vital. Top opponents are very quick to see and to take advantage of any weak areas
• Even in defence, keep applying pressure, maintain control, but look for an early opportunity to change the form of the rally and counterattack
• Timing and style will affect stance and movement patterns
• Sequential play is vital – to connect up the 3rd and 5th shots for example, to play sound linking shots and create combinations. Don’t get in the habit of playing weak or safe shots before attack; keep the opponent wrong-footed.

Have You the Right Weapons?

Rowden 2011

To be a champion at table tennis requires you to have the right weapons, both generally and specifically. By generally we mean for the men’s or the women’s game, by specifically we mean relevant to the way you play as an individual. Weapons usually refer to 3 areas, physical, mental and technical/tactical.

The men’s and women’s games are very different and require different weapons. Men win points primarily with spin and power. Their main strength is the powerful forehand topspin stroke and usually everything is secondary to reaching the right position to use this. Such a pattern is not relevant to women’s table tennis.

The ability to control speed is primary to women’s table tennis. And not only to control the speed but to do this with safety until an opening presents itself. This is why so many women use material; this is an aid to controlling the opponent’s speed and returning a different type of ball, which breaks up the opponent’s rhythm. There are many more styles of play in the women’s game and basically points are won with placement, speed and change of speed, rotation and change of rotation. To control the play securely and safely on the backhand is an essential ability and also to have a suitable response when the opponent switches from the backhand into the forehand. When working with girls most of the focus needs to be on playing different strokes and combinations near the table and not backing away especially when moving from one wing to the other.

Each player has his/her own way of playing. This is called style and is personal and individual to the player concerned. The specific weapons required here are those which are most relevant to the manner in which the player performs and which will make him/her most effective. However each opponent you meet will have a different style and your usual weapons may not always be appropriate to every situation. You may at times have to play differently against certain opponents and with weapons other than those you would normally prefer. This is a crucial point to bear in mind. You will need alternatives and to have the capability to play a different game at times.

Physical weapons:

The physical attributes of the player must of course be most appropriate to the player’s style. There would be little point in a close-to-table attacker having very slow reactions or a backspin defender having no stamina and being slow to move in and out. Each player must, early on in his/her career, evaluate the physical characteristics which will be most beneficial to development of the individual style and then hone these to perfection.

Mental weapons:

Equally the mental side is as, if not more, important. Almost all top players work hard, fight for every point and rarely lose touch with what is happening in the game. However where the mental aspect is crucial is more in the attitude or state of mind of the individual player. A defender for example will more often than not have a conservative approach to the game and will want to keep the ball in play and wait for the opponent to make mistakes (although even in the case of defensive players there are many differing types, from retrievers to offensive defenders). On the other hand the attacker will usually be more aggressive and will want to win the point as early as possible in the rally. It is important that the player’s style conform to his/her mental state of mind.

Technical/tactical weapons:

Technique is of course the basis of all tactics and it is imperative that the player has the technical weapons to be able to carry out the tactics he/she will most use with his/her style of play. This of course means that the weapons must be specific and tailored to the individual style of the player. The weapons too are not just comprised of the type of strokes to be played but also the timing, the right ready position, distance from the table, how serve and receive are used and most importantly the movement patterns and the preparation. Unless you move in the correct way for your style you will not come to the ball in the right way to use your weapons, not quickly enough, not with a stable base nor with good balance. Your weapons will then be ineffective.

For the player to be successful there has to be a blending and harmonising of these 3 areas. He/she requires the right physical input, the appropriate mental attitudes and the correctly honed techniques to be most effective in the execution of the tactics relevant to his/her style of play.

Let us examine several scenarios.

What weapons are important to the close-to-table player?

• In the physical frame early reading of the play, fast reactions and dynamic movement
• On the mental side the attitude of patient control until the right moment arises to win the point, aggression but within a framework of control
• Technically/tactically a square stance at all times with one or two step patterns across the end-line.
• Good coverage in the crossover area with often more use of BH
• Timing most often at early or late ascending stage, with the ability to both absorb and utilise the opponent’s power, spin or speed
• The capability to convert at will between spin and drive and vary pace, length, angles and placement
• Strong in short play with good feel, touch and variation
• Good use of serves, both long and short and strong 3rd ball, using appropriate spin or power
• The understanding when to take the half step back and when to feed in extra spin/power
• Comprehension of own comfort zone and the next sector back

What weapons are appropriate to the mid-distance topspin player?

• Obviously not so fast reactions, but good dynamic movement, good stamina and good upper body strength. Topspin off the table requires power in the upper body. Movement needs to be dynamic as often the FH will be used over much of the table
• Mentally the player must be feel that this sort of style is how he/she wants to play
• A reasonably square stance much of the time, but side to square at times and with good crossing movement patterns to the wider balls
• Good coverage in the crossover area more often than not with the FH wing
• Timing more often at peak or early descending with the ability to keep speed/spin on the ball. Occasionally balls played later with less power/pace and/or more spin
• The capability to play more or less spin, harder or softer, use of sidespin to angles or body
• Good short play geared to flick or longer pushes to feed into own topspin game
• Use of half-long, longer serves to get opportunities with 3rd ball spin
• The understanding when to come in for short play and when to drop back to contain. Recognition of own comfort zone but some expertise in the sectors either side

A defensive backspin player on the other hand would need rather different weapons.

• Excellent stamina and good dynamic movement. The defender will play longer points than almost any player and the movement patterns encompass both side to side and in and out movements. Important too that the defender can read the play early in order to get into position in time to take advantage of counter-attacking opportunities
• Must mentally have the patience to keep the ball in play and to be prepared for long points but also the courage to change things and (in the present climate to eleven up) to attack when an opportunity presents itself
• Both squarer stance (close to the table) and side to square at times when in a deeper position. Both sidestepping and crossing sequences required depending on the strokes and the distance from the table
• Use of both FH and BH in crossover, often BH closer to the table and at times when deeper (sidespin chop with BH from crossover for example) but also FH backspin and counters from the crossover when in a back from table position
• All timing points used from early/late descending to early ascending (e.g. blocks and stop balls over the table). The defender must have the capability to switch between differing timing zones at will. This is especially important with the bigger ball, games to eleven and no glue
• The capability to play more or less spin (both topspin and backspin) harder or softer. Not only should the defender be able to switch between backspin and float, but also between topspin (slow and fast) and drive play (and even ‘fishing’)
• Defenders must also nowadays be competent over the table and in short play and able to take a positive advantage in this area
• Serve and receive assume much more importance to the defensive player in the modern game. It’s vital that the defender can use the serve and 3rd ball effectively at crucial stages in the game. Equally important is the ability to vary the receive, to chop, float or even to stop-block or topspin to change the form of the rally
• The modern defender must more fully comprehend the various playing zones and distances from the table to a greater extent than almost any other player
• It is vital too that although the defender may spend most time in the mid-distance area (the area from which defence is most effective with flatter, faster backspin balls over-riding the Magnus effect and also the area from which the defender can win points by countering) that he/she is comfortable both further back (in the retrieving position) and also competent close to the table

Over-emphasis on Technique

Rowden October 2012

Technique is of course important and many coaches will tell you that ‘Technique is the basis of Tactics’. When looking at techniques the coach should be evaluating which weapons (techniques) the player will need for the senior game. The weapons the player requires will of course have to be tailored to the player’s style as all performers are individuals.

To develop to maximum potential the prime criterion is that the player has full understanding of his/her own style of play as early as possible in the developmental stage. Bear in mind that tactical development is based crucially on technical abilities. If the player doesn’t have the technical weapons to play his/her own game most effectively then the performer never reaches full potential. We must also bear in mind the principles of Long Term Athlete Development: ‘If the critical periods in the life of a young person, at which time the effects of training can be maximised, are not utilised to the full, then this can significantly reduce the performer’s chances of ever reaching full potential’.

National Coaches are primarily interested in producing players who will play at International level for their country. If performers don’t fit into this category then they may not get the right help for them as individuals. This can mean in some Associations that playing for your country and being the best you can be are not always compatible: in others it is felt that the country has a traditional style of play and players who are different are not readily accepted. Unfortunately at National level there can also be a tendency to over-emphasise minor aspects of technique which in terms of the bigger picture are of limited importance, or to generalise, to look at:
• What most of the top players are doing now and to copy this
• The techniques of the top Asians and to try to apply these to youngsters in the West

Both of these unfortunately have major flaws. We are always following and playing ‘catch-up’ and don’t think to develop our own vision! We also tend to focus on trying to fit our young players into a style of play which is not necessarily in accordance with their own talents and inclinations. Unfortunately as well in many countries throughout Europe there is a tendency to introduce players to professional training at younger and younger ages. This can have the effect of ‘fitting them into boxes’ at a very young age but sadly by the time they mature their particular ‘box’ is no longer relevant!

If we take a simple example, most top men players are dominant on the FH side and will attack hard with this wing whenever they receive a long or half-long ball. Therefore the coaching system decides on developing this strength and style of play with all young boys. This principle however ignores the fact that some young boys may well be naturally BH oriented and that if we had persisted with this type of method in the past, many great players such as Des Douglas, Kreanga, Jorgen Persson and Otcharov, would never have achieved their potential.

It is all too easy with young players to make sweeping technical statements; ‘You can’t get any power if you play square and don’t have lots of backswing’ (Makes one wonder about the ‘one inch’ punch in martial arts!) or ‘Spin is the only answer if you can’t spin you can’t win’ (Most girls can’t spin anyway and many use material).
We have all seen players ranked in the top 30 in the world playing square with ultra-short strokes or even over-square or winning without spin and playing flat.

What is needed is a greater perception of the individual qualities of the athlete and in particular what is natural to him/her. These are the attributes which need to be developed for the individual to attain full potential. What appears to be overlooked on too many occasions is that to focus on the areas where a player is never going to be more than mediocre will never produce a world champion. Rather this will lead to losing the player from the sport as he/she will become dissatisfied with performance.

A player may have a style of play which top coaches feel strongly will never produce world-class results at the present time. However table tennis is changing year by year along with equipment and rules. A style which is limited now may well be very successful in five years time. Equally forcing a performer into a ‘box’ where he/she does not feel comfortable is of little or no benefit now or for long-term development.

As far as strokes and tactics are concerned it is not what ‘looks nice’ that matters but what is effective and works for the individual.

Prime Thinking Points in Modern Table Tennis

Rowden 2011

A)
• Value speed, spin and accurate/effective change; aim to use your strengths and take the initiative within the framework of all-round control
• Attack constantly and keep the opponent guessing. Any attack should be constant and varied and should keep the opponent under pressure in one way or another. Change in different forms will also keep the opponent off balance

• Improvisation is required all the time. Attack using power/spin or change if you can, if you can’t take the offensive initiative, then you must control until you can.
• In receiving serve, keep control, return the ball in different ways, try to go on the offensive
• In rallies, attack first, put more speed, spin or power into the stroke before the opponent and change direction, length or angle first
• In defence, keep applying pressure, maintain control, but look for the opportunity to change the form of the rally and to counterattack
B)
• Good serves give you more opportunity to attack
• Good serves and movement help you to build up your attack system and your own unique style
• If you move faster you are better placed to attack strongly
• In today’s game all-round skills are vital. Top opponents will quickly take advantage of any weak areas
• In Europe we don’t play athletically enough and don’t play body-accented strokes
• We are not precise enough in serve/receive and short play and are restricted as a result in what we can do after
• Sequential play is vital – to connect the 3rd and 5th shots for example and make combinations. Don’t get in the habit of playing weak or safe shots before your attack
• The mentally strong will win the initiative battles
• Your first attack stroke should have quality
C)
• Try to do something different first, to make the opponent play your game. The highest levels are reached when we dominate in the initiative of change
• Be unpredictable at all times
• Speed is always the most important factor in any style. Speed includes quickness in all areas, bat, body and mind, change and tactics, footwork, reactions and adaptability
• The combination of speed, spin and placement is the way our game is going to develop
• Coaches are required to take the lead in researching playing style, this provides clues for future development and the pursuit of excellence
• Winning the battle of placement enables you to use your tactics to the full
• Speed, power, spin, trajectory and placement are the prime strengths. Top players are good in at least 3 of these areas
• To progress to higher levels players must be innovative and creative. Too many players are conservative and fail to take the necessary risks to achieve greatness
• If you can play quality shots you will get weaker returns and have more chances to dominate
• Be aware of all the timing possibilities – early and late ascending, peak and early and late descending. Timing will affect stance and movement patterns
• Be aware of the various forms of power.
1. Full power (90% is often enough)
2. Medium power (60 to 70%)
3. Using the opponent’s power (40 to 50% of your own to gain 70 to 80% effect). This is a safe way to be aggressive
4. Absorbing power.
D)
• Use the centre of gravity (even in serving, pushing and blocking)
• Lead with the wrist before hitting the ball
• Focus on a point on the table when hitting the ball
• Use the opponent’s power first in your stroke production
• Play through the ball when playing the shot
E)
• For good counter-attacking take up position a little deeper
• If you are weak in power, have a closer and squarer position. This also applies to players who use the opponent’s power well
• Players who have quick footwork and want to play FH’s from the BH corner can assume a position on the BH half of the table. Bear in mind however that retreating when moving to the FH can result in weakness or in a gradual change of style
• The slower all-round player should be more central in position
• Each player has a distance from the table in which he/she operates most effectively. The player must try to stay in this area 70 to 85% of playing time. However he/she should also train in the closer and the more distant positions to be effective when forced out of the comfort zone.

Shot Selection and the Use of Power

Rowden 2011

Table tennis is an ‘antagonistic’ sport. This means that it involves power and judgment from two opposing parties, who both influence what happens to the ball. To play the most effective shot to suit the situation at hand we have to consider both:
• the type of incoming ball
• the precise amount of effort needed in our stroke

A detailed consideration of these two factors will help the player over a period of time to establish an instinctive theory to deal with any situation and just as importantly, will develop the concept of how to utilise power to the best effect.

There are basically 3 types of ball and to each type of ball there is a best response in terms of effort: the main influencing factor which dictates the ‘best response’ is the influence of time.

Type of Ball and relation to Amount of Effort

  1. Hard required response Soft
  2. Soft required response Hard
  3. Medium required response Medium

What are also critical in the equation (not solely the amount of effort) are the type and length of stroke to be used, relevant to the demands of time, as these will be variables. Essentially the stroke will shorten or change under the pressure of time and this is significantly more important in women’s table tennis due to the fact that they are closer to the action.

The main fault with many players, especially younger players and which leads to a high rate of errors, is the tendency to try to play ‘hard effort’ against a ‘hard’ ball. This of course is not impossible and is seen at the highest levels, but it is an acquired skill which needs development and training. High-level selection of the most effective shot does not occur overnight and requires experience and is part of the process of evolution. The player tends to learn and develop this through ‘converting’ power into placement on the opponent’s side of the table.

The danger in trying to play power against power or ‘hard’ against ‘hard’ at too early a stage in the player’s development, is the lack of effective time to deal appropriately with the incoming power. One of two things will tend to occur as a result. The player will either:

• change or violate the usual stroke configuration
• back away to create more time to feed in a longer stroke

The attempt to play too hard, therefore constructively limits your ability to prepare and then to feed in your own power in the time available. The creation of any ‘time deficit’ is of course of immediate advantage to the opponent and gives him/her a direct opportunity to increase the power ratio first.

More often than not when you watch top players perform, within the context of their level of play, you in fact see medium effort against medium effort. (You must not of course confuse the fact that their medium may well be your very hard! This concerns ‘levels of play’ and is the difference between town, county, regional, national, international and the small handful of the world’s best players.) Top players perform within a basic framework of control and then spar for the opportunity to execute the best shot to win the point.

What every player must therefore assess at some point in his/her career is the exact degree of effort required to be able to control ‘the play’, a degree of effort which denies the opponent the time to play with strength, but at the same time creates the opportunity to ‘accelerate’ his/her own more powerful aspects. A player for example could ‘control’ at 60% input, but find that at this level he/she loses out because the opponent is able to get in with the hard shots which win the point. Equally the same player could control at 90% input, but still lose out, not because the opponent gets in, but because he/she just makes too many unforced errors. Table tennis is a game of ‘balance’!

A critical stage to understand the usage of power is of course as the player moves on from the basic technical levels and starts to expand potentials and capabilities and is moving upwards towards a higher level of performance. Without an in depth perception of the principles of power usage many budding stars will unfortunately fall by the wayside.

Younger, developing players must especially appreciate that initially feeding in around 75% of effort will lead to winning around 75% of the points. The theory behind this is of course that at this speed you keep the opponent under enough pressure that he/she is not allowed the time/opportunity to open up with the ‘hard ball’ and/or power. Or if he/she attempts to do this, it entails risks and the possibility of unforced errors. Alternatively the attempt to create power from the opponent’s end of the table will result in a decisive advantage for you!

One final point which should be emphasised is that the 75% theory has a great deal more relevance and significance in the women’s game. This is of course because of the lesser power input in general and in consequence the longer rallies which occur. As a result the ability to keep the ball on the table with safety and enough speed to keep the opponent under pressure and unable to feed in the ‘hard ball’, assumes rather more importance as does the ‘juggling’ for supremacy by one or another form of change within the rally.

Technique, Tactics and Style

Rowden 2012

Many coaches will tell you that ‘Technique is the basis of all Tactics’. But just how does this work and how does style fit in as all players are individual and even players who are very similar will do things in different ways?

From a young age coaches should be assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their players and evaluating in some detail which ‘weapons’ will be required for the senior game. These weapons are the techniques, but obviously they will have to be tailored towards the needs of the player’s style. A defender will need differing techniques to a drive player or a looper. The next aspect is to consider whether or not there are certain basic elements on which these techniques are based. And in fact there are!

There are 5 basic elements of table tennis, which are at the core of every technique:
• Speed
• Power
• Spin
• Flight (of the ball)
• Change

Speed (which is the most important of the 5) covers all aspects and is the central core and the prime factor of development; it doesn’t just cover the ability to play fast and to control speed, but to think and to react swiftly, to adapt quickly, to move rapidly and with the right footwork patterns. It also covers the aspect of combining the other four elements at differing speeds.

Power adds force and potency to our playing style. This consists of the capability to apply power at various levels (how to use power), hard medium and soft, but also to absorb the opponent’s strength and to respond with the slower ball.

Spin gives stability to your game and puts the opponent’s control under test. In addition it should reflect the player’s aptitude to create differing levels of spin, at slow and fast speeds and to control, counter or even hit through the opponent’s spin.

The trajectory or flight path of the ball has many lessons for the player and is crucial in terms of accuracy and on-the-table consistency; the gyroscopic effects of modern topspin cannot be underestimated. Equally the trajectory of the shot will often highlight weaknesses/strengths in your own player’s game.

Finally change in all its forms is the heart and spirit of table tennis. This can be in respect of pace, fast and slow; length, short and long; spin, slower and quicker; trajectory, higher and slower arc and lower, flatter flight path, together with placement and angles. We impose our tactics fully if we win the battle of the change! And even against the world’s best, we win if we change first before the opponent is able to.

Top-level players will invariably be very good in at least three of these 5 elements.

It is important too to consider the 5 core elements of technique in tandem with the 5 timing positions. These are:
• Early rising
• Late rising
• Peak
• Early falling
• Late falling

Most of the world’s top players take the ball at the late rising timing point in modern table tennis, particularly if they are trying to win the point with power. This can of course differ dramatically dependent on style. Many defenders used the late falling timing years ago, now the tendency is to use early falling or even peak as this gives a faster, flatter return which causes more problems to the attacker. Women will often keep pressure on the opponent with early rising timing and quick over-the-table play until they can feed in power and win the point.

Power and spin assume more importance in the men’s game and speed and change more in the women’s. The harder you can hit the ball with a closed racket, the more topspin you will produce, so this suits the more powerful male game. Women don’t hit the ball as hard as men do, so they achieve less spin and have less on-the-table control (gyroscopic effect of the spin). It is speed and control of speed which is rather more important with women’s play and the ability to loop several balls in a row is not a prime requirement. Instead timing is vital as women drive much more – the power timing window in drive play is extremely narrow, between ‘peak’ and as early as late rising.

Length also assumes much more importance with women’s play, as does placement. In the men’s game, power with strong topspin means that the ball accelerates after bouncing and leaves the opponent’s side of the table with a much flatter trajectory. The vast majority of men counter from a deeper position and give themselves time. From this deeper position it is of course much more difficult to vary angles. Men, more often than not, look to place the first opening ball (to the body for example) and once the rally deteriorates into control and counter-control back from the table then power and spin are the main elements.

In the women’s game almost all players assume a much closer-to-table position and it is rather easier to vary placement, long and short or to the angles and to vary speed. Because women have a closer position it is inevitable too that a bad length ball is easily smashed. It is crucial that women can spin short or long and not mid-table.

As a result women really need to open in a different way to men. The ability for example to open hard against the first backspin ball and not spin all the time is a vital asset. Even the way that women loop, if they open with spin, is critical. This should not be as hard and fast as in the men’s game for without the extreme spin that the men are capable of creating, the fast loop executed by women is more predictable and easier to block or to counter, particularly when the opponent is much closer to the table.

Women should be looking rather more to open with a slower ball, with finer touch, good spin and good length. More often than not this will create openings to drive or smash the next ball. Indeed rather than regarding topspin as an end in itself as the men do, women should look upon it as a weapon, a means to create openings from which they can win the point.

To develop full potential the prime criterion is that the player has full understanding of his/her own style of play as early as possible in the developmental stage. Bear in mind that tactical development is based crucially on technical abilities. If the player doesn’t have the technical weapons to play his/her own game most effectively then the performer never reaches full potential. Throughout Europe there has to be a great deal more attention to the individual development of the player and to maximising personal strengths.

In all of the above we should not overlook the scientific factors of table tennis. With the bigger 40mm ball there is now less spin and spin is lost more rapidly through the air because of the larger surface area. This means that playing away from the table requires more physical strength from the player. Women trying to play topspin off the table are therefore at an immediate disadvantage.

In addition we must look to what may happen in the future. There is still a great deal of ‘boosting’ or ‘treating’ of rubbers of one kind or another, especially in the men’s game. If means are found by the ITTF to stop this then many players will be much less effective and the game will change. Equally once the new plastic ball is introduced the game may well change anyway and players will have to adapt to differing spin levels and bounces.