Pimples

Funny Rubbers

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

What is happening

Understand spin and its importance

Tactics to use and to expect

Advanced research areas

1. WHAT IS HAPPENING

When you play with a normal reverse rubber and topspin you get just that, topspin. You get what you execute and the opponent gets what he sees. Equally if you push or chop you get backspin. Of course the amount of spin will vary depending on how you play the stroke, how fast the forearm moves, how much power input, the fineness of touch etc. A great many players get into the habit of watching the opponent’s racket and come to understand that if it goes up then there is topspin, if it goes down there is backspin. Over a number of years of playing the habit becomes ingrained in the mind. What was a considered response becomes automatic, an involuntary reaction. It’s very like when you put your hand on a hot stove by accident — there is no conscious, considered thought, the nerve ends send a message to the brain and in a fraction of a second the hand is snatched away.

However what happens when your opponent pushes (you see the racket go down and the mind reacts instantaneously — backspin) and the ball comes over the net without spin or even with topspin! All the ingrained habits, all the automatic reactions are of no value and often the more experienced the player, the bigger the problem. The new beginner can be taught to look at things in a different way and quite quickly, here the coach has a blank sheet and can write what he wants on it. However with the player who has some ten years experience for example it’s rather more difficult to change thinking and attitudes reinforced countless times every day of his or her training life.

The problem is compounded in Sweden in that there are relatively few players who use the more extreme rubbers such as long pimple or anti-loop and there is no in-depth tradition of using such equipment or knowing how to play against it. In many countries in Europe especially those with large numbers of veteran players, youngsters come into contact very early in their careers with a considerable variety of rubber combinations both in league and tournaments and quickly learn how to cope with them. Many players in Sweden also use combination rackets without really understanding in any depth how they should gain advantage from them. A good example is the number of girls who play with short pimple then just use it exactly like a normal reverse rubber, playing the same range of strokes they would have used if they had never changed! Most also fail to realize and understand that there are a vast number of short pimple rubbers, some of which impart next to no spin while others are almost as spinny as a normal rubber (in experienced hands). Which should they be using and why? Again in most cases they don’t know!

The first priority in understanding how to play against different rubbers is to know the spin on the incoming ball and which stroke you should play if you were to play with the spin — for example if the opponent loops you would chop, if the opponent chops you would loop.

The second priority is to understand that anti-loop and pimple rubbers vary considerably from those which cannot reverse the existing spin to those which can easily reverse the spin on the ball. For example if you serve with very much backspin and your opponent pushes back just after the bounce you could very well get considerable topspin on the return ball, especially if he or she is using a hard anti-loop or a non-frictional long pimple without sponge. This happens because the opponent’s rubber doesn’t grip the ball so in effect you get your own spin back. When you serve backspin the ball is spinning back towards you — if this spin remains unchanged it must come back as topspin. The equation is further complicated because most players don’t serve just backspin, they serve sidespin too. The ball therefore then is returned as topspin with a sidespin kick, even though the opponent has pushed it back!

If on the other hand your opponent returns your backspin serve with a high-friction short pimple rubber you could very well have much backspin on the return ball. Your opponent has the capability of reversing the spin and imposing his or her own spin. Equally the experienced player depending on how he or she decides to play the stroke, can return the ball with very much spin or totally without!

As you begin to see there is much to be said for training young players to watch the ball and not the action of the other player’s racket. The Chinese train receive for example with the opponent serving through a narrow gap between two curtains so that the receiver has no visual clues as to which spin the server is applying — the only help he or she has is by watching the ball and the bounce.

Just what should we be looking for when we face players with combination rackets? Firstly those players are most dangerous who twiddle and play with both rubbers on both wings, perhaps sometimes blocking on the forehand with anti or pimples and looping the next ball with the normal rubber on the backhand, then changing.

Probably the single most important point to consider is whether the opponent can easily reverse the spin or not — because this will affect your tactics and how you play against him or her. For example if your opponent uses a hard anti-loop or a long pimple without sponge and you force him back so that he is defending, you know that he must continue defending and cannot counter-hit (with any effect or penetration) from this deeper position. (Of course he can always twiddle and hit or loop with the normal rubber). Because of the nature of the rubber the ball comes off the racket quickly and there is limited dwell-time, the ball is not held by the rubber long enough to reverse spin, so you know that the opponent must play with the spin. (With the spin you put on the ball.)

However the game becomes rather more complicated when the opponent is able to get in and block. You loop, he or she blocks, what spin do you get back? It can be just float if the opponent’s rubber is slow or it can be some backspin. But the return is further complicated by the fact that you don’t just loop with topspin, very few players do, you loop with topspin and sidespin. So you get back a float or backspin ball with a wobble and a sidespin kick after the bounce. The same for example when you serve your super-spinny chop and sidespin serve and the receiver pushes back with anti or long pimple — you get a topspin return with a sidespin kick (own spin back). There is in fact much to be said for serving and playing without spin against ‘funny’ rubbers.

The amount of effect achieved will vary from one long pimple rubber to another.

Generally speaking the most return spin will be achieved by long pimple without sponge and on a fast blade — because the ‘surface’ is hard, the ball rebounds very quickly and is not gripped by the rubber, therefore the spin already on it is returned without alteration. Where there is sponge, especially if this is a bit thicker 1.0mm. or above some of the return spin will be lost as there will be a slower rebound off the blade and the ball will come back more often as ‘float’ (without spin). After the bounce on your side of the table of course, the ball will ‘acquire’ a little topspin.

But what about players who can get immense spin with pimpled rubber? Usually these are the high-friction pimples, short, slightly bigger, with a rough surface to each pimple and if you want very good effect and control usually we are talking about a thinner sponge say 1.6 – 1.9 mm and very soft. Soft is the key to effect with control. Haven’t you sometimes wondered why almost all of the top Asian women rarely if ever use the standard sponge provided by the manufacturer? Instead they put their own sponge under the rubber. For years they have known something that the rubber manufacturers didn’t know. It is only very recently that manufacturers have started producing sponges in a number of differing hardnesses so that players can match up sponges and rubbers to their own individual requirements. There has for example over the last twenty-five years been much dialogue between the world’s top men and the rubber manufacturers as to what qualities they require from a rubber, but next to nothing with the top women. Of course it’s the women who play with the different rubber combinations but almost all the top players are from Asia and perhaps not so high a profile in the considerations of the companies who manufacture primarily for the western world.

Just what sort of game and tactics can you expect if you play top Asian short-pimple, pen-hold attackers? Hard flat-hitting from the forehand but used over almost all the table, often a low, fast, flat ball with little topspin, certainly they will kill through your loop and at an early timing point — because many of them come down on the ball at the moment of impact you can quite regularly get a hard hit with some backspin! Not easy to take! On the pushes you will face great variety, stop blocks both with and without spin and many sidespin balls almost always early timed. Much change of pace short/long, hard/soft and good use of the angles. Also devastating short play – pen-hold players are very good at flicking short balls, dropping short and early-pushing long and fast. This is one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to get any advantage from the receive situation when they serve very short.

Against the long pimple players you face rather different problems more associated with lack of speed. Often you get a low return but one which slows very rapidly. What you should always remember against long pimples is that your opponent can usually only use what you give him and his capability to initiate is limited. Playing against such a player is more often a question of tactics and not of the problems posed by the rubber. If you play the wrong tactics, yes, you will make life extremely difficult for yourself! Invariably in Sweden players try to use power and spin and usually continuous power and spin against such rubbers. With long pimples you get back what you put in. If you feed in very much power and spin you get back very much effect and encounter problems with unusual spins and bounces on your own side. On the other hand if you give the long pimple player nothing, then he has nothing to use and nothing to send back to you. Why not play a slow roll game with little pace or spin and wait for the ball to hit hard, or change the pace more often, hit one, push one for example? In this way you avoid the build-up of spin and effect which is what causes the problems. More often than not it is lack of spin or speed that makes life more difficult for the player using a long pimpled rubber.

2. UNDERSTAND SPIN AND ITS IMPORTANCE

Let us look a little at spin, what it is and how it affects the ball, because we need to know a little about the basics before we can cope with playing against different rubber combinations. Most players and coaches in Sweden will be aware of what is known in physics as the Magnus effect. In many countries in Europe it is taught in the first coaching stage on trainers’ courses. The important point is that both backspin and topspin cause the ball to deviate in flight. Test this for yourself. In your own training hall loop the ball hard and long with much topspin — it will dip quickly to the floor during flight then after bouncing will spin forward and run on to the end of the hall. The backspin ball will veer upwards before dropping down, will run forward only a little, then will spin back towards you and can end up spinning back past you. Not only does the type of spin affect the ball in the air but it also affects the way the ball behaves after the bounce.

  • No spin — same angle in and out, (physics, angle of incidence = angle of reflection.) This rarely happens in table tennis, test for yourself by throwing a no-spin ball forward, the ball acquires topspin after bouncing because the bottom of the ball is held momentarily by the floor and the top moves forward. (If a topspin ball hits the net, the bottom of the ball is held and even more topspin is created.)
  • Topspin has a smaller angle after the bounce and the ball shoots forward low and fast. However if you have a high, very slow loop with much spin, because the main impetus is down the ball will often kick up a little, then drop down very quickly. This is why this type of loop is very useful against defence players.
  • Backspin has the bigger angle after the bounce, the ball slows and kicks up sometimes quite sharply. Why many players have problems against backspin is that they don’t understand this slowing-down effect, that the ball doesn’t come to them. They must move forward, lower the centre of gravity and get under the ball.

Topspin is of vital importance in modern table tennis. Without topspin it would be quite impossible to hit the ball as hard as we would like to. When we for example hit a ball which is below net height gravity is not enough to bring the ball down on the other side of the table, especially if it is travelling fast. Another force is required and this is provided by topspin which causes the ball to dip sharply downwards. Thus the harder we hit, the more topspin we need to bring the ball down on the other side of the table. Our modern reverse rubbers give us great help in hitting the ball very hard from below net height, because they are capable of imparting very much topspin and this has an additional advantage that the ball shoots off the table very fast after the bounce.

 Magnus Effect

But why does spin cause the ball to deviate in flight and why do we sometimes have unusual, unpredictable effects after the bounce? This is in fact to do with the interaction of the spinning ball as it moves through the air against the flow of air molecules. (We have all felt air, when we stick our hand out of a car window moving at speed we can feel that air is rather more solid than we thought). As the ball moves through the air different areas of the surface are subject to lesser or greater resistance, the Magnus effect. Topspin forces the ball down, backspin conversely forces it up. If we take a topspin ball for example, the fast moving area at the top of the ball opposes the air flow and we get resistance or high pressure. However at the bottom, the fast moving area of the surface moves with the air flow, the air molecules speed up and you get low pressure. As a result the ball is forced downwards. At the bounce the bottom of the heavily spinning ball is held, topspin increases and the ball shoots forwards very quickly.

Sometimes the ball behaves in a different way and not as the laws tell us it should. In fact at times it can behave exactly the opposite to what we are led to believe — a topspin can jump up and a chop can skid low under certain circumstances. This is because of what occurs in the last 20 – 25 centimetres of flight, just before the ball actually strikes the table, (this is also a time when few if any players watch the ball.) A skidding chop occurs when a ball comes through low with very much backspin, (often for example when a defender takes the ball early when it is still rising) — the spin tries to make the ball rise during the last few centimetres of its travel and hit the table later with a shallower angle than usual, but also the faster speed gives a lower trajectory. What ends up happening is that the ball skids through quite fast and low after bouncing. Equally a slow loop with a great deal of topspin and a high arc, will dip sharply at the end of its flight and hit the table at a steeper angle than normal. Its downward velocity is increased and it has a higher impact speed so often the ball will kick sharply upwards after bouncing before dropping down quite quickly.

3. TACTICS TO USE AND EXPECT

Now we have looked at spin and have a little better understanding of what is happening, how can we use the Magnus effect against pimple players and how do they use it against us? A common tactic for example of many ‘funny’ bat players is to use their service spin or speed against us on the third ball. They serve (with the reverse rubber) short chop for instance with very much sidespin, then block/push fast or short on the third ball from a very early timing point with the pimples — we receive a fourth ball with varying degrees of topspin and a pronounced sidespin kick (sidespin is one of the most effective spins to use with pimpled rubber, especially long pimple). Short pimple players often serve very fast and flat with the pimples and then just kill the third ball.

We should of course be thinking how to frustrate their attempts to use spin or speed against us and not to play the type of return they want us to play. If we for example play back a ‘nothing’ ball, roll slowly from a later timing point, we take away much of their advantage and they have not so much spin or speed to use against us. Also if we ‘stop’ or chop block against the fast serve then we give the opponent back a different spin/speed return and not the simple fast ball he or she expects.

Another area where many of us encounter problems is that pimple players hit the ball much flatter without topspin, so that it’s very easy to play into the net. Pimple players too have more options which changes how the ball is returned to us — it’s very easy with pimples to take the ball extremely early after the bounce with both push and block. A pimple player may for example block early and soft (throwing back our own spin), force block early and hard (imposing his own spin) or drive at the top of the bounce giving us a fast flat ball. These returns will behave very differently on our side of the table. It’s also often much harder to gain a real advantage when serving against the pimples.

Lack of speed is a very effective weapon against pimple (or anti) players. Speed and power or fast spin they usually handle well and they train much against this type of game. The slow roll ball however without much spin or speed, which doesn’t come through very fast, often causes big problems to such players. For the same reason the slow spin loop with the high arc is a difficult ball for the pimple player — again it doesn’t come through like the fast loop on to the racket and it drops low very quickly.

Equally the constant stop/start, change of speed/spin game, is not liked by ‘funny’ bat players. The spin doesn’t have a chance to build up on the ball and as a result we don’t encounter so many severe problems with effect and bounce. If we hit one, push one and keep doing this, sooner or later we will get a high ball to kill.

Of course one of the first areas we should consider when playing against ‘funny’ rubbers is our own service. There is little point in serving with immense spin only to have severe problems when we get all our own spin back. Often it is in fact a good tactic to serve with very little spin, short or very long and fast. In most cases we know we will only have little spin back (unless the opponent is using a high-friction short pimple rubber). However some pimple players have difficulty against short, heavy backspin serves or the blockers against long, fast topspin or flat serves. Of course serving and playing to the normal rubber is always an option we should explore, but quite many pimple players are strong on this wing and often play very positively here. Footwork however can often be underdeveloped with pimple players, especially those who prefer to play much backhand from the middle of the table — a long ball to the crossover point and the next wide to the wings can often pay dividends.

Playing defence players who use pimples is a slightly different ball game, especially those with high–friction short pimple — such players can chop with very heavy backspin, float or even hit hard from both close and back. Defence players in general are a type of player against whom the Magnus effect is a very useful tool as is variation in all aspects — slow, high loop (very short or very long), where we may get an unpredictable bounce but which will certainly drop very quickly after bouncing, is never easy for defenders. There are also the options of topspinning, using sidespin, hitting hard and a little flatter or dropping short. Here we have a tactical difference between the men’s and women’s game. Often the men chop so heavily and to such a good length that the only options are to attack in one form or another or to push long. In the women’s game the spin is usually rather less and the length not so good — also women loop with less power and as a result get a less hard return ball, so the option to drop very short is an excellent tactic.

In both men’s and women’s play we must be on the alert for the topspin ball — the defender who chops with very much backspin then after one or two, loops with very much topspin causes problems to players of the highest level. The difference between the two extremes (much backspin and much topspin) on successive balls is great and too many in Sweden try to smash the topspin with a predictable result — out! Perhaps rather better to block short at an early timing point and back to the pimples where we may well get an advantage on the next ball.

One fact is certain — when we play against the various rubber combinations we must think a little more than usual and think in the context of the type of rubber we are playing against and the type of playing style we face. It is not always possible to play our own game or in the way we normally do. The more fixed we are in our thinking as to the effectiveness of our own game and the lack of necessity of changing anything, the more problems we can face. Flexibility of mind is a vital priority when dealing with factors we don’t fully understand.

What we have looked at so far is a rather simplistic view of coping with ‘funny’ rubbers and there are many things we have not examined in any detail. A chop block for example can come back very fast and flat, without spin if the opponent plays down and forward through the ball, or come quite slow, short and with quite much backspin if he or she just plays down at a timing point close after the bounce.

4. ADVANCED RESEARCH AREAS

If we wish to increase our knowledge of what happens and understand the differing properties of the varying rubbers we play against, we must be prepared to research and examine in detail the individual factors which have weight in determining how much or how little spin a ‘funny’ rubber is capable of initiating.

Rubber Factors.

  • The ‘pitch’ ratio of the pimples (how many to a square centimetre).
  • The ‘line’ of the pimples (down or across the racket).
  • The length of the pimples.
  • The size of the pimples (how broad).
  • The air ratio (how much air between the pimples).T
  • The grip of the pimples (smooth or rough).
  • The thickness of the base sheet of rubber (under the pimples).
  • The softness or hardness of the rubber sheet.
  • The thickness of the sponge layer.
  • The softness or hardness of the sponge layer.
  • The amount of glue used.

An assessment of the above rubber factors taken in joint consideration with the following areas relative to the racket qualities as a whole will help you to arrive at a decision as to the behavioural characteristics of a rubber.

Racket Qualities.

Dwell time — How long the ball stays on the racket during the stroke, depends on the thickness and softness of the sponge and the rubber, whether the ball sinks in and is held for a fraction of a second or kicks off immediately (can also be adjusted by the blade one uses).

Resilience — The energy stored in the rubber during the contact phase of a stroke, some rubber and sponge combinations are much more elastic than others and the ball will be held longer on the surface. This stored energy is thus converted to produce spin. While elasticity levels will certainly increase we must bear in mind that the sponge cannot create energy, but only minimize energy loss. Compared to a hard bat a ‘sponge’ bat can be swung in a much flatter plane so giving the ball more forward speed. The sponge helps to ‘lift’ the ball over the net.

Impact behaviour — A rubber and sponge can have differing performance at different impact speeds. At a slow speed there may be very little elasticity but you may get very good spin and speed when the ball comes into the racket with more pace. When you achieve maximum impact speed you can swing the racket harder but you will get little or no more effect. Some rubbers are said to have good gearing for spin and speed, which means they produce and maintain good effect over a wide range of impact speeds.

Throw-angle — The angle of the flight of the ball as it comes off the racket surface in the direction the bat is travelling. Differing blades and rubbers affect the throw-angle considerably (the angle would be very different if you were looping for example with very tacky rubber or with anti-loop). The throw-angle will also vary depending on whether the contact is on the outside of the racket or in the middle (or whether the racket is more closed or open), or whether it is low, in the middle or high on the ball surface.

Stall-angle — The contact angle at which the speed/spin of a rubber is dramatically reduced — at certain angles all rubbers will stall and will not grab the ball (it will just drop off the racket, as it sometimes does when it contacts the outside edge).

Friction — The grip of the rubber. Sometimes super-grippy rubbers have less spin at high speed — there is a critical level above which little or nothing is gained. Some very tacky rubbers have the characteristic of slowing the ball dramatically at low impact speeds which can be very useful in certain strokes.

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.

China: National Women’s Team and Pimples

Rowden Fullen (2005)

At the SOC there were no Chinese women playing with pimples, even though the female players of almost every other Asian country and many European and Americans used material. This could give rise to the thinking that perhaps Chinese women have moved past the pimples stage and no longer need the help of material. This is in fact far from the truth.

There are many pimple players within the National and the Provincial teams and in China it’s still popular and effective to play with pimples. In fact the national coaches are eager to develop another long pimple champion along the lines of Deng Yaping.

However the reason that the pimple players are not representing China internationally is that only very few players are selected to play in the big tournaments and selection is very much dependent on performance. Many pimple players have lost their advantage as they train against normal players every day and the normal players are very familiar with material techniques and tactics. The current results of the top 7 Chinese women (all in the top 10 in the world ranking and all playing with reverse rubbers) are at the moment very satisfactory and therefore the national coaches won’t take the risk of making changes just now.

As far as the youth policy is concerned China is still keen to develop the full range of women’s styles and pimple players of all types are welcome in the National Team. If such players are good enough, strong enough mentally and get good results nationally and internationally there is no way they will be overlooked.

It is interesting to note that the top Chinese pimpled racket player (defensive) Fan Ying is currently ranked 3 in the world U21 rankings (after 2 other Chinese) and 2 in the U17 ranking (after Guo Yue).

These things of course tend to go in cycles. China have very good reverse rubber women players at the moment, this could well change dramatically over the next 2 years. One factor that China must certainly take into account is the success of Song Ah Sim from Hongkong (only ranked 5 in her country and 46 in the world before the event) against the Chinese women in the SOC. Their coaches must pay close attention to how these results were achieved and evaluate whether they were the results of the rubber, the tactics, or the individual strengths of the player. Whatever, Hongkong has a very strong women’s team at the moment and presents a distinct threat to China’s overall supremacy.

Material and the Women’s Game

Rowden Fullen (2004)

In Sweden I encounter immediate resistance from most clubs when I mention material and girls’ play. I know that there are clubs which develop pimple players, clubs such as Lyckeby, Tyresö and Lindome for example, but far too often when I am at tournaments I hear coaches and parents only complaining about material and condemning the clubs and coaches who promote such rubbers and playing styles. This is unfortunately an attitude which their players pick up and which will only hinder their future development.

Let’s look at a few facts. Just what is the prime skill of table tennis? It is to be able to adapt quickly in an ever changing situation. Table tennis is all about being able to adjust to and cope with different situations, situations such as players using different tactics, defence and material. And in fact in the women’s game there are many more different paths to the top level than there are in the men’s. Do we really think that any player can reach the heights if they can’t play against pimples, defenders or penholders for example?

I have even had National Coaches in Sweden tell me that some of our best women players do very well in Europe against normal rubbers but ‘have a major problem against material’. This is of course a problem that goes back to early training, to parental attitudes and to the trainers and clubs which introduce the young girl to our sport. There is nothing illegal or underhand about playing with material. We have just had a young girl reach the final of the SOC and knock out several top Chinese on the way, playing with pimples. Her racket was examined every step of the way by referees and umpires – perfectly legal.

Almost every country in Europe has material players in their girls’ and women’s teams right from cadet level, there are many material players amongst the top hundred ranked women in the world and we have even had women world champions playing with pimples. Some of the best young girls in the world, Fukuhara from Japan for instance, play with pimples. If we in Sweden deny our young girls the opportunity to train with and against material at an early age, we are in fact limiting and restricting their future development and placing them at a big disadvantage when competing at European and world level.

I leave you with some rather interesting statistics. In the National rankings for 12 and 13 year olds there are very few pimple players among the girls. This is of course an age where the players are under the control of parents and clubs and don’t have the chance to think for themselves. In the ranking for women’s 20 where the players have escaped from their restrictions and control their own development we have around 50% who play with pimples! The players themselves come to understand eventually what works for them in the women’s game. It’s just a pity they don’t have the opportunity to do this at an earlier age when the learning process would be much more effective.

Defenders with Long Pimples on Backhand

Rowden Fullen(2004)

One of the most important aspects of defensive play is that defenders can move in and out and take both the short drop shot and the hard hit. Many good attackers will NOT hit or loop 3 or 4 balls in a row, they know this is easy for the defender especially if they loop with speed. Instead they will hit hard and drop short or loop slow with a higher arc and much more spin, then smash the next ball. Sometimes they will even just roll a slow ball without pace or spin, which also presents problems for defenders.

Bear in mind that table tennis is all about adaptability and presenting opponents with new situations against which they don’t usually train. If you can do this then opponents do not have an automatically grooved response to cope with the new situation, they must THINK about what they are doing. Of course the considered, thinking response is much slower than the automatic reactions built up over countless hours of training and even good players immediately experience difficulty in a new, unusual situation.

In most cases defenders train much against pace and power and are particularly good at returning the fast, hard-looped ball. This ball comes on to their racket with speed and spin and they have a good measure of control with the return. The hard flat hit is much more difficult for defenders to deal with and they often play into the net because the ball has much less topspin and a flatter trajectory through the air. Also the ball behaves differently after the bounce and does not come on to their racket as quickly as the topspin ball. The slow high-arc loop also presents problems to defensive players as again it doesn’t come through on to the racket and often drops low very quickly. Slow roll balls are the same – there is no pace or spin for the defender to use in his or her return.

As we stated at the start good movement in and out is vital for defenders. It’s important that they are fast enough to recover well after coming in for the short ball. Many attackers will for example loop hard well out to the backhand wing, drop very short to the middle, then hit hard into the body while the defender is still struggling to recover. It is therefore important that defensive players have good length to their chopped returns, so that attackers have difficulty in dropping short. It is important too that when they have a little longer push return that they can attack themselves or push long and fast with the pimples and at an early timing point. (Many defenders play too late on push balls and lose the time advantage and the spin reversal effect). This will give a fast float or topspin ball and gives the opponent very little time to react. It can be equally effective to push early with the normal rubber and with much backspin. The opponent then has little time to get into a good position to topspin a heavily spun ball.

In the case of defenders who at times come in and block or who block with the pimples against the long fast serves, it is of vital importance that they can hold the ball short on the table on the opponent’s side. Many good attackers are only too much aware that they can hit the long blocked ball hard, provided they have not created too much topspin on the previous shot. Even against top-class loopers if long pimple block-players can hold the ball short they give the opponent a very difficult next ball.

Defenders who can chop with very much backspin and equally loop a little slower and with very much topspin are always difficult to cope with because of the extreme difference in the spin element. Most women for example experience more problems against the slower ball and the slower loop with a higher arc is used quite successfully by women defenders.

Placement and serve variation are important too against defensive players. Often players use the wrong serves and play too predictably in the rallies. There is little point in serving heavy spin to long pimples then not being able to cope with the next ball! Pimple players usually have rather more problems against flat no-spin serves. A short serve without spin to the pimples means a float return which you can confidently attack. Equally a long fast serve with a trace of backspin will often give a little high return with next to no spin, which again presents a hard-attack opportunity.

There is equally little point in playing diagonally all the time so that the defender doesn’t even need to move. A short ball to one wing then the next hard out to the other side will often create attacking opportunities, as will straight play and attacks to the body. Many defenders also like to use the B.H. from the middle and can be caught out if you hit the next ball wide to the F.H. angle.

Sidespin presents particular problems for even very good defensive players, especially in the case of a right-hander with long pimples on the B.H. who faces a left-handed loop player. Many topspin attackers have an element of sidespin in their loop and provided this is relatively small and topspin predominates, the defender faces a predictable ball, the type of ball he or she trains against thousands of times in training. It is when sidespin is the major element that the defender has problems. The automatic reaction is to allow for the topspin factor and as a result the defender plays into the net. Remember as we said earlier in the article table tennis is all about adaptability and presenting opponents with situations different from those against which they normally train. It is then that even the best players have problems.

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. The topspin ball will speed up after the bounce.

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.

Differences in Men’s and Women’s Game

Rowden Fullen (2006)

Q. What are the main differences between the men’s and women’s game?

Men play with much more spin and power. The men’s game is about control of spin – the topspin ball dips on to the table at the end of its flight and shoots forward very fast after the bounce. Almost all men tend therefore to take the ball later and the common tactic is counter-loop against loop. This never happens in the women’s game. The women stand closer and take the ball earlier, which is easier to do as there is less incoming spin and power. Women hit the ball flatter and with less spin (due to the lesser power input). This means that the women’s game is much more a question of control of speed. The counter to the loop is varied depending on the style of the player and can be a block, counter-hit or chop. In the case of top women playing against men it is noticeable that they have problems controlling the topspin element.

Q. Why do men have better serves?

  • Men are stronger in the wrist and forearm and usually have a better understanding of the practical elements involved.
    Q. Why can’t women play like men and beat the men? What are the limitations?
  • Women are capable of and are often able to beat the men but not by trying to play the men’s game and trading power against power. Women have to play to their own strengths, soft-blocking the topspin and flat-hitting the balls with lesser spin at an early timing point.
    Q. Why are there so many more styles of play in the women’s game?
  • Because the women’s game is about controlling speed, women have over the years devised differing means of doing this. If there weren’t different styles in women’s play, then the faster players would always win.
    Q. Are there differences in how and why men and women loop?
  • Not quite so much in Europe but much more in Asia. Asian women often use a slower loop, with much more spin, especially against defenders or when opening against backspin. The usual sequence is to loop slow and hit hard and early. There is a big difference between men and women when it comes to the purpose of topspin. Men tend to loop to win the point, women to make an opening to kill the next ball.
    Q.Why do so many top women use pimple rubbers and the men don’t?
  • Pimples are another means of controlling spin and speed and returning different balls to the opponent. This then gives the pimpled player more time to play her strokes. Generally the men play with so much more spin and power that pimples are less effective. They are used more often in the veteran’s game when the older men start to lose their speed and power.
    Q. Why is technique more important with girls and why can’t girls and boys play the same strokes and with the same stance?
  • Women play closer to the table and have less time to play their shots. As a result aspects such as square-ness of stance, shorter strokes and the relevant movement patterns are of critical importance. By relevant patterns we mean those which apply to the individual style of the player – a block player will not move in the same way as a loop player. Because men play further back, have more time and are faster in movement, these aspects are not so crucial.
  • What is also of critical importance is what happens after the service and during the receive. Because women have less time on the 3rd and 4th ball it’s vital that they use women’s service area tactics and not those of the men. All top women for example use 2nd ball backhand on a fairly regular basis, even those with extremely strong forehands. The men on the other hand usually receive with the forehand as they want to play forehand on the next ball and are quick enough to do this.
    Q. What differing tactics do the top players use and why?
  • Top players are universally positive in their play, particularly after their own serve. Almost all take the ball at an early timing point over the table so that the opponent has limited time to react. Top players are almost always unpredictable in the way they play, variation in placement, spin, speed, angles etc.
    Q. What differing tactics do the top women use and why?
  • Top women use the backhand more than the men both in serving and on the 2nd ball. They push at an early timing point over the table, are always good in short play and are aware of the various possibilities to gain advantage from this situation. Spin and pace is often more varied than in the men’s game.
    Q. How am I individually going to play and what is my development path?
  • The 64 million dollar question. As we said earlier there are many more ways to the top in the women’s game and women world champions over the years have had widely differing styles. Any young female player starting her career has a wide variety of choice – attacking with or without spin, block and hit, defence and any of these combined with material of one sort or another on backhand or forehand or both.
  • When looking at style development two factors perhaps above all are relevant. How do I best control the speed factor which is inherent in the women’s game? What is my strongest weapon and how am I going to build on this?

    Girls: Long Pimple Development Attack

    Rowden Fullen 2005

    The first hurdle for the player to get over is the amount of ill-feeling she will encounter from opponents, their parents and other coaches. ‘You wouldn’t win if you played with a normal racket’ is the standard accusation. What many of these accusers fail to appreciate is that a large number of the world’s best women have played and play now with material of one kind or another. Women play with material for a reason – ‘funny rubbers’ are a means of controlling speed and spin but particularly speed. If you can’t control speed then you can’t play women’s table tennis. Over the years women have found a number of differing methods of doing this – the use of material is only one.

    There is another important aspect to consider too. Table tennis is all about being able to adjust to and cope with different situations, situations such as players using differing tactics, defence and material. And in fact in the women’s game there are many more different paths to the top level than there are in the men’s. Do we really think that any player can reach the heights if they can’t play against pimples, defenders or penholders for example?

    Some national coaches say to me – ‘But the top six/seven Chinese women in the world at the moment don’t play with pimples’. True but these things go in cycles and if you talk to the top Chinese coaches they are as keen as ever to produce another Deng Yaping, and have many pimple players training both at National and Regional Levels. Look at the younger Asian players in world rankings for 18 and 21 — the top Chinese pimpled racket player (defensive) Fan Ying is currently ranked 3 in the world U21 rankings (after 2 other Chinese) and 2 in the U18 ranking (after Guo Yue). Ai Fukuhara the famous Japanese girl (medium pimples on BH) is ranked 5 in 18’s and 8 in 21’s. If you are thinking –no future in pimples – then perhaps you should think again!

    It is true however that with pimples, as with normal rubbers, there must be a path of development and players must continue to grow and progress. You cannot just stick a long pimpled rubber on a young girl’s backhand side, tell her to block and push with it and stop there. The player must learn to use the rubber, do different things with it, know when to ‘twiddle’ and use the normal side, how to get the biggest advantage out of serve, receive and the third ball etc.

    Let us first look at what one should look for when considering switching to long pimples, which is the most deceptive of the pimpled rubbers. The first aspect which the player must experiment with is effect versus control – this 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.

    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.

    Most spin reversal occurs when 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 as much as normal pimples and therefore the ball is not held on the surface.

    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. 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. The majority of players don’t in fact think what they are doing when they meet pimpled rubber opponents. Instead of trying to understand what is happening and working to combat this, they take the easy option and just complain.

    Let us now look at the techniques and tactics of using long pimples. Good players who understand the principles of playing against long pimples will more often than not hit one ball and push the next. They understand that if they loop hard they get a lot of spin back and that it’s difficult to loop two or three balls in a row with any power (in fact the more power you put in the more spin you get back). As a result the ‘bread and butter’ tactics of the long pimpled attacker/blocker must be to control the hit and to hold the ball as short as possible on the opponent’s side of the table. The push ball should then be taken very early and either dropped short or pushed very long and very fast. This gives the opponent only limited time to react against a fast push which can have considerable topspin.

    But the long pimpled player should not stop here. The next step is to train on a variety of ‘stop’ and sidespin actions together with changes of timing to confuse the opponent. Don’t think either that these just have a ‘confusion’ value, they can have real effect too. For example a ‘stop-block’ where the racket is pulled back at the contact can return a very short ball to the opponent with very much backspin. Or a fast sidespin action played to the alternate corner against heavy backspin can return a fast topspin ball with a sidespin kick. Even a push taken at a late timing point can be effective – it gives the opponent too much time to think and she sees the ball moving in the air and becomes hesitant.

    Pimpled players should of course also train to ‘twiddle’ so that they can push and open with both sides. It’s very easy for example to open hard against the backspin ball, even with the pimples, when the opponent is in the hit and push mode. It’s equally easy to train to take the short balls/serves with the pimples on the forehand side so that you are not pulled too far out of position by trying to use the backhand over the whole table. And if you are able to ‘twiddle’ and smash the high balls with the pimples, they will rarely if ever come back.

    One must also consider the other side of the racket which usually has a normal reverse rubber. It’s a good idea if this is as ‘tacky’ as possible, for then there is a very big difference between the spins from either wing. Of course the girl using long pimples on the backhand must also work to develop the forehand side. Too many girls using pimples have weaknesses on the other wing which let them down. It is expedient that girls with long pimples on the backhand have good topspin on the forehand, can vary this, either slow or fast and can kill at the first opportunity. It is also important that they can block with good control and variation on this wing so that they can contain the women loop players and then pick the right ball to hit and win the point.

    Serve and receive is another vital area for the long pimpled player and efficiency here is crucial. Good players may well just serve long and fast to the pimples and then kill the next ball. It is vital that the pimpled player has alternatives to the block receive – slow spin roll with the reverse rubber or step back and chop with the pimples for example. Many players however, even very good players, don’t think to change their game and serve their usual heavy spin serves which get them into all sorts of trouble.

    Long pimple players can get a great deal of advantage from their service if they go about it in the right way. Sidespin is of particular use to the long pimple player as it allows them to give their opponent difficult fourth ball returns. For example a vicious sidespin serve, which is also very short, will encourage most female opponents to push the second ball. A fast early ball push with the long pimples will give the adversary a topspin ball with a sidespin kick (the ball still retains the sidespin from the service). As players and coaches will appreciate there are a number of different possibilities based on this same theme. The fast flat serve with the long pimples also causes problems to many players as does the long fast backspin (without any spin).

    Of course the ideal eventually is if the long pimple player can play with both rubbers as and when she chooses. This can take a little time as she will have twice the number of alternatives as the normal player and to be effective will require both training and application. The one aspect that is of some importance is the timing when she twiddles the racket. A bad ‘twiddler’ will often get caught out and have to play with the side of the racket she doesn’t want to use at that particular time. The experienced ‘twiddler’ plays with intention and only turns the racket after her opponent has contacted the ball and is always playing with the ‘right’ rubber to suit the occasion.

    Lecture on Material

    Rowden Fullen (2007)

    • The cheating rubber
    • Table tennis and other racket sports
    • Principles of table tennis
    • Diminishing ball speed
    • Mechanics of flight, bats and rubbers
    • Racket coverings, standards and sponges
    • European women at world level
    • Authorised racket coverings
    • Rubbers – reverse to material
    • Rubber categories

    1. THE CHEATING RUBBER

    Long pimples come in many variations and different friction levels. They are not always easy to play against but their use is quite legal. They have however always been controversial.

    • Long pimples allow easy control of spinny balls – TRUE but is easy control better control? Playing a variety of strokes with long pimples against different spins is very difficult!
    • These rubbers are difficult to play against if you don’t know the right tactics – TRUE but whose fault is this? You may as well make excuses that left-handers, pen-hold players and defenders are equally difficult.
    • You have to think when playing against long pimples – TRUE but if you normally play without thinking then you are playing with one less weapon than your opponent!
    • Top players never play with long pimples – UNTRUE some top players do and some world champions have!
    • Long pimple rubbers allow you to do nothing and just wait for your opponent to make a mistake – if you wish to use the rubber in this way you can, but it’s not the most effective method and in any case winning by forcing the opponent to make errors is quite legal.
    • Long pimples are more effective at lower levels – TRUE but this is still nothing to do with cheating.
    • Returning the ball without taking any risks is easy with long pimples – UNTRUE it can be very hard to return a very difficult ball so that the good opponent is unable to attack. Also at top level the golden rule is ‘don’t let the opponent attack or at least don’t let them attack hard’.
    • It’s easier to do more things and do them well with a normal reverse rubber – TRUE so this should make it more difficult to be successful with long pimples!
    • Long pimple players have it easy and don’t need to work – UNTRUE good long pimple players have to work twice as hard to master both rubbers on both wings!
    • Some pimple players use the rubber to cover a weakness – TRUE but some players use pots of glue, blast every 3rd ball and have little control over their reverse rubber. However this is then called good tactics or positive play, never cheating!
    • There is considerable variation in how different long pimples play – TRUE but again it’s up to you to update your knowledge and your tactics instead of just whinging. There are far fewer legal and deceptive rubbers since the aspect ratio rule.

    2. TABLE TENNIS AND OTHER RACKET SPORTS

    No two players play the same — there is a product however for every variation of style and this makes the choice of the right combination just for you an extremely difficult decision. Of all racket sports table tennis is the one which has by far the biggest variety of racket coverings. This of course creates a bigger variety of playing styles and tactics, especially amongst the women, who in most cases lack the power of the men. In tennis for example one may have over-sized racket heads or higher and lower tension in the strings, but basically one racket does not vary radically from the next — the same applies to badminton and to squash.

    However it is not only the racket which is very different in table tennis with its many permutations of spin, speed, control and effect, but also the ball which makes the game rather more difficult to master. This is because the ball is so light, takes much more spin than the balls used in other racket sports and slows so much more rapidly in the air. Not only must the developing player be aware of what his own weapon can do, but also of the characteristics of the opponent’s weapon and what his opponent is likely to be able to achieve with it. But equally, to be effective the player must be aware of what the ball will do after contact with the racket, both in the air and after the bounce. In other words to be proficient at our sport the player requires to be rather more aware of the mechanics and science of table tennis and especially as we have the least time of all ball sports to react, recover and play our next shot.

    What we also have to bear in mind is that to reach full potential we have to select the weapon which most suits our style of play and which will enable us to develop in the right way. It would be of little use for a strong topspin player to use 1.0mm sponge as the ball would not be held long enough on the racket. But such a thickness might well benefit a defender who wishes to initiate heavy backspin. The beauty of table tennis is that you can tailor the equipment you use to be of maximum benefit in your long term development – the main stumbling block however is that there is such an immense number of sponges and rubbers on the market, that it can be difficult if not impossible to find the right combination to suit you. However if you are a player who is always looking to develop and to move on, then often such evolution will involve experimentation with differing materials. We must also bear in mind that there will be changes in players’ styles and tactics over the years which will require research into different playing surfaces.

    Above all what we must be able to do before we select ‘the weapon’ is to analyse our own game in detail and decide just what characteristics the racket of our choice should possess and what we should be able to do with it. Do we need speed, spin, control, feeling or effect and in what quantities and combinations? If we ourselves are not capable of doing this then we will need to call in outside help in the form of trainers or coaches who know how we play and how we win points.

    Once we have our style analysis the first step is to research the blade. The choosing of a blade is a rather more personal matter than the rest of the equipment and it should feel right both in terms of speed and especially of weight. Blades usually vary from about 65 grams up to about 100 grams – very few players would want to use a blade heavier than this. Tests in a number of countries appear to indicate that there is an ideal racket weight for the player at differing stages in his or her development and variation by even a few grams can cause a drastic loss of form. We must also bear in mind that the thicker sponge and rubber sheets (2.2 and maximum) and particularly those with harder sponges can add considerably to the overall racket weight (Both Western and Chinese reverse can weigh around 40 – 45 grams, pimples out between 28 – 38 grams and long pimples without sponge as low as 14 – 20 grams). Handles are also important and players often have a preference for one shape or another. In the case of ‘twiddlers’ the type of handle and the width of the blade shoulder too may assume more importance.

    The second stage is to decide on the sponge, both thickness and softness/hardness. Thicker sponges are more effective for topspin play and have better control and feeling for blocking. Medium sponges (1.7 – 2.1) are good for close-to-the-table play and drive/counter-hitting, while the thin sponges are best for defence, especially where heavy spin is needed. The softness of the sponge is of particular importance in the areas of control and effect – soft sponges are better for blocking, attacking from an early timing point and for achieving different effects when using pimples. Harder sponges give more speed and a faster and lower ball after the bounce when combined with topspin.

    Finally we come to the selection of the rubber top sheet. Here we are concerned with softness, thickness and the ‘tackiness’, the friction of the rubber. Softness and thickness are important because these characteristics allow the full influence of the blade and the sponge to come into play. For example the combined thickness of ‘sandwich’ rubber (the rubber and sponge layers) must be legally no more than 4.0 millimetres and the rubber itself is not allowed to be more than 2.0mm. There is however no legal requirement as to the thickness of the sponge. What has happened over the last 5 – 8 years is that with modern manufacturing techniques, the rubber layer can be produced in much thinner sheets (as low as 1.1 – 1.2mm) and as a result sponge layers have been able to grow in thickness up to around 2.8mm. This obviously is very good for the loop players. ‘Tackiness’ is also important to many players, both in the service game and in the rallies. Many high friction rubbers have other qualities too, such as being able to slow the ball quite dramatically in short play.

    3. PRINCIPLES OF TABLE TENNIS

    1st Principle — ADAPTABILITY

    The main problem in our sport is the instability of the environment. The player must be effective in a constantly evolving situation. High level players for example learn from mistakes immediately and do not repeat errors - they find effective solutions rapidly. As Waldner says in his book - ‘In order to win big titles, you must master play against all playing styles. Therefore, you must regularly practice and compete against players of different styles. The most important styles to embrace are loop players (maximum topspin), attackers (maximum speed) and choppers (maximum backspin). Another important aspect is play against left-handed players. I would like to remind you that both right- and left-handed players spend 85% of their playing time playing against right-handed players. To be successful against both right- and left-handed players requires well-developed technique and very good balance.’

    Players can reach a high level (even playing for their country) and still have major limitations in their game if they ignore this advice. The lack of ADAPTABILITY or inability to play against a rubber or style is ONLY your fault (no-one else’s) and the problem is in your early training.

    It is interesting to note that in some countries in Europe, France and Germany for example, there is strong evidence in players as young as 9 - 10 years of age of a highly developed adaptation capability and their coaches are to be commended. On the other hand in countries which one may consider to be highly progressive, such as UK or Sweden, the same capability is severely lacking even among players in their late teens or those at senior level.

    Rubbers - To access the best rubber for your particular style of play is a monumental task. There are over 1000 differing rubbers and if you consider all the sponge thicknesses probably around 4000 or more variations. The most rapidly increasing sections are China reverse and long pimples. Chinese rubbers are popular because of the low cost, increasingly better quality, good choice and variation and the possibility of marrying together a variety of sponges and rubbers. Especially in the case of pimples and women’s play it is possible to experiment with differing effects by using differing sponges and differing hardnesses of sponge under the pimples. In the West our approach to rubber selection is usually rather amateurish.

    However we can’t just talk about rubbers - we must investigate sponges and what happens to the ball in the air. If we don’t understand how the ball behaves during its trajectory and after the bounce it’s hard to understand the advantages and disadvantages of differing materials. Without understanding what happens to the ball in the air and after the bounce and the 3 speeds - off the bat, through the air and after the bounce, one doesn’t see the whole picture and is not fully informed. Also much of this material unfortunately is just not available in the UK.

    2nd Principle - TIME AND THE CONSEQUENCES.

    In the case of the average person reflex speed is around 0.20 of a second; one or two rare individuals may be faster than this. A smash on the other hand takes 0.10 to cross the table from end line to end line.

     Lecture on Material

    As we can see from (J) there is a big difference looping close to the table and executing a similar stroke three metres back. If we feed in an initial speed of 15 m/second, ball (1) will reach the other end of the table in 0.2 of a second or slightly less and will then have a speed of 10 m/second - ball (2) on the other hand will take around 0.5 of a second and the speed will have dropped to 7.0 m/second. We must also bear in mind that even at relatively slow speeds, say an average of 40 kph, the ball will cover the length of the table in about 0.25 of a second which is just within the limit of human reaction time for the average player.

    In our sport the importance of ‘reading the play’, of seeing what is happening as the opponent plays the ball (or in fact 5/6 centimetres before ball contact) is absolutely critical. We must use all possible cues (body and arm action etc) in order to give us every possible advantage.

    It is also true to say that our sport is becoming faster and faster and as a result technique (and the economy and streamlining of all technical movements) becomes more and more important. Balance and ‘retained square-ness’ are especially vital. Because much of our technique has to be automated and because we play best when we react subconsciously, we have to make sure that the automated reflexes are absolutely flawless. With today’s time restrictions there is no room for manoeuvre.

    Above all training must provide continuous and evolving possibilities for our athletes to apply a variety of techniques in a realistic and competitive environment. Coaches must ensure that players, as they progress through the learning process, are able to identify the most suitable technique and apply this in a variety of differing situations. In other words because we are facing a rapidly changing situation all the time we play, to cultivate adaptive intelligence is absolutely vital. This is the ability to evaluate a scenario in an instant, take in all the immediately available solutions and then take the best action. Often this is called reactive thinking - the ability to think clearly under pressure and use any available means to hand to resolve the problem.

    4. DIMINISHING BALL SPEED

    Metres/Second Equals Km/Hour Speed after 3M Speed after 6M Speed after 9M
    31 = 112 20.1 13.3 8.5
    27 = 97.2 17.4 11.0 7.6
    24 = 86.4 15.0 10.0 7.0
    21 = 75.6 13.0 8.5 6.5
    18 = 64.8 11.5 8.0 6.0
    15 = 54.0 10.0 7.0 4.8
    12 = 43.2 8.0 6.25 4.0
    09 = 32.4 6.5 4.5 3.0

    At what speed does gravity come into effect? With a speed of 8.5 m/second (30.6 k/hour, 19.125 mph.) the air resistance is about equally as strong as gravity. Below this speed the effects of gravity come into play very quickly. Air resistance however increases or decreases by the square of the speed. This means that a doubling of the speed to 17m/second signifies a fourfold increase in air resistance. Halving the speed to 4.25 m/second would bring about a reduction in air resistance to around one quarter of gravity. In the case of fast counter play a normal speed would be in the region of 13 — 15 m/second which means immediately that it’s always the air resistance which is the dominating factor in the early stages of the ball’s trajectory.

    We must also bear in mind that even at relatively slow speeds, say an average of 40 kph, the ball will cover the length of the table in about 0.25 of a second which is just within the limit of human reaction time for the average player.

    5. THE MECHANICS OF FLIGHT, BATS AND RUBBERS

    Mechanics of flight

    Once the ball has left the racket, the trajectory and direction is determined by the power and spin fed into the stroke. The trajectory itself is determined by gravity, the air resistance and the influence of the spin. A similar stroke will always produce a similar result in terms of spin, speed and direction.

    However significant variations can and do occur. The major one is in air pressure and when we talk about height above sea level. At 1000 metres air pressure sinks by 12% and at 3000 metres by up to 30%! This has a major impact on both the air resistance and the effect of the spin on the ball in flight. A major championship event played for example in Mexico City will result in the ball ‘flying’ in an unusual manner and the players must be ready for this, as the trajectory of the ball will not conform to expected criteria.

    Let us look however closely at the ball in the air and before the bounce. What we must first understand is that the ball surface is not smooth and contains pockets of air in the surface which react with the flow of air against the ball. We do know that in the case of the top part of a topspinning ball, this spins against the oncoming air while the bottom part is in the same direction. Therefore we have an area of high turbulence at the top and low turbulence at the bottom. However the air flow round a ball moving at high speed changes from turbulent to laminar as it slows down in the air and this is what causes the ball to dip. Just what do we mean by this?

    At the ‘static point’ which is the leading point of the ball at speed there will be an ‘eye’ like at the centre of a hurricane where there is an area of pressure. The flow of air around the ball however will in the initial stages of flight as the ball leaves the racket at speed, be chaotic or ‘turbulent’ in nature. By this we mean there is no smooth pattern of air molecules flowing around the surface of the moving ball.

    It is only as the ball slows down that a pattern starts to emerge and the air flow around the ball forms a more ordered outline. We call this a ‘laminar’ effect. It is of course at this stage that the high and low pressure areas forming on different parts of the ball’s surface have a direct effect and as a result the ball is forced upwards or to dip sharply downwards on to the table.

    After leaving the racket regardless of the spin, speed or direction, the ball is influenced simply by 3 factors - gravity, air resistance and spin (Magnus effect). In the case of topspin, gravity and the influence of the spin work together giving a more arced trajectory. With backspin gravity and the spin factors work against each other so that the ball will rise initially in a curve before dropping sharply when gravity predominates over the lessening spin. Gravity is always equally strong and always directed downwards. Air resistance is always against the direction of travel and its effect is strongly influenced by the speed of the ball.

    But just at what speed does gravity come into effect? With a speed of 8.5 m/second (30.6 k/hour, 19.125 mph.) the air resistance is about equally as strong as gravity. Below this speed the effects of gravity come into play very quickly. Air resistance however increases or decreases by the square of the speed. This means that a doubling of the speed to 17m/second signifies a fourfold increase in air resistance. Halving the speed to 4.25 m/second would bring about a reduction in air resistance to around one quarter of gravity. In the case of fast counter play a normal speed would be in the region of 13 — 15 m/second which means immediately that it’s always the air resistance which is the dominating factor in the early stages of the ball’s trajectory.

    Questions relating to materials and the differing spins and effects can be rather more complicated as the manufacturing companies have not tried to create standardised tests to measure exactly what their products can do. Often experienced players or testers (or in some cases not so experienced) categorise rubbers in terms of spin, speed and control, but obviously these classifications are purely subjective. Different players will for example use rubbers in differing ways and one player will often be capable of getting far more out of a particular rubber than another player would. Such ‘subjective’ testing can give some useful information but helps little in giving any base for objective measurement when comparing products from different manufacturers. Also materials and indeed techniques and tactics are constantly in change - it is necessary that we always have an open mind and are ready to look at new ideas and ways of doing things.

    Bats, rubbers and sponges

    Much of the advertising matter which is written in the various brochures on materials is of very little use to the ordinary player and often misleading. The hardness of the wood and the make-up of the ply, how it is bonded and whether you have carbon fibre or titanium mesh layers will all affect the speed and control. Generally one ply will be more rigid and the ball will kick off the blade quicker, multi-ply will be more flexible with more control and stability. The choosing of a blade is a rather more personal matter than the rest of the equipment and it should feel right to the player. Tests in one or two countries appear to indicate that there is an ideal racket weight for the player at differing stages in his or her development and variation by even a few grams can cause a drastic loss of form.

    In the interests of weight reduction, the central core of many modern blades consists of a thick layer of balsa wood and the speed comes from the outer veneers of much harder woods often supported by carbon or glass fibre or titanium mesh layers (these supporting non-wood layers should not be thicker than 7.5% of the total blade thickness or 0.35mm whichever is the smaller). According to the rules at least 85% of the blade by thickness should consist of natural wood.

    Most rubber manufacturers use speed, spin and control ratings which are at best misleading — many of the tests they use are very simplistic and bear little or no relationship to how a rubber is used in a match. Players also use the same rubber in different ways and with different feel. Let us examine the characteristics of the rubber as it is this which contacts the ball.

    • Dwell time — This is how long the ball stays on the racket during the contact phase of a stroke, (bear in mind this is a mere fraction of a second, if you have ever chalked a ball and thrown it to a player who slow loops and tries to maintain a long contact you find that the mark on the ball is never more than one centimetre). Rubbers have different dwell times for different strokes. The ball will be held longer for a slow loop as opposed to a kill. Some players also ‘carry the ball’ longer than others even for the same stroke. A long dwell time will often benefit spinners and blockers while a short dwell time will suit defenders and hitters. The dwell time is also affected by the blade you use and how the ball comes off the racket depends much on the rubber and sponge and how quickly it penetrates through these to reach the wood layer underneath.
    • Resilience — The energy stored in the rubber during the contact phase of the stroke. Some rubber and sponge combinations are much more elastic than others and will hold the ball longer on the surface even at a closed racket angle. This stored energy is converted to produce spin. While elasticity levels will certainly increase we must bear in mind that the sponge cannot create energy, but can only minimize energy losses. Compared to a hard bat a ‘sponge’ bat can be swung in a much flatter plane so giving the ball more forward speed with spin. The sponge in fact helps to lift the ball over the net.
    • Impact behaviour — A rubber and sponge can have differing performances at different impact speeds. At a slow speed there may be very little elasticity but you may get very good spin and speed when the ball comes into the racket with more pace. When you achieve maximum impact speed you can swing the racket harder but you will get little or no more effect. Some rubbers are said to have good gearing for spin and speed, which means they produce and maintain good effect over a wide range of impact speeds.
    • Throw-angle — The angle of the flight of the ball as it comes off the racket surface in the direction the bat is travelling. Differing blades and rubbers affect the throw-angle considerably as will different strokes (the angles would be very different if you were looping for example with very tacky rubber or with anti-loop). The throw-angle will also vary depending on whether the contact is on the outside of the racket or in the middle, or whether low, in the middle or high on the ball (or whether the racket is more closed or open). High throw-angle rubber generally has a higher ratio of spin than speed, compared to low throw-angle rubber. (Flexible, slower blades typically increase the angle).
    • Stall-angle — The contact angle at which the speed/spin of a rubber is dramatically reduced — at certain angles all rubbers will stall and not grab the ball (the ball will just drop off the racket, as it sometimes does when it contacts the outside edge). The stall-angle can be used effectively for dummy loops or short serves. A rubber with a wide range of stall-angles (or used with a badly matching blade) will have little or no control. A stall can also occur when the racket contact speed is too fast at a particular contact angle.
    • Friction — The grip of the rubber. Under certain conditions and with certain techniques some super high friction rubbers can give less spin/speed than ones with much lower friction characteristics. Sometimes super-grippy rubbers have less spin at high speed — there is a critical level above which little or nothing is gained. Some very tacky rubbers have the characteristic of slowing the ball dramatically at low impact speeds, a function which is very useful in certain strokes. A low friction rubber has difficulty generating speed at closed racket angles. Remember always the friction of many rubbers is impact dependent, they are more effective when the ball is coming at speed.
    • Sponge — Sponge can vary from soft to hard and from about 0.4 mm to 2.8 mm and the density of the sponge contributes to the weight of the racket. The amount of spin generated by a rubber is closely related to the elasticity of the sponge (irrespective of the top sheet of rubber), below a certain critical level for a given sponge, the spin of the rubber will be considerably reduced. This can be improved through the correct use of speed glues which will increase the resilience by up to 30%. Players who glue usually prefer soft or medium sponges.Sponges are manufactured in different thicknesses, from around 0.4 up to about 2.8 mm. According to the rules the pimple layer of a sandwich rubber should not be more than 2.0 mm but modern manufacturing techniques have reduced the rubber layer to a little over 1.0 mm, allowing the sponge thickness to be increased accordingly. Sponges are also made generally in 5 differing hardnesses, 23 - 28 (the softest), 30 - 35, 38 - 43, 40 - 45 and 45 - 50. In very general terms most sponges used by European players are in the 30 - 35 range while Asian players use 40 - 45. Many top players especially in the women’s game (and players using material), experiment with differing sponges until they find the most effective hardness for their particular style and/or a hardness which produces maximum effect when combined with the ‘material’ top sheet.
    • Glue — Adhesives and glue sheets are used to put the rubbers on the blade. Speed-glues are used to increase the performance of the rubber in respect of spin, speed, control, throw and stall-angles. It is always recommended that you allow each coat of glue to thoroughly dry before applying the next coat — otherwise you can get a ‘mushy’ effect which seriously affects performance when the glue is a little wet. Properly applied speed-glue can increase the spin and speed capabilities of the rubber by up to 30% (remember however that some glues do not work well with certain sponges, especially most hard and more dense sponges). Also the glue must be regularly ‘removed’ from the rubber sheet and the build-up must not be allowed to become too thick. All rubbers (where speed-glue is used) should be taken off the blade as soon as possible after play so that the tension is released. One interesting characteristic of speed-glued rubber is that it has a very predictable effect over a wide range of strokes. Its ability to store energy is nearly constant over a large range of impact speeds, (in normal rubber the storage of energy bottoms out at higher speeds).

    6. RACKET COVERINGS, STANDARDS AND SPONGES

    Questions relating to materials and the differing spins and effects can be rather complicated as the manufacturing companies have not tried to create standardised tests to measure exactly what their products can do. To assess spin, speed and control some companies utilise a scale of 1 - 10, others from 1 - 12 and still others measure up to 100%.

    Often experienced players or testers (or in some cases not so experienced) categorise rubbers in terms of spin, speed and control, but obviously these classifications are purely subjective. Many of the tests used are very simplistic and bear little or no relation as to how a rubber is used in a match. Different players will also use rubbers in differing ways and one player will often be capable of getting far more out of a particular rubber than another player would. Such ‘subjective’ testing can give some useful information but helps little in giving any base for objective measurement when comparing products from different manufacturers. Also materials and indeed techniques and tactics are constantly in change - it is necessary that we always have an open mind and are ready to look at new ideas and ways of doing things.

    Sponge can vary from soft to hard and from about 0.4 mm to 2.8 mm and the density of the sponge contributes to the weight of the racket. The amount of spin generated by a rubber is closely related to the elasticity of the sponge (irrespective of the top sheet of rubber), below a certain critical level for a given sponge, the spin of the rubber will be considerably reduced. This can be improved through the correct use of speed glues which will increase the resilience by up to 30%. Players who glue prefer soft or medium sponges as these usually produce most effect.

    Sponges are manufactured in different thicknesses, from around 0.4 up to about 2.8 mm. According to the rules the pimple layer of a sandwich rubber should not be more than 2.0 mm but modern precise manufacturing techniques over the last 5 years have reduced the rubber layer to a little over 1.0 mm, allowing the sponge thickness to be increased accordingly (up to a combined maximum of 4.0 mm). Sponges are also made generally in 5 differing hardnesses, 23 - 28 (the softest), 30 - 35, 38 - 43, 40 - 45 and 45 - 50. In very general terms most sponges used by European players are in the 30 - 35 range while Asian players use 40 - 45. Many top players especially in the women’s game (and players using material), experiment with differing sponges until they find the most effective hardness for their particular style.

    The softness of the sponge is particularly important when playing with pimpled rubber and this is something the Asian players especially the women have known for many years. Rubbers and sponges are manufactured and sold separately in Asia and it’s easy to combine suitable sponges and rubber sheets. Only recently has this facility been available in Europe. It’s also interesting to note that rubber manufacturers have had considerable dialogue with the top men in Europe to help develop suitable weaponry to win at world level. There has been little or no discussion with the top women in the world who are primarily from the Asian/Oriental block and the production of pimpled rubbers in the West has more often than not been sub-standard.

    7. EUROPEAN WOMEN AT WORLD LEVEL

    World Singles Final Last European Winner A Roseanu 1955
    World Singles Final Last European in Final A Grofova 1973
    World Doubles Final Last Winning Euro/Pair Z Rudnova/S Grinberg 1969
    World Doubles Final Last European in Final M Alexandru 1975 Also Final ‘73/Japanese

    and ‘61/Romanian

    World Team Final Last Winning Euro/Team Russia 1969
    BRITAIN
    World Singles FInal Runner Up D Gubbins 1926
    World Singles Final Runner Up E Blackbourn 1947
    World Singles Final Runner Up V Thomas 1948
    World Singles Final Runner Up A Haydon 1957 3 Finals/Lost in 5th

    in each

    World Doubles Final Winners M Franks/V Thomas 1948
    World Doubles Final Winners H Elliott/(G Farkas) 1949
    World Doubles Final Winners H Elliott/D Beregi 1950
    World Doubles Final Winners D and R Rowe 1951
    World Doubles Final Winners D and R Rowe 1954 On 21st birthday
    World Doubles Final Runners Up K Best/A Haydon 1954
    World Team Final Winners England 1947 By scoreline 21– 0!
    World Team Final Winners England 1948
    Euro/Team Final Winners England 1958 First time held

    8. AUTHORISED RACKET COVERINGS

    http://www.ittf.com(equipment/, Racket Coverings)

    Dark sponge, (black, blue, brown, green, purple, red,) should not be used under translucent red coverings. This is liable to make the rubber illegal (Law 2.4.3. governs the use of sponge).

    Many racket coverings contain additional text on the rubber surface and all text appearing in the authorised list must be there (eg. ‘D13 S’). The ITTF stamp must of course also be plainly visible.

    Altogether there are around 850/1000 rubbers on the authorised list from around 75/86 companies. These are split approximately as follows -

    COMPANIES RUBBERS JAN/JUNE 2004 JULY/DECEMBER 2006
    PRODUCING 1 — 5 RUBBERS 39 38
    PRODUCING 6 — 9 rUBBERS 13 17
    PRODUCING 10 — 24 RUBBERS 11 18
    PRODUCING 25 — 35 RUBBERS 5 4
    PRODUCING 36 — 55 RUBBERS 7 9
    TOTALS 75 86

    The major companies are as follows -

    JAN/JUNE 2004 JULY/DECEMBER 2006
    COMPANY NUMBER OF RUBBERS COMPANY NUMBER OF RUBBERS
    BUTTERFLY 55 BUTTERFLY 55
    NITTAKU 53 DONIC 55
    JOOLA 44 DOUBLE HAPPINESS 50
    DOUBLE HAPPINESS 42 NITTAKU 47
    YASAKA 41 JOOLA 44
    DONIC 40 YASAKA 44
    TIBHAR 38 TIBHAR 44
    TSP 33 TSP 39
    STIGA 29 FRIENDSHIP 37
    FRIENDSHIP 28 STIGA 33
    ARMSTRONG 28 ARMSTRONG 31
    JUIC 25 JUIC 28
    CHAMPION 20 ANDRO 25
    ANDRO 19 BAMCO 20
    BANCO 19 CHAMPION 17
    SUNFLEX 19 LION 15
    YASHIMA 16 SUNFLEX 15
    IMPERIAL 14 GLOBE 14
    LION 12 PALIO 14
    DOUBLE FISH 11 KOKUTAKU 12
    BOMB 11 GIANT DRAGON 12
    DONIER 10 BOMB 11
    PRASIDHA 10 NEUBAUER 11
    IMPERIAL 11
    MILKY WAY 11
    POINT BLANK 11
    PRASIDHA 11
    XIOM 11
    YASHIMA 11
    DAWEI 10
    DOUBLE FISH 10

    Rubbers are divided into the following categories on the authorised list –

    CATEGORY JAN/JUNE 2004 JULY/DECEMBER2006 PERCENT INCREASE
    WESTERN REVERSE RUBBERS 518 611 18%
    CHINESE REVERSE RUBBERS 94 127 35%
    ANTI-LOOP 20 17 -15%
    SHORT/MEDIUM PIMPLES 149 150 SAME
    LONG PIMPLES 66 96 45%
    TOTAL 847 1001

    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 0.9mm but under no circumstances larger than 1.1mm ie. For pimples with a length of 1.8 the largest permissible diameter would be 2.0 mm).

    The 850 or 1000 rubbers on the authorised list are divided percentage-wise approximately as follows –

    CATEGORY JAN/JUNE 2004 JULY/DECEMBER 2006
    WESTERN REVERSE RUBBERS 61% 61%
    CHINESE REVERSE RUBBERS 11% 12.7%
    ANTI-LOOP 02% 01.7%
    SHORT/MEDIUM PIMPLES 18% 15%
    LONG PIMPLES 08% 9.6%

    Probably the most significant increase is in the number of long pimple rubbers on the market, up from 66 to 96, an increase of 45%!

    9. RUBBERS – FROM REVERSE TO MATERIAL

    There are basically seven differing types of rubber surfaces on the market –

    • 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.
    • 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).
    • Anti-spin (Made mostly in Europe, Butterfly, Donic, Stiga, T.Hold, Yasaka but the odd Chinese specimen such as RITC 804). Anti can come in two types, almost no spin or with a little friction. Usually the rubbers are very slow with good control and the ball is slow off the racket.
    • 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 a great deal of 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.
    • 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. Usually players use these rubbers for attacking and with thicker sponges, 1.5 – 2.0.
    • 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. Occasionally attacking players use long pimples with a thicker sponge, Carl Prean, Gary Tendler, Ni Xialan, Deng Yaping.
    • 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 and in the red colour. Spin reversal with a thin sponge (0.4 – 0.6) will be a little less effective for blockers but the thin sponge will give better control with this type of game. Bear in mind that once the player is competent with the long pimples the Ox version will give lower and shorter balls and will add another dimension to the blocking game. In Neubauer’s opinion his Super Block Ox is the rubber which gives maximum spin reversal.

    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 0.9mm but under no circumstances larger than 1.1mm). A pimple length of 1.8mm and width of 2.0mm would give a figure of 0.9 – the same length with a width of 1.8 would give a figure of 1.0 – one can therefore say that the purpose of the regulation is to keep long pimples within certain limits and especially not to permit the manufacture of very thin pimples.

    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 –

    CATEGORY PERCENT EFFECT
    1 WESTERN REVERSE RUBBERS 100%
    2 CHINESE REVERSE RUBBERS 100%
    3 ANTI-SPIN RUBBERS 5 — 12%
    4 SHORT PIMPLE RUBBERS 75 — 95%
    5 HALF-LONG PIMPLE RUBBERS 65 — 75%
    6 LONG PIMPLES WITH FRICTION 30 — 35%
    7 FRICTIONLESS LONG PIMPLES 0%

    10 RUBBER CATEGORIES

    • WESTERN REVERSE
    • CHINESE REVERSE
    • ANTI-LOOP
    • SHORT PIMPLES (0.6 — 1.0mm)
    • HALF-LONG PIMPLES (1.1 — 1.4mm)
    • LONG PIMPLES WITH FRICTION (1.5– 1.8mm)
    • FRICTIONLESS LONG PIMPLES (1.5 — 1.8mm)

    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.
      1. More topspin, less smash.
      2. Drive/spin with pimples.
      3. 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.