Clubs and Material

Rowden Fullen (2005)

One or two clubs in Sweden have a number of players especially girls playing with material combinations. Clubs which have coaches ‘sympathetic’ to the pimple cause and which have had considerable success with material combinations are for example Lyckeby, Lindome and Tyresö. Unfortunately a great many other clubs are strongly resistant to any form of material especially for their younger players and appear too in many cases even strongly resistant to new ideas. This unfortunately often means that young players, especially girls do not have the advantage of having the opportunity to become proficient with and against such rubbers from an early age when they would pick up the relative techniques and tactics rather easily. Even National trainers complain that established junior and senior players often struggle in Europe against material combinations while performing more than adequately against normal rubbers.

This restrictive attitude at club level also means that quite often girl players only start using pimples when in their late teens, in other words when they are old enough to think for themselves and have cast off the shackles of the club environment. It is somewhat strange when you look at the National rankings in women’s 20 even in Sweden to find that over 50% play with pimples of one kind or another – they know what works for them and what works in the women’s game. The percentages however in girls’ 13 or 15 playing with material are almost negligible and this appears to be in almost every case due to lack of opportunity or informed guidance.

When you talk to coaches you understand immediately that there is little in-depth understanding of how players are effective with varying types of material and of how to play effectively against them. There appears too to be the attitude that to play with pimples is somehow a weakness, that the player is not good enough to use normal rubbers, or even that playing with such rubbers is a form of cheating (however within the rules). Such coaches seem to ignore the fact that some of the best women World Champions of all time have played with material (Deng Yaping).

Such thinking also begs the question as to why so many women players use pimples of one kind or another – many more for example than we have in the men’s game. A survey less than ten years ago showed that at that time around 60% of the world’s top women used a different rubber on one side of their racket. Even though at the moment the current crop of top Chinese women use reverse rubber there are still many high profile players in Asia who use pimples – Fukuhara from Japan and Fan Ying from China for example, plus many of the older Chinese women playing in Asia, Europe or elsewhere. The top Chinese coaches openly admit that they have many pimple players in the top provincial centres and that the next phase in the development of the women’s game may well be another material explosion.

Women use pimples quite simple for one main reason — because they complement the women’s game and tactics. What do we mean by ‘complement the women’s game and tactics’? Just what is the difference between the sexes in the way they play? If we compare top men and women we immediately notice the contrast in power. Quite simply men hit the ball harder. Usually too they give themselves more time and room to use their strength and play from further back and with much more topspin. Women on the other hand play closer to the table and block and counter much more and even those women who topspin can’t be compared with the men. A strong woman such as Boros just doesn’t hit the ball anywhere near as hard as a man for example.

Power and spin are important in the men’s game, placement and change of and control of speed in the women’s. You rarely if ever see the loop-to-loop rallies of the men’s game in women’s play — almost always the return is a block, counter or defence stroke. Not only does the ability to loop several balls in a row against topspin require strength that most women don’t have (and in the long term often leads to injury) but also tactically it’s not a prime requirement in women’s play. Because women loop with less spin and power than men their topspin is much easier to control and contain and there are far more good blockers and counter-hitters in the ranks of the women than in those of the men.

Pimples are ideal for changing spin and speed and for returning unpredictable balls to the opponent. They are particularly good for controlling topspin, especially the lesser level of spin and power you get in the women’s game. With pimples you also have the capability of taking the ball very early and denying the opponent time to play their next stroke so this material is in fact ideal for controlling the opponent’s speed and allowing you to be on level terms with much faster players. The higher level of unpredictability in ball behaviour especially after the bounce means that it is very difficult for topspin players (and particularly those with a long stroke) to adapt. They are often committed too early to a certain stroke path and are unable to change this. When you compare women Asian loop players they usually have a much shorter stroke and don’t therefore suffer so much against material (also of course they train against all different playing styles and from an early age).

If coaches also do not realise the importance of this other factor, then their own coaching development is to say the least woefully inadequate – this of course is the importance of creating a good adaptive capability from a young age with all their players. If players develop to a high level without being able to play against left-handers, penholders, defenders or long pimples, then their chances of being a real force internationally are extremely limited. The fault is every time in the early coaching development – the players have just not been exposed to the right environment in the early years, when it really matters. To try and change automatic responses when players are in their late teens or early twenties is, as most coaches are well aware, pretty much an impossibility.