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 (with the 'tacky' rubber), 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.

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