Spin Efficiency with Plastic

Rowden November 2016

When changes occur in the fabric of our sport it’s not only crucial to consider changes which will occur in tactics and strategy, but also to look at the implications from a scientific viewpoint. Unfortunately the science of table tennis is an aspect to which we often do not attach enough importance.

You will find it very easy to prove to yourself in your own club, that with some service actions you can achieve more spin than others with the plastic ball and that the spin stays on the ball for a longer period of time.
Tests in our own High Performance Centre in the south of England have shown the following statistics.
● Pure Backspin Serve – Spin stays on the ball for 22.22 seconds
● FH from BH corner with Side/Backspin – Spin stays on the ball for 26.97 seconds
● FH from BH corner with Side/Topspin – Spin stays on the ball for 41.97 seconds
● BH serve with Side/Backspin – Spin stays on ball for 32.13 seconds
● Tomahawk serve with Side/Backspin – Spin stays on ball for 45.13 seconds
Similar tests in other areas show almost identical results in terms of which serves produce the most spin. The only difference might occur with a very tall player serving with the FH from the BH corner executing the Side/Backspin service as more leverage would result due to the height of the player and there would be less restriction in the action.
Also noted is that sidespin is the single most advantageous spin with the plastic either on its own or combined with other spins. Not only do we often observe a pronounced ‘kick’ on the opponent’s half of the table but it is easier to keep the ball lower and shorter after the bounce on his/her side. The sidespin also remains on the ball longer and can still often be used on the third ball. Pure backspin on the other hand dies quicker and it’s much more difficult to keep the shorter serves low in the opponent’s half, resulting in easier receive capability.
Even in the rallies players who can utilize powerful sidespin with topspin will be difficult to deal with. Much of the difficulty lies in the area of adaptability: our sport is extremely fast and requires us to play on ‘autopilot’ without thinking too much. Even the very best players have problems coping with something completely new, which they haven’t come across before.
The other absolutely crucial criterion is the speed of the service action (particularly in shorter serves) and the time element between the server’s contact with the ball on his /her racket and the bounce on the opponent’s half of the table. A longer time frame will allow the opponent more time to think and prepare his/her response. For example if the server carries the ball forward with the action so it bounces two thirds of the way down his/her side of the table then short over the net, this gives over half a second for the opponent to see what is happening. Also because the ball is not being played with strong forward momentum, though it may bounce short in the opponent’s half it will tend to be high.
What is needed is not a slow service action, but an extremely fast one. This will have two advantages. It will create more spin and will give the opponent less time to react. The optimum is therefore a ball bouncing on the baseline on your side of the table but with a very fast action. With practice you will find it is relatively simple to achieve two, three or more bounces in your opponent’s half. The mean time average on the ‘fast action’ serve will be around a half second or less, compared with 0.65 plus with the slower action.
The very mechanism of ‘carrying’ the ball forward on your racket to bounce two thirds of the way down your half of the table and short on your opponent’s side, alerts them in advance to what you are intending to achieve. Not a good strategy against a top player.

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