Table Tennis Tip - Devastate the Short Pips Smasher

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The short pips smasher is often described as one of the scariest opponents in table tennis… unless you use the proper tactics.  You give a weak push – bang! It gets smashed at 90mph!  You give a weak loop – bang! It gets smashed at 90mph!  You block the smash and it goes into the bottom of the net!  Wow, how frustrating! 

Before I jump into the tactics, I want to first give you an explanation on spin.  When both you and your table tennis opponent are using normal, grippy inverted rubber on your table tennis paddles and rallying backspin to backspin, the rubber grabs the ball and changes the rotation in order to maintain backspin.  The grippiness of the rubber is what allows the spin to maintain backspin back and forth.    When playing against short pips, it is very important to know what type of rubber they are using, the grippiness of the pips, length of the pips, width of the pips, the thickness of the sponge (if any), and hardness of the sponge.  Remember, if you and your opponent are both using grippy inverted rubber and you push at 50 rotations per second backspin, when he pushes back, his grippy rubber grabs the ball, changes the rotation, and gives 50 rotations per second backspin back to you.  The grippier the short pips and thicker the sponge, the more the short pips will act like inverted.  Keep in mind, that a thicker sponge gives more spin – hardbat (short pips without sponge) has very little spin, 1.3mm sponge has more spin, and 2.0mm sponge has even more spin. With the spinniest short pips available, your 50 rotations per second backspin push may actually come back with 45 rotations per second backspin.  With the least grippy short pips on the market, your 50 rotations per second backspin push may actually come back with 20 rotations per second topspin!  It also makes different of the skill level of your opponent.  At the beginning of a table tennis match, you may not know your opponent, but you need to know his table tennis equipment.  Ask to inspect his table tennis racket.  Using the ball, test the friction and the bounce.  He is obligated to let you see it.  If he doesn’t, then ask a tournament official and they will force him to show it to you.

So how are you going to form tactics if there are so many different types of short pips in table tennis?  We are going to go middle-of-the-road assuming that your opponent is using a somewhat grippy short pips with very thin sponge.  For the sake of this article, when you push with 50 rotations per second backspin and your opponent pushes back, it come back with 5 rotations per second backspin.  We are also going to assume that this short pips smasher is playing with the shakehands grip and using both backhand and forehand fairly equally.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the short pips smasher might be scary to play against.  When he smashes, most of the energy on the swing is transferred to ball speed instead of ball spin.  This is why the ball often comes faster, flatter, and louder.  With a thinner sponge and using the smash touch, your opponent hits deeper into the wood giving it a louder “crack” sound when making contact with the ball.  No need to fear, it may look scary, but there are plenty of weaknesses.  Lacking in spin, your opponent won’t likely be able to play nearly as consistent as you can.  Instead of landing 80% of his attacks, maybe he will only land 70% of his attacks.  Not only will he be less consistent on powerful attacks, but he must be more selective by picking and choosing only higher balls to attack.  Instead of your focus being to keep every ball short, your focus should be on keeping the ball low.  The short pips smasher will likely have a tough time with low pushes and low loops because the pips don’t give much arc.  With the 6” net in the way, it is difficult to smash a very low ball with pips.

Tactics

#1 Adjustments

If you can watch your opponent in a previous table tennis match, that is a really good idea.  If not, you can begin your adjustments by inspecting his table tennis racket prior to the start of the match and testing to see how the ball reacts off his racket with counterdriving, looping, and blocking during your two minute warmup.  Realize that you will need to make adjustments to your stroke, positioning, and timing.

#2 Angle

The one main adjustment to your table tennis game will be racket angle.  Typically you will need to be slightly more closed when pushing, slightly more closed when looping against the push, slightly more open when looping against the block, and slightly more open when blocking an attack.  Why?  Because there is typically less spin on the ball.

#3 Positioning and Timing

This is the toughest part.  Imagine that you loop first against a short pips block, should you stay close or back up slightly?  It depends.  Short pips give the most depth variation in table tennis when blocking.  By popping the ball with a quick block, it will be a very fast deep block, you need to back up a bit.  When relaxing the grip and deadening the block, it will be a very short, almost two-bounce type of block; you will need to move forward.  So how in the world do you know which one is coming?  It is based on two main things, the quality of your opening loop (speed, spin, height, depth) and the action of your opponent’s block.  If you see him take a big backswing and forcefully approach the ball, you need to quickly step back while staying on your toes leaning forward.  If you see him take no backswing and pull back or to the side at the point of contact, the block will likely be dead and very slow.  Just remember, you prefer to loop the ball at the top of the bounce, this will require much better in-and-out movement from you.

#4 Height

As I mentioned earlier, I must remind you to keep the balls low.  Keep it low!  Keep it low!  This is one of the key tactics.

#5 Depth

Deep pushes, blocks, and loops are most effective against the short pips smasher if they are in the last 6” of the table tennis table.  Typically, short pips players stay very close to the table and are looking to smash down and forward on the ball.  If the ball hits in the last 6” of your opponent’s side, it will cause your opponent to hit the ball on the rise, often forcing him to hit it into the net.

#6 Percentages

Without spin, your table tennis opponent will likely have lower percentage shots when attacking.  How can you decrease the percentages even lower? By hitting quality shots!  By tricking him on the placement, giving quick pushes, giving spinny lower deep loops, you will be able to decrease his percentages.  The next time a short pips smasher blasts every ball past you and starts of 6-0 in the first table tennis game, then just step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “Is my ball quality good enough?  Am I just returning the ball and allowing him to smash?  Can I be trickier? Can I vary the depth of my short and long pushes better?  Can I loop wider?  Can I flip more to the transition point?  Can I block lower?”  You will often find that your opponent is ON FIRE because your ball is weak!

#7 Counterattack

If your serve and serve return are very good quality, it is likely that your opponent will need to give a gentle attack when faced with your deep push, deep serve, or half-long serve.  This is really an ideal time to counterattack.  His opening likely has less spin, making this a much easier shot for you.

#8 Practice

Before playing this guy in your next table tennis tournament, try to find a short pips player and practice with him for 20 minutes before your table tennis match.  Make necessary adjustments in your game and you will dominate against all the short pips smashers.

By Samson Dubina, Professional Table Tennis Athlete and Coach

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Table Tennis Tip - Devastate the Long Pips Blocker

Newgy Robo-Pong

The long pips blocker is often described as the most frustrating opponent in table tennis, unless you use the proper tactics.  Before I jump into the tactics, I want to first give you an explanation on spin.  When both you and your table tennis opponent are using normal, grippy inverted rubber on your table tennis paddles and rallying topspin to topspin, the rubber grabs the ball and changes the rotation forward in order to maintain topspin.  The grippiness of the rubber is what allows the spin to maintain topspin back and forth. When playing against long-pips, the ball usually doesn’t grab when it hits the pips causing your own spin to come back at you.  For example, when you serve heavy backspin to the long pips table tennis player, regardless if he hits or blocks or pushes, the ball will come back with some topspin.  If you loop the ball with extreme topspin, regardless if he hits or blocks or pushes, the ball will come back with backspin.  It isn’t so much a matter of what stroke HE did, it is a matter of what spin YOU did.

Now here is one pitfall.  When beginner table tennis players play against long pip opponents, they often give a weak loop then try to push the next ball, the balls goes flying 8 feet high.  What happened?  The loop was so weak with practically no topspin; when the long pips player blocked, it actually came back as “no-spin”.  You must understand that the amount of spin coming back to you is proportional to the amount of spin you impart.  If you loop with 80 rotations per second topspin, the long pips ball will likely come back to you with about 60 rotations per second backspin.  If you loop with 16 rotations per second topspin, the long pips ball will likely come back to you with about 12 rotations per second backspin. 

Now here is where it gets very complicated.  When you are playing against a long pips table tennis player that has some friction to his pips, the ball will be different from an opponent that has much less friction on his pips.  Unlike inverted, the pips with some friction will give less spin.  Less spin?  Samson, are you sure about that?  Absolutely!  When the pips with some friction slightly grab the ball, they deaden the spin a bit.  The statistics that I quoted in the above paragraph will actually be different based on the type of long pips used.  If you loop with 80 rotations per second, the grippy long pips ball will likely come back to you with 40 rotations per second whereas the less grippy long pips ball will likely come back to you with 75 rotations per second.

There are many myths floating around table tennis clubs worldwide as to how tricky long pips players can be.  For the long pips player without much friction, the only thing that they can be tricky about is depth and placement.  Regardless of the stroke he used, the spin will be very predictable.  The trickier version in the long-pips table tennis player is the one who has some friction.  If the rubber has some friction, then the player can give some slight variations.  If you push to the long pips with friction and he pushes very aggressively, then it is possible for him to deaden the ball more.  If you push to the long pips with friction and he does a slight loop swing, then he can add more topspin to the ball.  If these concepts are too difficult to grasp, then I recommend returning to the first paragraph again.  Once you have mastered the basic concept then continue reading the tactics.

Tactics:

#1 Basic Spins

The basic table tennis tactic against long pips is to know the spin and get in the groove.  If you try too many spin variations, the spin will confuse you more than it will confuse your opponent. Try to avoid varying the spin and definitely avoid putting sidespin on the ball.

#2 Your Serve

Start with a deep backspin serve.  Deep is critically important because your table tennis opponent will be forced to likely return deeper, which gives you an easier first attack. 

#3 Attack

Next, loop forward with good speed and spin.  After you serve the deep backspin serve, you will be getting a topspin ball that is likely to be an easy attack.  Drive forward on this shot.  In order to maintain your consistency, make sure that you add spin which makes it more controlled.

#4 The Next Ball

This is the tough one!  When your table tennis opponent blocks back your powerful loop, it will be a fast, line-drive chop coming at you like a bullet.  You need to push it early or late and push with spin.  If you contact the ball high, your push will go flying long.  Push it as soon as it bounces or when it is dropping to keep it low.  This is the most critical ball in the tactics against long-pips.  If you can push well on this ball, then you can again begin the cycle of loop then push.

#5 Repeat

Repeat the pattern of loop one then push one.  If you stay with the pattern, then you will be always be looping topspin and always pushing backspin.  If you “double-up” on your push or your loop, then you will likely get confused by the spin.  If you constantly have to change from various amounts of pushes and loops and dealing with different spins, the joke is on you.  Of course you will be confused.  Keep it simple.

#6 Plan B

Ok so you are using the Samson Dubina long pips table tennis tactics and it isn’t working!!?!!?!!  What next?  Is there an alternative?  Good news!  Yes!  You must remember the various ways to win points ¾ with speed, spin, placement, consistency, and change-ups.  If it isn’t working, maybe you haven’t worked the point long enough.  Instead of five ball table tennis rallies, maybe you need to be mentally and physically prepared for 15 ball rallies.  Maybe you are looping all the balls to the middle, why not try to serve backspin deep to the sharp angles and loop wider and push wider?  Maybe you are looping at 50% speed and you need to ramp it up to 80% speed.  You see, even within the framework of the basic table tennis tactics, there are always adjustments within the tactics that can make you more dangerous.  I have used these tactics for years and haven’t lost to a long-pips blocker table tennis player for at least 15 years.

#7 Practice

Before your upcoming table tennis match against that long-pips legend, try your best to find a long-pips practice partner and warm-up for 20-30 minutes against him.  Chances are that the long-pips opponent is used to playing against your style.  If you can have a 20 minute adjustment period prior to the match, then the adjustment will be much easier when you actually begin the real battle!

By Samson Dubina, Professional Table Tennis Athlete and Coach

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Table Tennis Tip - Devastate the Lobber

Newgy Robo-Pong

There are many different types of lobbers in table tennis – lobbers who attack, lobbers who only defend, lobbers with pips, lobbers with inverted, lobbers who do mostly low fishing and lobbers who hit sky-high through the rafters.  The tactics in this article refer to a right-handed lobber who uses inverted on both sides and doesn’t attack much; as soon as the point starts he immediately backs up fishing and lobbing.  When I use the word fishing, I refer to a lower version of the lob often with more spin and depth.  When I refer to lobbing, I refer to this very high version. 

With this type of lobber, it is critically important to remember how your opponent wins most of his points ― from your errors.  If he doesn’t attack, then he is just waiting for you to miss and he plans to just keep bringing the ball back.  If you swing wildly for every ball, you will likely be inconsistent.  If you just put the ball on the table, you likely won’t be threatening.  So how can you be consistent and threatening?  You can best accomplish this by being selective, being selective as to when you should hit hard and when to control the ball.  Because your opponent doesn’t attack much, you can start with a long serve and get the rally going simply.  If you are too tricky on the first few hits, you will likely make more mistakes than your consistent opponent.  When receiving, just push or slow loop the serve to get the rally going ― there is absolutely no need to rip his serve going for a high risk inside out to the wide angle on the outside of the white line.  Play safe, be selective and go for it at the right moment.  Now that I have briefly mentioned the mindset, I would like to outline the specific table tennis tactics.

Tactics

Position

If you are in the perfect position to block, loop, push or drop-shot then you can play tactical.  Your positioning is the most important aspect of playing a lobber.  Because various lobs come to different depths, it is critically important that you adjust for every ball.  Just because the ball is slow doesn’t mean that you are allowed to move slowly.  Move quickly into position and you will have options to play tactically.

Smash

Using a powerful forehand smash will be your main tactic to beating the lobber.  Adjust your positioning so that you have plenty of space and use your forehand on most high balls.  If the lob hits near the net, smash down on the ball.  If the lob hits closer to your end-line, then smash a bit more forward.

Drop-Shot

If your opponent is 15 feet back from the table, it may seem like he has plenty of time to retrieve every ball.  Make sure that you also use the drop-shot to move him in, followed by a powerful smash to move him out.  The most important element on the drop shot is to be selective.  Choose a ball that hits near the net.  Relax your grip.  Contact the ball on the rise.  At the point of contact, pull back slightly to absorb the energy on the ball.  It is similar to the action of catching a water balloon, you pull back to absorb the energy.

Placement

When the lobber is near the table, you should smash at his body (the transition point).  When he is further back, you should go for more angles.  When close to the table, there is about 8 feet of lateral court to cover.  When the lobber is 15 feet back, there is about 25 feet of lateral court to cover.  If you smash to the wide backhand, then try to drop-shot to the short forehand.  If you smash to the wide forehand, the try to drop-shot to the short backhand.  I would typically recommend serving deep to the transition point.  However, serving some short topspin serves followed by a deep attack to the transition point often works as well.

Spin

In order to play tactically against the lobber, you need to understand which ball to give a controlled smash, which ball to smash powerfully and which ball to drop-shot.  The depth is one of the main factor.  The deeper ball should be smashed with a control smash.  The shorter one should be powerfully smashed down or dropped short.  The spin is another major factor.  The deep topspin lobs jump out and therefore require more control.  The backspin, no spin, and sidespin lobs stay closer to the table and you should smash with more power on these shots.  If you are watching your opponent’s table tennis racket, you should be able to tell the spin.  If his racket is under the table, then watch the direction of his arm.  If you can’t see the arm, then you will need to react when you see the trajectory of the ball.  Keep in mind that lateral sidespin lobs (axis top and bottom) will react off your racket but won’t jump off the table as much.  Deviation sidespin lobs (axis front and back) won’t react off your racket as much but will jump tremendously when they hit your side of the table.

Fatigue

You might be excited to play a lobber.  Please resist the temptation to rush!  Remember, even if you are winning, it is important to take your time and BREATHE!  You are likely to get more fatigued than the lobber; the more time that you take between points the better you will do in games 3, 4 and 5.

Practice

It is vitally important that you practice smashing different types of balls – no spin, topspin, backspin and sidespin.  Even if you can’t find a lobber, ask a friend to lob to you for three minutes so that you can practice smashing.  Don’t overstrain yourself in warmup, just practice moving into position, working the point, being consistent, being selective, reading the spin, moving your opponent around and powering the ball at the right time.

By Samson Dubina, Professional Table Tennis Athlete and Coach

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