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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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