Understanding Spin

Newgy Robo-Pong

More so than any other sport, table tennis is a game of spin. In order to be successful at table tennis, you must learn about and understand the different types of spin and how to counteract the effects of these spins on your racket. 

There are two general ways to contact a ball with a racket. The first is by using force. In other words, the racket is forced through the path of the ball in a manner similar to hitting a baseball with a bat. The primary result of force is forward direction or speed. This is often the only way that beginners and novice players have learned to contact a ball. 

The second way to contact a ball is by using friction–to contact the ball with a brushing motion so the rubber grabs the ball and makes the ball rotate. The primary result of striking the ball using friction is spin. The type of spin produced depends on the racket angle and the direction the racket is traveling. 

Top players primarily use friction to contact the ball. They apply spin to almost every shot, sometimes severe amounts of spin. Robo-Pong 2000 simulates the play of a top player–it produces spin on every shot it delivers. Untrained players often comment that the robot's spin seems unusually strong. While this is true for an untrained player, a trained, competitive player thinks the robot's spin is quite normal. So if the spin seems strong at first, bear with it and you'll soon adjust by following the suggestions and lessons later in this manual. Table tennis is much more exciting and dynamic when you can produce your own spin and control your opponent's spin. 

The figures below are simple explanations of the four major types of spins–topspin, backspin, right sidespin, and left sidespin. Each type of spin has two figures. The first figure shows what happens when a particular spin contacts a vertical, still racket. The second figure shows how to correct your racket angle to compensate for the effect of the spin on your racket. 

Topspin is normally produced by making your racket travel from low to high while brushing the upper surface of the ball. Topspin has a dipping effect on the flight of the ball. For this reason, a ball carrying topspin can be hit with full force because the spin will cause the ball to dip down and hit the table instead of going off the end of the table. When the ball hits the table, the topspin grabs on the table surface, which both compounds the dipping effect and slightly increases ball speed. Topspin is considered to be offensive in most cases. 

When topspin strikes a vertical racket, the spin will grab on the rubber surface and rebound upward, usually quite high and off the far end of the table. To correct for topspin and make the ball go back low over the net, tilt the leading racket face down toward the table and contact the ball on its upper surface. The more topspin on the ball, the more the racket needs to be tilted down. (See Figures G & H )


Figure G:Flight of Topspin Ball 

Topspin is produced by racket traveling from low to high, striking the ball on its upper surface. Trajectory is arched. Ball dips after bouncing and rebounds upward after striking a vertical racket.

Figure H: Correction for Topspin 

Since topspin causes the ball to rebound up after contacting a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face down toward the table and contact the ball on its upper surface. The correct racket angle will send the ball back low to the net. It is not necessary to move the racket forward to make the ball go back across the net.

Figure I:Flight of Backspin Ball 

Backspin is produced by racket traveling from high to low, striking the ball on its lower surface. Trajectory is flat. Ball rises slightly after bouncing and rebounds downward after striking a vertical racket.


Figure J:Correction for Backspin 

Since backspin causes the ball to rebound down when it strikes a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face up toward the ceiling and contact the ball on its lower surface, sometimes actually on its bottom. It is also necessary to add some forward direction to your racket to make the ball go over the net. 

An important fact to remember about topspin is it takes almost no effort to counteract its effect on the racket. You only need to angle the racket correctly. The topspin will cause the ball to go back across the net on its own. No force needs to be applied to your racket other than the effort it takes to tilt the racket. 

Backspin is generated by making your racket travel from high to low and brushing the ball on its lower surface. Backspin has a floating or rising effect on the ball. When the ball hits the table, the backspin grabs on the table, slowing the ball and making it rise slightly. It's very difficult use full force when doing a backspin return because the harder you hit it, the more it rises and it tends to sail off the far end of the table. Backspin is almost always considered defensive. 

When backspin strikes a vertical racket, the spin grabs onto the rubber and the ball rebounds almost straight down. The ball seems to die and lose all of its speed and spin. To correct for backspin, and make the ball go back low over the net, tilt the racket face up toward the ceiling and contact the ball on its lower surface while pushing the racket gently forward. The more backspin, the more the racket must be tilted up and the more towards the bottom you must contact the ball. (See Figures I & J ) 

Backspin is unlike topspin in that you must provide some forward momentum to make your return clear the net. It is more difficult and takes more energy to attack a ball with backspin because the ball has a tendency to go down. The lifting action necessary to make the ball clear the net takes away from the amount of forward force you can apply when attacking a backspin ball.In general, a topspin ball will be easier to attack than a backspin one. If you're a defensive player, backspin should be your spin of choice because it makes it harder for your opponent to attack forcefully. 

Right sidespin is created when your opponent brushes his racket across the ball from your right to your left. This spin has a curving effect on the flight of the ball. After leaving your opponent's racket, the ball will momentarily hook to your left, then curve to your right. When it hits the table, the spin grabs, and the ball jumps out and curves to your right. 

When right sidespin strikes a vertical racket, the spin grabs onto the rubber and jumps quickly to your left. To correct for right sidespin, the leading racket face must be angled to the right and you must contact the ball on its left surface. (See Figures K & L ) 

Left sidespin is produced when your opponent brushes across the ball with his racket from your left to your right. Left sidespin is exactly like right sidespin, but in reverse. Left sidespin hooks to your right, then curves to your left. When left sidespin hits a vertical racket, it rebounds to the left. To correct for this spin, angle your racket to the left and contact the ball on its right surface. (See Figures M & N ) 

Sidespins are seldomly used in their pure form in table tennis. Normally they are combined with topspin or backspin to produce a combination spin such as right sidespin/topspin or left sidespin/backspin. Combining two spins produces the effects of both, but to a lesser degree than if they were in their pure forms.


Figure K:Flight of Right Sidespin Ball 

Right sidespin is produced by your opponent's racket traveling from your right to your left. Trajectory is curved. Ball curves to your right after bouncing. Ball rebounds to your left after striking a vertical racket.

Figure L:Correction for Right Sidespin 

Since right sidespin causes the ball to rebound to the left when it strikes a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face to the right and contact the ball to the left of its middle.

Figure M: Flight of Left Sidespin Ball 

Left sidespin is produced by your opponent's racket traveling from your left to your right. Trajectory is curved. Ball curves to your right after bouncing. Ball rebounds to your right after striking a vertical racket.

Figure N: Correction for Left Sidespin 

Since left sidespin causes the ball to rebound to the left when it strikes a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face to the right and contact the ball to the left of its middle.

For example, a ball with right sidespin/topspin will both dip and curve to the right as it is comes toward you, particularly after it bounces on your side. To correct for this combination spin, it is necessary to contact the ball on its left upper surface by tilting the racket down and angling it to the right. 

Understanding spin and its effects is crucial to a player's success in table tennis. The player with greater mastery of spin will almost always control the play. By using spin, you can limit the responses of your opponent and make him play your game. Two important table tennis skills to develop are: 

  1. Be able to instantly judge the type and amount of spin on the ball. Deduce the type of spin by carefully watching the direction that your opponent's racket is traveling when it contacts the ball. Deduce the amount of spin from the speed of your opponent's racket at contact and the type of rubber being used. The faster your opponent's racket is going at contact and the finer his graze of the ball, the more spin he can apply to the ball. Rubbers vary in their ability to spin the ball primarily because of the grippiness of their top surface. In general, inverted rubber is grippier and will produce more spin than pips-out rubbers. But even within these two broad categories of rubber, the spin producing capabilities of rubber will vary widely. If in doubt, test the grippiness of an unknown rubber by running a ball across its surface and comparing it to your own rubber. 
  2. Once you determine the type and amount of spin, be able to instantly adjust your racket angle to correct for the spin's effect on your rubber. The tension of your grip, the looseness of your wrist, the flexibility of your forearm, and the position of your body all play major roles in developing this important skill.

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Adjusting Backspin When Learning To Loop

Newgy Robo-Pong

How much backspin do you recommend to put on the ball so that I am able to practice looping off of backspin?


When learning to loop backspin, I would suggest the following settings in progression: 

Head angle "C", Ball Speed 2.75. Ball should bounce on robot's side of table first, clear the net by about 2 inches, and then land about a foot or foot and a half from your end of the table.

Head angle "F", Ball Speed 3. Ball should clear net by 8 to 12 inches and land about a foot from the end of the table. Ball lands first on player's side of the net.

Head angle "E", Ball Speed 4. Ball should clear net by 1 to 2 inches and land about a foot from the end of the table. Ball lands first on player's side of the net.

Be sure you can consistently loop the ball at each setting before trying to use the next setting. Setting 3 simulates a hard driving heavy chop return of a good loop. Setting 1 simulates a long low chop serve. Also please realize that these settings will vary slightly from robot to robot so start with these suggested settings and then modify from there. 

Another setting you may want to try after level 3 is to take the robot off the table, set it on the ground or a Robo-Caddy about 8 to 10 feet in back of the table and have it deliver backspin balls from this distance. You'll have to experiment to get the exact head angle/ball speed settings but you want the balls to land close to your endline. This is a better simulation of a typical return by a chopper, but you lose the ball catching ability of the net system. 

Good luck!

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Newgy Robo-Pong

The robot is also a handy machine to use when practicing serves. Turn the machine off and put all the balls into a shallow tray. Place the tray at your end of the table and practice serving into the robot's net. By using the collection net to catch your serves, you won't have to pick up as many balls from the floor when you're ready to refill your serving tray.

Before beginning to practice serves, let's cover some of the most commonly misunderstood rules concerning the serve.

  1. The ball must be placed in the stationary, flat, open palm of the hand. It must remain behind the end line or its imaginary extension and above the level of the table top. The ball does not; however, have to remain between the two sidelines or their imaginary extensions.
  2. The ball must be thrown near vertically upwards at least 6 inches and then struck as it is descending from the peak of its trajectory.
  3. The ball and the racket must remain above the level of the playing surface from the time the hand is stationary to the time contact is made with the ball.
  4. When the ball is struck it shall be behind the server's end line but not farther back than the part of the server's end line.
  5. The ball must first hit on the server's side of the table, pass directly over or around the net and its supports, then touch the receiver's side of the table.
  6. If the ball touches the net or its supports after having first landed on the server's side of the table and then landing on the receiver's side of the table or touching the receiver's racket without having touched anything else first, the serve is a "let" and is served over. There is no limit to the number of lets one can serve.
  7. Once the ball is tossed up, the ball is in play and the server must serve. If he stops his serve, even if he does not swing at the ball, he loses the point. Likewise, he loses the point if he swings at the ball and does not contact the ball.

It is beyond the intent of this manual to cover all the different kinds of serves. Indeed, a whole book could be written on the many types of serves that are possible. We will divide our discussion into four types of basic serves: the backhand topspin serve, the forehand backspin serve the backhand right sidespin serve, and the left side spin serve. These are serves I found to be the most effective and easily learned.

Starting Position For Backhand Serves

This is the basic position from which all backhand serves discussed later in this book will start from. Note the ball laying flat in the open palm of the left hand, which is placed about 8-10 inches in front of the stomach. The left forearm is parallel to the ground. The racket is placed directly behind the ball on top of the left wrist.




Lesson 20: Ball Toss

Before beginning to serve, you should practice the ball toss. Place the ball in the open, flat palm of your left hand. Your left forearm should be parallel to the floor, your wrist straight, and the left hand about 8-10 inches in front of the stomach. Now practice tossing the ball up so it stays in line left hand return to its starting position and the ball should fall back down in your palm. Practice until you can do this without missing.

Lesson 21: Backhand Topspin Serve

Once you can consistently toss the ball up straight and have it come right back down into your hand, it's time to learn the backhand topspin serve. Position yourself in a slightly sideways stance facing to your left behind the left comer of the table as shown in Photo 18. Now toss the ball up and after allowing it to begin descending from its peak, push your racket into the ball with your right forearm. Before impact close the racket angle enough to direct the ball down into the table near the left comer on your side. Stop when the tip of the racket is pointing forward. This short stroke can be seen in images 3 & 4 in. After you are proficient using this short stroke serve, you may use the entire motion.

Notice the left facing stance, the bend of the the way of the racket coming forward. Stroke is performed mainly by rotating the forearm around the elbow from left to right.

Images 1 & 2 (overlapping): End of backswing. 

From the basic starting position, the racket is taken back with the forearm until it barely touches the left upper arm. 

Image 3: Just before ball contact. Forearm pushes racket forward and slightly closes the angle. The ball is controlled 6-8 inches above the level of the table. 

Image 4: Follow through. Forearm continues forward, rotating at the elbow so the tip of the racket points 

Images 5 & 6: End right. Racket finishes at of swing. Forearm continues shoulder height. Notice how to rotate at the elbow causing the upper arm and elbow have the racket tip to point to the remained relatively still.

To increase the speed of the serve by taking a backswing and using a longer follow through.Start slowly, serving the ball crosscourt, and build up your speed. Practice serving to all parts of the table but emphasize a crosscourt serve that travels from your left comer and lands deep in the receiver's left comer. Keep the serve low over the net. To this end, it will help if you contact the ball just above the level of the table. The higher above the table you contact the ball, the higher it will bounce and the less speed you can apply to your serve.

Once you can execute this backhand topspin serve confidently, practice assuming the ready position immediately after you finish your service follow through. In particular, be sure to pull your right leg back around to assume the ready position, instead of remaining in your left facing stance. You want to get into the proper ready position rapidly in order to cover your exposed forehand comer. Make returning to the ready position a part of your service motion. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing.

Starting Position For Forehand Serves

This is the basic position from which all forehand serves discussed later in this book will start from. Note the ball laying flat in the open palm of the left hand, which is placed about 12 inches in front of the stomach. The left forearm is parallel to the ground. The racket is placed directly behind the ball with the bottom edge lightly touching the side of the left hand.




Lesson 22: Forehand Backspin Serve

The next serve to learn is the forehand backspin serve. Take a sideways stance to the right about two feet in back of the middle of your forehand court. Assume the starting position for a forehand serve as shown in Photo 19. Toss the ball up and at the same time pull the right forearm back and up to about shoulder height. As the ball descends, release the forearm and let the racket slice into the ball about halfway between its center and bottom. Continue to follow through until the racket ends up in front of your left hip. This motion feels very similar to chopping a tree with a hatchet. As a matter of fact, some players refer to this serve as a "chop" serve.

After you get a feel for this serve, work on keeping it low to the net and short, so it bounces twice on the other side of the table. Strive to graze the ball very finely to produce good spin. To increase the amount of spin, add wrist motion to the forearm snap. This serve is seldom done fast and hard; but rather, slowly and well placed. Practice a return to ready position as part of your serve motion. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long and 15 in a row when you serve short (so the ball bounces at least twice on the robot's side of the table).

Notice the sideways stance facing to the right, how the weight is mainly on the right leg and how the upper torso is slightly bent forward with the right shoulder lower than the left shoulder.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket is taken back and up to shoulder level by raising the forearm and pulling it back. Note open racket angle.

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket is taken down and forward by snapping the forearm and rotating the shoulders.

Image 3: Just before ball contact. Racket angle has been adjusted slightly.

Image 4: Follow through. Note how rapidly the racket has accelerated from #3. Racket tip is now pointing forward.

Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Racket tip ends up pointing to the left. Shoulder and waist have rotated forward approximately 450. A small weight shift has occurred from the right leg to the left leg. The eyes have followed the ball intently throughout the entire motion.

Lesson 23: Backhand Right Sidespin Serve

The third serve to learn is the backhand right sidespin serve. This serve will be difficult to learn until you have mastered the two previous serves. Assume the starting position for a backhand serve (Photo 17, page 50) behind the middle of your backhand court. Stand square to the table. Now place your right forearm lightly across your left forearm so the racket is held to the left of the ball.

Toss the ball up, and as it descends, pull your elbow to the right, causing the racket to slash across the back of the ball on its lower surface. Let your shoulders rotate as you pull the elbow to the elbow is pulled back hard and the forearm continues to be straightened.

You need to work on two variations of this serve. A combination sidespin/backspin serve, as shown in Photo 2 1, is produced by keeping the elbow down as you pull it to the right. Combination sidespin/topspin, as shown in Photo 22, is produced by pulling up on the elbow as you pull it to the right. Practice these serves while striving to keep the ball low. Produce maximum sidespin by finely

Note how the racket brushes across the ball in a left to right direction. The left to right movement produces right sidespin and the downward movement of the racket at contact produces backspin.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken to the left of the ball by reaching across and above the top of the left arm as the ball is tossed up. 

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket is pulled to the right by forearm begins to be release 

Image 3: Just after contact. The racket continues to travel down after contact. Arm has straightened significantly. 

Image 4: Follow through. Elbow is pulled back hard and the foreatm continues to be straightened. 

Images 5 & 6: End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled perform this serve with the racket already to the left of the ball, practice star-ting this serve with the racket behind the ball as shown in Photo 17, and then take a back swing (side swing) as you toss the ball up. Using a back swing will increase the amount of spin you can generate.

Backhand Right Sidespin Topspin Serve (Crosscourt)

This serve is very similar to The previous serve except the racket is pulled up just before contact.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken to the left of the ball by reaching across and above the left arm as the ball is tossed up. 

Image 2 (barely visible): Forward swing. Racket is being pulled to the right by the elbow. 

Image 3: Just before contact. Forearm has been released slightly. 

Image 4: Just after contact. The tip of the racket rotated forward just before contact was made. Then the elbow was pulled sharply upward to apply topspin to the ball. Contact was made on the lower surface of the ball. 

lmage5: Follow through. The elbow is still being pulled sharply upward. 

lmage6: End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled as high as possible and racket ends up shoulder height or above. Unlike the sidespin/backspin serve, the forearm never gets released all the way. Rather, it remains bent throughout the stroke. The sharp upward movement of the racket puts topspin on the ball; the right to left movement puts right sidespin on it.

grazing across the ball at high speed. Be able to do sidespin/backspin or sidespin/ topspin alternately with equal ease. After being able to serve long and with good spin, work on keeping the serve short, so it will bounce twice on the other side. A much finer graze and touch will be required to do so. When working on the short serve, try to maintain the same amount of spin as when you serve long. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long or 15 in a row when you serve short.

Finally, practice sequences of five different serves. For example, your first serve sharply upward mage6:End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled as high as possible and racket ends up shoulder height or above. Unlike the sidespin/backspin serve, the forearm never gets released all the way. Rather, it remains bent throughout the stroke. The sharp upward movement of the racket puts topspin on the ball; the right to left movement puts right sidespin on it could be a short sidespin/backspin service down-the-line. Your second serve could bc a long sidespin/topspin serve crosscourt. The third serve could be a short sidespin/topspin serve crosscourt. The fourth serve could be along sidespin/ backspin serve down-the-line. And your fifth serve could be a short sidespin/ backspin serve to the middle of the table.

Mixing up your services like this is crucial to having a good service game. You must keep your opponent guessing what serve you will use next. Always vary the spin, speed, and/or placement of the ball from one serve to the next.

Lesson 24: Forehand Left Sidespin Serve

The last serve to learn is the forehand left sidespin serve. Your stance and position to the table are the same as for the forehand backspin serve (see Photo 19). This time, however, instead of placing the racket directly behind the ball, start with the racket to the right of the ball. It will also help if you hold the racket mainly with your thumb and fore Wrist is snapped downward just before contact.

Images 4-6: End of stroke. Upper arm continues to push the racket to the left and racket tip now points to the left. Shoulders and waist are rotated about 450. The elbow and forearm are snug against the stomach. finger and allow your other three fingers to slip off the handle as shown in Image I of Photo 23. Toss the ball up, and as it descends, pull the right elbow to your side causing the racket to slash across the back of the ball on its lower surface in a sideways direction.

As with the backhand right sidespin service, you may combine topspin or backspin with the forehand left sidespin serve. Photo 23 shows the sidespin 

Notice the sideways stance to the right and how the weight is shifted to the back leg.

Image 1: End of back swing. The right arm is extended out to the right with the racket tip pointing to the right. Racket is held at shoulder height. Note the modified (looser) grip on the handle. 

Image 2: Forward swing, just before contact. Forearm is pushed down towards the ball as the elbow is pulled towards the body. Shoulders and waist are rotated slightly forward. 

Image 3: Follow through. Racket continues to travel down and to the left and the racket tip is rotated forward.

Forehand Left Sidespin Topspin Serve (Crosscourt)

Similar to the previous serve except racket is pulled upward as contact is made instead of continuing downward.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket is moved to the right of the ball by extending the right arm. Racket tip is pointing to the right. 

Image 2: Forward swing. Forearm is pushed down as the forward. 

lmage 3: Just before contact. Wrist is bent backward. Forearm continues to push racket down towards the ball. 

Image 4: Follow through. Forearm is pulled up just before contact. Wrist continues to be bent back. 

Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Racket is pulled up against the stomach by raising the forearm. Waist and shoulders are rotated only alittle. Racket tip points mainly forward.

backspin serve. Sidespin / topspin, as shown in Photo 24, is produced by pulling the forearm just as contact is made. This may feel a little awkward and cramped when you first do it. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long or 15 in a row when you serve short.

In a real game, the type of serve you use depends on the kind of return you would like to get. If you like to play a fast paced game with quick exchanges, use mainly a fast backhand topspin serve. If you like to smash the ball, use short sidespin/ topspin serves in an attempt to get the opponent to pop up the ball. If you like a slow paced game and/or you have a good push, serve mostly the short forehand backspin serve or short sidespin/backspin serves. Of course, if you discover a serve that the opponent has trouble with, use that serve more often, but not so much that the opponent gets used to it.

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Looping Against Backspin and Topspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

Many players would say that you aren’t really playing table tennis until you learn to loop. A loop in table tennis is an offensive stroke with the primary purpose of producing lots of topspin. Table tennis is a game of spin, and the loop is the primary example of using spin during a rally.

Many players (and coaches) feel a player should be able to hit many, many forehands & backhands, and reach a relatively high level of play, before learning to loop. Nothing could be more outdated. By the time a player has reached a relatively high level of play, the player’s strokes and major habits are set. If looping isn’t among those habits, it’ll be more difficult to learn later on. The moral is: it’s rarely too early to learn to loop. (For the purposes of this article, I will be mostly discussing the forehand loop. Against backspin, you may also use a backhand loop. Against topspin, however, the backhand loop is normally learned later on — although some may consider that to be outdated!)

This doesn’t mean that a complete beginner should be looping on his first day. However, once a player can hit a moderately good forehand with moderately good technique, he’s ready to begin the process of learning to loop, even as he continues to develop his other basic strokes. A player shouldn’t think of a loop as an advanced shot; it’s simply another shot, one that should be taught shortly after learning the basic forehand and backhand drive (also known as counter or counter-drive) strokes. The shot also adds excitement and variety to a player’s game, turning a basement player into a dedicated table tennis addict. 

A beginner should start out looping against backspin, for three reasons. First, it’s more natural, as you are simply adding to the spin, rather than trying to change it. Two, the ball is traveling more slowly than a topspin (usually), and so is easier to learn against. Three, any player with sponge should learn to loop at least against backspin (even pips-out players), so this shot will be part of any player’s arsenal eventually. A player should learn to loop both forehand and backhand against backspin. 

A robot gives a player a huge advantage in learning to loop. With a live player, you may be able to loop one ball against backspin, but then most players will block the ball, and the rally becomes a topspin rally. It’s hard to get much repetitive practice against backspin this way. Even if you practice with a chopper (who returns ball after ball with backspin), the various returns will have varying amounts of backspin and will not always come to the same spot, making it difficult to learn to loop. It’s hard enough trying to get the stroke right, the contact right, and keep the ball on the table. The last thing you want when you are learning to loop is for the incoming ball to keep changing its placement and degree of spin!

With a robot, a player can loop against the same backspin ball over and over, developing the stroke. Always remember that Correct Techniques + Constant Repetition = Well-Developed Strokes. 

Once a player can loop against backspin, he’s ready to loop against topspin. This can be done either on a robot or against a living opponent who blocks. However, the robot has two advantages. First, it will give you a consistent ball, coming out at the same speed, direction and spin over and over, enhancing the learning process. Second, it allows a player to switch back and forth between looping against topspin and backspin, so both techniques can be developed together. 

Many players learn to loop well against one type of spin (topspin or backspin), but not the other. This usually has to do with the shoulders. Against backspin, drop the back shoulder (right shoulder for right-handers, left shoulder for left-handers) when forehand looping. Against topspin, shoulder should only drop slightly, if at all. By switching the robot back and forth between these two spins, you can develop proper shoulder placement for both shots. 

What is the difference between forehand looping against backspin versus topspin? Against backspin, the key is lifting the ball up, due to the backspin. You have to get very low by bending your knees, get your racket down, drop your back shoulder, and drive upward. The ball must be contacted on its very back, after letting it drop to about table level or even lower. Your force should go roughly toward the ceiling above your opponent’s head, NOT toward the other side of the table. 

Against topspin, footwork is more important. The ball is coming at you faster, and the ball’s speed and spin make the ball rebound off your racket faster. You still need to get down some, but now your power is mostly forward. The knees bend only slightly, and the back shoulder stays up. The ball should be contacted toward the top, usually just after the top of the bounce, but before the ball has dropped to table level. 

Here are a few drills for developing the loop on a robot. 


The priority here is learning the stroke and proper contact. Start off by setting the robot on backspin in one spot, and practice it over and over, preferably with some input from a coach or player. Sometimes practice looping from the forehand side or middle, other times loop the forehand from the backhand side. Make sure to drive upwards, and just graze the ball. The goal is spin, not speed. A beginner should also try backhand looping against backspin.

When you feel comfortable looping against backspin, practice forehand looping against topspin. After all the lifting against backspin, your first few loops will probably go off the end. Try contacting the ball on the very top, drive forward, and keep your back shoulder up.

Intermediate Players 

You’ve learned to loop, but want to loop even better. You should be forehand looping against both topspin and backspin, with slow, medium and fast loops, from and to all parts of the table. That’s 24 types of loops to practice already! (Not including backhand looping.) Get with it! (Intermediate players should also try the footwork drills given next for advanced players.) 

Advanced Players 

It’s time to throw in some footwork and randomness. Set the robot to sweep 50-75% of the table (both backspin and topspin ), and try looping them all with your forehand. (If you have a backhand loop, you may use that as well for some shots.) You should be able to cover more of the table against the slower-moving backspin. You might even try covering the entire table against backspin — if you’re very quick and very brave.

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Looping Heavy Backspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

Heavy backspin-the very mention can strike terror in the hearts of even the best players. Even star players like Peter Karlsson of Sweden can have great difficulty with it. What's the problem, and how can it be overcome?

First and foremost is the simple fact that since there aren't that many choppers, most players get minimal practice against heavy backspin. Players can practice looping against a heavy push, but a player then gets only one practice shot per rally, as opposed to many repetitive practice shots in each topspin drill (i.e. forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.).

A second related problem is that even if a player does practice looping against a practice partner's push, the follow-up shot is normally a blocked return, so the player doesn't get to do repetitive practice, i.e., do the same shot over and over against the same spin until it becomes second nature. This is how players practice against topspin (forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.), but unless you have a chopper or a robot (or a coach feeding "multiball"), you can't do this against backspin.

Both of these problems can be corrected by practicing on a Newgy robot. Even on its lower settings, its backspin is pretty heavy. Not only can you use the robot to learn the proper technique in looping this type of ball, but it will enable you to gain the confidence you need to make this shot in a game situation.

How is the shot done? We will analyze a photo sequence of U.S. Olympic Team Member Todd Sweeris looping against a Newgy robot set on heavy backspin. (Speed setting was at 3.0.) He is looping at about medium speed —half his power goes to spin, half goes to speed. An interesting note is that when the various photos from the photo session were compared, Todd's stroke remained identical in each shot. Photos from the same part in each sequence looked so alike that they looked like copies from the same negative.

(Editor's Note: There are 6 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first five are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 5 previous files. This file will provide the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

A close study of the photos show that Todd is generating power from nearly every part of his body—his legs, waist, shoulders, elbow, and wrist. Even his left shoulder generates force by pulling his body around through the ball. Looping is truly a "whole-body shot."

Photo 1: Todd has bent his knees, especially his right one. Feet are well apart, giving him a firm stance. His right foot is parallel to the end-line of the table. He has dropped his right shoulder, and transferred most of his weight to his right foot—yet he is perfectly balanced. His waist is bent and twisted backwards. His playing arm, which he has straightened out somewhat, is pointed downward and backward. He has brought his wrist backward, so that the racket actually points backward. Both eyes are on the ball as he waits for ball to come into his hitting zone.

Photo 2: Todd's right leg straightens out, beginning his body rotation into the ball. Right shoulder has begun to rise, while left shoulder is rotating backward—pulling his body around. Waist is untwisting and unbending. His wrist has begun to snap forward.

Photo 3: Contact. Right shoulder has been pulled up, and both shoulders are rotating. Elbow and wrist are snapping through the ball. Most of the power is directed upward. Todd is still watching the ball with both eyes. (Against a faster incoming ball, he probably would not watch it as far in.) He has contacted the ball on the drop, about table level high. (For a slow, spinny loop, he'd let it drop more; for a faster loop, he'd contact it sooner. For a loop kill, he'd contact ball around the top of the bounce.)

Contact is mostly a grazing motion. For a slow, spinny loop, ball should barely sink into the sponge. For more speed, ball sinks more into the sponge. Except for a loop kill, ball should not sink in so much that you hear the ball hit the wood of the racket. In Todd's case, you could barely hear the contact.

Photos 4-5: The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around. (Because Todd has so much power on his loop, he is able to drive more forward against a heavy backspin than most players. Most players would follow through more upward, less forward. For a slower, spinnier loop, follow through higher; for a faster loop, more forward.) Elbow and wrist have snapped completely, with elbow now very bent. Most of his weight has transferred to his left leg, yet he remains balanced and ready for the next shot.


Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

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Train Your Chopping Game

Newgy Robo-Pong


The best description for the modern chopping style of play is "an attacker who uses an aggressive backspin game to set up his/her own attack." Normally this style of player uses two different surfaces on their rackets, usually one is an inverted rubber and one will be pips-out, either long pips or short.

The returns from such different rubbers can cause the straight topspin attacker a lot of confusion. However, it also demands a great deal of training by the chopper to learn to control the many options he/she has for each stroke. This is especially true at the higher l evels where choppers can flip their rackets at will to produce a large variety of returns and attacking strokes.

I consider the Robo-Pong an indispensable tool in training choppers. The very nature of their games makes it hard to find practice partners who can consistently drill against a good chopper.

While every chopper will use a different blend of offense and defense, here are some good basic drills that I have successfully used in training such choppers as Derek May, Pan Am Games Silver Medallist.

Warming Up Drills 

For all styles of players, I recommend that you warm-up the short strokes first, before trying to hit or chop with longer and harder strokes. These are strokes that consist of using only the wrist and elbow joints. This will help you quickly get into the proper timing and allow you to establish ball control early during your warm-up. For the chopper this means starting off with pushing and blocking drills like the ones listed below:

(Editor's Note: You may wish to browse our Coaching Forum Archives for articles on how to execute a push or block.) Push against

Backspin / Inverted Side Whole Table

Set your Newgy for backspin with the oscillator on 3-4. This will sweep the whole table. Practice using only the inverted side to push, regardless if you use a backhand or forehand. This is great practice for footwork, and for flipping the racket. At the higher levels of the game, most choppers will push primarily with the inverted side.

Push against Backspin / Pips-out Side

Set your Newgy as above, but this time only push with the pips-out side. Be sure to work on keeping the ball low.

Backhand Block / Counter Against Topspin

Set your Newgy on a medium topspin with the oscillator set at 3-4. First, warm-up your counters and blocks with the inverted side. After a few minutes flip and warm-up your pips-out counters and blocks. If you use a chop block now is the perfect time to warm up this stroke as it leads naturally into the chopping strokes.

Choppers often find it difficult to find a practice partner who is steady enough to consistently attack their chops. Over the years, I have coached a number of choppers, among them; Derek May a Pan American Silver Medal winner. In setting up their training plans, working with the Newgy Robo Pong 2000 has always been an essential element of their training. The Robot provides the consistent attack that is necessary for the chopper to work on his/her placement and movement. The Robot is so versatile that an almost limitless variety of drills are possible. Here are a few of the basic drills that I have my chopping students do at each workout.

Drill 1 - Forehand In and Out 

Set your Robot for topspin at a ball speed and feed that is about 75% of what you can comfortably return. Direct the Robot's shots to your forehand with no oscillation. Practice chopping from mid-distance and gradually work your way in towards the table. Repeat moving in and out to practice your ability to take your opponent's ball at different distances from the table. Repeat this drill using your backhand.

Stroke Tip: The closer you are to the table the higher your back swing must start and the shorter and more downward your follow-through. Close to the table your contact point on the ball is towards the middle. When back from the table your contact point is towards the bottom of the ball and your follow-through will be longer and more forward.

Drill 2 - Chopping to a Location 

Set your Robot for topspin at a ball speed and feed that is about 80% of what you can return. Set the Robot on full table oscillation. Practice making all your returns towards one of three positions (deep to forehand or backhand corner, or deep to the middle). Repeat this drill until you have practiced making all returns to each location.

Drill 3 - Covering the Middle 

Set your Robot for topspin at a ball speed and feed that is about 80% of what you can return. Set the Robot to oscillate over one half of the table (positions 2 & 5). Practice taking all your returns with either your forehand or backhand. Focus on getting your body out of the way for the return to your middle. Repeat using both forehand and backhand.

Drill 4 - Serve Return Using One Side of the Racket 

This drill is designed for choppers using two different types of rubber on their rackets. Set your Robot to produce short sidespin-backspin serves. Set the Robot to oscillate over the whole table. Practice receiving all serves with your inverted side of the racket. Repeat using the other side of the racket.

Drill 5 - Chop and Loop Drill 

Set your Robot for topspin at a ball speed and feed that is about 80% of what you can return. Set the Robot to oscillate over the forehand half of your table. Practice mixing your chop returns with forehand loops. Repeat setting the Robot to oscillate over the backhand side of your table. Practice mixing backhand chops with step-round forehand loops.

Drill 6 - Chop Reaction Drill 

Set your Robot for topspin at the maximum ball speed that you can handle with full table oscillation. Start on a slow ball feed and have a helper gradually turn up the feed to the highest speed. Practice on getting your racket on as many balls as possible. Object of this drill is to decrease your reaction time. With practice your will find that you can handle even the highest feed rate.

These are just a few of the chopping drills that are possible on your Newgy Robo-Pong 2000. By using your imagination your will be able to come up with many more. Good luck and Good Chopping!

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How To Effectively Return Short Services

Newgy Robo-Pong

The Newgy Robo-Pong is the perfect practice partner for learning how to effectively return any serve. In today’s game, the majority of serves are short to middle in depth with a long serve thrown in mainly as a surprise tactic. With this in mind, this article will focus on how to return short serves effectively.

Practice Goals

Your primary goal should not be limited to just returning the serve. Serve and serve return is a battle for control of the point. Players who return short serves well use a mix of return techniques to keep their opponents off balance. These techniques include the short drop, the deep push, and the flip.

Setting up the Robo-Pong for practice
  • Turn the head to the Backspin Position.
  • Point the head straight down so the ball bounces on the side of the Robo-Pong first.
  • Turn the speed setting to 2.
  • Set the oscillation and ball frequency controls to the desired setting.
Basic Technique and Practice Concepts
  • Focus on the movements of the wrist and elbow joints.
  • Move to the ball. This often requires moving a foot well underneath the table.
  • Do not extend (straighten) the arm when reaching for the ball.
  • Practice without ball oscillation until you can control the stroke. Use ball oscillation when basic control has been achieved.
  • When control over short serves is achieved, then slightly increase the ball speed settings and practice against middle depth serves.
Short Drop Technique
  • Contact the ball while it is rising.
  • Contact the middle of the ball.
  • Make friction (spin) contact with ball.
  • Racket (wrist) motion is downward.
  • Practice making short drops to all areas of the table.
Deep Push Technique
  • Contact the ball at the top of the bounce.
  • Contact the ball below center.
  • Make friction (spin) contact with the ball.
  • Racket (wrist) motion is forward and down.
  • Placement locations include both corners and to your opponent’s playing elbow.
Flip Technique
  • Contact the ball at the top of the bounce.
  • Contact the ball below center (open racket)
  • Make friction (spin) contact with the ball.
  • Racket (wrist) motion is up and forward.
  • Try to cut your opponent’s sidelines with your returns.
Controlling Side-spin Serves

Once you have control over simple backspin serves, try turning the head to add sidespin to the backspin serves. Depending on how you adjust the head, both right to left and left to right sidespin-backspin serves can be produced.

The secret to controlling sidespin is to contact the correct spot on the ball that will stop the ball from spinning. By now you have already found out that touching the ball below center stops the backspin rotation of the ball. The same holds true for the added sidespin. Touch the ball on the correct side and you will stop the sidespin rotation of the ball. Touch the ball below center and on the correct side and you will stop both the backspin and the sidespin on the ball. This sounds complicated, but is very simple once you practice the technique a few times.

Try this experiment

Set the Newgy Robo-Pong to deliver a short backspin-sidespin serve. Try touching first one side, then the other of the ball. You will see that on one side the spin will rotate into your racket. The ball will feel heavy on your racket and jump off to the side. When the correct side is touched, the ball will not jump off your racket but return on a straight line. This occurs because the rotation of the ball has been stopped.

To utilize this technique in a match situation, carefully watch where your opponent’s racket touches the ball while serving. Try to touch the ball in the same location your opponent’s racket did. In this way, you become the mirror image of your opponent. This applies pressure against the oncoming spin and neutralizes the spin. Once you touch the correct spot on the ball any of the above return techniques can be used.

The serve return is often the most neglected part of the average player’s game. With the Robo-Pong, you have an opponent who can produce any type of serve and never gets tired of serving to you. Remember that the serve and the serve return are your first opportunities to control each point. Your ability to learn these skills will have a major impact on the level of play you will be able to achieve.

Good luck and many happy serve returns.

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Fast Backhand Loop Against Backspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

For most players, trying to generate a powerful backhand loop against backspin is the most challenging stroke in the game. Since the stroke is naturally shorter than its forehand counterpart and pulled across the body, it requires very good timing to generate good speed.

Key Elements
  1. The starting position for the racket is low and towards the left hip (for right handers)
  2. Contact the ball at the top of its bounce
  3. Contact the ball slightly below the center of the ball
  4. The racket should make about an equal amount of force (forward) and friction (spin) contact with the ball
  5. Your weight should shift from your left leg (right-handers) to your right leg.
Practice Techniques

Set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep backspin ball to your backhand side. Start off by simply pushing back a few returns and notice how low on the face of the ball you need to touch the ball to have it clear the net. Now alternate between pushing one ball and fast looping the next. Remember not to let the ball start to descend before you make contact and to contact the ball just below the center.

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Forehand Loop Against Backspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

The forehand loop against backspin is one of the most powerful strokes in the game. It is also a stroke with which you can produce many variations of speed and spin. Since you are going with the spin already on the ball, this stroke can produce the heaviest topspin in the game.

There are two extremes of the forehand loop against backspin and many variations between the two. The first is the slower and very high spin loop. This stroke produces the highest level of spin, the highest trajectory over the net, the biggest jump forward when the ball strikes the table and the quickest drop towards the floor after it bounces. The second extreme is the fast forehand loop. This stroke produces the most forward speed, a lower trajectory over the net and a ball the travels far from the table after the bounce.

Key Elements
Element Slow Loop Fast Loop
Backswing position Almost straight down Down and back
Timing As ball begins to descend At the top of the bounce
Ball Contact Towards the bottom of ball Center or below
Friction vs Force Contact Almost all friction (Spin) Equal force and friction
Weight Transfer Almost straight up Forward towards target

Practice Techniques

Set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep backspin ball to the middle of the table. Start off pushing the ball back with your forehand. Now try dropping your forearm below table height and just brushing up on the ball trying to impart maximum spin. When learning a new stroke, it is best to begin by training the wrist and forearm. As you feel more comfortable begin adding more and more of your body into the stroke. When you produce a good slow loop try changing your starting position to more back and down and try for some fast loops.

(Editor's note: One oft-misunderstood principle of looping is that racket speed must be very high to produce heavy topspin. Even though a loop is described as a slow loop or a fast loop, it does not mean that the racket speed or body motion is slower for one than the other. Both have very high racket speeds and quick body motions. What does differentiate the two is the direction of force. The force on a slow loop is primarily up; whereas, on the fast loop, the direction is primarily forward. This can easily be seen in the second video by comparing the direction of the racket's travel in the slow loop versus the fast loop.

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McAfee's Robot Mechanics: Close to the Table Long Pips Attack and Defense Techniques

Newgy Robo-Pong

Many of my senior (Over 40) students have asked me to do an article on the use of long pips, for close-to-the-table play. This style is very popular with the older table tennis players as it allows them to slow down play and to put the focus on using their hand skills rather than movement and power to win points.

Table tennis robot training is particularly useful when learning and practicing these techniques as few players can consistently attack against this style. In fact, as you are learning this style many players may become frustrated and not want to practice with you at all.

Let's take a look at the six basic strokes that should be in the arsenal of any close-to-the-table long pips player. All of these strokes are described as backhand strokes.

  • Lift against backspin: This stroke is executed with a slightly open paddle. The stroke itself is very simple. At contact, push forward and slightly up. Use mostly the forearm and little or no wrist action. This stroke, when executed with long pips, allows you to use your opponent’s backspin to produce a controlled topspin attack. This is the only stroke in which you can produce enough topspin to hit with speed.
  • Sidespin attack against backspin: This is an unusual looking stroke to most inverted players. The stroke is executed much like the straight lift against backspin, but at contact, the racket is pushed forward and pulled to the right (for right-handed players). Depending on the racket angle this return will produce a wide range of no-spin, sidespin, or light topspin returns, all with some degree of sidespin. This stroke can force many errors from your opponents.
  • Attacking backspin by pushing: Pushing with long pips can be very aggressive. While pushing, if light contact with the ping pong ball is made, the return will be a dead ball (no-spin). If harder racket contact is made (more force), a light topspin can be produced. This leads to a lot of high and very attackable returns from your opponent.
  • Controlled counter attacks: The key to attacking with long pips against topspin is to remember that controlling the speed of your returns is the key to success. Do not over-hit. Your returns will carry some backspin, so there will always be a limit on the amount of speed you can produce. Generally speaking, if you are using long pips without sponge this stroke will be quite slow and carry heavier backspin. If you are using long pips with sponge, this return will be faster but without as much spin. Once again, keep the stroke simple using only a forward pushing motion, with the forearm. Remember, when counter attacking with long pips, let the racket do the work for you. It is the ever-changing spin on your returns that will force errors from your opponent, not the speed of your returns.
  • Defensive chop blocks: This stroke looks just like its name suggests—a block with a downward chopping motion. When used against heavy topspin, this stroke can produce heavy chop returns. Often your opponent will be forced into pushing this return back, which will allow you to attack.
  • Pullback block: Once again, the name says it all. Against a topspin attack, you simply pull your racket slightly back at contact, thereby taking almost all of the pace off the ball. This can be used to produce a very short return making it impossible for your opponent to continue an attack. This technique works best with long pips without sponge.

There you have the major long pips, close-to-the-table techniques. When used properly, these table tennis strokes can make life very difficult for your opponents. Fortunately, your robot will not mind at all while you practice and perfect these techniques.

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