Forehand Counter

Newgy Robo-Pong

This stroke starts the same as the forehand block in the last chapter. Your stance and position to the table are the is struck at the top of its bounce. Unlike the block, which is executed with a relatively still racket, the counter has a medium-sized backswing and follow through. This is done by pulling your racket backward with your forearm and then pushing it forward and slightly upward. Be sure to maintain the correct racket angle throughout the stroke.

Stroke the ball mainly with the forearm, using your elbow as a pivot point. Hold your racket slightly below the height of the ball at the beginning of the stroke and finish with it slightly above the height of the ball. Stability in the stroke is achieved by making sure your racket is at or slightly above the level of your elbow at contact. An indication of a complete stroke is the tip of your racket pointing forward or slightly to the left at the end of the stroke. Keep your wrist tilted down and do not let it flop back and forth.

Lesson 5: Forehand Counter With No Foot Movement

Aim the robot so it will shoot balls to the middle of your forehand court and turn off the oscillator. Starting at a slow speed, begin to forehand block the ball crosscourt. When you get a feel for the ball, take a quick step backward. At the same time take your racket back by twisting your waist and shoulders, and pulling back your forearm (not the upper arm). Timing your swing with the oncoming ball, swing forward into the ball as illustrated in Photo 8 on the next page. Remember to swing primarily with your shoulders and waist, not with your arm.

Focus your eyes on the ball until just before contact. Keep your head steady and don't let it turn as you twist your torso. Time your twist so the ball goes crosscourt. If you twist too soon or too quickly, the ball will go wide to your left. If you twist too late, too slowly, or not enough, the ball will go down-the-line instead of crosscourt. Be careful to keep your wrist straight and tilted down. When you are ready to place the ball down-the-line, bend your wrist slightly backward and time your twist the same as you did when you placed the ball crosscourt.

Develop a forehand counter following the same procedure as you did with the forehand block. First, at low speed and frequency crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternating crosscourt and down the-line. Gradually turn up ball speed and frequency until you have reached your upper limits. As you turn up the frequency and/or speed, remember to do a complete stroke. Don't turn up the speed to the point that you shorten your stroke. Your goal is 25 successful counters in a row at each stage.

Lesson 6: Forehand Counter With Foot Movement 

Follow the same sequence as you did with the forehand block. Move the sweep control levers to the 1 and 4 positions for right-handers or to the 3 and 6 positions for left-handers. Practice your forehand counter in a crosscourt direction with the ball moving randomly within your forehand court. Then practice hitting the ball down-the-line, and finally alternate between crosscourt and down-the-line. Gradually build up the ball speed and frequency. Be sure to move your feet and get into good position before stroking the ball. Avoid reaching for the ball within your arm. Your goal is 25 successful counters in a row at each stage.

Photo 8: Forehand Counter (crosscourt)

Notice how the whole right side of the body is twisted into into the ball and how the forward swing and follow through are about the same length.

Images 1&2: End of back swing. The racket is raised to the anticipated height of the ball and the racket angle is adjusted slightly. The back swing is chiefly a twisting back of the waist and shoulders and a pulling back of the forearm (not the upper arm).

Image 3: Forward Swing. Mainly a twisting forward of the shoulders and waist.

Image 4: Just after ball contact. Notice the closed racket angle and the very quick acceleration from its position in Image 3. This was accomplished mainly by snapping the forearm forward and rotating the upper torso. The upper arm still has not moved very much.

Image 5: Follow through. The upper arm continues to move the racket forward and upward.

Image 6: End of stroke. The racket ends up in front of the face in line left.

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Backhand Counter

Newgy Robo-Pong

The next step is to develop a backhand counter. This stroke starts the same as the backhand block. Your stance and position to the table are the same. Contact the ball as it is rising just before the top of its bounce about 1 to 1 1/2 feet in front of you. Unlike the block, which is executed with a relatively still racket, the backhand counter has a small back swing and a longer follow through. Do this by pulling the racket back towards the left hip and then pushing it forward and slightly upward, keeping the correct racket angle throughout the stroke. The backhand counter is similar to the movement used to throw a Frisbee.

This stroke is done primarily with the forearm. The elbow and upper arm remain relatively stable and the forearm pivots around the elbow. Hold the racket slightly below the height of the ball at the beginning of the stroke and let it end just above the height of the ball at the finish. An indication of a complete stroke is the tip of the racket pointing forward or even slightly to the right (for right-handers) at the end of the stroke. Keep your wrist held in the down position and do not let it flop back and forth.

Lesson 12: Backhand Counter With No Foot Movement

Develop a backhand counter following the same procedure as all the other strokes. First, at low speed and frequency crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternating crosscourt and down-the-line. Gradually build up the ball speed and ball frequency until you have reached your upper limits. As you turn up the ball frequency and/or speed remember to do a complete stroke. Do not turn up the speed or frequency to the point that you start shortening your stroke. Your goal for each phase of this lesson is 25 consecutive counters in each direction.

Lesson 13: Backhand Counter With Foot Movement

Start with the ball moving randomly at slow speed within your backhand court (sweep control levers at the number 1 and 4 positions for right-handers, 3 and 6 for left-handers), then at maximum speed. Remember not to reach for the ball with your arm, but rather move your feet so you are squarely in front of the ball before you stroke it.

Photo 12: Backhand Counter (Crosscourt)

Notice that the stroke is done almost exclusively the upper arm. This is evidenced by the blurring of the face and the overlapping table and leaning forward. The right elbow is hanging down slightly in front.

Image 1: Racket is being taken back.

Image 2: End of back swing. The racket has been raised to just below the anticipated height of the ball at contact and the racket angle adjusted for the topspin.

Image 3: Right before ball contact. Racket angle has not changed. Racket is rapidly approaching the peak of its acceleration.

Images 4-6: Follow through. The forearm continues to rotate forward, pivoting around the elbow, tip of racket points forward (Image 4), then to the right (image 6).

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The Counter-Driver

Newgy Robo-Pong

Constant changes in equipment, gluing methods, and training methods have had a large effect on the evolution of styles within our sport. The decade of the nineties has seen the decline of two styles, the passive chopper and the passive half-distance topspin player. In their place, a stronger more balanced attacking style has emerged, the All-Round Attacker. This can be seen in both shakehands and penholder versions, with the penholder version incorporating the new reverse penholder backhand loop technique. Recently, the switch to the 40mm ball has changed both stroke techniques and tactics; and even now, playing styles are evolving quickly to take full advantage of the new ball's playing characteristics. Table Tennis is an ever-evolving sport that requires both coaches and players to constantly update their knowledge.

The purpose of this article is to examine the eight styles currently in use at the World Class Level. If you are uncertain of your style or wish to better identify which style is best for you, then please read What Style Should You Play. These styles include:

  1. The Attacker, Pips-Out Penholder, Traditional Style
  2. The Attacker, Shakehands Hitter
  3. The Attacker, Inverted Looper
  4. The Attacker, All-Round
  5. The Counter Driver
  6. The Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper
  7. The Attacking Chopper
  8. The Close-to-the-Table Defender

This series of articles will provide you with the strengths and weaknesses of each style, along with some suggested robot drills to help you develop your game. In reading the descriptions you may find that your personal style will have attributes from more than one. However, you should be able to recognize your dominant style (“A” style) and your secondary style (“B” style). Each article will also give you some suggestions on tactics to use against the other styles of play. Hopefully the style descriptions will serve as a guide in analyzing your own.

The Counter, Driver
Description:

Often referred to as "walls", this style plays close to the table and redirects their opponent's speed and spin against them. Using forehand and backhand counter-drive and blocks, this style seeks to force their opponents into making errors. This style mostly uses topspin simply as a means to get into a counter-driving rally. Often this style of player lacks real finishing power, and rarely uses a fast loop or hard kill shot.

Strengths:
  • Good hand speed and touch on blocks.
  • Strong backhand block and counter-drive.
  • Rarely makes a simple mistake.
  • Ability to open up angles and force their opponents to move a lot.
  • Fast hand speed and quick reactions.
  • Ability to control the speed of play by clever counter and block variations and exact placement.
Weaknesses:
  • Lack of any real power.
  • Balls directed wide to the forehand.
  • Backhand opening against underspin.
  • Slow heavy medium height loops to middle or backhand.
Suggested Robot Drills
Tactics Against Other Styles
Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Penholder

Keep your serves short, only serving long as a surprise tactic. A fast, well-angled serve to their backhands will often result in soft return. The key to defeating this style is successfully countering their first attack. Try to play as much backhand counter to backhand block as possible. To win the point, first backhand counter down the line, then attack the exposed penholder backhand.

Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Shakehands

Same general advice as playing the pips-out attacker. However, you should direct a high percentage of your backhand counters towards your opponent's middle.

Against the Attacker — Inverted Looper

Serve short anywhere with an occasional fast dead serve to the player's switchpoint if he uses the shakehands grip. Make your first attack safe; slow backhand rolls and heavy slow forehand loops can be very effective. Attempt to extend the points as long as possible. When you do get a chance to attack hard, attack down the lines.

Against the Attacker — All-Round

Use short serves anywhere or long serves to the backhand. Do your best to force him/her into a countering exchange. Focus on placement to win the points, not changing speeds. Avoid using too much variation; this player is the master at variation and will beat you at your own game. Extend the points as long as possible.

Against the Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper

Use mostly short serves and attack or counter to the middle. If he/she covers the middle ball with the forehand side, then counter the next ball wide to the forehand. If he/she covers the middle ball with the backhand side, then counter the next ball wide to the backhand. Keep your opponent jammed in the middle and they will not be able to use their strong loops. Also alternate between short and long counters to keep this style from staying in their preferred mid-distance range.

Against the Attacking Chopper

Use short serves to stop the chopper's attack. Then make a safe topspin opening using your forehand. Do not rush your attack but mix your topspins with pushes, counters, and kills. You will need to play long points and try to frustrate the chopper into making attacking errors.

Against the Close to the Table Defender

Use long mixed serves and lure your opponent into over attacking; often this style player has a weak first attack. Direct most balls to the backhand side, using safe counter and topspin strokes. If this player's angles are preventing your attack, play steady to the middle of the table to reduce the possible angles. Finish with a kill shot rather than a fast loop.

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The Basic Eight: A Complete Training Program In Only 55 Minutes

Newgy Robo-Pong

As a professional coach, I use my Newgy Robo Pong almost every day. I have found no more efficient teaching tool for introducing new stroke techniques to my students. In fact, many of my students have purchased a Robo Pong for home use. I have developed the following drill program to give my students a complete skills practice session in a short period of time. The program consists of eight drills. Allowing for a few minutes to reset the robot between drills and you can complete the whole program in only 55 minutes.

1. Serve Practice (5 minutes)

It may seem strange to you to start a training program off by practicing serves. However, there is no better way to warm-up your spin touch and hand skills. Simply practice your serves putting emphasis on making as much spin as possible as well as good placement. 

2. Push Practice (5 minutes)

Set your robot to produce backspin and have it oscillate over the whole table. Practice your pushes with both backhand and forehand. Direct your returns to all areas of the table. Don’t forget to vary the spin of your returns and also make both short and long returns. 

3. Loop Practice (10 minutes — 5 minutes with both FH and BH)

Set your robot for backspin and direct the ball to your backhand no oscillation. Using your forehand practice looping and direct your returns to all areas of the table. Start off by making high spin (slower) loops and progress to making faster loop drives. Repeat drill using your backhand

4. Mixed Loop and Push Practice (5 minutes).

Set your robot for backspin and have it oscillate over the whole table. Using both forehand and backhand, alternate loops with pushes. Remember to practice directing your returns over the whole table. 

5. Counter Practice (10 minutes — 5 minutes with both FH and BH)

Set your robot to produce topspin and direct the ball to your forehand with no oscillation. Start off with short blocks and gradually lengthen your stoke to produce a counter drive. Finally, finish off with full kill shots. Once again, practice directing your returns to all parts of the table. Reset the robot to direct the ball to your backhand side and repeat the drill using only backhand. 

6. Movement Drill (5 minutes)

Set your robot for topspin and have it oscillate over one half of the table. Use only forehand strokes and direct your returns to all parts of the table. Concentrate on using proper 2 step movement technique. Also, set the ball feed at a rate that puts you under pressure to move fast enough. 

7. Pivot Drill (5 minutes)

This is also a movement drill. Set your robot for topspin and direct the ball to your wide backhand with no oscillation. This drill consists of making two backhand counters or loops and then pivoting and hitting one forehand from the backhand side (repeat). Both counters and loops strokes should be practiced and your returns should be directed to all areas of the table.

8. Serve Return Drill (5 minutes)

Set your robot to produce a short underspin serve, sidespin can also be added. Oscillate the serves over the whole table. Practice making random drops, flips and long pushes. Emphasis should be placed on making good placements. Try to keep your drops very short and cut the diagonal sidelines with your flips and long pushes. 

At the conclusion of this drill program you will have practiced all the basic skills of the game. Of course your own individual style will determine which advanced skills you also need to train. Use this program several times a week and you will see a quick improvement in your overall game.

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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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Backhand Loop Against Topspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

Perhaps the greatest change in the sport over the last ten years can be seen in the ever growing strength of the backhand loop. Not long ago, this stroke was only used against backspin returns to simply open up the point. Today, it is very difficult for the topspin attacker to be successful without equally powerful forehand and backhand loops. Let's take a look at the mechanics of the backhand loop stroke against topspin.

The Basic Elements Of A Good BH Loop Stroke Are:
  1. Timing: Contact the ball while rising or at the top of the bounce.
  2. Touch: Fast loops blend both friction (spin) contact, with force (hitting) contact. However, there is more friction contact than force. Remember that force always has a direction. With a fast loop against topspin, it will feel like you are pushing downward at contact.
  3. Ball Contact: At the top of the bounce, contact ball above center. If contacted on the rise, the ball contact point moves higher, towards the top of the ball.
Stroke Description:

The key to a strong backhand loop against topspin is making the proper backswing for the stroke. Your backswing should place the racket on your left hip (right-handed) and NOT between the legs as you would for a loop against backspin. This will allow you to swing more forward and to be able to contact the upper part of the ball. For added power, bring your left foot backward. This will rotate your upper body backward and allow you to transfer your weight into the shot. This starting position should place your wrist down and back. At ball contact, the wrist swings up and forward. As in all strokes, you want to generate maximum acceleration while the ball is in contact with the racket.

Practice Drills:

Drill 1 - Counter and Loop Drill 

Set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep fast topspin ball to your backhand. Alternate between making two backhand counters and then one backhand loop. Concentrate on making good friction contact (spin) when looping and good force (hitting) contact when countering.

Drill 2 - Build-Up Power Drill 

Again, set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep fast topspin ball to your backhand. Execute your first backhand loop from the normal backhand counter position (left foot forward). On the second return, drop your left foot back and execute a series of three backhand loops, each a little harder than the last. The third loop should be hit with full weight transfer and power.

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The Penhold Reverse Backhand

Newgy Robo-Pong

Traditionally, penhold players used just one side of their racket, held in a pen like grip. This grip produces a very strong forehand style of play with a rather cramped, less versatile backhand.

Perhaps the most innovative new stroke technique of the last ten years has been the development of the Penhold Reverse Backhand. First made famous by former Olympic and World Champion, Liu Guoliang, this stroke has now become standard fare for almost all penhold players.

This stroke has revolutionized the penhold style by allowing penhold players to develop backhand techniques that are as strong as their shakehands counterparts. The advantages of this stroke are:

  • The ability to produce a true backhand loop
  • The ability to extend the reach of the backhand stroke
  • The ability to use rubbers of different surfaces
  • The ability to easily attack high balls with the backhand
Stroke Description

The name of the stroke, the Reverse Backhand, describes the stroke. Using the traditional penhold grip, the racket’s regular playing surface is rotated towards the player, which makes the reverse side (backhand side) point towards the opponent. The player then executes a very traditional backhand stroke, loop or counter.

Learning the Stroke

When first learning this stroke, you will probably find the wrist position somewhat awkward. However, it should not take long before it begins to feel natural. Your Newgy Robot is the perfect practice partner when learning this or any new stroke technique.

Key Stroke Elements:
  • While either Chinese or Japanese Penhold grips can be used. Most players will extend the fingers (Japanese style) when using the Reverse Backhand Stroke.
  • Do not over use the wrist. This stroke is mostly executed by extending the forearm.
  • Contact the ball early. The natural wrist position for this stroke puts the racket in a closed position. You can lay the wrist back a little by pushing with your thumb. With this in mind, contact your loop against backspin at the top of the bounce. Contact your counter drives when the ball is on the rise.
Conclusion

Ten years ago, many coaches felt that the penhold style of play would soon die out as the backhand was just not strong enough to keep pace with the development of the strong backhand loops of the shakehand players. The Reverse Penhold Backhand has changed all that. Players such as Ma Lin and Wang Hao of China, exponents of this new style, are at the top of the World Rankings.

Regardless of your level of play, if you are a penholder, you should strive to add this new technique to your game. It will open up a new world of possibilities for your style and your opponents will not know what hit them.

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