Combining Forehand and Backhand

Newgy Robo-Pong

Once you are proficient at forehand and backhand block and counter strokes, it is time to learn how to combine forehand and backhand strokes. Maintaining a good ready position is the most important aspect of combining strokes. A good ready position decreases reaction time, permits easy movement in any direction, and assists in making a smooth, flowing transition from one shot to the next.

Most of the drills described in this chapter require you to have good footwork. If you have trouble maintaining consistency when you have to move your feet, take time out to read Chapter Nineteen Footwork, pages 63-64, and shadow practice the footwork until you feel comfortable with that kind of movement.

Lesson 14: Ready Position

To assume the ready position, keep your:

  1. Feet apart, at least shoulder width or wider. Your right foot is slightly further back than your left foot.
  2. Weight on the balls of your feet with the heels slightly off the ground and your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
  3. Arms hanging down with the forearms bent at an approximate 900 angle to the upper arms. This should place the elbows slightly in front
  4. Knees bent according to your height. A tall person needs to bend his knees more than a short person. Avoid standing up straight with your knees locked.
  5. Racket pointed forward, not favoring forehand or backhand.
  6. Head tilted up with your eyes focused on the ball.
  7. Entire body balanced, relaxed, and in a state of alert readiness.
  8. Mind clear, ready to jump start the body into action as soon as ball speed, spin, and trajectory are perceived.

The basic sequence of a rally is as follows: First, assume the ready position. Second, judge the trajectory of the ball. Third, move to the ball. Fourth, stroke the ball. Fifth, return to ready position. The ready position begins and ends every stroke and every rally. Practice this by:

  1. assuming the ready position,
  2. taking a quick two-step (refer to Footwork, for an example of two-step footwork) to the forehand
  3. Executing a shadow stroke forehand counter
  4. Taking a two-step back to your original position, and
  5. Reassuming the ready position. Repeat this action until it feels comfortable.

The next drill will be to repeat the same drill as in the preceding paragraph except you add a backhand counter. For this drill you would:

  1. Start in the ready position
  2. Take a quick two-step to the forehand
  3. Shadow stroke a forehand counter
  4. Take a two-step back to your original position
  5. Reassume the ready position
  6. Shadow stroke a backhand counter
  7. Finish by reassuming the ready position once again. As before, repeat until it feels comfortable.
Lesson 15: Combination Block Strokes With The Ready Position

To practice forehand and backhand combinations, turn the robot off and set the sweep control levers to the numbers 2 and 5 positions. The ball will land from the middle of your forehand court to the middle of your backhand court.

Assume the ready position just to the left of the center line. Make sure your racket is pointed straight forward and that the racket and your forearm align with the center line of the table. Turn the robot on at a slow speed and frequency and practice a backhand block when the ball lands to the left of the center line and a forehand block when it lands to the right of the center line. After each stroke, make sure you assume the ready position before stroking the next shot. Do one drill in which you place all blocks (both forehand and backhand) crosscourt, and a second drill where you place all blocks down-the-line.

Gradually build up your speed, but be careful not to go so fast that you forget to return to the ready position between strokes. Once you have reached your upper limits without losing good form, increase the range of oscillation by changing the sweep control levers to positions 2 and 4, if you're right handed, and 3 and 5, if you're left handed.

At these settings the ball will land randomly from your forehand corner to the middle of your backhand court. Repeat the above drills, but this time move whenever the ball goes to the wide forehand. Again, do one drill placing all blocks crosscourt, and a second drill placing all blocks down-the-line. Start at slow ball frequency and build up. Lastly, set the oscillator to sweep the entire width of the table (sweep control positions 3 & 4) and repeat. Be sure to use a backhand block whenever the ball lands in your backhand court and a forehand block whenever the ball lands in your forehand court. Gradually build up ball speed and frequency. Your goal is 50 successful blocks in a row at each stage.

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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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Forehand Smash

Newgy Robo-Pong

When you're proficient at the forehand counter with foot movement at high frequency, it's time for the most fun stroke in the game-the forehand smash. The forehand smash is really an extended, more powerful version of the counter, just as the counter was an extended, more powerful version of the block.

Add a longer back swing and follow through to the counter and shift your weight harder from back leg to front.Accelerate your forearm quickly through the ball. Time your shoulder and hip turn so you contact the ball at thepeak of its bounce. After contact, allow your arm to swing up and over the left shoulder. It is also acceptable tolet the racket follow through in a salute to the forehead instead of finishing over the left shoulder. Try both to see which feels better.

When done correctly, the forceful hip turn results in transferring all of your weight from the right leg to the left leg. This provides you with tremendous power. Additional power can be generated by pulling back the left shoulder with your left arm as your right shoulder twists into the ball. Start at slow speed and frequency because the added backswing and longer follow through will take more time and you need the extra time to get ready for the next shot.

When first learning to smash, start with the robot delivering slow speed topspin balls that are 18-24 inches high (suggested settings-ball speed 2 1/2, head angle "G"). As you get better at smashing, grad-ually lower the height of the ball and increase the ball speed until you can smash a ball only 6-10 inches high.

Lesson 7: Forehand Smash With No Foot Movement

Practice the smash using the same sequence as you have used for the other strokes you have learned so far. However, for the smash, your goal should be 15 consecutive strokes without missing. The forehand smash is quite tiring, so you may need to build up your stamina before you can do 15 consecutive smashes. Be aware that fatigue can drastically hamper your stroke, so take a break as soon as your consistency begins to falter. Also, because of the longer time it takes to execute the smash, you won't be able to turn the ball speed and frequency up as high as you could with the block or counter.

Another important skill to learn is how to forehand smash from the backhand corner. Set the robot to deliver balls to the middle of your backhand court. Step over until you are at the backhand corner and position your feet so they are parallel to the sideline of the table. Now set the controls for low ball speed and frequency and turn the machine on. Practice the forehand smash crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternate between the two. Gradually build up the ball speed and frequency and lower the height of the shot.

Lesson 8: Forehand Smash with Foot Movement

Switch the oscillator control levers to the 1 and 4 positions if you are right handed and to the 3 and 6 positions if you are left handed. Set the ball speed and head angle for an easy, medium high topspin ball to the forehand. Keep the ball frequency slow, about 3-4. Adjust the oscillator speed as described on pages 2-4. Practice the forehand smash with the ball moving randomly within your forehand court. Place the ball crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternate between the two. Gradually increase ball speed and frequency. Your goal is 15 successful smashes in a row at each stage.

The last step to learning the forehand smash is to expand your range of movement. The forehand smash is the only stroke I will cover in this book that is designed to finish off a point. Therefore, it'simportant to step out on your backhand side and use your forehand smash whenever an easy ball is placed there.

To practice this skill, set the sweep control levers to the 2 and 4 positions if you're right handed or to the 3 and 5 positions if you're left handed. At these settings, the ball will be placed from your fore-hand corner to the middle of your backhand court. Turn on the ball frequency and adjust the oscillator speed as suggested on pages 2-4. When you have it adjusted correctly, use your forehand smash to return all balls-do not use your backhand. You'll have to move quickly to cover this entire distance, and this drill is an exhausting one even for top players. Your goal is 15 consecutive smashes in each direction (crosscourt and down-the-line).

Lesson 9: Combining Forehand Smash

On page 34 you will see the three strokes you have learned so far the Block, the Counter, and the Smash. In reality, these are not three separate strokes, but three phases of the same basic forehand stroke. Look closely at the photo of the smash and you will see it incorporates all of the components found in both the counter and the block. Likewise, the counter incorporates all the elements of the block.

The contact point (both in relation to distance arm to forearm angle are all essentially the same. The biggest differences between these three strokes is stroke length, amount of weight shift from back leg to front, and degree of racket acceleration.

The block has a very short swing with almost no back swing and very little follow-through. The counter has a longer swing with a definite back swing and follow-through. And the smash has a very big swing with a much longer back swing and follow-through. The block has no weight shift from back leg to front, the counter has a 60-80% weight shift, and the smash has an almost complete 100% weight shift. Racket acceleration varies from very little in the block, to moderate acceleration in the counter, to very explosive acceleration in the smash.

In a game, the choice of which stroke to use is usually dictated by the amount of time you have to get ready for the shot and the amount of control you wish to maintain in the rally. If your opponent is attacking and you have little time to get ready for a shot, the block is the correct choice. It takes little time to execute and the need for controlling your opponent's power is at a premium. In an average rally, where both players are jockeying for an opening, the counter is your best choice because it is a blend of power and control. When you get an easy slow ball, use the smash to end the point because you have plenty of time to get set and con-trol is less of a factor.

To practice strengthening these three strokes and to reduce the transitional time it takes to go from one stroke to the next, do the following drill. Set your robot to deliver a medium speed, medium height topspin ball to the middle of your forehand court.

Start by blocking the first ball, countering the second ball, then smashing the third ball. Keep alternating from block to counter to smash and back to block for approximately 5 minutes. After blocking, take a quick step backward before you execute your counter. Likewise, take a quick step forward before doing the block. Do this drill often and concentrate on keeping the contact point, racket angle, and arm angle the same with each of these strokes. The transition from one stroke to the next should feel smooth and almost like you're practicing one stroke instead of three different ones. The length of the stroke and the amount of power you are generating should be the primary differences among these three strokes. 

Photo 9:Forehand Smash (Crosscourt) 

Notice the very long swing, the rapid acceleration of the racket before ball contact, and the forceful twist of the shoulders, waist, and right leg. 

Image 1: End of back swing. Waist and shoulders have been rotated back as far as they can go and the forearm has been cocked back. At this point, 90% of the weight is on the right leg. The racket has been raised to the anticipated height of the ball at contact. 

Image 2: Forward swing. The waist and shoulders are being rotated into the ball as weight is being transferred to the left leg. The forearm is beginning to be un-cocked. 

Image 3: Immediately after ball contact. Note the closed racket angle. The forearm has been rapidly snapped forward. The racket is at the level of or slightly above the level of the elbow. 

lmages 4&5: Follow through. Shoulder and upper arm continue to push racket forward and slightly upward. Waist twist continues to transfer weight to the left leg. The right leg has twisted forward with a definite thrust at the knee. 

Image 6: End of stroke. The powerful momentum to finish on the left side of the head. The shoulders have rotated almost 1800 during the stroke, and the waist has rotated about 1350. Nearly 100% of the weight has been transferred to the left leg, 

Photo 10: Comparing Forehand Block, Counter, & Smash




Look at the three photos above very carefully. The photo of the block was taken just before ball contact while the third image of the counter and smash were both captured just after ball contact. Note how the racket is at or slightly above the level of the elbow at contact and the forearm to upper arm angle and the racket angle are essentially the same in all three strokes. Compare the difference in weight shift between the counter (60-80%) and the smash (90-100%). This weight shift is evidenced by the amount of leg kick. Note the distance the racket travels between images 2 & 4 in the counter and the smash. Since the timing between each image remains constant, this reveals that the racket is moving at a much faster pace in the smash than in the counter. The photo of the block is not stroboscopic because the racket moves so little the images would have been indistinguishable.

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Forehand Drive

Newgy Robo-Pong

As your skills develop, you may want to learn how to attack a backspin return instead of just pushing it back, particularly if you like to be offensive. The stroke to use is the forehand drive. This stroke is similar to the forehand smash with only minor differences. When driving backspin, contact the ball with a more open racket angle and stroke more upward than in the smash. At contact the racket face is almost perpendicular.

When first learning the forehand drive against backspin, it may be difficult to get the ball to clear the net. This is because the backspin causes the ball to rebound downward when it grabs into your rubber surface. To counteract this effect, it is necessary to stroke forcefully at high speed and/or open your racket angle even more, so you are actually striking the ball a little below center and driving the racket up through the ball. This will provide the necessary "lift" to get the ball to clear the net.

This is not an easy stroke to learn, so don't get frustrated if it is difficult to execute with any consistency. It is OK to temporarily skip over the next lesson if you find it difficult to execute the forehand drive with consistency. In this case, do the remaining lessons and come back to Lesson 19 at the end.

Lesson 19 

To learn this stroke, set the spin to backspin, the speed to 2, the frequency to 3, and turn the oscillator off when the robot head points to the middle of your forehand court. Practice the forehand drive first crosscourt, then down-the-line, and then alternate between the two directions. Next, turn on the oscillator and practice the forehand drive with the ball moving randomly inside your forehand court, then your whole backhand court, and finally 3/4 of the whole table from the middle of your backhand court to your forehand corner. Lastly, combine your forehand drive with the backhand push by setting the oscillator to sweep the entire table and practice pushing on your backhand side and driving on your forehand side. Your goal is 15 successful drives in a row at each stage.

Another good drill is to adjust the robot to shoot balls to your backhand and practice pushing a backhand followed by stepping out and doing a forehand drive from your backhand court. This is a particularly useful drill because it develops a variety of skills: a backhand backspin defensive stroke (touch), a forehand topspin offensive stroke (power), and footwork (quickness). Do this drill using no oscillation, then gradually turn the ball frequency up to 4.

Photo 16: Forehand Drive (Crosscourt) 

Notice how the racket starts below the level of the ball at impact and the racket finishes high above the head. Also note the very rapid acceleration of the racket between images 2and 4and the almost vertical racket angle at contact. 

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken back and down by rotating the waist and shoulders and pulling the forearm back. Note that the racket is below the level of the anticipated point of contact. 

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket is beginning to rapidly accelerate forward. This is achieved by rotating the waist and shoulders, twisting the right leg, and pushing the forearm forward. 

Image 3: Just after ball contact. The racket angle is almost vertical, and the racket has accelerated forward and upward. Notice how, just like the forehand smash, the racket is at the level of or slightly above the level of the elbow at time of contact. 

Image 4: Follow through. Racket has traveled upward by raising the upper arm. The waist and shoulders continue to rotate forward. 

Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Upper arm continues to raise racket until it finishes above the head. Shoulders and waist have rotated approximately 135, The weight shift from the right leg to the left leg is so strong it has pulled the right leg forward.

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Forehand Smash Against Backspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

It's been called a "dying art," due to the loop-kill. Yet, it's one of the most dynamic point-winning shots in the game, and the scariest shot for a chopper to contend with. Playing a chopper without this shot is like running a mile with a bad limp—a severe handicap.

Additionally, not all players have the ability to loop-kill effectively. Since much of the power of a loop goes into topspin, there is less power for speed. Many players, especially older ones, do not have this extra power to spare. Others simply do not have the ability, time or interest to develop a loop-kill, and so smashing is simply the better option. (For one thing, it's a simpler shot to learn.) Still others are simply more talented at smashing than at looping.

Besides, what can be more devastating to an opponent who's spent years developing his loop against backspin, only to have you smash his push like it had no backspin at all!

When is the best time to smash against backspin? Obviously, when the ball is high. However, there are two other considerations.

First, a deep ball is harder to smash than a ball that doesn't land very deep on the table—a "medium-deep ball." A good smasher will often smash a ball that lands in this middle area, even if it is low. Deep balls, even slightly high ones, can be more difficult to smash than low, medium-deep ones.

Second, a player has to judge how well he has read the spin. Smashing is a precision shot, and if you read the spin well, you can smash even a pretty low backspin pretty well, especially if it doesn't land very deep on the table. If you think you've read the spin very well, then don't be afraid to go for it! There's nothing more satisfying than reading a low but medium-deep backspin perfectly, smashing it cleanly, and seeing the look on your opponent's face. (For one thing, many modern players don't realize how much easier these medium-deep balls are, and if you smash his "low ball" in, he doesn't know what to do next. Talk about intimidation!)

A good way to practice this shot is to set a Newgy robot on backspin, slightly high, and take your shots! Experiment with the depth of the robot's backspin shot, and test the difference between smashing deep and medium-depth balls. Practice smashing to all parts of the table. It's all about precision and control. You might also try hitting at less than full power (for consistency), or quick off the bounce (to rush an opponent).

In the five photos below (plus an animated sequence!), U.S. Collegiate Singles & Doubles Champion Sean Lonergan demonstrates his forehand smash against backspin, using a Newgy robot.

(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 "play" all 5 still pictures in sequence, providing the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

Photo 1: Backswing Begins.

Sean's weight is moving toward back foot. His waist is twisted backward, so that his right leg points sideways. His racket has been brought back, just below where contact point will be, with tip slightly down.

Photo 2: Forward Swing Begins.

Most of Sean's weight is now on right leg, and is about to transfer forward. His waist is about to untwist. He has turned his head to keep the ball directly in front of both eyes. He has also closed his racket. (Not all players do this.)

Photo 3: Contact.

Sean's weight is transferring to his left leg. His right leg is now pointing mostly forward. His waist has untwisted. Just before contact, his forearm snaps into ball. His racket has moved slightly upward to meet ball, and opens to about 90 degrees with the floor. He is watching the spot where ball was just before contact—contact happens too quickly to actually see, so he instead is getting a very good look at it just before contact. Contact is at the top of the bounce.

Contact itself is has a very slight upward motion (since racket started just below the ball, and rose to meet it), giving the ball a light topspin. However, most of the force is forward, so nearly all of the power translates into speed.

Photos 4–5: Follow-through.

Sean spins around on his waist, with racket moving around and up. His weight has transferred to his left leg. He finishes standing very close to where he started stroke, so even if the ball comes back, he is ready for the next shot.


Photo 1

Photo 2
Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

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Forehand Block

Newgy Robo-Pong

The first stroke to learn is the forehand block. It is called a block because you want to block the path of the ball with your racket. The block almost feels like no stroke at all. You do not swing at the ball, but merely intercept the ball with your racket almost like a bunt in base ball. The block uses a ball's speed and spin to make your return go back over the net. The block does not add more speed or spin to the ball. It simply redirects the speed and spin back to your opponent. It is used to return topspin.

Intercept the ball with a still racket as the ball is rising and just before it reaches its peak. Angle the racket open or closed by rotating the forearm to make the ball return low over the net. If your return is too high, angle the racket more closed by tilting the face of the racket toward the table. Conversely, if your return is too low and doesn't clear the net, angle the racket more open by tilting the face of the racket closer to vertical.

One common mistake for beginners, when they are getting ready to hit a forehand, is to reach out and touch or lean on the table with their free hand. This is a direct violation of the rules and will cause you to lose a point in a match. So keep your free hand up and use it to counterbalance your racket hand.

Forehand Block With No Forehand Movement

Now that we are ready to play against the robot, pick up your racket and hold it with a shakehand grip and with the racket face perpendicular to the floor and the wrist tilted down. Position yourself right at the end of the table, just to the left of the center line as shown in the Photo below (left handers need to stand to the right of the center line and will have to substitute right for left and left for right in all further instructions.) Take up a slightly sideways stance so you can make contact with the ball to the side and slightly

With the robot controls set as follows: spin - topspin, ball speed - 2 to 3, ball frequency - 3 to 4, oscillator speed - off, oscillator range - 3 to 4, head angle - C or D, head directed to forehand court. Turn the power switch to "ON" and after waiting for the balls to load up, prepare to block the ball back across the net with a still racket. DO NOT SWING AT THE BALL. Merely intercept the ball just before it reaches the peak of its trajectory after it has bounced on your side of the table. Experiment with tilting the racket angle downward until you can consistently place the ball back in a crosscourt direction and low (approximately 2-3' inches over the net. Make the ball go back by redirecting the ball's speed and spin.

PhotoForehand Block (Crosscourt)

Note angle of the racket. It is tilted slightly down (to compensate for the topspin on the ball)
and slightly to the left (to to the right with about 60% of the weight on the right leg.

Do not add more speed to the ball with your stroke. Remember to keep your wrist steady and tilted down. Do not allow it to flop around. Your goal is to correctly execute 50 crosscourt blocks in a row without missing.

Once you have gained consistency at blocking the ball back crosscourt and low, bend your wrist backward slightly so your return goes down-the-line, in stead of crosscourt. Practice this down-the-line block until you can consistently place the ball back low over the net. Your goal is to correctly execute 50 down-the-line blocks without missing.

The next step is to alternate crosscourt blocks with down-the-line blocks. Practice until you can successfully execute 25 patterns of one crosscourt block followed by one down-the-line block. When you can do this, you're ready to add more frequency and speed to your shots.

Turn the ball frequency off. Reset the ball speed setting to 3-3 1/2 so each ball is delivered close to the end line on your side of the table. Turn the ball frequency to 4 and practice crosscourt blocks until you do 50 in a row without missing. Then practice down-the-line blocks until you do 50 in a row. Finally, practice alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks until you successfully do 25 patterns without missing.

Turn the ball frequency off and reset the ball speed to a higher setting. When you turn the frequency control back on, adjust to a setting higher than your previous setting. You do not necessarily have to turn up the ball speed and frequency to the same level, although this is usually the case with the block. You may also need to adjust the head angle to keep the ball on the table. When you turn the ball speed higher than 3-4, you have to raise the head angle so the ball doesn't bounce on the robot's side of the table first. Rather, the ball is delivered so it first bounces on the player's side. Repeat the same sequence of crosscourt blocks, followed by down-the-line block, followed by alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks. It may be helpful to back off from the table slightly as you turn up the ball speed to allow more time to position your racket correctly.

NOTE: As you build up the ball speed, it becomes increasingly important not to swing at the ball. Be sure to attain consistency at each step before proceeding to the next step. Keep increasing the ball frequency and ball speed settings until you have reached the limit of your current ability and you begin to get erratic in your ball control and placement. Make note of the settings when you have reached your maximum limits.

Forehand Block With Footwork

When you have reached your current maximum limits, you are ready to combine movement with stroking. To add movement to the robot, with the main switch off, set the sweep control levers to the numbers 1 and 4 positions if you are right handed and to the numbers 3 and 6 positions if you are left handed. Set the ball speed controls to 1-2 points below your maximum rate, as determined in the preceding lesson.

Turn the main switch on and adjust the ball frequency to a comfortable level. The balls will be randomly fed to an area from your forehand corner to the center line of the table. Practice blocking the ball back crosscourt with your forehand until you are consistent, then practice down-the-line blocks, and finally alternate crosscourt and down-the-line blocks, all with the ball moving to random positions at a slow speed. Once you complete this sequence at below maximum speed and frequency, gradually turn up the ball speed and ball frequency controls until you reach the upper limits of your current ability without losing consistency.

It will help if you watch the robot head to see which direction it is going to shoot so you can move into position before the ball is thrown. When moving sideways to hit a forehand it is important to move the feet to the remain upright and bent slightly forward. Remember to move first, stroke second. Avoid reaching for the ball. If you are having trouble moving, you might want to shadow practice table tennis footwork .

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The Attacker—Inverted Looper

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.

Attacker, Inverted Looper

Inverted Loopers generally stand within three feet of the table. The contact point on all strokes is as early as possible, top of the bounce, or rising. This is a forehand-dominated style with the player exhibiting a strong quick pivot move to use the forehand from the backhand side. This style will try to end points as quickly as possible. Most points are finished with a strong loop-kill. This player often has both an outstanding slow loop and a fast loop-kill from the forehand side. Players of this style can open with a backhand loop but normally do not re-loop with the backhand. They choose to counter drive the backhand instead. This style will on occasion move back into mid-distance (5-7ft from table) and counter loop with the forehand.

Players of this style have generally done well with the move to the 40 mm ball. Their main adjustment has been to develop a more forward loop stroke taking the ball a little farther in front of their bodies. This puts more emphasis on the forward speed than the spin of their power loops.

  • Quick pivot to use forehand from backhand corner.
  • Strong forehand loops.
  • Both strong slow and fast loops from the forehand.
  • Solid opening backhand loop.
  • Solid backhand counter-drives.
  • Good short game.
  • Excellent serve and return game.
  • Balls directed towards the player’s middle.
  • Balls directed wide to the forehand.
  • In and out movement.
  • Backhand re-loop.
  • Slow heavy loops directed towards the backhand.
Suggested Robot Drills
Tactics Against Other Styles
Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Penholder

Serve short anywhere with an occasional deep underspin serve to the opponent’s backhand side. First attack should be either a heavy spin loop to the penholder’s backhand or a faster loop wide to the forehand side. Avoid backhand-to-backhand exchanges by using your backhand counter down the line when possible. Try to turn the penholder into a blocker by using higher trajectory heavy loops to his/her backhand side.

Against the Attacker — Pips-Out Shakehands

Serve short, mostly to the middle of the table and follow with a strong 3rd ball attack to your opponent’s middle or backhand side. Be ready to pivot and use your forehand from your backhand side whenever possible. 

Against the Attacker — All-Round

Your advantage lies in having a more powerful forehand attack, use it. Serve short to your opponent’s middle and move to execute a strong 3rd ball forehand attack. Also, you can serve mid-distance serves and forehand attack against a weak lift. The key here is to force your opponent to play defensively. 

Against the Counter Driver

Use short serves anywhere on the table with a deep fast underspin serve to the backhand mixed in. Shot selection is the key to defeating the counter driver. Do not over force your backhand. Use your backhand counter down the line to force more forehand-to-forehand play.

Against the Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper

To defeat this style you must attack first. Keep your serves mostly short and look to attack the opponent’s middle whenever possible. Try to move your opponent in and out if possible and try and play above his/her comfort level (time pressure). 

Against the Attacking Chopper

Keep your serves mostly short with an occasional long serve to the opponent’s backhand side. Whenever possible, make your first topspin a quick loop to the chopper’s middle and then attack his/her backhand side. The goal here is to keep the chopper on the defensive. Expect the chopper to third ball attack and try to redirect your opponent’s attack away from the side it came from. 

Against the Close to the Table Defender

Serve this style mid-distance to long serves to the middle or backhand side and attack their returns. Avoid long points by attacking your opponent’s wide forehand early in the point. You want to be exchanging forehands to forehands whenever possible. No spin serves and pushes are often effective in forcing errors or high returns.

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Turn Your Newgy Robo-Pong Into A World Class Chopper

Newgy Robo-Pong

Too often in today's table tennis clubs, there is a lack of quality choppers available to train with. This is especially a problem when training the young developing topspin player. As a full-time professional coach, I am always on the lookout to find ways to simulate training against styles or individual shots that don't exist in my own backyard.

Often I can accomplish this through the use of multi-ball feeding techniques. However, I have found a creative solution that works even better by using my Newgy Robo-Pong

First of all, I remove the unit completely from the table and set it on a low table or even the floor itself. The distance back from the table should be similar to the distance that a chopper would actually be working from to return hard hit balls (8 – 12 feet behind the table). 

By setting up the Newgy Robo-Pong in this fashion, your students gain several advantages over the conventional multi-ball set-up. First and most importantly, the correct timing for the stroke can be developed. Secondly, the student can get the feel of training at full power and observing the results of his/her own strokes. 

(Editor's Note: When using the robot "off table" in this fashion, it will help to use the Pong-Master scoreboard to help start, time, and end each drill. Plug the scoreboard into the control box, but do not plug any targets in. Set the robot for the proper trajectory angle, ball feed, ball speed, and sweep range. Turn on the scoreboard and set the number of minutes for the drill. When you're ready, hit the start button and the scoreboard will give you 3 seconds to get ready before it starts delivering balls. The scoreboard will also stop ball delivery when time runs out.

Also, since many of your returns will not be captured by the net for recycling, use lots of balls or have an assistant pick up balls and place them back into the robot's trays. This will permit you to continue doing the drill for the allotted time.)

Here is a set of six attack drills that my students often do against chop. Each set of drills should run from 5–7 minutes, remember to stress quality not quantity. If your students are having less than a 70–80% success rate, than the drill should be modified. 

Normally, I set up the Newgy to oscillate from the middle of the table to the wide forehand of my player. After finishing the six drills, I reset the Newgy to oscillate from the middle of table to my player's wide backhand and repeat the six drills again. In all cases, forehand attacks are being used. 

  1. Loop consistently to opponent's forehand. The student should focus on consistency as well as producing as much spin as possible. 
  2. Loop consistently to opponent's backhand. Like the above drill, consistency and spin are the keys to work on. 
  3. Loop consistently, alternating between opponent's forehand and backhand side. Have your student pay special attention to their footwork when changing the direction of the ball. 
  4. Loop to one corner, then push to the other corner. 
  5. Loop consistently to opponent's wide forehand corner, then hard attack to the middle. Have student concentrate on contacting the ball at the top of the bounce for the hard attack, as well as the explosion of the hips and the feeling of being "un-weighted" at the moment of the hard attack. 
  6. Loop consistently to opponent's middle, then hard attack opponent's wide forehand corner. Same focus as previous drill.
Advanced Options: 

You can mix the above drills with some limited multi-ball. A coach can randomly feed a single attacking shot between the Newgy's chops, just to keep the player ready to defend at all times. The coach can also mix in a short drop shot, timed to force the player to work hard to get back into position to loop the next ball. 

Throughout the United States, there are very few clubs that have strong players of every style to train against. I hope these chop suggestions, along with the idea of pulling the Newgy Robo-Pong away from the table will strike a creative cord on just how it is possible to overcome any training weakness.

By the way, the basic six drills against chop that I have suggested come mostly from my several years as acting coach of America's finest chopper, Derek May.

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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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Advanced Aerobic Movement Drills

Newgy Robo-Pong

Table Tennis is a demanding physical sport, requiring excellent footwork and a high aerobic capacity. Here are several advanced movement drills that will greatly increase your footwork skills, balance, leg strength, heart recovery rate, and aerobic capacity.

Warning! These are very demanding drills. Start off slowly; try to do from 8-12 repetitions of each drill. Work your way up to 24 repetitions.

Physical Setup

You will need barriers of some kind (wall or surround) placed 6' to the right and left sides of the table behind your end line and parallel to the sides of your table. Set your Newgy Robot to send an underspin ball deep to the middle of the table. Set the ball feed between 1 and 3.

Forehand Movement Drill

The concept of this drill is to execute a forehand loop, then move to your right (right-handers) and touch the barrier, then return in time to receive the next ball. Standard two-step movement should be used, do not cross your feet. Adjust the ball feed and/or the distance of the barrier to force you to move as fast as possible. Try to keep your upper body from leaning sideways while moving as it will negatively impact your balance.

Backhand Movement Drill

Same drill as above, except that you will be executing backhand strokes and moving to your left.

Up and Back Movement Drill

Set your Robot to deliver a short underspin serve to the middle of the table. Set the ball feed between 1 and 3. You will also need a barrier between 10 and 12 feet back of the table on your side (wall or surround).

The concept of this drill is to execute a forehand flip, then move back as quickly as possible and touch the barrier behind you and return for the next ball. Alternate between forehand and backhand flips. This is a great drill for defenders.

Important Note: Please remember that these are very strenuous drills. Start slowly and work your way into shape. You will quickly see an improvement in both your physical conditioning and footwork speed.

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