The Attacker Pips-Out Penholder, Traditional Style

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 balls 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 Pips-Out Penholder, Traditional Style

Pips-Out Penholder Attackers 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. The Pips-Out Penholder wants to end points quickly and keeps great time pressure on his/her opponents, forcing many errors. This style has benefited from the new 40mm ball and the subsequent loss of about 10 % spin on their opponents loops.

  • Quick pivot to use forehand from backhand corner.
  • Strong forehand kills.
  • Good forehand topspin against long underspin balls.
  • Driving blocks from backhand side.
  • Good short game.
  • Excellent serve and return game.
  • Very quick gives opponent very little time to react.
  • Smooth transition from forehand to backhand no switchpoint weakness
  • Return of long serves with the backhand.
  • Backhand block against slow heavy loops.
  • When forced wide to the forehand, this style has difficulty recovering and protecting the backhand side.
  • Backhand open against long underspin.
Suggested Robot Drills
Tactics Against Other Styles
Against the Attacker Shakehands Hitter

While this style is similar to yours, your grip gives you an advantage in the short game, the forehand-backhand transition game, and the forehand lift against underspin. Keep the majority of your serves short to the middle of the table. Be aggressive in stepping around your backhand to use your forehand. Do your best to prevent backhand to backhand exchanges and attack your opponents middle often..

Against the Attacker Inverted Looper

Use mostly short mixed serves, with an occasional fast deep serve to the opponents forehand side. Mix the speed and depth of your backhand blocks to move your opponent in and out. Attack down the line or at the opponents switchpoint (if shakehands grip) whenever possible. Force play at a faster pace than your opponent is comfortable at.

Against the Attacker All-Round

Keep most of your serves short or at mid-depth. Follow your serve with a forehand attack to keep the opponent on the defensive. Attack often to your opponents middle. When returning serve, use the flip often. The key to defeating this player is to take away his confidence by forcing him to play more defensively. Keeping your opponent under constant time pressure is important.

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 get lured into a backhand to backhand game. Use your backhand block down the line to force more forehand-to-forehand play. Do not to let your opponent dictate the pace of play.

Against the Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper

Watch out for this opponents strong opening spin. Attack first and hit through his/her first loop whenever possible. Keep your serves short and attack the middle. When the opponent backs away from the table, mostly attack the backhand side.

Against the Attacking Chopper

Keep your serves mostly short with an occasional long serve to the opponents backhand side. Whenever possible, make your first attack to the choppers 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. Respond to the attack by redirecting your opponents attack away from the side in came from.

Against the Close to the Table Defender

Serve this style mid-distance to long serves to the middle or backhand and attack their returns. Avoid long points by attacking your opponents wide forehand early in the point. No spin serves and pushes are often effective in forcing errors or high returns.

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Drills for Learning the Penhold Reverse Backhand

Newgy Robo-Pong

In my last article, we discussed the techniques involved in executing the Penhold Reverse Backhand. Hopefully, you have had a chance to study the accompanying videos and to practice both the counter and loop strokes. Now you are ready for some drills to help you begin to incorporate this highly effective technique into your own game. How often you will choose to use this stroke depends on two things. 

First, how competent you become in executing the strokes. You may simply want to use the Penhold Reverse Backhand as a change of pace to disrupt your opponent’s timing. Or you may find it comfortable to switch randomly between the Penhold Traditional Backhand and the Reverse Backhand. You may even become more confident in the Reverse Backhand and use it as your main stroke. 

Secondly, the style you play may determine the amount you want to use this stroke. The Reverse Backhand is ideal for the mid-distance looping game. Using this new technique helps the penhold player match the two-winged attack of the shakehands player without having to cover most of the court with the forehand. In contrast, a pips-out penhold hitter will probably use the Reverse Backhand to open points and then quickly revert to the Traditional Backhand. The possibilities for the use of this stroke are limited only by your skill and imagination.

Here are six Robot Drills to help get you started with some of the stroke combinations you might want to use. Once again, Phillip Gustavson (Atlanta, GA) is helping us by demonstrating these drills in the video clips.

Drill #1 – Alternate Traditional Backhand Pushes with Reverse Backhand Loops. 

Set your robot to deliver a long backspin ball to your backhand corner. Push two balls, and then produce a Reverse Backhand Loop. Remember to move back into the ready position after you push so that you will not be too close to the table to loop. 

Drill #2 - Continuous Reverse Backhand Counter Drives with Change of Direction.

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. Using the Reverse Backhand Counter, alternate your returns crosscourt and down-the-line. Remember to contact the outside edge (left side of oncoming ball for right-handers) of the ball to place the ball crosscourt. Contact the inside edge (right side of oncoming ball for right-handers) to place the ball down the line. 

Drill #3 – Mixed Traditional Backhands with Reverse Backhand Counter Drives. 

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. Execute two Traditional Backhand counters or blocks, then one Reverse Backhand counter. 

Drill #4 - Continuous Reverse Backhand Loop with Change of Direction. 

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. Using a Reverse Backhand Loop, alternate your returns crosscourt and down-the-line. Like the previous drill, remember to contact the outside and inside edges of the ball to control your placement. 

Drill # 5 – Continuous Forehand and Reverse Backhand Counters or Loops Against Random Feed. 

Set your robot to deliver long topspin returns on full oscillation. Execute continuous counterdrives or loops using your regular forehand strokes and only the Reverse Backhand stroke.

Drill # 6 - Mixed Backhand Returns with Forehand Pivot.

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. This is a three shot drill. First, execute a Traditional Backhand counter or block, then execute a Reverse Backhand loop or counter, then pivot into your backhand side and execute a forehand attack (hit or loop). 

Coaches Note: Start each of these drills with as slow a ball speed and frequency as necessary until you can execute the drill at an 80% success rate. Then increase the ball frequency and/or speed and repeat the drill.

These drills will help give you the skills necessary to start using the Penhold Reverse Backhand in your game. The next step is to begin working with a training partner and practicing using the stroke within the normal sequence of shots in a game. By this I mean, using the Reverse Backhand for serve returns, third ball attack, 4th ball counter-attack, and 5th ball attack.  

The Penhold Reverse Backhand has begun to revolutionize the penhold styles of play. Get in on the fun by adding this new stroke to your game. 

Good Luck. 

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