Check Ball Placement After Serve Practice

Newgy Robo-Pong

Your training doesn't have to stop when the robot does. Gather the loose balls on the ground, put them in a small box, and then practice your serving into the robot. The Newgy robot works great at collecting your serves. If you have enough sidespin or backspin you will hear the ball rattle around in the collection area. Also when you are done serving, check and see which side has the most balls. This will indicate how well you spread your serves around the table.

(Editor's note: Of course this only works if you first pull all the balls out of the ball trays before beginning your serve practice. Also to better segregate your returns, place the robot's ball dams in their retaining slots before starting.With the ball dams in place, the balls will not mix together in the center area, thereby giving you a much truer indicator of your ball placement. It will also make it easier to pull the balls out of the trays if you decide to continue your serve practice after you use up the first box of balls.The Robo-Caddy works great as a tray to hold the balls for your serve practice. You can position it beside the table where it is convenient to pick up the next ball but it won't interfere with serve execution like a box on top of the table would.)

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"Listen" To The Spin On Your Serves

Newgy Robo-Pong

There is only one thing that happens every time you play a point in table tennis. That is the serve. One of the things I enjoy most about my robot is the awesome collection net. In modern table tennis, the serve has become a vital part of the game. Many people have watched world class players being dumbfounded by their opponent's serve. Some say that the current rules favor the server because the server can legally serve and "hide" the ball from their opponent. It is true. The way the rules currently read, the server can toss the ball and execute a legal serve that does not allow the opponent to comprehend what kind of spin the ball has on it.

Well, that is the way it is!

If you want to increase your service skill, there is no better way to do it than to practice. Instead of painstakingly going to the other side of the table and picking up the balls off the ground, why not take them out of the convenient collection system of the Robo-Pong 2000?

One of my favorite drills I do as a result of buying my robot is practicing my serve and listening to the ball spin away in the cool collection system.

(Editor's Note: Good players are keenly aware of every little thing inside, and sometimes even immediately outside, the playing court. They pick up clues from the environment to help them modify their play to match the conditions, to obtain feedback so that subsequent shots are more "on target", and to sense when a change of strategy is needed. Many players become good at using their senses of touch, sight, and feeling to pick up such clues from their environment.

The sense of hearing is often overlooked in table tennis. Rick's suggestion to listen to the ball spinning in the trays after executing a serve is an example of a player using his sense of hearing to improve his play. Rick can pick up valuable clues as to the severity of spin on his serve by the sound the ball makes as it spins itself down in the trays. A "sizzling" sound tells him that the spin was strong, making it a more difficult serve for the opponent to handle. He could also practice no-spin serves, making sure to listen for a lack of "sizzle" when the ball lands in the tray.

When I was a young player at a summer training camp and playing 6 to 8 hours a day, I claimed that I could hear the difference between a topspin and backspin serve. A topspin serve sounded "harder" to me; conversely, a backspin serve sounded "softer". I tested myself by guessing the type of serve with my eyes closed. I was right about 75% of the time!)

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Short Returns Of No-Spin Serves

Newgy Robo-Pong

Place the head of the robot downwards, so that a double bounce serve is replicated. Initially, the spin should be a dead ball, and the placement in one particular spot on the table. For example, this would replicate a short dead ball serve to the middle of the table.

The repetition of the balls should be slow enough to hit the ball, and then completely return to the service ready position. From the ready position, step forward with the same foot as the playing hand, and then return back to the ready position. This should be done in one smooth step.

To drop the ball short and effectively, the timing of the return should be immediately off the bounce. This will create more spin on the return and give the opponent less time to react. The return should be at least a double bounce return with the height just over the net.

Since a dead ball serve is being used, you will have to create your own spin. Catching the ball right off the bounce will create this effect. Very little, if any, lift will be needed against the dead ball serve. You are not using the opponent’s spin, but rather creating your own.

This is the basic way to place a short dead ball serve short. Once the technique has become more comfortable, set the placement of the ball short to the forehand then change the placement to the backhand. Each placement should be done for about 5 minutes separately. To simulate a game situation, set the placement on random and practice dropping each ball short and then returning to the service ready position.

This service return practice should not take more than a half an hour each time and will surely be an effective improvement of your game. Service return training is highly underestimated and more emphasis should be placed on training this aspect of the game. After all, the serve return is one shot that happens every single point.

Good luck!

Editor’s notes: While it is impossible for a Newgy Robot to deliver a true “dead” ball (no-spin), the robot can deliver a spin so light that by the time contact is made, the ball is spinning so slowly that for all practical purposes it can be considered “dead”.

This is achieved by setting your Ball Speed control to “0” and your spin to "Backspin". The head angle will need to be adjusted to between the D and E positions (for Robo-Pong 2040 robots attached to the end of the table). You will need to experiment with the head angle to find the exact setting necessary for this drill, but you want the ball to first land on the robot’s side of the table about 15 inches from the net. The ball will bounce just over the net and land about 12 to 15 inches from the net on your end of the table.

This drill requires the Ball Frequency to be at very low settings. If your robot doesn’t shoot out balls at very low settings, you will need to purchase some Tuner Lubricant and Cleaner (Radio Shack part #64-4315) or equivalent. Then remove the robot body from the net system (or Ball Bucket depending on your robot model), detach the Clear Front Cover, and remove the balls from inside the machine. Spray the lubricant/cleaner inside of the Ball Frequency Motor while it is running at medium to fast speed. This will clear out any dirt or rust inside the motor and permit it to turn at low voltage. Refer to your Owner’s Manual if you have any questions about the above procedure.

Lastly, it is recommended that you do not move your feet until the serve lands on the robot’s side of the table. This will better replicate the mechanics of an actual serve where you do not know serve direction or spin until after ball contact is made. It is also highly advisable to keep the Ball Frequency set to very low settings. Again, this will better replicate the timing involved in a normal serve return against a human where you have time to get set and prepare yourself to return the serve.

Here are some related articles on serve return in our Newgy Coaching Forum Archives:

Using your Robot To Practice Serve Return 

How to Effectively Return Short Services

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Attacking Half-Long Serves

Newgy Robo-Pong

While most players try their best to serve short, it is inevitable, especially during extremely tense moments of a match, that the serve unintentionally goes half-long. Capitalizing on this mistake can be the difference between winning and losing. 

The difficulty with attacking this type of serve is recognizing that the serve is indeed actually going to bounce off the end of the table. Not attacking long serves is a common mistake that nearly every player is guilty of.

The first thing that needs to be done is to train the eye. If you cannot determine almost immediately that the serve is going to bounce long, you will be indecisive when returning the serve. The only way to improve this is practice against thousands of half-long balls. 

Using the Newgy Robot: 

Place the head of the robot downwards to make the bounce the same as a serve. Make sure that every ball is bouncing slightly off the edge of the table. If you are concerned about hitting the edge of the table with your racket, increase the speed of the ball to have it come off the end of the table a little farther. In the beginning use the lowest backspin setting and the placement should be in one spot on the table (i.e., a half-long serve to the backhand). The repetition of the balls should give you enough time to start in ready position, attack the serve, and then completely return to the ready position. 

(Editor's note: this translates into a Ball Frequency setting of only 1–2. See Short Returns Of No-Spin Serves for additional editor's notes on setting up your robot for serve practice. ) 

The Drill: 

When returning serves, the first movement should be to set up for an attack, as if you know the serve is coming out long. The reason for this is that it is much easier to step in if the serve turns out to be short rather than long. If you step in first and then the serve turns out to be long, you will most likely be making the common mistake of pushing a long serve because you haven't allotted enough time to see if the ball is going to come off the end of the table. 

Keep your body as low as possible because you will be striking the ball when the ball is on its descent. The follow through should be forward and well over the table. Don't be nervous about hitting the table, after lots of practice you will be attacking serves that barely come off the edge of the table with confidence and little concern of striking the table. 

Attacking these types of balls will give you an offensive advantage and put tremendous pressure on your opponent to keep his serve short. The added pressure often results in unintended half-long serves. So keep the pressure on!

Good Luck!
Eric Owens

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Using your Robot To Practice Serve Return

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

How can I use my Newgy robot to practice the return of services?

I realize that the robot can't conceal the spin, but I am referring to the settings on top or backspins ? What speed setting should be used to simulate a likely serve? Top and backspin with or without sidespin?

Answer: 

Thanks for writing. Serve receive is one of the most difficult aspects of modern table tennis. So you are wise to want to strengthen this part of your game. Fortunately, the Newgy Robot can be very helpful in improving your serve receive skills. Please read the following articles for some tips and suggested drills to develop stronger serve receive skills.

Serve Receive 

How To Effectively Return Short Services

As with all robot practice, please be aware that the robot is most useful at helping you to practice actual strokes. In this regard, you can quickly learn correct paddle angles and stroke motions to return almost any combination of spin, speed, and placement.

Another tip you can use to make the robot better simulate a particular serve you are having trouble with is to place your robot in a Robo-Caddy. Then drop down the caddy so that the discharge hole of the robot is around 6 inches above the table surface to decrease the serve angle and keep the ball lower to the net. You may also want to move the robot away from the center of the table to better reproduce the ball path that a serve would typically take from the server's backhand corner, for instance.

Whenever practicing serve return, you must act like you do not know what serve the robot is going to serve. So, in this regard, you must make yourself return to a neutral serve position in between each stroke. Your neutral serve position should enable you to quickly move into a good position to cover the entire possible serve angles and return serves that are short or long and fast or slow. And, as you noted, using the robot's oscillator will help to simulate the wide variety of serves that are possible.

Once you have the required skill to return the robot's serves effectively, it will then be necessary to continue to work on these skills with a coach or training partner. Your coach or practice partner should vary serves in a controlled manner so that you can then work on reading the server's motion to ascertain what spin s/he is applying to the ball and then selecting the correct stroke motion to return that serve effectively.

Your coach/training partner should start by giving you serves that are very robot-like and telling you what spin they are applying to the ball. Gradually, s/he makes the serves increasingly difficult and begins to NOT tell you what spin is on the ball. Eventually, s/he will serve to you just like s/he would do in an actual tournament match, where s/he is trying to make you miss every serve. At any time in this development process, if you find yourself missing more returns than you're making, you should back up, simplify the drill, increase your success rate again, and then redo the drill you were having trouble with.

Practicing serve return should be part of your everyday practice. But it is especially important before a tournament. Allot more time to the practice of these skills in the weeks immediately preceding a tournament.

Good luck.

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Serves

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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Serve Receive

Newgy Robo-Pong

One of the most difficult skills to master in table tennis is serve receive. You must be able to handle hundreds of different types of serves. Seldom will you encounter the same types of serves from player to player. Not only must you be able to get a serve back but you must also be ready to attack an easy serve to wrest the initiative away from the server. Fortunately, Robo-Pong 2000 is an excellent aid to learning this important skill. The robot is especially useful in learning to return sidespin serves.

Returning Topspin Serves

To practice returning serves, tilt the head of the robot down so it shoots first onto its side of the table (approximate head angle "C"). Turn the robot head to topspin. Set the ball speed and frequency to 3 and turn off the oscillator when the robot head points to the middle of your backhand court. Turn the power switch on, and practice using your backhand block to return the ball to all parts of the table. In particular, work on placing your returns into either corner or angled wide off the side of the table. Strive to keep your returns low over the net. Progress to returning the serve with a backhand counter instead of a block. Don't turn the ball frequency past 4 as higher numbers would be a little benefit. Return to the ready position after each serve receive.

Next, turn the oscillator so that it shoots randomly inside your entire backhand court. Practice your block first and then your counter. Repeat the same learning pattern on the forehand side, starting with a serve to the middle of the forehand court and returning it with a forehand block. Progress to a forehand counter and occasionally use a forehand smash. Then turn on the oscillator to sweep inside of the forehand court and practice forehand block, then counter, and occasionally a forehand smash.

The last step is to have the robot sweep the entire width of the table and practice combining forehand and backhand returns. After you can consistently return this serve, pressure yourself to attack whenever you are completely set. At all stages of this training, be sure to return to the ready position before each serve is delivered. Pretend you are returning a real serve from a live opponent and you don't know what serve is coming next.

Returning Backspin Serves

Backspin services are the next to learn to return. Keep the same control settings as in Lesson 25, except turn the robot head to backspin and aim the head to shoot balls to the middle of your backhand court. Turn the robot on and practice returning the serve with a backhand push to all parts of the table. Then turn the oscillator on and practice a backhand push return from anywhere inside the backhand court.

Repeat this on the forehand side using a forehand push and finally, set the oscillator to sweep the entire width of the table and practice combining forehand and backhand push returns. You may wish to throw in an occasionally forehand drive return if you've learned this skill.

Another good drill is to reduce the ball speed to approximately 1 1/2 so the ball is served very short and close to the net. To return this short serve effectively, it will be necessary to bend your knees deeply and take a long step with your right leg under the table. Let your upper torso bend over the top of the table and then reach forward with your racket. Use mainly your forearm and wrist to stroke the ball and be sure to use the correct racket angle when making contact.

Be sure to return to the ready position after the table. Pretend like a person is serving to you and you don't know whether the serve will be short or long. Position yourself about two feet in back of the table. That way you will be in good position to return a long serve and all you have to do to return a short serve is take one good step forward. In almost all cases it is better to be back and move forward rather than be too close and have to move back.

Returning Sidespin/Topspin Serves
                        
Correct Angle For Returning Left Sidespin/Topspin

Racket should be tilted both to the left and down to return the ball straight down the middle of the table.

 
Correct Angle For Returning Right Sidespin/Topspin

Racket should be tilted both to the right and down to return the ball straight down the middle of the table.

After becoming proficient at returning straight topspin and backspin serves, it is time to learn how to return these spins when they are combined with sidespin. Turn the robot head so the word "topspin" is about 45deg to the right of top center. The robot will deliver a serve with left sidespin/topspin. Set the ball speed to 3 and aim the robot head to the middle of your backhand court.

Turn on the machine and use a backhand block or counter to return the ball. You will notice the ball has a tendency to jump off your racket to your right. Counteract this effect by aiming down-the-line. Now even though you aim the ball down-the-line, the ball will go crosscourt because of the sidespin. Keep working until you can control the ball to make it go anywhere on the table. Contact the ball on its top right surface by angling your racket to the left and down and then moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact. Both these strategies will help negate the effect of the sidespin. Also it helps to hold your racket softly so your wrist is free to make the necessary adjustments to the racket angle.

After you are able to handle this kind of serve, make the machine oscillate within the backhand court and practice some more. Then switch the machine to your forehand and practice your forehand return in s similar fashion, first without oscillation, then with oscillation. For variation, occasionally attempt a forehand smash return. The last step is to set the robot to oscillate over the entire table and randomly return the serve with either forehand or backhand. Also practice returning short sidespin serves by changing the ball speed to approximately1. Be sure to return to the ready position before each serve.

Turn the robot head so the word "topspin" is about 45 deg to the left of top center. The robot will deliver right sidespin/topspin. Repeat the above sequence of steps to learn how to return this serve. Contact the ball on its top left surface by angling your racket to the right and down and moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact. Start with your backhand, then use your forehand, and finally combine the two. If you become really good at this, increase the amount of sidespin by turning the robot head so the word "sidespin" is closer to top center. In general, you will find it easier to return left sidespin with your forehand and right sidespin with your backhand.

Returning Sidespin/Backspin Serves
                      
Correct Angle For Returning Left Sidespin/Backspin

Racket should be tilted both to the left and up to return the ball straight down the middle of the table. Racket also must travel forward a small amount.

 
Correct Angle For Returning Right Sidespin/Backspin

Racket should be tilted both to the right and up to return the ball straight down the middle of the table. Racket also must travel forward a small amount.

To learn how to return sidespin/backspin, turn the robot head so the word "backspin" is about 45 deg to the left of top center. The robot will now deliver a left sidespin/backspin serve. Work with this spin as you did with the left sidespin/topspin previously, except use a push stroke instead of a block or counter stroke. Be sure to contact the bottom right surface of the ball by angling your racket to the left and up and then moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact. Then work on returning right sidespin/backspin by turning the robot head until the word "backspin" is just to the right of top center. You will need to contact the bottom left of the ball by angling your racket to the right and up and then moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact.

As you get better at returning sidespin serves, start working at placing your returns instead of merely getting them back. Place your returns to areas of the table from which it would be difficult for your opponent to attack. If you receive a sidespin/backspin serve, see if you can place your return short and low just over the net. Or use the sidespin to your advantage by giving your opponent a severely angled return. Sidespin helps you to increase the possible angles on your receives because of its tendency to jump sideways off your racket.

You can also improve the quality of your service receives by attacking serves. Sidespin/topspin can often be attacked by rolling over the top of the ball with your hand, pushing your forearm forward, and pulling back your elbow up as you contact the ball. You can also do this with sidespin/backspin, although it's considerably more difficult. With sidespin/backspin, open the racket before contact (like you're getting ready to push the ball) and keep your elbow down as you thrust your forearm upward and forward.

 

 

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Serving

Newgy Robo-Pong

Many players who use robots forget to take advantage of one of the robot’s most valuable parts: the net that catches the ball. This is invaluable for service practice.

Turn off the robot, get a box of balls, and prepare for service practice! (Some players prefer to keep the robot on, with a slow feed, so that the robot feeds you a ball every 7-10 seconds or so to serve.)

Never serve robotically - let the robot do that! When practicing serves, visualize the serve in your mind before doing the serve. You should see the racket contact the ball, and the ball hit both sides of the table - before you even start the service motion. It’s called "visualization," and is used by top athletes in all sports. 

As you get more advanced, sometimes visualize opponents and their returns. You may then serve a ball, and shadow-practice a rally against selected opponents, without the ball. Just don’t do this in public, or you might get locked up!

BEGINNING SECTION

The goal here is to learn the basic forehand and backhand topspin and backspin serves, and to learn some sidespin serves. There are many possibilities — watch any intermediate or advanced player, and you’ll see examples. One key point that many beginners have trouble with is that to serve sidespin, you must start with the racket to the side of the ball, and strike the ball with a sideways grazing motion. If you start with the racket directly behind the ball, you won’t get much sidespin. Learn at least one sidespin serve with the racket going from left to right, and at least one with the racket going from right to left. (See the article Serves in our Coaching archives for some pictures of these type of serves.) 

INTERMEDIATE SECTION 

The goal here is to put spin on the ball. Not just some spin — a LOT of spin. Table Tennis is a game of spin, and it begins with the serve.

To make a ball spin very fast, your racket (and therefore your hand) must move very fast. You can’t do this with a wimpy motion. Serving has been called a violent motion, and good servers sweat when practicing their serves.

Most spin comes from the wrist, and from a fine grazing motion. If you snap your wrist just before contact, so the racket moves very fast and just grazes the ball, most of your wrist snap will become spin. The tip of the racket is the fastest-moving part of the racket, so that’s where your contact should be.

Forget trying to serve on the table. Just make the ball spin out of orbit, with as much spin as possible. After you’re able to get lots of spin on the ball, then it’s time to make the ball hit the table. Make adjustments so the serve hits, but do not let up on the spin. 

ADVANCED SECTION 

The goal here is deception. You already are putting lots of spin on the ball, but you’ve noticed that top players are having no trouble reading your spin. (If you didn’t have so much spin on the ball, of course, they’d be killing your serve!) 

Most service deception comes from a semi-circular motion. If the racket goes through a semi-ciruclar motion, it can create backspin, sidespin or topspin (or combinations of these) simply by varying the contact point. For example, if you use a serve motion where the racket starts out high, and goes downward, sideways and then up, you’d get backspin if you contact the ball on the way down; sidespin if you contact the ball as it moves sideways; and topspin if you contact the ball on the way up.

You can also fool an opponent by faking spin, and serving no-spin. This is done by just patting the ball, and then exaggerating the follow-through, or by contacting the ball at the base of the racket, which travels slower than the tip of the racket.

By learning a serve motion with a semi-circular motion, and doing it very quickly, you’ll be able to fool many opponents with your serve, take control of the rally, and win most of the points.

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The Attacker - Shakehands Hitter

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 — Shakehands Hitter
Description:

Like their Penholder counterparts, this style generally stands within three feet of the table. This style is forehand dominated and all ball contact is on the rise or at the top of the bounce. Unlike the Penhold Pips-Out Attacker, this style will often open a point with a backhand drive. This style often features a strong backhand counter-drive, hitting well through opponent’s topspin shots. While still trying to finish each point quickly, the Shakehands Pips-Out Attacker is often content to maneuver the opponent out of position before pivoting to end the point with a forehand kill.

There are more penholder pips-out hitters than shakehands pips-out hitters due to the ease of producing spin with the penholder grip. The shakehand pips-out hitter can produce great speed but has trouble generating much spin. Even so, the style can be very successful. A great example of this style would be Johnny Hwang from Canada.

Strengths:
  • Quick pivot to use the forehand from backhand corner
  • Strong forehand kills.
  • Strong counter-driving techniques from the backhand side
  • Strong backhand initial opening attack
  • Excellent serve and return game.
  • Forceful pace - gives opponent very little time to react
Weaknesses:
  • Short game (not as strong as the penhold hitter)
  • Forehand serve return. (they are often forced to go for high risk shots due to a lack of a spin loop)
  • Forehand lift against long underspin shots
  • Balls directed to the player's middle.

Suggested Robot Drills

Tactics Against Other Styles
Against the Pips-Out Penholder Attacker

Keep your serves short to the opponent’s backhand side. In addition, serve deep to the backhand, cutting the sideline of the table and attack the return. Also, occasionally serve deep to the forehand. Your grip should give you an advantage in backhand-to-backhand play. Pin your opponent in his/her backhand corner as much as possible. When returning serves long, play to the deep corners.

Against the Inverted Looper Attacker

Use mostly short mixed serves, with an occasional fast deep serve to the opponent’s forehand side. Do not allow the Inverted Looper to turn you into a blocker, hit through the topspin as much as possible. Also, attack down the line whenever possible to keep time pressure on this opponent by making him/her play at a faster pace than they are comfortable. Strong opening attacks and fast returns to the opponent’s switchpoint, if shakehands, will force him to back off the table.

Against the All-Round Attacker

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 opponent’s 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.

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 play your backhand. Use your backhand counter down the line to force more forehand-to-forehand play.

Against the Mid-Distance Aggressive Looper

Watch out for this opponent’s 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 opponent’s backhand side. Whenever possible make your first attack 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 when he does, redirect his 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. No spin serves and pushes are often effective in forcing errors or high returns.

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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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