Smashing

Newgy Robo-Pong

One of the best drills you can do on your Newgy robot (or in any practice session) is a smashing drill. On the Newgy robot, smashing drills are easy to do, because the robot gives you a consistent ball to smash, and keeps giving you ball after ball. With a live practice partner, the rally would end after most smashes.

By giving you a consistent ball, the robot allows you to work out the kinks in your stroke, knowing that any mistakes are because of your technique, not because of your practice partner giving you variable returns (i.e., different placement, speed, height, depth, trajectory, or spin).

Because you get to do the stroke over and over with no stopping of play, you get a far more efficient workout than if you have to stop after each shot while someone fetches the ball. It is this constant repetition that enables you to develop a "repeating stroke," one that you can do over and over in any situation. 

Once you have perfected the smash against the robot, you should practice against live competition so that you can learn to adjust to variable returns.

All the practice on the robot isn't going to help too much if your smashing technique is incorrect. In fact, practicing a poor technique makes it that much more difficult to change later on. 

Using the robot, you can practice smashing against both topspin and backspin. The shots are similar, but with a few key differences. 

SMASHING: The Basics 

It is assumed that you have a decent forehand drive (Editor’s note: also known as counter, hit, or counter-drive) already, and can hit forehand-to-forehand somewhat consistently. What is the difference between a regular forehand drive and a smash? 

Obviously, it is the speed of the ball that you are trying to maximize, while still controlling the shot. To maximize power, you need to use your entire body, especially the legs, waist, shoulders and forearm. 

Backswing: Twist your waist around more than usual, so that you are nearly facing sideways. Bring your racket farther back than usual, with most of your weight on your back foot. 

Even if the ball is very high, backswing almost straight back, then raise the racket to the proper height. The backswing and the raising of the racket should be one continuous motion. This enables you to keep better balance. 

Forward swing: Start forward swing with the legs, then the waist, then the shoulders, and lastly the forearm. There should be a powerful forearm snap just before contact. (Editor’s note: this sequence of muscular contractions is very important for maximum acceleration. Start by pushing your weight forward with the back leg, then twist your waist and shoulders into the ball, and then snapping the forearm forward. If you start one muscle group too early or too late, your power will be greatly diminished.) 

Contact: Sink the ball straight into the sponge so that it sinks through to the wood. There should be a loud wood sound. Make sure to hit downward on high balls. Whenever possible, hit the ball at the top of the bounce. (Editor’s note: this increases your margin for error and provides more possibiities for placing your shot.) 

Try to keep the racket angle constant around the contact point, or you will lose control. Preferably, your racket angle should have been decided before you start the forward swing. It is okay to close your racket some as you swing forward, but never open your racket as you smash, or you will get an out-of-control backspin shot that will usually fly off the end. (This can be used against a high, short ball, but is not really necessary.) 

Follow-through: Let the racket follow through naturally forward. 

SMASHING AGAINST TOPSPIN

You will have to close your racket slightly against topspin—aim slightly downward. Against a somewhat high topspin, you should start your forward swing with the racket slightly above the contact point, and hit slightly downward. The harder you hit the ball, however, the less the spin will take on your racket, and the less you have to worry about the spin. Watch for the sudden bounce as the incoming ball hits the table - the topspin will make the ball take a fast, lower bounce. 

SMASHING AGAINST BACKSPIN

The main difference in smashing against backspin is that you may have to start with your racket either directly behind or even slightly below the ball. Against a relatively low backspin ball, or against one with extremely heavy backspin, you will start with the racket slightly below the ball and stroke slightly upward. The harder you hit the ball, the less you will have to do this. 

You can smash a backspin ball just as you smashed against a topspin ball, sinking the ball straight into the sponge and to the wood. However, you will get more control (but less speed) if you hit the ball with a slight upward motion, hitting the ball with more of a glancing blow, creating some topspin.

A ball with backspin does not bounce out very much, so stay close to the table. Normally, you should hit the ball at the top of the bounce, but many players hit backspins on the rise—sacrificing some speed for quickness. By hitting the ball on the rise, the ball also tends to bounce upward off your racket, helping you combat the backspin. This is especially effective for pips-out players.

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Topspin Defense

Newgy Robo-Pong

All players will at some time find themselves in a defensive situation. For many topspin players, it is only natural to also use topspin when making defensive returns. These returns fall into two categories based on the player's distance from the table. Mid-distance returns are most often referred to as "Fishing". From long distance, lobbing returns are used.

Mid-Distance "Fishing"

This short topspin defense stroke is contacted from mid-distance before the ball has begun to descend. Most often used on the backhand against a driving loop, this stroke resembles a long blocking stroke with a little added topspin. You are just trying to redirect your opponent's power back to him/her.

The Fishing Defense is often effectively used against looping players who lack a strong flat kill stroke. To be effective the ball most be kept deep and at a medium height (shoulder height). At this height, it is difficult for the looper to generate enough power to finish the point. When using this defense, it is important to move your returns around to try and force a weak shot and then to counter-attack.

Basic Stroke Elements 
  • Redirect your opponent's power back to him/her, using a short stroke
  • Make friction contact (spin) with the ball
  • Contact the ball before it descends 
  • Contact is above the center of the ball 
  • Return should be deep and medium high (opponent's shoulder level)
Key to Success 

On the backhand side, always try to center the ball directly in front of the body. If you are reaching for the ball, you will lose control of your returns. Also, try to move your returns around the table forcing your opponent to move as much as possible. 

Defensive Lobs

Topspin lobs are used when a player is deep from the table. To be effective, the lob must carry a lot of spin and land deep on the table. This stroke is executed with a long upward stroke, which carries the ball high into the air (10 to 15 feet high). I often tell my students to imagine themselves carrying the ball up an elevator shaft to emphasize the "lift" element of the stroke and obtain the necessary height on their lobs. 

Basic Stroke Elements 
  • Contact the ball as it is descending
  • Use a long upward stroke 
  • Contact the bottom of the ball and brush upward 
  • Make as much friction contact (spin) as possible 
  • Return should be deep and bounce high on the table 
Key to Success 

The use of sidespin is very important when using a lob return. From the forehand side, add left to right sidespin (for right-handers) by contacting the outside surface of the ball. This will cause the ball to bounce sharply to your opponent's right on contact with the table. This leaves your opponent little choice but to return the ball directly back to your forehand side. Knowing this, you can anticipate the return and setup to counterattack.

Robot Practice Techniques 

Your Newgy Robot is a perfect partner for practicing your defensive topspin techniques. The key is to duplicate the downward angle that would be produced by your opponent attacking the high defensive returns. This can be easily accomplished by using your Newgy Robo-Caddy. First of all, place your Robot in the Caddy and raise the Caddy to its highest position above the table. This will give you the downward angle you need to duplicate your opponent's smashes. Now set your Robot head for topspin and set the ball speed at a high level (7 to 10) and you are ready to practice your Topspin Defense. 

(Editor's Note: See "Alternative Set-up For Wide Angles and Smashes," by Yeushan Goan for diagram on how to set-up your Newgy robot to simulate smashes.) 

Practice Drills 

Fishing Defense Practice 

Set up your Robot as described above and to oscillate over your backhand side of the table. Back up so that you are contacting the ball just before it begins to descend (from 6-8 ft. from the table). Now practice using your backhand "Fishing" defense returns. When you begin to feel comfortable with your returns, set the Robot to oscillate returns over the whole table. Practice "Fishing" with your backhand and counterattacking with your forehand.

Lob Practice 

Set your Robot as described above and to oscillate over one half of the table, either backhand or forehand side. Back up so that you are contacting the ball as it is descending, below table height. Practice making lob returns until you can keep the ball deep on your opponent's side. Practice both forehand and backhand lobs. Remember to try and add sidespin to your returns to control the direction of your opponent's returns. When you feel comfortable with your returns, practice mixing lobs and counterattacks. The ability to play some defense is an important skill even for the most aggressive player.

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The Penhold Reverse Backhand

Newgy Robo-Pong

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

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

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

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

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

Learning the Stroke

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

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

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

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

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Alternative Set-up For Wide Angles and Smashes

Newgy Robo-Pong

1. Set up the robot as usual but leave the side collecting net unattached. Make the robot serve wide so the balls will go off the side line after bouncing on your side of the table. Try returning the balls around (not over) the net. Your real life opponents will find them difficult to handle if you can keep the trajectories as low as possible.

2. The robot can produce realistic lobs for you to practice smashing with, but if you want some realistic smashes so you can practice your lobbing, you might need to place the robot on the table surface so it can shoot balls into your table at a smaller incident angle.

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