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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Looping Against Backspin and Topspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

Many players would say that you aren’t really playing table tennis until you learn to loop. A loop in table tennis is an offensive stroke with the primary purpose of producing lots of topspin. Table tennis is a game of spin, and the loop is the primary example of using spin during a rally.

Many players (and coaches) feel a player should be able to hit many, many forehands & backhands, and reach a relatively high level of play, before learning to loop. Nothing could be more outdated. By the time a player has reached a relatively high level of play, the player’s strokes and major habits are set. If looping isn’t among those habits, it’ll be more difficult to learn later on. The moral is: it’s rarely too early to learn to loop. (For the purposes of this article, I will be mostly discussing the forehand loop. Against backspin, you may also use a backhand loop. Against topspin, however, the backhand loop is normally learned later on — although some may consider that to be outdated!)

This doesn’t mean that a complete beginner should be looping on his first day. However, once a player can hit a moderately good forehand with moderately good technique, he’s ready to begin the process of learning to loop, even as he continues to develop his other basic strokes. A player shouldn’t think of a loop as an advanced shot; it’s simply another shot, one that should be taught shortly after learning the basic forehand and backhand drive (also known as counter or counter-drive) strokes. The shot also adds excitement and variety to a player’s game, turning a basement player into a dedicated table tennis addict. 

A beginner should start out looping against backspin, for three reasons. First, it’s more natural, as you are simply adding to the spin, rather than trying to change it. Two, the ball is traveling more slowly than a topspin (usually), and so is easier to learn against. Three, any player with sponge should learn to loop at least against backspin (even pips-out players), so this shot will be part of any player’s arsenal eventually. A player should learn to loop both forehand and backhand against backspin. 

A robot gives a player a huge advantage in learning to loop. With a live player, you may be able to loop one ball against backspin, but then most players will block the ball, and the rally becomes a topspin rally. It’s hard to get much repetitive practice against backspin this way. Even if you practice with a chopper (who returns ball after ball with backspin), the various returns will have varying amounts of backspin and will not always come to the same spot, making it difficult to learn to loop. It’s hard enough trying to get the stroke right, the contact right, and keep the ball on the table. The last thing you want when you are learning to loop is for the incoming ball to keep changing its placement and degree of spin!

With a robot, a player can loop against the same backspin ball over and over, developing the stroke. Always remember that Correct Techniques + Constant Repetition = Well-Developed Strokes. 

Once a player can loop against backspin, he’s ready to loop against topspin. This can be done either on a robot or against a living opponent who blocks. However, the robot has two advantages. First, it will give you a consistent ball, coming out at the same speed, direction and spin over and over, enhancing the learning process. Second, it allows a player to switch back and forth between looping against topspin and backspin, so both techniques can be developed together. 

Many players learn to loop well against one type of spin (topspin or backspin), but not the other. This usually has to do with the shoulders. Against backspin, drop the back shoulder (right shoulder for right-handers, left shoulder for left-handers) when forehand looping. Against topspin, shoulder should only drop slightly, if at all. By switching the robot back and forth between these two spins, you can develop proper shoulder placement for both shots. 

What is the difference between forehand looping against backspin versus topspin? Against backspin, the key is lifting the ball up, due to the backspin. You have to get very low by bending your knees, get your racket down, drop your back shoulder, and drive upward. The ball must be contacted on its very back, after letting it drop to about table level or even lower. Your force should go roughly toward the ceiling above your opponent’s head, NOT toward the other side of the table. 

Against topspin, footwork is more important. The ball is coming at you faster, and the ball’s speed and spin make the ball rebound off your racket faster. You still need to get down some, but now your power is mostly forward. The knees bend only slightly, and the back shoulder stays up. The ball should be contacted toward the top, usually just after the top of the bounce, but before the ball has dropped to table level. 

Here are a few drills for developing the loop on a robot. 

Beginners

The priority here is learning the stroke and proper contact. Start off by setting the robot on backspin in one spot, and practice it over and over, preferably with some input from a coach or player. Sometimes practice looping from the forehand side or middle, other times loop the forehand from the backhand side. Make sure to drive upwards, and just graze the ball. The goal is spin, not speed. A beginner should also try backhand looping against backspin.

When you feel comfortable looping against backspin, practice forehand looping against topspin. After all the lifting against backspin, your first few loops will probably go off the end. Try contacting the ball on the very top, drive forward, and keep your back shoulder up.

Intermediate Players 

You’ve learned to loop, but want to loop even better. You should be forehand looping against both topspin and backspin, with slow, medium and fast loops, from and to all parts of the table. That’s 24 types of loops to practice already! (Not including backhand looping.) Get with it! (Intermediate players should also try the footwork drills given next for advanced players.) 

Advanced Players 

It’s time to throw in some footwork and randomness. Set the robot to sweep 50-75% of the table (both backspin and topspin ), and try looping them all with your forehand. (If you have a backhand loop, you may use that as well for some shots.) You should be able to cover more of the table against the slower-moving backspin. You might even try covering the entire table against backspin — if you’re very quick and very brave.

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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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Footwork

Newgy Robo-Pong

This chapter is intended for those who need assistance in moving to the ball. If you can perform a stroke well while keeping your feet in one spot, but you lose consistency when you start practicing the stroke with foot movement, then you need to improve your footwork. When learning footwork, slowly shadow practice several sets of the described footwork until you get the hang of it. Then combine practicing footwork with a particular stroke or combination of strokes using the robot to deliver balls to different points on the table.

Having proper footwork greatly assists in executing good strokes. With proper footwork, a player will move into good position and then execute his strokes from a solid, balanced stance. This leads to consistency, quickness, and being able to use full power. Without good footwork, a player will reach, lean, and hit the ball from an unbalanced position. Strokes end up being jerky and erratic, more like slaps than strokes.

In table tennis, you won't have to cover a lot of ground, but you will have to move to a spot very quickly. Therefore, most table tennis footwork consists of one or two steps, usually fairly short. During all footwork, it is crucial to stay balanced. Always start your foot movement from the balanced ready position.

Place your weight on the balls of your feet with your heels lightly touching the ground. Keep your shoulders centered over your knees. Eliminate any up and down movement. Move the instant the opponent has committed to his shot, not before. Move to where the ball will come before starting your stroke. Avoid stroking while moving.

For side-to-side movement, you may use one-step, two-step, or three-step footwork.

One-step footwork is normally used for short distances, two-step for medium distances, and three-step for long distances. One-step footwork is very common when moving left to cover a wide backhand. It is performed by simply shifting your weight to your right leg and pushing your left foot further to the left. Vice versa if you want to go to the right. One big disadvantage of one-step footwork is it can leave you in a "stretched out" position if you have to move more than a foot or two. Once stretched out, it is difficult to get ready for the next shot.

The two-step footwork is the most common form of footwork. It is used to get into forehand position for balls to your wide forehand two-step footwork, you lean on your right leg, pull your left foot toward your right foot, then quickly shift your right foot to the right. You end up with your feet in the same relative position as when you started the movement except 2-3 feet further to the right. It is a side-skipping type of movement.

Three-step footwork is used to cover shots hit deep to the forehand comer, angled off the wide forehand sideline, or to step out wide on your backhand side to hit a forehand. It is very similar to the two-step except an additional small step is made before both feet are shifted. To move right, take a small step with your right foot to the right (6 to 8 inches), shift your weight to your right leg, then perform a two-step movement.

Figure O: Footwork Diagrams

Below are diagrams showing how to place and move the feet f or one-step, two-step, and three-step footwork. The diagrams are for a right-handed player. You should practice these patterns until they become second nature. When practicing, remember to stay balanced and in a good ready position. Strive to keep your shoulders level and on the same plane (no up and down movement of the body and no dipping or raising of one shoulder).

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Random Footwork

Newgy Robo-Pong

The biggest difference between playing a robot and hitting with another player is that a robot can hit everything the same, while a player's shots always have some variation. However, the Newgy robot is designed to give you random shots over a pre-arranged area, via the oscillator and the oscillator's range levers. You don't have to have it hit every ball to the same spot. This allows you to work on your footwork as well as your stroke.

On the back of the robot is the "robot oscillator range levers." (Editor's note: These are listed as "Oscillator Control Levers" in your robot Owner's Manual, part #'s 61 & 62.) These show the various ranges the oscillator can sweep through, depending on which setting you choose.

Assuming you've taken the time to develop decent forehand and backhand strokes, it's time to learn to move and stroke. More specifically, it's time you learned to cover a certain proportion of the table with each stroke.

Set the robot on topspin. Set the robot's oscillator's range levers to 1-4, so the robot sweeps over just the forehand side of the table. (You can adjust the robot to sweep over a smaller area when starting out, if the 1-4 setting sweeps too much area.) Put both the speed and frequency settings in the 3 to 4 range. Turn on the oscillator to about 6, and the balls will shoot out randomly to the forehand side. Return each ball with your forehand. (Editor's note: this assumes you are right handed. If left-handed, place control levers to the 3-6 settings.)

To do so, watch the robot very carefully, and move your feet to follow the direction it is pointing. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet, with your knees at least slightly bent (Editor's note: the taller you are, the more you need to bend your knees). Move with short steps, keeping your weight centered at all times. Try to be in position for each ball without having to reach—move into position so the ball goes through your forehand hitting zone.

Now set the robot's oscillator range levers to 3-6 (1-4, if you're a lefty), so the robot sweeps over the backhand side of the table. Repeat the drill with your backhand. When you feel comfortable with that, do the same drill—with the balls still sweeping over your backhand side—but use only your forehand from your backhand side.

It is important to learn to hit the forehand from the backhand side because often you will need this skill for put-away shots. You normally should not play backhands from the forehand side, however.

Next try covering larger areas of the table, but this time using both forehand and backhand. At first set the oscillator's range levers so that the robot doesn't quite cover the entire table, and practice making clean shots, both forehand and backhand, by moving to each ball, not reaching. As you improve, increase the area until you are able to cover the entire table this way.

When the robot is set to sweep over a relatively small area of the table, the frequency setting is not too important as the balls will effectively come out randomly over the assigned area either way. When you start covering the entire table, however, the frequency setting begins to matter. Start off relatively low, at a pace you can cover somewhat consistently, and work your way up to faster and faster frequencies. Consistency is the key; don't set it so fast that you are leaping and diving after balls!

As you improve, you can also increase both the robot's speed setting and how hard you hit your own shots. You should also try the above drills with the robot set on backspin, and either attack or push. Generally, attack backspin when using your forehand (unless it goes too short, in which case you should either push or flip), while either pushing, driving or looping with the backhand.

There are two basic skills the preceding drills are designed to develop. First are the footwork skills to cover the table by moving to the ball, not reaching, so that you can consistently hit clean shots. Second is what is called "neuromuscular adaptation"—the ability of the brain to quickly make a choice, and react. This is developed in the drills where you have to choose whether to use a forehand or a backhand. Developing these skills will greatly enhance your ability to play strong rallies comfortably.

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The Backhand Loop

Newgy Robo-Pong

Most players find it more difficult to create power on the backhand side. This is because the body limits the backswing on that side. However, with proper technique (and a lot of practice!), one can create nearly as much power (and perhaps more!) on the backhand side as on the forehand.

The most important power shot in table tennis is the loop. Although many players develop good forehand loops, many do not bother learning the backhand loop—seriously handicapping their games. This is especially true of shakehands players, who have a natural backhand loop when done properly. (Penholders generally do not backhand loop, but in recent years, more and more of them have learned to do so by using the back of their penhold racket.)

If a player has a forehand loop, but not a backhand loop, a simple short serve to the forehand, followed by a quick push or block to the backhand takes away this player's looping game. Even a very fast player cannot cover all of the table all of the time with just a forehand loop.

The backhand loop can be done against just about any type of shot. It is easiest to learn against backspin, but can also be done against topspin or a block. One advantage of the backhand loop over the forehand loop is that a player can often "wrist loop" a short ball on the backhand side—something that is more difficult to do on the forehand side.

A Newgy robot is an excellent way to learn to backhand loop. Set the robot on backspin, and aim it toward your backhand corner. Set the speed dial on 2. The robot will give you a pretty heavy backspin, so you will have to lift the ball.

When you feel you are comfortable looping both backhand and forehand, you should learn to loop from all parts of the table. Use the Newgy robot's oscillator to randomly put balls all over the table. Cover 50-70% of the table with your forehand loop, the rest with your backhand loop.

What follows is a sequence of Sean Lonergan, 1998 U.S. Collegiate Men's Singles & Doubles Champion. He is practicing on a Newgy robot, set on backspin, with the speed dial on 2.

The key thing to note about this sequence is how Sean uses nearly his entire body in the shot. Power is generated by the upward push of his legs when he unbends his knees, by the upward thrust of his upper body from the waist, by the rotation of his waist, by the rotation and upward thrust of his right shoulder, by the rotation of his arm on his elbow, and by the last-second snap of his wrist.

(Editor's Note: There are 8 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first seven 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 7 previous files. This file will "play" all 7 still pictures in sequence, giving motion to the pictures and 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.)

Photos 1-3: Backswing

Sean bends his knees, and bends and rotates his waist to the left. Some of his weight is transferred to his left leg. He rotates his right shoulder forward and slightly down, and brings his racket down to knee level, between his legs. (Against topspin, he would swing more from his left hip.) His wrist is cocked backward so his racket tip points almost straight backward, with the racket face pointing nearly straight downward. Sean's elbow is well out in front of his body. Sean is balanced, with legs well spread.

Photos 4-5: Forward Swing and Contact

Just before starting the forward swing, Sean's wrist is fully cocked backward. He transfers some of the weight on his left leg to his right leg. His knees and waist begin to straighten, and his right shoulder lifts upward and rotates backward. His waist rotates forward. The movements of the knees, waist and shoulder together start the forward swing of the arm. Sean's arm rotates forward from his elbow—a motion similar to throwing a Frisbee. Just before contact, Sean's wrist snaps into the ball. Contact is made a little to his left, roughly in front of his left leg.

At the start of the forward swing, Sean's racket was pointing nearly downward. As it moved forward, it opened up, until at contact it is facing nearly straight forward.

The contact is a grazing motion. The finer the grazing motion, the more spin. If the ball sinks into the sponge more, there will be more speed. The ball should not sink all the way through the sponge to the wood. Sean's backhand loop is a good balance of speed and spin, although he can go for extra spin or speed on any given shot.

Photos 6-7: Follow-through

The follow-through is the natural progression of the racket forward and up. Sean's racket ends up about head level, to his right.

 

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Photo 2

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Photo 8

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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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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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