Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach

To use the loop as an effective weapon, you need to be able to control the amount of spin and speed you impart to each stroke. Too many loopers are one dimensional, in that they can only produce one speed of loop. Good loopers can vary the speed, spin, and height of their loop strokes depending on the tactics needed to defeat different styles of play. Here is a great drill to aid you in developing your loop skills.

Robot Settings: 
Set your Newgy Robot to deliver a medium speed topspin return to your deep backhand.

Drill Pattern:

  • Make two backhand counters or loops crosscourt
  • Step-round your backhand and execute a series of three forehand loops crosscourt. The first loop should be a safe slow loop with heavy topspin. Build up speed with each loop.
  • Change the direction for the fourth loop to down the line and execute the stroke with maximum power.
  • Repeat the pattern.

Keys for Success: 
For maximum spin, contact the ball as it begins its descent. For maximum speed, contact the ball at the top of the bounce. Remember to reposition your feet (open your stance) to direct the ball down the line.

This one-drill gives you practice on a number of important elements:

  • Controlling the amount of spin and speed that you impart to your loops
  • Step-round movement in using your forehand from your backhand side
  • Combining forehand and backhand strokes
  • Changing the direction of your loops

Special Note:
To work on developing maximum power, use the above drill but set your Newgy Robot to produce chop instead of topspin.

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Close to the Table Long Pips Attack and Defense Techniques

Jena Newgarden
By: Richard McAfee 
USATT Certified National Coach

Many of my senior (Over 40) students have asked me to do an article on the use of long pips, for close-to-the-table play. This style is very popular with the older table tennis players as it allows them to slow down play and to put the focus on using their hand skills rather than movement and power to win points.

Table tennis robot training is particularly useful when learning and practicing these techniques as few players can consistently attack against this style. In fact, as you are learning this style many players may become frustrated and not want to practice with you at all.

Let's take a look at the six basic strokes that should be in the arsenal of any close-to-the-table long pips player. All of these strokes are described as backhand strokes.

  1. Lift against backspin: This stroke is executed with a slightly open paddle. The stroke itself is very simple. At contact, push forward and slightly up. Use mostly the forearm and little or no wrist action. This stroke, when executed with long pips, allows you to use your opponent’s backspin to produce a controlled topspin attack. This is the only stroke in which you can produce enough topspin to hit with speed.
  2. Sidespin attack against backspin: This is an unusual looking stroke to most inverted players. The stroke is executed much like the straight lift against backspin, but at contact, the racket is pushed forward and pulled to the right (for right-handed players). Depending on the racket angle this return will produce a wide range of no-spin, sidespin, or light topspin returns, all with some degree of sidespin. This stroke can force many errors from your opponents.
  3. Attacking backspin by pushing: Pushing with long pips can be very aggressive. While pushing, if light contact with the ping pong ball is made, the return will be a dead ball (no-spin). If harder racket contact is made (more force), a light topspin can be produced. This leads to a lot of high and very attackable returns from your opponent.
  4. Controlled counter attacks: The key to attacking with long pips against topspin is to remember that controlling the speed of your returns is the key to success. Do not over-hit. Your returns will carry some backspin, so there will always be a limit on the amount of speed you can produce. Generally speaking, if you are using long pips without sponge this stroke will be quite slow and carry heavier backspin. If you are using long pips with sponge, this return will be faster but without as much spin. Once again, keep the stroke simple using only a forward pushing motion, with the forearm. Remember, when counter attacking with long pips, let the racket do the work for you. It is the ever-changing spin on your returns that will force errors from your opponent, not the speed of your returns.
  5. Defensive chop blocks: This stroke looks just like its name suggests—a block with a downward chopping motion. When used against heavy topspin, this stroke can produce heavy chop returns. Often your opponent will be forced into pushing this return back, which will allow you to attack.
  6. Pullback block: Once again, the name says it all. Against a topspin attack, you simply pull your racket slightly back at contact, thereby taking almost all of the pace off the ball. This can be used to produce a very short return making it impossible for your opponent to continue an attack. This technique works best with long pips without sponge.

There you have the major long pips, close-to-the-table techniques. When used properly, these table tennis strokes can make life very difficult for your opponents. Fortunately, your robot will not mind at all while you practice and perfect these techniques.

My next article will deal with robot match drills for the long pips close-to-the-table player.

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The Penhold Reverse Backhand

Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach

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.

Stroke Videos

Our thanks to Phillip Gustavson, Atlanta, GA, for volunteering to demonstrate the Reverse Penhold Strokes. Phillip is unusual, as he is a native American player who decided to learn the penhold style. Phillip plays a traditional penhold pips-out hitting game combined with strong reverse backhand loops and smashes.

Video One – Penhold Reverse Backhand Loop Against Chop

You will notice how much this stroke resembles the shakehands backhand loop. Phillip starts the stroke low between the legs and generates a lot of lift with his legs. Also notice that he contacts the ball at the top of the bounce (do not let it descend). He then strokes towards his target, using mostly the forearm.

Video Two – Penhold Reverse Backhand Counter-Drive Against Topspin

Notice the natural closed position of the racket that the Reverse Backhand Grip produces. This makes counter driving and smashing very easy against topspin. Remember to hit flat, pressing through the ball, and not letting the wrist “roll over”. Also notice, how early Phillip is contacting the ball.


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.

Next month, I will cover more drills designed to help you integrate these new strokes into your game.


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