A comprehensive review from Larry Hodges about the Nittaku Premium 40+ poly balls, available in October. What is it like? How sturdy and durable is it? How does it compare in size and hardness? What are the results of a bounce test? How does it perform when serving, blocking, looping, counter-driving, hitting, and chopping? How will it affect players of various playing styles?
Category: Larry Hodges
When pushing on the backhand, most players are at one of three levels:
• Level One: Get it back.
• Level Two: Do something with it. This usually means one of three things: Quick off the bounce and angled; heavy; or short. This is effective at all levels. But there’s another level. . . .
• Level Three: Do even more!
Most players know what a third-ball attack is: you serve, the opponent returns, and you attack aggressively, usually with a loop, a smash, a hard-hit drive, or perhaps a quick off-the-bounce drive. It’s that simple. But this means you are relying on your opponent to return your serve in a way that you can attack effectively. While you want to develop your third-ball attack, you also want to develop your five-ball attack as your fallback plan.
Most players serve with a purpose. They are trying to get you to return their serve in a specific way so they can attack it. So . . . don’t.
If you cannot match up with your opponent with speed or spin, then you need other weapons. One of the best ways to beat faster and more powerful players (“bashers”) is with ball control. Just as an all-out attacker uses his serve and receive to set up his attack, a ball control player uses serve and receive to take control of the rally. For him, it’s all about ball control, placement, and shot selection. If he’s able to use his ball control to make the basher uncomfortable, he’s won the battle. So how do you do this?
It’s almost a cliché. I hand someone a box of balls to practice their serves. They grab a ball and serve, grab a ball and serve, grab a ball and serve, and so on, all done with the speed and thoughtfulness of firing a machine gun. Then they wonder why their serves aren’t any good. There’s a lot more to developing great serves than rapid-fire serve practice, where the goal seems to be to empty the box of balls as rapidly as possible. So what should you do differently?
This grip was named for and popularized by five-time U.S. Men’s Singles Champion Dan Seemiller, who was ranked in the top thirty in the world in the late 1970s. He was followed by Eric Boggan, who reached top twenty in the world. No other U.S.-trained player has come close to these rankings in the sponge era (since the 1950s). Four of the five U.S. team members at the 1983 World Championships used this grip – Dan Seemiller, his brother Rick Seemiller, Eric Boggan, and 1983 Pan Am Men’s Singles Gold Medalist Brian Masters. (All four are in the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame.) The grip is sometimes called the American grip, but is more commonly called the Seemiller grip.
How do you get maximum power on your shots? Many players at the beginning/intermediate levels might say “swing hard!” But that’s the worst thing you can do. Until your muscles are trained properly, swinging hard means spastically using a few muscles but not all of them. It also means putting less weight into the shot. Both cases result in either wimpy shots that any well-trained kid would laugh at, or sometimes powerful shots with no control.
Backswing, forward swing . . . backswing, forward swing . . . backswing, forward swing . . . when hitting forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, how many of you get into this pattern, whether hitting or looping? The problem is you are doing something you should never do in a match, so why would you want to practice it? There are three parts to a swing: Backswing, forward swing, and the often forgotten return to ready position. A player would almost never go directly from his follow through to backswinging.
These days it seems like everyone’s trying to be like everyone else. That’s a pretty successful way of getting good, if you copy the top players. But many are missing the benefits of doing something different. Give your opponent a different look, at least on some shots, and guess what? He might begin to struggle. This doesn’t mean changing your whole game to some unorthodox mess; it means developing certain “pet shots” that are different than the norm. They give you more variation on certain shots than if you only have “orthodox” shots.
What can a player do if he is having trouble reading the spin on the opponent’s serve? At the lower levels, this usually means the opponent’s serving motion is too quick for the player to pick up contact. At the higher levels, it’s often because the opponent is hiding his serve, a serious problem since many umpires do not enforce the serving rules and allow players to illegally hide contact, making it difficult to read the spin on the ball. However, the techniques for returning these hidden serves are essentially the same for those at lower levels who struggle to read the spin off any serve. So what can you do when you have trouble reading the spin, whether against a good server or against an illegally hidden one?
One of the best ways to learn tactics is to coach others during matches. It’s a different vantage point that forces you to really open your mind to tactics going on in a match where you aren’t playing, both tactics that are being used and ones that are not. It’s especially helpful when coaching players near your own level, but you can learn a surprising amount even coaching much lower-level players. And if you happen to be coaching a stronger player, well, there’s a lot you can learn there if you are striving to reach that level. Here are two ways you can learn by coaching others:
One of the quickest ways to tell the difference between a world-class player and typical club player is to compare how far their feet are apart. Top players almost always have wider stances than average players. Just go to youtube and watch videos of the best players and the difference becomes obvious. The wider stance can be tricky to learn, and if you have knee problems, weak legs, or are overweight, it may not work for you. But for most players, the wider stance is a big advantage.
This could be a very short Tip, since the mentality in a match and in practice should be the same. So here’s the short version: think of a time where you played GREAT. It could be in a tournament or a practice match, or even a practice session. The key is that you played great, and want to play like that all the time. Now think about your mentality when you were playing great, i.e. were “in the zone.” You were probably playing almost mindlessly, other than tactical thinking. In fact, you probably were more like a spectator just watching yourself react mindlessly and almost flawlessly. THAT is the mentality you want both when you practice and when you play a match.
At the elite levels, deep sidespin and topspin serves mostly get looped, and are mostly used as occasional variations. But at lower levels they are often the bane of players who hit or loop them off the end over and over. Why do they do this? There are three main reasons.
One of the trickier things in table tennis starting at the intermediate level is how to return short backspin serves without giving the server an easy ball to loop. The easiest return is a long push, but then the server gets to loop. You can also flip the short serve, but that can be tricky, and many servers can loop that return as well unless you flip very aggressively – and if you do that, you lose consistency. So what to do?
Playing in tournaments is quite different from playing practice matches. Here are three reasons for this. First, the playing conditions are generally different than you are used to – different tables, balls, floors, backgrounds, and lighting. Second, you are usually playing different players, while in practice you often play the same players over and over. And third, there’s far more pressure in a tournament match than in a practice match. (There are other, lesser reasons – traveling, time zone changes, eating different foods, etc.)
Most players practice with drills that are very different from what they actually do in a match. There’s a logic to this – you want to perfect each part of your game, and you do that by isolating the shot so you can do it repeatedly, something you can’t do nearly as effectively in a game situation. For example, if you want to be able to loop over and over against a block in a match, you first should practice looping over and over against a block in practice against a ball blocked to the same spot, which doesn’t happen often in a match. However, there’s a time for isolating a shot to perfect it, and a time to match game situations.
The time when a player is most likely to miss easy shots is at the very start of the match. That’s when a player may not yet be fully warmed up or used to his opponent’s shots yet. So it’s often best to let the other guy serve first, let him mess up on his serve & attack at the start, and then get your chance to serve, when you are more into the match.
There is nothing more infuriating than losing to a patient chopper who lets you beat yourself with your own errors. Losing to a chopper is like four-putting in golf; you may have made some good drives to get to the green, but all you remember are the misses at the end. Rather than four-putting forever, let’s learn how to beat the chopper.