By Samson Dubina for Paddle Palace
I took up the challenge of writing about the most difficult topic – adjusting to various poly balls. In this article, I’m going to outline not just how the balls perform differently, but also how you may need to slightly adjust your game. Changing from the celluloid to poly ball has been the most difficult rule change in our sport – much more difficult than adjusting to 11 point games, 2 serves each, visible serves, banning speed glue and booster, and allowing timeouts. Previous changes (like 11 point games) were about a 2-month adjustment with no long-term issues. The issue that we face today is playing 1 tournament with Nittaku Premium ball, 1 with the Butterfly G40, next Joola, next Stiga, and the list goes on and on and on….
Instead of giving a comparison chart with ALL the different balls in the world, I decided to talk about 2 balls – Nittaku Premium and Butterfly G40. These are the 2 most common balls used in midwestern tournaments. According to Table Tennis Database, here are the statistics of the balls…
Nittaku Hardness 7.8 / Butterfly Hardness 8.6
Nittaku Roundness 9.8 / Butterfly Roundness 8.8
Nittaku Speed 9.4 / Butterfly Speed 9.1
Nittaku Durability 6.1 / Butterfly Durability 3.8
Nittaku Consistency 9.3 / Butterfly Consistency 8.8
In addition to the facts listed above, I want to make some of my own comments about the playing characteristics of the balls and some tips that you can think about as you prepare for your next competition. These comments are my own opinion and are not universally shared among all players – your adjustment will greatly depend on your playing style, equipment, distance from the table, and other factors.
Nittaku Premium Ball
The Nittaku Premium ball is more consistently round and consistent with a medium hardness. The bounce is fairly low but very consistent. The surface has good texture so it allows you to impart various amounts of spin easily. Because of the texture, the ball loses some spin when it hits the table.
Butterfly G40 Ball
You must be careful with ball selection on the Butterfly G40. From the ones that I have, some of them are very round and others aren’t. With careful ball selection, you can choose the best one. The best ones are very round and consistent and very hard. The bounce is much higher than the Nittaku ball. The surface is much less grippy. It is slightly more difficult to impart light or medium spin. However, a heavy spin ball maintains the spin much longer because the ball doesn’t lose as much spin when it hits the table.
When serving with the Nittaku ball, the serves go slightly lower, shorter, and with more spin than Butterfly. To make the necessary adjustment when using the Butterfly ball, contact the ball about 1” lower. Also, if you are having trouble keeping your serve short, consider serving more slow, floating short serves instead of fast impacting quick short serves. Because the Butterfly ball bounces higher and faster, consider serving fast kick serves; the high bounce often causes trouble for the receiver. I take several days to adjust to serving with the other ball. Take 20 min before each training session and train with the tournament ball. Each player needs to adjust his serves variously depending on the type of serve.
For returning in table tennis, there are 5 common returns – loop, chop against deep serve, flip, short push against short serve, and long push against short serve. You can use all of these returns. However, keep in mind that some of them might be easier with 1 ball than the other ball. The Nittaku ball is easier to control with a low drop-shot because it is less bouncy and can easily be lightly gripped with a controlled push. The Butterfly ball often comes slightly bouncier and slightly deeper; be ready to loop the half-long serves at times. When flipping the Nittaku ball is easier to produce good variations because the texture on the ball grabs the rubber better.
You can produce any type of loop with either ball, however… With the Nittaku ball, you can give a wide range of various speeds and spins. Also, be ready because your opponent can give a wide range as well. With the Butterfly ball, it is tough to consistently produce a light spin ball. If you hesitate when looping, often the ball won’t grab and you will lose your consistency. Remember to go-for-it with the Butterfly ball producing a mega spin or mega speed loop.
The Nittaku ball is much easier to block, but it is also much easier to loop. So be ready for longer rallies, you may need to block back more balls than you think! The Butterfly ball bounces higher, so finding the bounce and contacting the ball early is even more critical when a very spinny loop approaches with the Butterfly ball.
I often hear players say, “It’s all mental.” I agree and I disagree. I disagree with the fact that it is ALL mental, there is a physical element of difference. Just grab the Nittaku ball and serve then grab the Butterfly ball and serve. Even with just 1 serve, you can see that there is a physical difference. It isn’t JUST mental. However, some players because so angry that they can’t concentrate – they blame every net and edge and missed serve and whiffed ball on the less-than-ideal tournament ball. At this point, I can say that it has become ALL MENTAL! Personally, I make an agreement with myself before signing up at the tournament that I won’t complain or excuse missed shots on the ______ or the ______ ball that we are using. I think about the necessary adjustments, but do my best not to get rattled.
As I mentioned in the beginning, these comments are my own opinion and are strongly debated! Your adjustments will greatly depend on your playing style, equipment, distance from the table, and other factors. Personally, I’m very thankful that USATT has selected Nittaku Premium as the official ball of USATT! Premium tournaments require a premium ball! Thanks USATT for selecting the best ball in the world!
Nittaku 3-Star Premium 40+ Balls are Available at Paddle Palace