Competitive table tennis players grip their rackets in a variety of ways. The manner in which competitive players grip their rackets can be classified into two major families of styles. One is described as penhold, and the other shakehand. The Laws of Table Tennis do not prescribe the manner in which one must grip the racket, and numerous variations on gripping styles exist. Visit this ping pong table website for more.
The penhold grip is so-named because one grips the racket similarly to the way one holds a writing instrument. The style of play among penhold players can vary greatly from player to player. The most popular style, usually referred to as the Chinese penhold style, involves curling the middle, ring, and fourth finger on the back of the blade. The amount of curl in the fingers can vary from clenched, to almost perfectly straight. The three fingers however, will always remain touching one another. Chinese penholders favour a round racket head, for a more over-the-table style of play. In contrast, another style, sometimes referred to as the Japanese penhold grip, involves splaying those three fingers out across the back of the racket, usually with all three fingers touching the back of the racket, rather than stacked upon one another. Japanese penholders will often use a square-headed racket for an away-from-the-table style of play. Traditionally these square-headed rackets feature a block of cork on top of the handle, as well as a thin layer of cork on the back of the racket, for increased grip and comfort. Penhold styles are popular among players originating from Asian regions such as China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.
Traditionally, penhold players use only one side of the racket to hit the ball during normal play. The side which is in contact with the last three fingers is generally not used. However, the Chinese have developed a new technique in which a penholder utilizes both sides of the racket. This is referred to as the Reverse penhold backhand (RPB) where the player produces a stroke (most often topspin) by turning the traditional side of the racket to face him or herself, and swinging, with a backhand motion, using the opposite side of the racket. This stroke has greatly improved and strengthened the penhold style both physically and psychologically, as it eliminates the strategical weakness of the traditional penhold backhand.
The shakehand grip is so-named because one grips the racket similarly to the way one performs a handshake. The grip is sometimes colloquially referred to as a “tennis grip” or a “Western grip,” although it has no correlation to the Western grip used in Tennis. The shakehand grip is most popular among players originating in Western nations. Today, though, there are many Asian players using the shakehand grip, as it can be viewed as strategically and technically superior.
Types of shots
In table tennis, the strokes break down into generally offensive and defensive. You can spin, smash, block, push, chop, or lob the ball. The types of strokes include backhand and forehand.
These strokes differ to ones from other racket sports like tennis. The racket is primarily perpendicular to the direction of the stroke, and most of the energy applied to the ball results in speed rather than spin, creating a shot that does not arc much, but is fast enough that it can be difficult to return. A speed drive is used mostly for keeping the ball in play, applying pressure on the opponent and potentially opening up an opportunity for a more powerful attack.
essentially the reverse of the speed drive. The racket is much more parallel to the direction of the stroke (“closed”) and the racket thus grazes the ball, resulting in a large amount of topspin. A good loop drive will arc quite a bit, and once striking the opponent’s side of the table will jump forward, much like a kick serve in tennis. Returning a loop drive may not be as difficult to return as a speed drive; however, because of its topspin, it is more likely to rebound off the opponent’s racket at a very high angle, setting up an easy smash (described below) on the follow up. As the loop drive requires a lot of topspin, players generally use their entire body to generate the movement required. Variations in spin and speed add to the effectiveness of this shot.
Chinese players categorize loop-drives in 3 variations based on trajectories:
1. The “Loop”
The “Loop” produces a more pronounced loopy arc, with a higher trajectory and extreme topspin, but is typically slower.
2. The “Hook”
Similar to a regular Loop, but carries a tilted topspin (or is referred as the “top-side” spin), it bounces sideways and downward upon hitting the table. Similar but stronger than the defensive “side-drive” described below.
Usually a counter attack against drives (normally high loop drives). You have to close the racket and stay close to the ball (try to predict its path). The racket is held closed and near to the ball, which is hit with a short movement “off the bounce” (before reaching the highest point) so that the ball travels faster to the other side. If performed correctly, a well-timed, accurate counter-drive can be as effective as a smash.
Flip (or Flick in Europe)
When a player tries to attack a ball that has not bounced beyond the edge of the table, he/she does not have the room to wind up in a backswing. The ball may still be attacked, however, and the resulting shot is called flip because the backswing is compressed into a quick wrist action. A flip is not a single stroke and can resemble either a drive or a loop in its characteristics. What identifies the stroke is instead whether the backswing is compressed into a short wrist flick. Also known as 払い “harai” in Japanese.
The offensive trump card in table tennis. A player will typically execute a smash when his or her opponent has returned a ball that bounces too high and/or too close to the net. Smashing is essentially self-explanatory — large backswing and rapid acceleration imparting as much speed on the ball as possible. The goal of a smash is to get the ball to move so quickly that the opponent simply cannot return it. Because the ball speed is the main aim of this shot, often the spin on the ball is something other than topspin. Sidespin can be used effectively with a smash to alter the ball’s trajectory significantly, although most intermediate players will smash the ball with little or no spin. An offensive table-tennis player will think of a rally as a build-up to a winning smash; only a calculated series of smashes can guarantee a point against a good opponent. However, most players will be able to return at most one or two smashes consistently. Provided that the opponent is not too close to the table or too far away from the ball, a smash can be lobbed, chopped, blocked or even counter-looped, albeit with some difficulty. A player who smashes generally works out a series of smashes (and possibly drop-shots) to rush the opponent out of position, put him off balance, or both. Smashers who fail to do this find it difficult to win a point against an excellent defense.
The push is analogous to the speed drive in some respects smash; it is very simple, usually used for keeping the point alive and creating offensive opportunities. A push resembles a tennis slice: the racket cuts underneath the ball, imparting backspin and causing the ball to float slowly to the other side of the table. While not obvious, a push can be difficult to attack because the backspin on the ball causes it to drop toward the table upon striking the opponent’s racket – in order to attack a push, a player must loop the ball back over the net. Often, the best option for beginners is to simply push the ball back again, (which repeats and results in pushing rallies), but for good players it is the worst option because they will loop you and your are in a defensive position which most likely you will lose (does not apply to choppers). Otherwise, another option is to flip the ball, only when it is close from the net. Pushing can have its advantages, but it’s a shot worth avoiding. Players should only push when their opponent makes easy mistakes. Offensive players should only push for variation and not for general rallies. A push can easily be counter-looped into the opposite corner (as said above), if it doesn’t drop short on the table. The goal of most player’s push is to make it too short to be to give you a chance to attack, rather than attempting to over-spin the opponent.
A chop or cut is the defensive, backspin counterpart to the offensive loop drive. A chop is essentially a bigger, heavier slice, taken well back from the table. The racket face points primarily horizontally, perhaps a little bit upward, and the direction of the stroke is straight down. The object of a defensive chop is to match the topspin of the opponent’s shot with your own racket speed. A good chop will float nearly horizontally back to the table, in some cases having so much backspin that the ball actually rises. A chop such as this can be extremely difficult to return due to the enormous amount of backspin. Sometimes a defensive player can impart no spin on the ball during a chop, or frequently add right- or left-hand spin to the ball. This may further confuse his/her opponent. Chops are difficult to execute, but are devastating when completed properly because it takes a tremendous amount of topspin on a loop drive to return the ball back over the net.
The block or short is a simple shot, barely worthy of being called a “stroke,” but nonetheless can be devastating against an attacking opponent. A block is executed by simply putting the racket in front of the ball — the ball rebounds back toward the opponent with nearly as much energy as it came in with. This is not as easy as it sounds, because the ball’s spin, speed, and location all influence the correct angle of a block. Disregarding the difficulty of a block, it is very possible for an opponent to execute a perfect loop, drive, or smash, only to have the blocked shot come back at him just as fast. Due to the power involved in offensive strokes, often an opponent simply cannot recover quickly enough, and will be unable to return his own shot blocked back to him/her. Blocks almost always produce the same spin as was received, which is nearly always topspin.
High level players may use what is called push block or active block, adding speed to the ball (with a small topspin movement). When playing in the Penhold Grip, many players use push blocks when being pressured on the backhand. Chinese pen-hold players refer it as push-block as they literally “push” their backhand forward, instead of simply blocking it.
This spin is alternately used as a defensive and offensive maneuver. The premise of this move is to put a spin on the ball either to the right or the left of the racket. The execution of this move is similar to a slice, but to the right or left instead of down. This spin will result in the ball curving to the side but bouncing in the opposite direction when the opponent returns it. Do not attempt a right-side spin (moving your arm to the right when hitting the ball) when too close to the left side of the table, and visa versa. To return, simply execute the same sided spin as your opponent just gave you.
The defensive High Ball is possibly the most visually-unimpressive shot in the sport of table tennis, and it is deceptive in its simplicity. To execute a High Balls, a defensive player first backs off the table 8-10 meters; then, the stroke itself consists of simply lifting the ball to an enormous height before it falls back to the opponent’s side of the table. A High Ball is inherently a creative shot, and can have nearly any kind of spin you can imagine. Top quality players use this fact to their advantage in order to control the spin of the ball. For instance, though the opponent may smash the ball hard and fast, a good defensive High Ball could quite possibly be even harder to return due to the unpredictability (and heavy amounts) of the spin on the ball. Thus, though backed off the table by tens of feet and apparently running and leaping just to reach the ball, a good defensive player can still win the point using good High Balls but most of the time you will lose the point so it is not recommended unless it is really necessary.
The drop shot is a high level stroke, used as another variation for close-to-table strokes (like harai and slice). You have to position the bat close to the ball and just let the ball touch the racket (without any hand movement) in a way that the ball stays close to the net with almost no speed and spin and touches the other side of the table more than twice if the opponent doesn’t reach it. This stroke should be used when opponents are far from the table and not prepared to get close to the table. This technique is most usually done by pen-holders and players who use long or short pimples. A very deceiving technique, this could result in the opponent failing to reach the ball after misjudging the distance of the ball. A perfectly executed stroke after a topspin sequence can win a point.