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Robot Training
Excerpts from Larry Thoman's Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 Player's Instructional Manual

 

SERVE RECEIVE

One of the most difficult skills to master in table tennis is serve receive. You must be able to handle hundreds of different types of serves. Seldom will you encounter the same types of serves from player to player. Not only must you be able to get a serve back but you must also be ready to attack an easy serve to wrest the initiative away from the server. Fortunately, Robo-Pong 2000 is an excellent aid to learning this important skill. The robot is especially useful in learning to return sidespin serves.

Lesson 25: Returning Topspin Serves

To practice returning serves, tilt the head of the robot down so it shoots first onto its side of the table (approximate head angle "C"). Turn the robot head to topspin. Set the ball speed and frequency to 3 and turn off the oscillator when the robot head points to the middle of your backhand court. Turn the power switch on, and practice using your backhand block to return the ball to all parts of the table. In particular, work on placing your returns into either corner or angled wide off the side of the table. Strive to keep your returns low over the net. Progress to returning the serve with a backhand counter instead of a block. Don't turn the ball frequency past 4 as higher numbers would be a little benefit. Return to the ready position after each serve receive.

Next, turn the oscillator so that it shoots randomly inside your entire backhand court. Practice your block first and then your counter. Repeat the same learning pattern on the forehand side, starting with a serve to the middle of the forehand court and returning it with a forehand block. Progress to a forehand counter and occasionally use a forehand smash. Then turn on the oscillator to sweep inside of the forehand court and practice forehand block, then counter, and occasionally a forehand smash.

The last step is to have the robot sweep the entire width of the table and practice combining forehand and backhand returns. After you can consistently return this serve, pressure yourself to attack whenever you are completely set. At all stages of this training, be sure to return to the ready position before each serve is delivered. Pretend you are returning a real serve from a live opponent and you don't know what serve is coming next.

Lesson 26: Returning Backspin Serves

Backspin services are the next to learn to return. Keep the same control settings as in Lesson 25, except turn the robot head to backspin and aim the head to shoot balls to the middle of your backhand court. Turn the robot on and practice returning the serve with a backhand push to all parts of the table. Then turn


Racket Angle Return Right Side/Topspin
Photo 25: Correct Racket Angle For Returning Left Sidespin/Topspin

Racket should be tilted both to the left and down to return the ball straight down the middle of the table.

Photo 26: Correct Racket Angle For Returning Right Sidespin/Topspin

Racket should be tilted both to the right and down to return the ball straight down the middle of the table.


the oscillator on and practice a backhand push return from anywhere inside the backhand court.

Repeat this on the forehand side using a forehand push and finally, set the oscillator to sweep the entire width of the table and practice combining forehand and backhand push returns. You may wish to throw in an occasionally forehand drive return if you've learned this skill.

Another good drill is to reduce the ball speed to approximately 1 1/2 so the ball is served very short and close to the net. To return this short serve effectively, it will be necessary to bend your knees deeply and take a long step with your right leg under the table. Let your upper torso bend over the top of the table and then reach forward with your racket. Use mainly your forearm and wrist to stroke the ball and be sure to use the correct racket angle when making contact.

Be sure to return to the ready position after the table. Pretend like a person is serving to you and you don't know whether the serve will be short or long. Position yourself about two feet in back of the table. That way you will be in good position to return a long serve and all you have to do to return a short serve is take one good step forward. In almost all cases it is better to be back and move forward rather than be too close and have to move back.

Lesson 27: Returning Sidespin/Topspin Serves

After becoming proficient at returning straight topspin and backspin serves, it is time to learn how to return these spins when they are combined with sidespin. Turn the robot head so the word "topspin" is about 45deg to the right of top center. The robot will deliver a serve with left sidespin/topspin. Set the ball speed to 3 and aim the robot head to the middle of your backhand court.

Turn on the machine and use a backhand block or counter to return the ball. You will notice the ball has a tendency to


Angle-Return Left Sidepsin/Backspin Angle-Return Right Sidespin/Backspin
Photo 27: Correct Angle For Returning Left Sidepsin/Backspin

Racket should be tilted both to the left and up to return the ball straight down the middle of the table. Racket also must travel forward a small amount.

Photo 28: Correct Angle For Returning Right Sidespin/Backspin

Racket should be tilted both to the right and up to return the ball straight down the middle of the table. Racket also must travel forward a small amount.


jumpy off your racket to your right. Counteract this effect by aiming down-the-line. Now even though you aim the ball down-the-line, the ball will go crosscourt because of the sidespin. Keep working until you can control the ball to make it go anywhere on the table. Contact the ball on its top right surface by angling your racket to the left and down and then moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact (see Photo 25). Both these strategies will help negate the effect of the sidespin. Also it helps to hold your racket softly so your wrist is free to make the necessary adjustments to the racket angle.

After you are able to handle this kind of serve, make the machine oscillate within the backhand court and practice some more. Then switch the machine to your forehand and practice your forehand return in s similar fashion, first without oscillation, then with oscillation. For variation, occasionally attempt a forehand smash return. The last step is to set the robot to oscillate over the entire table and randomly return the serve with either forehand or backhand. Also practice returning short sidespin serves by changing the ball speed to approximately1. Be sure to return to the ready position before each serve.

Turn the robot head so the word "topspin" is about 45 deg to the left of top center. The robot will deliver right sidespin/topspin. Repeat the above sequence of steps to learn how to return this serve. Contact the ball on its top left surface by angling your racket to the right and down (see Photo 26) and moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact. Start with your backhand, then use your forehand, and finally combine the two. If you become really good at this, increase the amount of sidespin by turning the robot head so the word "sidespin" is closer to top center. In general, you will find it easier to return left sidespin with your forehand and right sidespin with your backhand.

Lesson 28: Returning Sidespin/Backspin Serves

To learn how to return sidespin/backspin, turn the robot head so the word "backspin" is about 45 deg to the left of top center. The robot will now deliver a left sidespin/backspin serve. Work with this spin as you did with the left sidespin/topspin previously, except use a push stroke instead of a block or counter stroke. Be sure to contact the bottom right surface of the ball by angling your racket to the left and up and then moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact (see Photo 27). Then work on returning right sidespin/backspin by turning the robot head until the word "backspin" is just to the right of top center. You will need to contact the bottom left of the ball by angling your racket to the right and up and then moving your racket slightly sideways as you make contact (see Photo 28).

As you get better at returning sidespin serves, start working at placing your returns instead of merely getting them back. Place your returns to areas of the table from which it would be difficult for your opponent to attack. If you receive a sidespin/backspin serve, see if you can place your return short and low just over the net. Or use the sidespin to your advantage by giving your opponent a severely angled return. Sidespin helps you to increase the possible angles on your receives because of its tendency to jump sideways off your racket.

You can also improve the quality of your service receives by attacking serves. Sidespin/topspin can often be attacked by rolling over the top of the ball with your hand, pushing your forearm forward, and pulling back your elbow up as you contact the ball. You can also do this with sidespin/backspin, although it's considerably more difficult. With sidespin/backspin, open the racket before contact (like you're getting ready to push the ball) and keep your elbow down as you thrust your forearm upward and forward.

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