Short Returns of No-Spin Serves
By Eric Owens
This column will be a collection of table tennis training tips and advice by Eric Owens, who is a US Men’s Singles Champion, Pan Am Gold Medalist, North American Doubles Champion, and a multi-time member of the US Table Tennis Team. Eric’s training regimen includes regular practice on a Newgy table tennis robot. Read this and his future installments to get rare glimpses into how a top player integrates robot practice into his training.
Place the head of the robot downwards, so that a double bounce serve is replicated. Initially, the spin should be a dead ball, and the placement in one particular spot on the table. For example, this would replicate a short dead ball serve to the middle of the table.
The repetition of the balls should be slow enough to hit the ball, and then completely return to the service ready position. From the ready position, step forward with the same foot as the playing hand, and then return back to the ready position. This should be done in one smooth step.
To drop the ball short and effectively, the timing of the return should be immediately off the bounce. This will create more spin on the return and give the opponent less time to react. The return should be at least a double bounce return with the height just over the net.
Since a dead ball serve is being used, you will have to create your own spin. Catching the ball right off the bounce will create this effect. Very little, if any, lift will be needed against the dead ball serve. You are not using the opponent’s spin, but rather creating your own.
This is the basic way to place a short dead ball serve short. Once the technique has become more comfortable, set the placement of the ball short to the forehand then change the placement to the backhand. Each placement should be done for about 5 minutes separately. To simulate a game situation, set the placement on random and practice dropping each ball short and then returning to the service ready position.
This service return practice should not take more than a half an hour each time and will surely be an effective improvement of your game. Service return training is highly underestimated and more emphasis should be placed on training this aspect of the game. After all, the serve return is one shot that happens every single point.
Editor’s notes: While it is impossible for a Newgy Robot to deliver a true “dead” ball (no-spin), the robot can deliver a spin so light that by the time contact is made, the ball is spinning so slowly that for all practical purposes it can be considered “dead”.
This is achieved by setting your Ball Speed control to “0” and your spin to "Backspin". The head angle will need to be adjusted to between the D and E positions (for Robo-Pong 2040 robots attached to the end of the table). You will need to experiment with the head angle to find the exact setting necessary for this drill, but you want the ball to first land on the robot’s side of the table about 15 inches from the net. The ball will bounce just over the net and land about 12 to 15 inches from the net on your end of the table.
This drill requires the Ball Frequency to be at very low settings. If your robot doesn’t shoot out balls at very low settings, you will need to purchase some Tuner Lubricant and Cleaner (Radio Shack part #64-4315) or equivalent. Then remove the robot body from the net system (or Ball Bucket depending on your robot model), detach the Clear Front Cover, and remove the balls from inside the machine. Spray the lubricant/cleaner inside of the Ball Frequency Motor while it is running at medium to fast speed. This will clear out any dirt or rust inside the motor and permit it to turn at low voltage. Refer to your Owner’s Manual if you have any questions about the above procedure.
Lastly, it is recommended that you do not move your feet until the serve lands on the robot’s side of the table. This will better replicate the mechanics of an actual serve where you do not know serve direction or spin until after ball contact is made. It is also highly advisable to keep the Ball Frequency set to very low settings. Again, this will better replicate the timing involved in a normal serve return against a human where you have time to get set and prepare yourself to return the serve.
- Jena Newgarden