The Backhand Loop

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

Most players find it more difficult to create power on the backhand side. This is because the body limits the backswing on that side. However, with proper technique (and a lot of practice!), one can create nearly as much power (and perhaps more!) on the backhand side as on the forehand.

The most important power shot in table tennis is the loop. Although many players develop good forehand loops, many do not bother learning the backhand loop—seriously handicapping their games. This is especially true of shakehands players, who have a natural backhand loop when done properly. (Penholders generally do not backhand loop, but in recent years, more and more of them have learned to do so by using the back of their penhold racket.)

If a player has a forehand loop, but not a backhand loop, a simple short serve to the forehand, followed by a quick push or block to the backhand takes away this player's looping game. Even a very fast player cannot cover all of the table all of the time with just a forehand loop.

The backhand loop can be done against just about any type of shot. It is easiest to learn against backspin, but can also be done against topspin or a block. One advantage of the backhand loop over the forehand loop is that a player can often "wrist loop" a short ball on the backhand side—something that is more difficult to do on the forehand side.

A Newgy robot is an excellent way to learn to backhand loop. Set the robot on backspin, and aim it toward your backhand corner. Set the speed dial on 2. The robot will give you a pretty heavy backspin, so you will have to lift the ball.

When you feel you are comfortable looping both backhand and forehand, you should learn to loop from all parts of the table. Use the Newgy robot's oscillator to randomly put balls all over the table. Cover 50-70% of the table with your forehand loop, the rest with your backhand loop.

What follows is a sequence of Sean Lonergan, 1998 U.S. Collegiate Men's Singles & Doubles Champion. He is practicing on a Newgy robot, set on backspin, with the speed dial on 2.

The key thing to note about this sequence is how Sean uses nearly his entire body in the shot. Power is generated by the upward push of his legs when he unbends his knees, by the upward thrust of his upper body from the waist, by the rotation of his waist, by the rotation and upward thrust of his right shoulder, by the rotation of his arm on his elbow, and by the last-second snap of his wrist.

(Editor's Note: There are 8 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first seven are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 7 previous files. This file takes a while to load, but once loaded it will "play" all 7 still pictures in sequence, giving motion to the pictures and providing the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

Photos 1-3: Backswing

Sean bends his knees, and bends and rotates his waist to the left. Some of his weight is transferred to his left leg. He rotates his right shoulder forward and slightly down, and brings his racket down to knee level, between his legs. (Against topspin, he would swing more from his left hip.) His wrist is cocked backward so his racket tip points almost straight backward, with the racket face pointing nearly straight downward. Sean's elbow is well out in front of his body. Sean is balanced, with legs well spread.

Photos 4-5: Forward Swing and Contact

Just before starting the forward swing, Sean's wrist is fully cocked backward. He transfers some of the weight on his left leg to his right leg. His knees and waist begin to straighten, and his right shoulder lifts upward and rotates backward. His waist rotates forward. The movements of the knees, waist and shoulder together start the forward swing of the arm. Sean's arm rotates forward from his elbow—a motion similar to throwing a Frisbee. Just before contact, Sean's wrist snaps into the ball. Contact is made a little to his left, roughly in front of his left leg.

At the start of the forward swing, Sean's racket was pointing nearly downward. As it moved forward, it opened up, until at contact it is facing nearly straight forward.

The contact is a grazing motion. The finer the grazing motion, the more spin. If the ball sinks into the sponge more, there will be more speed. The ball should not sink all the way through the sponge to the wood. Sean's backhand loop is a good balance of speed and spin, although he can go for extra spin or speed on any given shot.

Photos 6-7: Follow-through

The follow-through is the natural progression of the racket forward and up. Sean's racket ends up about head level, to his right.

 

Photo-1 Photo-2
Photo-3 Photo-4
Photo-5 Photo-6
Photo-7 Photo-8

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LOOPING AGAINST BACKSPIN AND TOPSPIN

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

Many players would say that you aren’t really playing table tennis until you learn to loop. A loop in table tennis is an offensive stroke with the primary purpose of producing lots of topspin. Table tennis is a game of spin, and the loop is the primary example of using spin during a rally.

Many players (and coaches) feel a player should be able to hit many, many forehands & backhands, and reach a relatively high level of play, before learning to loop. Nothing could be more outdated. By the time a player has reached a relatively high level of play, the player’s strokes and major habits are set. If looping isn’t among those habits, it’ll be more difficult to learn later on. The moral is: it’s rarely too early to learn to loop. (For the purposes of this article, I will be mostly discussing the forehand loop. Against backspin, you may also use a backhand loop. Against topspin, however, the backhand loop is normally learned later on — although some may consider that to be outdated!)

This doesn’t mean that a complete beginner should be looping on his first day. However, once a player can hit a moderately good forehand with moderately good technique, he’s ready to begin the process of learning to loop, even as he continues to develop his other basic strokes. A player shouldn’t think of a loop as an advanced shot; it’s simply another shot, one that should be taught shortly after learning the basic forehand and backhand drive (also known as counter or counter-drive) strokes. The shot also adds excitement and variety to a player’s game, turning a basement player into a dedicated table tennis addict.

A beginner should start out looping against backspin, for three reasons. First, it’s more natural, as you are simply adding to the spin, rather than trying to change it. Two, the ball is traveling more slowly than a topspin (usually), and so is easier to learn against. Three, any player with sponge should learn to loop at least against backspin (even pips-out players), so this shot will be part of any player’s arsenal eventually. A player should learn to loop both forehand and backhand against backspin.

A robot gives a player a huge advantage in learning to loop. With a live player, you may be able to loop one ball against backspin, but then most players will block the ball, and the rally becomes a topspin rally. It’s hard to get much repetitive practice against backspin this way. Even if you practice with a chopper (who returns ball after ball with backspin), the various returns will have varying amounts of backspin and will not always come to the same spot, making it difficult to learn to loop. It’s hard enough trying to get the stroke right, the contact right, and keep the ball on the table. The last thing you want when you are learning to loop is for the incoming ball to keep changing its placement and degree of spin!

With a robot, a player can loop against the same backspin ball over and over, developing the stroke. Always remember that Correct Techniques + Constant Repetition = Well-Developed Strokes.

Once a player can loop against backspin, he’s ready to loop against topspin. This can be done either on a robot or against a living opponent who blocks. However, the robot has two advantages. First, it will give you a consistent ball, coming out at the same speed, direction and spin over and over, enhancing the learning process. Second, it allows a player to switch back and forth between looping against topspin and backspin, so both techniques can be developed together.

Many players learn to loop well against one type of spin (topspin or backspin), but not the other. This usually has to do with the shoulders. Against backspin, drop the back shoulder (right shoulder for right-handers, left shoulder for left-handers) when forehand looping. Against topspin, shoulder should only drop slightly, if at all. By switching the robot back and forth between these two spins, you can develop proper shoulder placement for both shots.

What is the difference between forehand looping against backspin versus topspin? Against backspin, the key is lifting the ball up, due to the backspin. You have to get very low by bending your knees, get your racket down, drop your back shoulder, and drive upward. The ball must be contacted on its very back, after letting it drop to about table level or even lower. Your force should go roughly toward the ceiling above your opponent’s head, NOT toward the other side of the table.

Against topspin, footwork is more important. The ball is coming at you faster, and the ball’s speed and spin make the ball rebound off your racket faster. You still need to get down some, but now your power is mostly forward. The knees bend only slightly, and the back shoulder stays up. The ball should be contacted toward the top, usually just after the top of the bounce, but before the ball has dropped to table level.

Here are a few drills for developing the loop on a robot.

BEGINNERS

The priority here is learning the stroke and proper contact. Start off by setting the robot on backspin in one spot, and practice it over and over, preferably with some input from a coach or player. Sometimes practice looping from the forehand side or middle, other times loop the forehand from the backhand side. Make sure to drive upwards, and just graze the ball. The goal is spin, not speed. A beginner should also try backhand looping against backspin.

When you feel comfortable looping against backspin, practice forehand looping against topspin. After all the lifting against backspin, your first few loops will probably go off the end. Try contacting the ball on the very top, drive forward, and keep your back shoulder up.

INTERMEDIATE PLAYERS

You’ve learned to loop, but want to loop even better. You should be forehand looping against both topspin and backspin, with slow, medium and fast loops, from and to all parts of the table. That’s 24 types of loops to practice already! (Not including backhand looping.) Get with it! (Intermediate players should also try the footwork drills given next for advanced players.)

ADVANCED PLAYERS

It’s time to throw in some footwork and randomness. Set the robot to sweep 50-75% of the table (both backspin and topspin ), and try looping them all with your forehand. (If you have a backhand loop, you may use that as well for some shots.) You should be able to cover more of the table against the slower-moving backspin. You might even try covering the entire table against backspin — if you’re very quick and very brave.

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HOW TO LOOP

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

The loop is the main offensive weapon in modern table tennis. It is a heavy topspin shot done by just grazing the ball in an upward and forward direction. The loop can be done forehand or backhand, but most players start out by learning the forehand loop.

The topspin on the ball in a loop does three things. First, it pulls the ball down as it travels through the air, so that a ball that might have gone off the end will arc downward and hit the table. This allows a player to loop at speeds that, without the topspin, the ball would probably not hit the table. Second, it makes the ball jump out and down when it hits the table. Third, it makes the opponent return the ball high or off the end of the table, if he doesn't adequately react to the topspin.

There are three types of loops:

(1) The slow loop is the slowest, spinniest loop. The player strokes mostly upwards and just barely grazes the ball. This gives the most topspin but the least speed. It is an excellent shot for setting up a putaway ball on the next shot, but some opponents may be able to attack it. Because of the fine contact, a player may miss the entire ball in attempting this shot. The slow loop is done mostly against backspin.

(2) The medium loop is the safest loop, with medium speed and medium spin. It is easier than a slow loop because the contact does not have to be as fine. To do a medium loop, you should sink the ball into the sponge a little more than with a slow loop, creating more speed but less topspin. The stroke is more forward than the slow loop. Another good setup shot, it is also a good rallying shot.

(3) The kill loop (or fast loop) is the most powerful and most difficult loop. A putaway shot, this loop is mostly speed but still has a lot of topspin. The ball sinks more into the sponge than with other loops, and the stroke is more forward.

In all loops, as with all other strokes, you have to stroke more up against backspin, more forward against topspin. Against backspin, a player can use the incoming spin to create more topspin, and so his loop will have more topspin. Against topspin, the very same loop will have less spin but more speed since the incoming topspin will make the ball bounce off the racket faster.

A loop is best done with an inverted sponge, preferably a relatively new sheet. A player can loop with pips-out, especially against backspin, but he will have less spin than is possible with inverted.

We will look at two photo sequences of looping: one against backspin, which we will cover in detail, and one against topspin, where we will cover the differences in looping against backspin versus looping against topspin. It is assumed readers are right-handed; left-handers should reverse.

FOREHAND LOOP AGAINST BACKSPIN

Start in a ready position, facing the table, feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, right foot slightly back, knees flexed, weight forward, muscles relaxed, no more than an arm length's away from the table.

Photo 1: Rotate hips, waist and shoulders backward, which shifts weight to the right foot and brings the racket and arm backward. At the same time, right shoulder should drop and knees bend, getting body as low as possible. Arm should straighten out, pointing backwards and downwards, with wrist cocked slightly down. Weight should shift onto right foot. Left arm should counterbalance right arm throughout the stroke.

Photo 2: Start stroke by pushing upward with legs, and rotating hips and waist forward. Shoulders should rotate in a circle - you should "pull" with the left shoulder. Right shoulder should lift up, giving lifting power against the backspin. Just before contact, snap forearm into the ball smoothly but vigorously. Snap wrist smoothly at contact.

Contact the ball as it drops for maximum spin and control, just after the top of the bounce for faster, more aggressive loops. Contact is made mostly to the right side of the body, right after shoulder and hip rotation. Vigorously whip the racket around the outside of the ball, closing it as you do so and creating spin. Contact is a grazing motion, mostly on the back, center of the ball. Contact should be made in the top half of the racket, toward the tip.

Photo 3: Arm should continue upward and forward, finishing with the racket somewhere above the forehead. Weight should transfer to the left foot. Return to ready position.

FOREHAND LOOP AGAINST TOPSPIN

Follow the same techniques used against backspin, with these differences.

Photo 4: Backswing is more backward, not so much downward. Knees only bend slightly. Right shoulder only bends slightly, if at all.

Photo 5: Against topspin, the legs push forward, not upward. Shoulders rotate, but right shoulder does not lift up except perhaps slightly, since it was not dropped much (if at all) to begin with. Contact is on the top rear surface of the ball.

Photo 6: Follow-through is more forward, not so much over the head.

Photo 1Rotate hips, waist and shoulders backward

Photo 2Start stroke

Photo 3Arm should continue upward and forward

Photo 4Backswing Photo 5The legs push forward Photo 6Follow-through

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Looping Heavy Backspin

Jena Newgarden
By Larry Hodges
Heavy backspin-the very mention can strike terror in the hearts of even the best players. Even star players like Peter Karlsson of Sweden can have great difficulty with it. What's the problem, and how can it be overcome?

First and foremost is the simple fact that since there aren't that many choppers, most players get minimal practice against heavy backspin. Players can practice looping against a heavy push, but a player then gets only one practice shot per rally, as opposed to many repetitive practice shots in each topspin drill (i.e. forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.).

A second related problem is that even if a player does practice looping against a practice partner's push, the follow-up shot is normally a blocked return, so the player doesn't get to do repetitive practice, i.e., do the same shot over and over against the same spin until it becomes second nature. This is how players practice against topspin (forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.), but unless you have a chopper or a robot (or a coach feeding "multiball"), you can't do this against backspin.

Both of these problems can be corrected by practicing on a Newgy robot. Even on its lower settings, its backspin is pretty heavy. Not only can you use the robot to learn the proper technique in looping this type of ball, but it will enable you to gain the confidence you need to make this shot in a game situation.

How is the shot done? We will analyze a photo sequence of U.S. Olympic Team Member Todd Sweeris looping against a Newgy robot set on heavy backspin. (Speed setting was at 3.0.) He is looping at about medium speed —half his power goes to spin, half goes to speed. An interesting note is that when the various photos from the photo session were compared, Todd's stroke remained identical in each shot. Photos from the same part in each sequence looked so alike that they looked like copies from the same negative.

(Editor's Note: There are 6 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first five are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 5 previous files. This file takes a while to load, but once loaded it will "play" all 5 still files in sequence, giving motion to the pictures and providing the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

A close study of the photos show that Todd is generating power from nearly every part of his body—his legs, waist, shoulders, elbow, and wrist. Even his left shoulder generates force by pulling his body around through the ball. Looping is truly a "whole-body shot."

Photo 1: Todd has bent his knees, especially his right one. Feet are well apart, giving him a firm stance. His right foot is parallel to the end-line of the table. He has dropped his right shoulder, and transferred most of his weight to his right foot—yet he is perfectly balanced. His waist is bent and twisted backwards. His playing arm, which he has straightened out somewhat, is pointed downward and backward. He has brought his wrist backward, so that the racket actually points backward. Both eyes are on the ball as he waits for ball to come into his hitting zone.

Photo 2: Todd's right leg straightens out, beginning his body rotation into the ball. Right shoulder has begun to rise, while left shoulder is rotating backward—pulling his body around. Waist is untwisting and unbending. His wrist has begun to snap forward.

Photo 3: Contact. Right shoulder has been pulled up, and both shoulders are rotating. Elbow and wrist are snapping through the ball. Most of the power is directed upward. Todd is still watching the ball with both eyes. (Against a faster incoming ball, he probably would not watch it as far in.) He has contacted the ball on the drop, about table level high. (For a slow, spinny loop, he'd let it drop more; for a faster loop, he'd contact it sooner. For a loop kill, he'd contact ball around the top of the bounce.)

Contact is mostly a grazing motion. For a slow, spinny loop, ball should barely sink into the sponge. For more speed, ball sinks more into the sponge. Except for a loop kill, ball should not sink in so much that you hear the ball hit the wood of the racket. In Todd's case, you could barely hear the contact.

Photos 4-5. The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around. (Because Todd has so much power on his loop, he is able to drive more forward against a heavy backspin than most players. Most players would follow through more upward, less forward. For a slower, spinnier loop, follow through higher; for a faster loop, more forward.) Elbow and wrist have snapped completely, with elbow now very bent. Most of his weight has transferred to his left leg, yet he remains balanced and ready for the next shot.

 

Todd has bent his knees, especially his right one

Todd's right leg straightens out, beginning his body rotation into the ball

Contact. Right shoulder has been pulled up, and both shoulders are rotating

Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3

The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around-First Step

The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around-Second Step

animation

Photo 4 Photo 5 Photo 6
By Larry Hodges

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Learning the Off-The-Bounce-Loop

Jena Newgarden


By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach

One of the newer strokes in the sport is the off-the-bounce-loop. This stroke is executed against your opponent's loop, immediately off the bounce. Unlike the traditional loop stroke that travels from low to high (vertical path), this stroke is much more horizontal in its path.

The Newgy Robo Pong 2000 is a great tool when learning this stroke. To best produce the flight path of a loop, I would recommend pulling your robot off the table a few feet and lowering its position from the floor. This will allow you to elevate the head of the robot and produce a more realistic loop trajectory. The Newgy Robo-Caddy is perfect for this.

Once you have your robot producing a good loop trajectory, start off by simply blocking the ball back. Once you have the correct timing and a good feel for the block, begin to close your racket and using just your wrist and forearm, brush over the ball. Little by little, lengthen your stroke until you are looping-off-the-bounce.

Keys to success:

  • Make friction contact with the ball.
  • Use a short stroke, redirecting your opponent's power.
  • The stroke is primarily forward. There is very little backswing.
  • Lift your elbow a little, so that your arm snap is moving horizontally not vertically.
  • Contact the top of the ball.
  • Push downward.
  • Watch the speed of your opponent's racket to help time your own swing.

With the help of your Newgy Robo-Pong 2000, you to can learn this dynamic stroke. The off-the-bounce loop is perfect for regaining the offensive and/or as an alternative to the block to keep your opponent guessing. Good luck and good looping.

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TOPSPIN DEFENSE

Jena Newgarden


By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach

All players will at some time find themselves in a defensive situation. For many topspin players, it is only natural to also use topspin when making defensive returns. These returns fall into two categories based on the player's distance from the table. Mid-distance returns are most often referred to as "Fishing". From long distance, lobbing returns are used.

Mid-Distance "Fishing"

This short topspin defense stroke is contacted from mid-distance before the ball has begun to descend. Most often used on the backhand against a driving loop, this stroke resembles a long blocking stroke with a little added topspin. You are just trying to redirect your opponent's power back to him/her.

The Fishing Defense is often effectively used against looping players who lack a strong flat kill stroke. To be effective the ball most be kept deep and at a medium height (shoulder height). At this height, it is difficult for the looper to generate enough power to finish the point. When using this defense, it is important to move your returns around to try and force a weak shot and then to counter-attack.

Basic Stroke Elements

  • Redirect your opponent's power back to him/her, using a short stroke
  • Make friction contact (spin) with the ball
  • Contact the ball before it descends
  • Contact is above the center of the ball
  • Return should be deep and medium high (opponent's shoulder level)

Key to Success: On the backhand side, always try to center the ball directly in front of the body. If you are reaching for the ball, you will lose control of your returns. Also, try to move your returns around the table forcing your opponent to move as much as possible.

Defensive Lobs

Topspin lobs are used when a player is deep from the table. To be effective, the lob must carry a lot of spin and land deep on the table. This stroke is executed with a long upward stroke, which carries the ball high into the air (10 to 15 feet high). I often tell my students to imagine themselves carrying the ball up an elevator shaft to emphasize the "lift" element of the stroke and obtain the necessary height on their lobs.

Basic Stroke Elements

  • Contact the ball as it is descending
  • Use a long upward stroke
  • Contact the bottom of the ball and brush upward
  • Make as much friction contact (spin) as possible
  • Return should be deep and bounce high on the table

Key to Success: The use of sidespin is very important when using a lob return. From the forehand side, add left to right sidespin (for right-handers) by contacting the outside surface of the ball. This will cause the ball to bounce sharply to your opponent's right on contact with the table. This leaves your opponent little choice but to return the ball directly back to your forehand side. Knowing this, you can anticipate the return and setup to counterattack.

Robot Practice Techniques

Your Newgy Robot is a perfect partner for practicing your defensive topspin techniques. The key is to duplicate the downward angle that would be produced by your opponent attacking the high defensive returns. This can be easily accomplished by using your Newgy Robo-Caddy. First of all, place your Robot in the Caddy and raise the Caddy to its highest position above the table. This will give you the downward angle you need to duplicate your opponent's smashes. Now set your Robot head for topspin and set the ball speed at a high level (7 to 10) and you are ready to practice your Topspin Defense.

(Editor's Note: See "Alternative Set-up For Wide Angles and Smashes," by Yeushan Goan for diagram on how to set-up your Newgy robot to simulate smashes.)

Practice Drills

Fishing Defense Practice 
Set up your Robot as described above and to oscillate over your backhand side of the table. Back up so that you are contacting the ball just before it begins to descend (from 6-8 ft. from the table). Now practice using your backhand "Fishing" defense returns. When you begin to feel comfortable with your returns, set the Robot to oscillate returns over the whole table. Practice "Fishing" with your backhand and counterattacking with your forehand.

Lob Practice 
Set your Robot as described above and to oscillate over one half of the table, either backhand or forehand side. Back up so that you are contacting the ball as it is descending, below table height. Practice making lob returns until you can keep the ball deep on your opponent's side. Practice both forehand and backhand lobs. Remember to try and add sidespin to your returns to control the direction of your opponent's returns. When you feel comfortable with your returns, practice mixing lobs and counterattacks. The ability to play some defense is an important skill even for the most aggressive player.

 

 

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Backhand Loop Against Topspin

Jena Newgarden


By: Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach

Perhaps the greatest change in the sport over the last ten years can be seen in the ever growing strength of the backhand loop. Not long ago, this stroke was only used against backspin returns to simply open up the point. Today, it is very difficult for the topspin attacker to be successful without equally powerful forehand and backhand loops. Let's take a look at the mechanics of the backhand loop stroke against topspin.

The Basic Elements Of A Good BH Loop Stroke Are:

  • Timing: Contact the ball while rising or at the top of the bounce.
  • Touch: Fast loops blend both friction (spin) contact, with force (hitting) contact. However, there is more friction contact than force. Remember that force always has a direction. With a fast loop against topspin, it will feel like you are pushing downward at contact.
  • Ball Contact: At the top of the bounce, contact ball above center. If contacted on the rise, the ball contact point moves higher, towards the top of the ball.

Stroke Description:

The key to a strong backhand loop against topspin is making the proper backswing for the stroke. Your backswing should place the racket on your left hip (right-handed) and NOT between the legs as you would for a loop against backspin. This will allow you to swing more forward and to be able to contact the upper part of the ball. For added power, bring your left foot backward. This will rotate your upper body backward and allow you to transfer your weight into the shot. This starting position should place your wrist down and back. At ball contact, the wrist swings up and forward. As in all strokes, you want to generate maximum acceleration while the ball is in contact with the racket.

Practice Drills:

Drill 1 - Counter and Loop Drill 
Set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep fast topspin ball to your backhand. Alternate between making two backhand counters and then one backhand loop. Concentrate on making good friction contact (spin) when looping and good force (hitting) contact when countering.

Drill 2 - Build-Up Power Drill 
Again, set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep fast topspin ball to your backhand. Execute your first backhand loop from the normal backhand counter position (left foot forward). On the second return, drop your left foot back and execute a series of three backhand loops, each a little harder than the last. The third loop should be hit with full weight transfer and power.

To see a good example of a power backhand loop, watch the QuickTime movie of Togo National Team Member, Kwaovi de Souza. Look for the racket backswing position and the wrist action at contact.

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Fast Backhand Loop Against Backspin

Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach

For most players, trying to generate a powerful backhand loop against backspin is the most challenging stroke in the game. Since the stroke is naturally shorter than its forehand counterpart and pulled across the body, it requires very good timing to generate good speed.

Key Elements
  1. The starting position for the racket is low and towards the left hip (for right handers)
  2. Contact the ball at the top of its bounce
  3. Contact the ball slightly below the center of the ball
  4. The racket should make about an equal amount of force (forward) and friction (spin) contact with the ball
  5. Your weight should shift from your left leg (right-handers) to your right leg.

Practice Techniques

Set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep backspin ball to your backhand side. Start off by simply pushing back a few returns and notice how low on the face of the ball you need to touch the ball to have it clear the net. Now alternate between pushing one ball and fast looping the next. Remember not to let the ball start to descend before you make contact and to contact the ball just below the center.

Now let’s watch one of the best fast backhand loops off backspin in the country. Didi de Souza from Atlanta demonstrates his superb backhand loop.

(Editor’s note: Also please notice how Didi steps slightly forward from his neutral position to push the ball quickly off the bounce and then takes a slight step backward before he begins his backhand loop. This back step is needed to give Didi the distance he needs to take a powerful swing at the ball when it is at the top of its bounce.)

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Forehand Loop Against Backspin

Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach

The forehand loop against backspin is one of the most powerful strokes in the game. It is also a stroke with which you can produce many variations of speed and spin. Since you are going with the spin already on the ball, this stroke can produce the heaviest topspin in the game.

There are two extremes of the forehand loop against backspin and many variations between the two. The first is the slower and very high spin loop. This stroke produces the highest level of spin, the highest trajectory over the net, the biggest jump forward when the ball strikes the table and the quickest drop towards the floor after it bounces. The second extreme is the fast forehand loop. This stroke produces the most forward speed, a lower trajectory over the net and a ball the travels far from the table after the bounce.

Key Elements

Element
Slow Loop
Fast Loop
Backswing position Almost straight down Down and back
Timing As ball begins to descend At the top of the bounce
Ball Contact Towards the bottom of ball Center or below
Friction vs Force Contact Almost all friction (Spin) Equal force and friction
Weight Transfer Almost straight up Forward towards target

 

Practice Techniques

Set your Newgy Robot to deliver a deep backspin ball to the middle of the table. Start off pushing the ball back with your forehand. Now try dropping your forearm below table height and just brushing up on the ball trying to impart maximum spin. When learning a new stroke, it is best to begin by training the wrist and forearm. As you feel more comfortable begin adding more and more of your body into the stroke. When you produce a good slow loop try changing your starting position to more back and down and try for some fast loops.

To get a good visual picture of these strokes let's look at one of the best loopers in the country, Didi de Souza from Atlanta.

Our first video shows Didi slow looping against underspin. See if you can pick out the key elements listed above in his stroke. The second video shows clearly the differences between the slow and fast loop.

(Editor's note: One oft-misunderstood principle of looping is that racket speed must be very high to produce heavy topspin. Even though a loop is described as a slow loop or a fast loop, it does not mean that the racket speed or body motion is slower for one than the other. Both have very high racket speeds and quick body motions. What does differentiate the two is the direction of force. The force on a slow loop is primarily up; whereas, on the fast loop, the direction is primarily forward. This can easily be seen in the second video by comparing the direction of the racket's travel in the slow loop versus the fast loop.

Also, please note Didi's excellent footwork that supports his powerful loops. In the second video, it can plainly be seen that he takes a small step backward for the slow loop and then another step backward for his fast loop. These back steps are needed to give Didi the extra space he needs to take increasingly more powerful swings at the ball.)

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The Penhold Reverse Backhand

Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach


Traditionally, penhold players used just one side of their racket, held in a pen like grip. This grip produces a very strong forehand style of play with a rather cramped, less versatile backhand.

Perhaps the most innovative new stroke technique of the last ten years has been the development of the Penhold Reverse Backhand. First made famous by former Olympic and World Champion, Liu Guoliang, this stroke has now become standard fare for almost all penhold players.

This stroke has revolutionized the penhold style by allowing penhold players to develop backhand techniques that are as strong as their shakehands counterparts. The advantages of this stroke are:

  • The ability to produce a true backhand loop
  • The ability to extend the reach of the backhand stroke
  • The ability to use rubbers of different surfaces
  • The ability to easily attack high balls with the backhand

Stroke Description

The name of the stroke, the Reverse Backhand, describes the stroke. Using the traditional penhold grip, the racket’s regular playing surface is rotated towards the player, which makes the reverse side (backhand side) point towards the opponent. The player then executes a very traditional backhand stroke, loop or counter.

Learning the Stroke

When first learning this stroke, you will probably find the wrist position somewhat awkward. However, it should not take long before it begins to feel natural. Your Newgy Robot is the perfect practice partner when learning this or any new stroke technique.

Key Stroke Elements:

  • While either Chinese or Japanese Penhold grips can be used. Most players will extend the fingers (Japanese style) when using the Reverse Backhand Stroke.
  • Do not over use the wrist. This stroke is mostly executed by extending the forearm.
  • Contact the ball early. The natural wrist position for this stroke puts the racket in a closed position. You can lay the wrist back a little by pushing with your thumb. With this in mind, contact your loop against backspin at the top of the bounce. Contact your counter drives when the ball is on the rise.

Stroke Videos

Our thanks to Phillip Gustavson, Atlanta, GA, for volunteering to demonstrate the Reverse Penhold Strokes. Phillip is unusual, as he is a native American player who decided to learn the penhold style. Phillip plays a traditional penhold pips-out hitting game combined with strong reverse backhand loops and smashes.

Video One – Penhold Reverse Backhand Loop Against Chop

You will notice how much this stroke resembles the shakehands backhand loop. Phillip starts the stroke low between the legs and generates a lot of lift with his legs. Also notice that he contacts the ball at the top of the bounce (do not let it descend). He then strokes towards his target, using mostly the forearm.



Video Two – Penhold Reverse Backhand Counter-Drive Against Topspin

Notice the natural closed position of the racket that the Reverse Backhand Grip produces. This makes counter driving and smashing very easy against topspin. Remember to hit flat, pressing through the ball, and not letting the wrist “roll over”. Also notice, how early Phillip is contacting the ball.

Conclusion

Ten years ago, many coaches felt that the penhold style of play would soon die out as the backhand was just not strong enough to keep pace with the development of the strong backhand loops of the shakehand players. The Reverse Penhold Backhand has changed all that. Players such as Ma Lin and Wang Hao of China, exponents of this new style, are at the top of the World Rankings.

Regardless of your level of play, if you are a penholder, you should strive to add this new technique to your game. It will open up a new world of possibilities for your style and your opponents will not know what hit them.

Next month, I will cover more drills designed to help you integrate these new strokes into your game.

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