SERVE RECEIVE

Jena Newgarden

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

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


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


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 theright 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 rightsurface 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 theright 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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HOW TO EFFECTIVELY RETURN SHORT SERVICES

Jena Newgarden

By Richard McAfee, USATT International Coach

The Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 is the perfect practice partner for learning how to effectively return any serve. In today’s game, the majority of serves are short to middle in depth with a long serve thrown in mainly as a surprise tactic. With this in mind, this article will focus on how to return short serves effectively.

Practice Goals

Your primary goal should not be limited to just returning the serve. Serve and serve return is a battle for control of the point. Players who return short serves well use a mix of return techniques to keep their opponents off balance. These techniques include the short drop, the deep push, and the flip.

Setting up the Robo-Pong 2000 for practice

  1. Turn the head to the Backspin Position.
  2. Point the head straight down so the ball bounces on the side of the Robo-Pong 2000 first.
  3. Turn the speed setting to 2.
  4. Set the oscillation and ball frequency controls to the desired setting.

Basic Technique and Practice Concepts

  • Focus on the movements of the wrist and elbow joints.
  • Move to the ball. This often requires moving a foot well underneath the table.
  • Do not extend (straighten) the arm when reaching for the ball.
  • Practice without ball oscillation until you can control the stroke. Use ball oscillation when basic control has been achieved.
  • When control over short serves is achieved, then slightly increase the ball speed settings and practice against middle depth serves.

Short Drop Technique

  1. Contact the ball while it is rising.
  2. Contact the middle of the ball.
  3. Make friction (spin) contact with ball.
  4. Racket (wrist) motion is downward.
  5. Practice making short drops to all areas of the table.

Deep Push Technique

  1. Contact the ball at the top of the bounce.
  2. Contact the ball below center.
  3. Make friction (spin) contact with the ball.
  4. Racket (wrist) motion is forward and down.
  5. Placement locations include both corners and to your opponent’s playing elbow.

Flip Technique

  1. Contact the ball at the top of the bounce.
  2. Contact the ball below center (open racket)
  3. Make friction (spin) contact with the ball.
  4. Racket (wrist) motion is up and forward.
  5. Try to cut your opponent’s sidelines with your returns.

Controlling Side-spin Serves

Once you have control over simple backspin serves, try turning the head to add sidespin to the backspin serves. Depending on how you adjust the head, both right to left and left to right sidespin-backspin serves can be produced.

The secret to controlling sidespin is to contact the correct spot on the ball that will stop the ball from spinning. By now you have already found out that touching the ball below center stops the backspin rotation of the ball. The same holds true for the added sidespin. Touch the ball on the correct side and you will stop the sidespin rotation of the ball. Touch the ball below center and on the correct side and you will stop both the backspin and the sidespin on the ball. This sounds complicated, but is very simple once you practice the technique a few times.

Try this experiment. Set the Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 to deliver a short backspin-sidespin serve. Try touching first one side, then the other of the ball. You will see that on one side the spin will rotate into your racket. The ball will feel heavy on your racket and jump off to the side. When the correct side is touched, the ball will not jump off your racket but return on a straight line. This occurs because the rotation of the ball has been stopped.

To utilize this technique in a match situation, carefully watch where your opponent’s racket touches the ball while serving. Try to touch the ball in the same location your opponent’s racket did. In this way, you become the mirror image of your opponent. This applies pressure against the oncoming spin and neutralizes the spin. Once you touch the correct spot on the ball any of the above return techniques can be used.

The serve return is often the most neglected part of the average player’s game. With the Robo-Pong 2000, you have an opponent who can produce any type of serve and never gets tired of serving to you. Remember that the serve and the serve return are your first opportunities to control each point. Your ability to learn these skills will have a major impact on the level of play you will be able to achieve.

Good luck and many happy serve returns.

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Using your Robot To Practice Serve Return

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Thoman

This column will consist of questions that have been asked of the staff at Newgy or our replies to questions posed on the table tennis newsgroup, rec.sport.table-tennis. This month's question was asked in an e-mail by Ulf Kahn last year. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us at expert@newgy.com or fax or write us. All questions cannot be answered, but every month we will pick out one of them to answer in this column.

Question: 
How can I use my Newgy robot to practice the return of services?

I realize that the robot can't conceal the spin, but I am referring to the settings on top or backspins ? What speed setting should be used to simulate a likely serve? Top and backspin with or without sidespin?

Answer: 
Ulf,

 

As with all robot practice, please be aware that the robot is most useful at helping you to practice actual strokes. In this regard, you can quickly learn correct paddle angles and stroke motions to return almost any combination of spin, speed, and placement.

Another tip you can use to make the robot better simulate a particular serve you are having trouble with is to place your robot in a Robo-Caddy. Then drop down the caddy so that the discharge hole of the robot is around 6 inches above the table surface to decrease the serve angle and keep the ball lower to the net. You may also want to move the robot away from the center of the table to better reproduce the ball path that a serve would typically take from the server's backhand corner, for instance.

Whenever practicing serve return, you must act like you do not know what serve the robot is going to serve. So, in this regard, you must make yourself return to a neutral serve position in between each stroke. Your neutral serve position should enable you to quickly move into a good position to cover the entire possible serve angles and return serves that are short or long and fast or slow. And, as you noted, using the robot's oscillator will help to simulate the wide variety of serves that are possible.

Once you have the required skill to return the robot's serves effectively, it will then be necessary to continue to work on these skills with a coach or training partner. Your coach or practice partner should vary serves in a controlled manner so that you can then work on reading the server's motion to ascertain what spin s/he is applying to the ball and then selecting the correct stroke motion to return that serve effectively.

Your coach/training partner should start by giving you serves that are very robot-like and telling you what spin they are applying to the ball. Gradually, s/he makes the serves increasingly difficult and begins to NOT tell you what spin is on the ball. Eventually, s/he will serve to you just like s/he would do in an actual tournament match, where s/he is trying to make you miss every serve. At any time in this development process, if you find yourself missing more returns than you're making, you should back up, simplify the drill, increase your success rate again, and then redo the drill you were having trouble with.

Practicing serve return should be part of your everyday practice. But it is especially important before a tournament. Allot more time to the practice of these skills in the weeks immediately preceding a tournament.

Good luck.

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Short Returns of No-Spin Serves

Jena Newgarden

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.

Good luck!

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.


Here are some related articles on serve return in our Newgy Coaching Forum Archives:
Using your Robot To Practice Serve Return 
How to Effectively Return Short Services

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Attacking Half-Long Serves

Jena Newgarden

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.

While most players try their best to serve short, it is inevitable, especially during extremely tense moments of a match, that the serve unintentionally goes half-long. Capitalizing on this mistake can be the difference between winning and losing.

 

The difficulty with attacking this type of serve is recognizing that the serve is indeed actually going to bounce off the end of the table. Not attacking long serves is a common mistake that nearly every player is guilty of.

 

The first thing that needs to be done is to train the eye. If you cannot determine almost immediately that the serve is going to bounce long, you will be indecisive when returning the serve. The only way to improve this is practice against thousands of half-long balls.

 

Using the Newgy Robot:

 

Place the head of the robot downwards to make the bounce the same as a serve. Make sure that every ball is bouncing slightly off the edge of the table. If you are concerned about hitting the edge of the table with your racket, increase the speed of the ball to have it come off the end of the table a little farther. In the beginning use the lowest backspin setting and the placement should be in one spot on the table (i.e., a half-long serve to the backhand). The repetition of the balls should give you enough time to start in ready position, attack the serve, and then completely return to the ready position.

(Editor's note: this translates into a Ball Frequency setting of only 1–2. See Short Returns Of No-Spin Serves for additional editor's notes on setting up your robot for serve practice. )

 

The Drill:

 

When returning serves, the first movement should be to set up for an attack, as if you know the serve is coming out long. The reason for this is that it is much easier to step in if the serve turns out to be short rather than long. If you step in first and then the serve turns out to be long, you will most likely be making the common mistake of pushing a long serve because you haven't allotted enough time to see if the ball is going to come off the end of the table.

 

Keep your body as low as possible because you will be striking the ball when the ball is on its descent. The follow through should be forward and well over the table. Don't be nervous about hitting the table, after lots of practice you will be attacking serves that barely come off the edge of the table with confidence and little concern of striking the table.

 

Attacking these types of balls will give you an offensive advantage and put tremendous pressure on your opponent to keep his serve short. The added pressure often results in unintended half-long serves. So keep the pressure on!

 

Good Luck!

 

Eric Owens

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