The Chop Block - A Winning Variation
By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach
This handy stroke is just what its name implies, a block that returns the ball with chop (underspin) on it. It has many uses depending on style. For a close to the table defender, like U.S. Women's Champion, Gao Jun, it can be the main stroke of use. Gao uses this stroke to frustrate topspin attackers. The harder they topspin, the more spin she can quickly send back to them. Even topspin attackers find the Chop Block a handy variation of their normal backhand counter, often forcing errors from their opponents. This stroke is especially useful against the mid-distance looper. Using a Chop Block you can move the looper in and out and keep him/her from setting up in their favorite mid-distance location.
This stroke starts out looking like a normal block against topspin. The stroke is short and the blade is slightly closed. It is at ball contact where the difference between the normal block and the chop block can be seen. The normal block is made with force contact on the ball (no spin). When using the chop block, friction (spin) contact is made with the wrist chopping down on the ball, producing underspin. This requires a very light touch on the ball and a very relaxed wrist. The timing of this stroke is to contact the ball on the rise.
Your Robo-Pong 2000 is the perfect practice partner for learning this technique. Set your Robot to produce a medium/fast topspin to your backhand side. Start out using your normal backhand block or counter return. Now try making some chop blocks. At first try to keep your returns short on your opponent's side of the table. As you gain control with your returns, try pushing through the ball a little more and producing a deep chop block return. Finally practice mixing the chop block with your normal backhand counter strokes. The Chop Block is an easy stroke to learn and can pay handsome dividends for your game. It is a great variation from your normal counter drive and can produce many unforced errors from your opponent.
- Jena Newgarden