FOREHAND COUNTER

Jena Newgarden

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

This stroke starts the same as the forehand block in the last chapter. Your stance and position to the table are the is struck at the top of its bounce. Unlike the block, which is executed with a relatively still racket, the counter has a medium-sized backswing and follow through. This is done by pulling your racket backward with your forearm and then pushing it forward and slightly upward. Be sure to maintain the correct racket angle throughout the stroke.

Stroke the ball mainly with the forearm, using your elbow as a pivot point. Hold your racket slightly below the height of the ball at the beginning of the stroke and finish with it slightly above the height of the ball. Stability in the stroke is achieved by making sure your racket is at or slightly above the level of your elbow at contact. An indication of a complete stroke is the tip of your racket pointing forward or slightly to the left at the end of the stroke. Keep your wrist tilted down and do not let it flop back and forth.

Lesson 5: Forehand Counter With No Foot Movement

Aim the robot so it will shoot balls to the middle of your forehand court and turn off the oscillator. Starting at a slow speed, begin to forehand block the ball crosscourt. When you get a feel for the ball, take a quick step backward. At the same time take your racket back by twisting your waist and shoulders, and pulling back your forearm (not the upper arm). Timing your swing with the oncoming ball, swing forward into the ball as illustrated in Photo 8 on the next page. Remember to swing primarily with your shoulders and waist, not with your arm.

Focus your eyes on the ball until just before contact. Keep your head steady and don't let it turn as you twist your torso. Time your twist so the ball goes crosscourt. If you twist too soon or too quickly, the ball will go wide to your left. If you twist too late, too slowly, or not enough, the ball will go down-the-line instead of crosscourt. Be careful to keep your wrist straight and tilted down. When you are ready to place the ball down-the-line, bend your wrist slightly backward and time your twist the same as you did when you placed the ball crosscourt.

Develop a forehand counter following the same procedure as you did with the forehand block. First, at low speed and frequency crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternating crosscourt and down the-line. Gradually turn up ball speed and frequency until you have reached your upper limits. As you turn up the frequency and/or speed, remember to do a complete stroke. Don't turn up the speed to the point that you shorten your stroke. Your goal is 25 successful counters in a row at each stage.

Photo 8: Forehand Counter (crosscourt) Notice how the whole right side of the body is twisted into into the ball and how the forward swing and follow through are about the same length.

Images 1&2: End of back swing. The racket is raised to the anticipated height of the ball and the racket angle is adjusted slightly. The back swing is chiefly a twisting back of the waist and shoulders and a pulling back of the forearm (not the upper arm).

Image 3: Forward Swing. Mainly a twisting forward of the shoulders and waist.

Image 4: Just after ball contact. Notice the closed racket angle and the very quick acceleration from its position in Image 3. This was accomplished mainly by snapping the forearm forward and rotating the upper torso. The upper arm still has not moved very much.

Image 5: Follow through. The upper arm continues to move the racket forward and upward.

Image 6: End of stroke. The racket ends up in front of the face in line left.

Lesson 6: Forehand Counter With Foot Movement 
Follow the same sequence as you did with the forehand block. Move the sweep control levers to the 1 and 4 positions for right-handers or to the 3 and 6 positions for left-handers. Practice your forehand counter in a crosscourt direction with the ball moving randomly within your forehand court. Then practice hitting the ball down-the-line, and finally alternate between crosscourt and down-the-line. Gradually build up the ball speed and frequency. Be sure to move your feet and get into good position before stroking the ball. Avoid reaching for the ball within your arm. Your goal is 25 successful counters in a row at each stage.

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COMBINING FOREHAND AND BACKHAND

Jena Newgarden
Excerpts from Larry Thoman's Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 Player's Instructional Manual
Once you are proficient at forehand and backhand block and counter strokes, it is time to learn how to combine forehand and backhand strokes. Maintaining a good ready position is the most important aspect of combining strokes. A good ready position decreases reaction time, permits easy movement in any direction, and assists in making a smooth, flowing transition from one shot to the next.

Most of the drills described in this chapter require you to have good footwork. If you have trouble maintaining consistency when you have to move your feet, take time out to read Chapter Nineteen Footwork, pages 63-64, and shadow practice the footwork until you feel comfortable with that kind of movement.

Lesson 14: Ready Position

To assume the ready position, look at Photo 13 and keep your:

(1) Feet apart, at least shoulder width or wider. Your right foot is slightly further back than your left foot.

(2) Weight on the balls of your feet with the heels slightly off the ground and your weight evenly distributed on both feet.

 

(4) Arms hanging down with the forearms bent at an approximate 900 angle to the upper arms. This should place the elbows slightly in front

(5) Knees bent according to your height. A tall person needs to bend his knees more than a short person. Avoid standing up straight with your knees locked.

(6) Racket pointed forward, not favoring forehand or backhand.

(7) Head tilted up with your eyes focused on the ball.

(8) Entire body balanced, relaxed, and in a state of alert readiness.

(10) Mind clear, ready to jump start the body into action as soon as ball speed, spin, and trajectory are perceived.

The basic sequence of a rally is as follows: First, assume the ready position. Second, judge the trajectory of the ball. Third, move to the ball. Fourth, stroke the ball. Fifth, return to ready position.

The ready position begins and ends every stroke and every rally. Practice this by:

(1) assuming the ready position,

 
Photo 13: Typical Ready Position

(2) taking a quick two-step (refer to Footwork, for an example of two-step footwork) to the forehand, (3) executing a shadow stroke forehand counter, (4) taking a two-step back to your original position, and (5) reassuming the ready position. Repeat this action until it feels comfortable.

The next drill will be to repeat the same drill as in the preceding paragraph except you add a backhand counter. For this drill you would: (1) start in the ready position, (2) take a quick two-step to the forehand, (3) shadow stroke a forehand counter, (4) take a two-step back to your original position, (5) reassume the ready position, (6) shadow stroke a backhand counter, and (7) finish by reassuming the ready position once again. As before, repeat until it feels comfortable.

Lesson 15: Combination Block Strokes With The Ready Position

To practice forehand and backhand combinations, turn the robot off and set the sweep control levers to the numbers 2 and 5 positions. The ball will land from the middle of your forehand court to the middle of your backhand court.

Assume the ready position just to the left of the center line. Make sure your racket is pointed straight forward and that the racket and your forearm align with the center line of the table. Turn the robot on at a slow speed and frequency and practice a backhand block when the ball lands to the left of the center line and a forehand block when it lands to the right of the center line. After each stroke, make sure you assume the ready position before stroking the next shot. Do one drill in which you place all blocks (both forehand and backhand) crosscourt, and a second drill where you place all blocks down-the-line.

Gradually build up your speed, but be careful not to go so fast that you forget to return to the ready position between strokes. Once you have reached your upper limits without losing good form, increase the range of oscillation by changing the sweep control levers to positions 2 and 4, if you're right handed, and 3 and 5, if you're left handed.

At these settings the ball will land randomly from your forehand corner to the middle of your backhand court. Repeat the above drills, but this time move whenever the ball goes to the wide forehand. Again, do one drill placing all blocks crosscourt, and a second drill placing all blocks down-the-line. Start at slow ball frequency and build up. Lastly, set the oscillator to sweep the entire width of the table (sweep control positions 3 & 4) and repeat. Be sure to use a backhand block whenever the ball lands in your backhand court and a forehand block whenever the ball lands in your forehand court. Gradually build up ball speed and frequency. Your goal is 50 successful blocks in a row at each stage.

Lesson 16: Combination Counter Strokes With The Ready Position

Practice the drills described in the previous lesson, but use backhand and forehand counters instead of blocks. Then practice the drills using a backhand counter when the ball lands to the left of center and a forehand smash when it lands right of center. Remember, whenever you start a new drill, start slowly, and gradually build up your speed.

The next drill will be to set the robot to deliver balls to the middle of the backhand court with no oscillation. Practice hitting one backhand counter and then step out and hit one forehand counter. Keep alternating between the two strokes, placing the ball crosscourt at first, then down-the-line. Then practice hitting a backhand counter, followed by a forehand smash. Again, hit the ball crosscourt at first, then down-the-line. Your goal is 25 successful counter and/or smashes in a row at each stage.

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FOREHAND SMASH

Jena Newgarden

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

When you're proficient at the forehand counter with foot movement at high frequency, it's time for the most fun stroke in the game-the forehand smash. The forehand smash is really an extended, more powerful version of the counter, just as the counter was an extended, more powerful version of the block.

Add a longer back swing and follow through to the counter and shift your weight harder from back leg to front.Accelerate your forearm quickly through the ball. Time your shoulder and hip turn so you contact the ball at thepeak of its bounce. After contact, allow your arm to swing up and over the left shoulder. It is also acceptable tolet the racket follow through in a salute to the forehead instead of finishing over the left shoulder. Try both to see which feels better.

When done correctly, the forceful hip turn results in transferring all of your weight from the right leg to the left leg. This provides you with tremendous power. Additional power can be generated by pulling back the left shoulder with your left arm as your right shoulder twists into the ball. Start at slow speed and frequency because the added backswing and longer follow through will take more time and you need the extra time to get ready for the next shot.

When first learning to smash, start with the robot delivering slow speed topspin balls that are 18-24 inches high (suggested settings-ball speed 2 1/2, head angle "G"). As you get better at smashing, grad-ually lower the height of the ball and increase the ball speed until you can smash a ball only 6-10 inches high.

Lesson 7: Forehand Smash With No Foot Movement

Practice the smash using the same sequence as you have used for the other strokes you have learned so far. However, for the smash, your goal should be 15 consecutive strokes without missing. The forehand smash is quite tiring, so you may need to build up your stamina before you can do 15 consecutive smashes. Be aware that fatigue can drastically hamper your stroke, so take a break as soon as your consistency begins to falter. Also, because of the longer time it takes to execute the smash, you won't be able to turn the ball speed and frequency up as high as you could with the block or counter.

Another important skill to learn is how to forehand smash from the backhand corner. Set the robot to deliver balls to the middle of your backhand court. Step over until you are at the backhand corner and position your feet so they are parallel to the sideline of the table. Now set the controls for low ball speed and frequency and turn the machine on. Practice the forehand smash crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternate between the two. Gradually build up the ball speed and frequency and lower the height of the shot.

Lesson 8: Forehand Smash with Foot Movement

Switch the oscillator control levers to the 1 and 4 positions if you are right handed and to the 3 and 6 positions if you are left handed. Set the ball speed and head angle for an easy, medium high topspin ball to the forehand. Keep the ball frequency slow, about 3-4. Adjust the oscillator speed as described on pages 2-4. Practice the forehand smash with the ball moving randomly within your forehand court. Place the ball crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternate between the two. Gradually increase ball speed and frequency. Your goal is 15 successful smashes in a row at each stage.

The last step to learning the forehand smash is to expand your range of movement. The forehand smash is the only stroke I will cover in this book that is designed to finish off a point. Therefore, it'simportant to step out on your backhand side and use your forehand smash whenever an easy ball is placed there.

To practice this skill, set the sweep control levers to the 2 and 4 positions if you're right handed or to the 3 and 5 positions if you're left handed. At these settings, the ball will be placed from your fore-hand corner to the middle of your backhand court. Turn on the ball frequency and adjust the oscillator speed as suggested on pages 2-4. When you have it adjusted correctly, use your forehand smash to return all balls-do not use your backhand. You'll have to move quickly to cover this entire distance, and this drill is an exhausting one even for top players. Your goal is 15 consecutive smashes in each direction (crosscourt and down-the-line).

Lesson 9: Combining Forehand Smash

On page 34 you will see the three strokes you have learned so far the Block, the Counter, and the Smash. In reality, these are not three separate strokes, but three phases of the same basic forehand stroke. Look closely at the photo of the smash and you will see it incorporates all of the components found in both the counter and the block. Likewise, the counter incorporates all the elements of the block.

The contact point (both in relation to distance arm to forearm angle are all essentially the same. The biggest differences between these three strokes is stroke length, amount of weight shift from back leg to front, and degree of racket acceleration.

The block has a very short swing with almost no back swing and very little follow-through. The counter has a longer swing with a definite back swing and follow-through. And the smash has a very big swing with a much longer back swing and follow-through. The block has no weight shift from back leg to front, the counter has a 60-80% weight shift, and the smash has an almost complete 100% weight shift. Racket acceleration varies from very little in the block, to moderate acceleration in the counter, to very explosive acceleration in the smash.

In a game, the choice of which stroke to use is usually dictated by the amount of time you have to get ready for the shot and the amount of control you wish to maintain in the rally. If your opponent is attacking and you have little time to get ready for a shot, the block is the correct choice. It takes little time to execute and the need for controlling your opponent's power is at a premium. In an average rally, where both players are jockeying for an opening, the counter is your best choice because it is a blend of power and control. When you get an easy slow ball, use the smash to end the point because you have plenty of time to get set and con-trol is less of a factor.

To practice strengthening these three strokes and to reduce the transitional time it takes to go from one stroke to the next, do the following drill. Set your robot to deliver a medium speed, medium height topspin ball to the middle of your forehand court.

Start by blocking the first ball, countering the second ball, then smashing the third ball. Keep alternating from block to counter to smash and back to block for approximately 5 minutes. After blocking, take a quick step backward before you execute your counter. Likewise, take a quick step forward before doing the block. Do this drill often and concentrate on keeping the contact point, racket angle, and arm angle the same with each of these strokes. The transition from one stroke to the next should feel smooth and almost like you're practicing one stroke instead of three different ones. The length of the stroke and the amount of power you are generating should be the primary differences among these three strokes. 


Photo 9:Forehand Smash (Crosscourt) 

Notice the very long swing, the rapid acceleration of the racket before ball contact, and the forceful twist of the 
shoulders, waist, and right leg. 
Image 1: End of back swing. Waist and shoulders have been rotated back as far as they can go and the forearm has been cocked back. At this point, 90% of the weight is on the right leg. The racket has been raised to the anticipated height of the ball at contact. 
Image 2: Forward swing. The waist and shoulders are being rotated into the ball as weight is being 
transferred to the left leg. The forearm is beginning to be un-cocked. 

Image 3: Immediately after ball contact. Note the closed racket angle. The forearm has been rapidly 
snapped forward. The racket is at the level of or slightly above the level of the elbow. 
lmages 4&5: Follow through. Shoulder and upper arm continue to push racket forward and slightly 
upward. Waist twist continues to transfer weight to the left leg. The right leg has twisted forward with 
a definite thrust at the knee. 
Image 6: End of stroke. The powerful momentum to finish on the left side of the head. The shoulders have rotated almost 1800 during the stroke, and the 
waist has rotated about 1350. Nearly 100% of the weight has been transferred to the left leg,
 


BLOCK COUNTER SMASH

Photo 10: Comparing Forehand Block, Counter, & Smash

Look at the three photos above very carefully. The photo of the block was taken just before ball contact while the third image of the counter and smash were both captured just after ball contact. Note how the racket is at or slightly above the level of the elbow at contact and the forearm to upper arm angle and the racket angle are essentially the same in all three strokes. Compare the difference in weight shift between the counter (60-80%) and the smash (90-100%). This weight shift is evidenced by the amount of leg kick. Note the distance the racket travels between images 2 & 4 in the counter and the smash. Since the timing between each image remains constant, this reveals that the racket is moving at a much faster pace in the smash than in the counter. The photo of the block is not stroboscopic because the racket moves so little the images would have been indistinguishable.

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FOREHAND DRIVE

Jena Newgarden

FOREHAND DRIVE

As your skills develop, you may want to learn how to attack a backspin return instead of just pushing it back, particularly if you like to be offensive. The stroke to use is the forehand drive. This stroke is similar to the forehand smash with only minor differences. When driving backspin, contact the ball with a more open racket angle and stroke more upward than in the smash. At contact the racket face is almost perpendicular.

When first learning the forehand drive against backspin, it may be difficult to get the ball to clear the net. This is because the backspin causes the ball to rebound downward when it grabs into your rubber surface. To counteract this effect, it is necessary to stroke forcefully at high speed and/or open your racket angle even more, so you are actually striking the ball a little below center and driving the racket up through the ball. This will provide the necessary "lift" to get the ball to clear the net.

This is not an easy stroke to learn, so don't get frustrated if it is difficult to execute with any consistency. It is OK to temporarily skip over the next lesson if you find it difficult to execute the forehand drive with consistency. In this case, do the remaining lessons and come back to Lesson 19 at the end.

Lesson 19: Forehand Drive 

To learn this stroke, set the spin to backspin, the speed to 2, the frequency to 3, and turn the oscillator off when the robot head points to the middle of your forehand court. Practice the forehand drive first crosscourt, then down-the-line, and then alternate between the two directions. Next, turn on the oscillator and practice the forehand drive with the ball moving randomly inside your forehand court, then your whole backhand court, and finally 3/4 of the whole table from the middle of your backhand court to your forehand corner. Lastly, combine your forehand drive with the backhand push by setting the oscillator to sweep the entire table and practice pushing on your backhand side and driving on your forehand side. Your goal is 15 successful drives in a row at each stage.

Another good drill is to adjust the robot to shoot balls to your backhand and practice pushing a backhand followed by stepping out and doing a forehand drive from your backhand court. This is a particularly useful drill because it develops a variety of skills: a backhand backspin defensive stroke (touch), a forehand topspin offensive stroke (power), and footwork (quickness). Do this drill using no oscillation, then gradually turn the ball frequency up to 4.


Photo 16: Forehand Drive (Crosscourt) 
Notice how the racket starts below the level of the ball at impact and the racket finishes high above the head. Also note the very rapid acceleration of the racket between images 2and 4and the almost vertical racket angle at contact. 
Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken back and down by rotating the waist and shoulders and pulling the forearm back. Note that the racket is below the level of the anticipated point of contact. 
Image 2:Forward swing. Racket is beginning to rapidly accelerate forward. This is achieved by rotating the waist and shoulders, twisting the right leg, and pushing the forearm forward. 
Image 3: Just after ball contact. The racket angle is almost vertical, and the racket has accelerated forward and upward. Notice how, just like the forehand smash, the racket is at the level of or slightly above the level of the elbow at time of contact. 
Image 4: Follow through. Racket has traveled upward by raising the upper arm. The waist and shoulders continue to rotate forward. 
Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Upper arm continues to raise racket until it finishes above the head. Shoulders and waist have rotated approximately 135, The weight shift from the right leg to the left leg is so strong it has pulled the right leg forward.

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SMASHING

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges 

One of the best drills you can do on your Newgy robot (or in any practice session) is a smashing drill. On the Newgy robot, smashing drills are easy to do, because the robot gives you a consistent ball to smash, and keeps giving you ball after ball. With a live practice partner, the rally would end after most smashes.

By giving you a consistent ball, the robot allows you to work out the kinks in your stroke, knowing that any mistakes are because of your technique, not because of your practice partner giving you variable returns (i.e., different placement, speed, height, depth, trajectory, or spin).

Because you get to do the stroke over and over with no stopping of play, you get a far more efficient workout than if you have to stop after each shot while someone fetches the ball. It is this constant repetition that enables you to develop a "repeating stroke," one that you can do over and over in any situation.

Once you have perfected the smash against the robot, you should practice against live competition so that you can learn to adjust to variable returns.

All the practice on the robot isn't going to help too much if your smashing technique is incorrect. In fact, practicing a poor technique makes it that much more difficult to change later on.

Using the robot, you can practice smashing against both topspin and backspin. The shots are similar, but with a few key differences.

SMASHING: The Basics

It is assumed that you have a decent forehand drive (Editor’s note: also known as counter, hit, or counter-drive) already, and can hit forehand-to-forehand somewhat consistently. What is the difference between a regular forehand drive and a smash?

Obviously, it is the speed of the ball that you are trying to maximize, while still controlling the shot. To maximize power, you need to use your entire body, especially the legs, waist, shoulders and forearm.

Backswing: Twist your waist around more than usual, so that you are nearly facing sideways. Bring your racket farther back than usual, with most of your weight on your back foot.

Even if the ball is very high, backswing almost straight back, then raise the racket to the proper height. The backswing and the raising of the racket should be one continuous motion. This enables you to keep better balance.

Forward swing: Start forward swing with the legs, then the waist, then the shoulders, and lastly the forearm. There should be a powerful forearm snap just before contact. (Editor’s note: this sequence of muscular contractions is very important for maximum acceleration. Start by pushing your weight forward with the back leg, then twist your waist and shoulders into the ball, and then snapping the forearm forward. If you start one muscle group too early or too late, your power will be greatly diminished.)

Contact: Sink the ball straight into the sponge so that it sinks through to the wood. There should be a loud wood sound. Make sure to hit downward on high balls. Whenever possible, hit the ball at the top of the bounce. (Editor’s note: this increases your margin for error and provides more possibiities for placing your shot.)

Try to keep the racket angle constant around the contact point, or you will lose control. Preferably, your racket angle should have been decided before you start the forward swing. It is okay to close your racket some as you swing forward, but never open your racket as you smash, or you will get an out-of-control backspin shot that will usually fly off the end. (This can be used against a high, short ball, but is not really necessary.)

Follow-through: Let the racket follow through naturally forward.

SMASHING AGAINST TOPSPIN
(See Photo 9 in Coaching Article Archives) 
You will have to close your racket slightly against topspin—aim slightly downward. Against a somewhat high topspin, you should start your forward swing with the racket slightly above the contact point, and hit slightly downward. The harder you hit the ball, however, the less the spin will take on your racket, and the less you have to worry about the spin. Watch for the sudden bounce as the incoming ball hits the table - the topspin will make the ball take a fast, lower bounce. 

SMASHING AGAINST BACKSPIN
(See Photo 16 in Coaching Article Archives)
 
The main difference in smashing against backspin is that you may have to start with your racket either directly behind or even slightly below the ball. Against a relatively low backspin ball, or against one with extremely heavy backspin, you will start with the racket slightly below the ball and stroke slightly upward. The harder you hit the ball, the less you will have to do this.

You can smash a backspin ball just as you smashed against a topspin ball, sinking the ball straight into the sponge and to the wood. However, you will get more control (but less speed) if you hit the ball with a slight upward motion, hitting the ball with more of a glancing blow, creating some topspin.

A ball with backspin does not bounce out very much, so stay close to the table. Normally, you should hit the ball at the top of the bounce, but many players hit backspins on the rise—sacrificing some speed for quickness. By hitting the ball on the rise, the ball also tends to bounce upward off your racket, helping you combat the backspin. This is especially effective for pips-out players.

 

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Forehand Smash Against Backspin

Jena Newgarden
By Larry Hodges

It's been called a "dying art," due to the loop-kill. Yet, it's one of the most dynamic point-winning shots in the game, and the scariest shot for a chopper to contend with. Playing a chopper without this shot is like running a mile with a bad limp—a severe handicap.

Additionally, not all players have the ability to loop-kill effectively. Since much of the power of a loop goes into topspin, there is less power for speed. Many players, especially older ones, do not have this extra power to spare. Others simply do not have the ability, time or interest to develop a loop-kill, and so smashing is simply the better option. (For one thing, it's a simpler shot to learn.) Still others are simply more talented at smashing than at looping.

Besides, what can be more devastating to an opponent who's spent years developing his loop against backspin, only to have you smash his push like it had no backspin at all!

When is the best time to smash against backspin? Obviously, when the ball is high. However, there are two other considerations.

First, a deep ball is harder to smash than a ball that doesn't land very deep on the table—a "medium-deep ball." A good smasher will often smash a ball that lands in this middle area, even if it is low. Deep balls, even slightly high ones, can be more difficult to smash than low, medium-deep ones.

Second, a player has to judge how well he has read the spin. Smashing is a precision shot, and if you read the spin well, you can smash even a pretty low backspin pretty well, especially if it doesn't land very deep on the table. If you think you've read the spin very well, then don't be afraid to go for it! There's nothing more satisfying than reading a low but medium-deep backspin perfectly, smashing it cleanly, and seeing the look on your opponent's face. (For one thing, many modern players don't realize how much easier these medium-deep balls are, and if you smash his "low ball" in, he doesn't know what to do next. Talk about intimidation!)

A good way to practice this shot is to set a Newgy robot on backspin, slightly high, and take your shots! Experiment with the depth of the robot's backspin shot, and test the difference between smashing deep and medium-depth balls. Practice smashing to all parts of the table. It's all about precision and control. You might also try hitting at less than full power (for consistency), or quick off the bounce (to rush an opponent).

In the five photos below (plus an animated sequence!), U.S. Collegiate Singles & Doubles Champion Sean Lonergan demonstrates his forehand smash against backspin, using a Newgy robot.

(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 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.)

Photo 1: Backswing Begins.

Sean's weight is moving toward back foot. His waist is twisted backward, so that his right leg points sideways. His racket has been brought back, just below where contact point will be, with tip slightly down.

Photo 2: Forward Swing Begins.

Most of Sean's weight is now on right leg, and is about to transfer forward. His waist is about to untwist. He has turned his head to keep the ball directly in front of both eyes. He has also closed his racket. (Not all players do this.)

Photo 3: Contact.

Sean's weight is transferring to his left leg. His right leg is now pointing mostly forward. His waist has untwisted. Just before contact, his forearm snaps into ball. His racket has moved slightly upward to meet ball, and opens to about 90 degrees with the floor. He is watching the spot where ball was just before contact—contact happens too quickly to actually see, so he instead is getting a very good look at it just before contact. Contact is at the top of the bounce.

Contact itself is has a very slight upward motion (since racket started just below the ball, and rose to meet it), giving the ball a light topspin. However, most of the force is forward, so nearly all of the power translates into speed.

Photos 4–5: Follow-through.

Sean spins around on his waist, with racket moving around and up. His weight has transferred to his left leg. He finishes standing very close to where he started stroke, so even if the ball comes back, he is ready for the next shot.

Photo 1

Photo 2 Photo 3
Photo 4 Photo 5 Photo 6

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KILL THAT CHOP!

Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach

Hitting against the under spin ball is rapidly becoming a lost art in this country. During the last 30 years the loop-drive has become the stroke of choice in attacking under spin. The result is that you often see loopers who have no ability to "kill" a high chop. While the loop-drive is a safer shot as the ball travels higher over the net and lands in a shorter distance; it does have its weaknesses when dealing with the under spin ball.

First, speed is always a superior weapon over spin. While any spin has the potential of being returned (often being used against you), you can produce speed that your opponent cannot physically return. No matter what your style, everyone should be able to make a kill against an under spin return. Here's how!

1. Make contact with the ball at the top of its, bounce. Once the ball begins to fall it cannot be hit. It must be spun.

2. The contact point on the ball is the center or slightly below the center of the ball. The heavier the under spin, the lower the contact point.

3. Make "force", not friction, when you contact the ball.

4. The direction of the racket is forward and up (push up at contact).

5. The heavier the under spin the more you should accelerate your racket through the ball.

6. Stroke towards your target.

 

Practice Drills

Your Newgy Robot is the perfect practice partner for learning to kill a chop. First set your Newgy to produce a medium high chop to your forehand (no oscillation). Start off by pushing a few balls to get the feel of the spin. Now begin to hit against the under spin using the technique described above.

When you feel comfortable hitting against under spin, try mixing looping and hitting together. Finally, set your Newgy to oscillate under spin over ? of the table. Try to loop several balls in a row and then finish with a forehand kill.

By practicing these basics with your Newgy Robot, you too will know the satisfaction that comes when you "Kill That Chop".

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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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The Push

Jena Newgarden

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

 

The Push

All the previous drills have been performed against topspin. Now you need to learn how to return backspin effectively. The easiest stroke to use to return a backspin shot is the push. The push, like the block, is a very simple and easy stroke. It is, however, a very important part of the game and must be mastered.

The push is typically used when the opponent gives you a backspin return that is so well placed that you cannot attack it safely. The push is then used to keep the ball in play until a better opportunity for attacking comes along.

The main purpose of the push is not so much to win the point, but to return it accurately and safely. For this reason, concentrate on developing good touch and control on your pushes, and forget about power and speed.

A push stroke is performed using an open racket angle and contacting the ball somewhere between the center and the bottom. Stroke motion is from high to low in a forward direction. This motion and the open racket angle result in applying your own backspin to the ball. The push is a relatively slow speed stroke with only a small amount of gentle acceleration. It is performed very close to, or often, actually over the table. The point of contact is after the top of the bounce, as the ball is falling.

Lesson 17: Backhand Push

To learn the push, change the spin setting of your robot to backspin. Decrease the ball speed to 2, the ball frequency to 3, and turn the oscillator off when the robot head lines up with the middle of your backhand court. The head angle should be set to "C".

Turn the robot on and practice pushing with your backhand. Stroke mainly with the forearm, keeping the elbow and upper arm relatively still. At first your returns will likely keep going into the net because of the effect of the backspin. Keep opening up your racket angle and aim for the bottom of the ball. Contact is light, almost like you are trying to slice the bottom off the ball. If the ball keeps going into the net it may be necessary to lift your elbow somewhat as you make contact with the ball.

When you get the ball to clear the net, keep the push as low over the net as you can. Don't push hard or fast. Rather, use a soft, guiding touch with your push so you can place it accurately. Regain the ready position after each stroke.

When you get the feel for the push, practice until you can push 50 crosscourt, 50 down-the-line, and 25 patterns of alternating crosscourt and down-the-line pushes without missing. Gradu

ally increase the frequency up to 4 and the ball speed up to 3. After reaching your upper limit, turn the unit off and set the sweep control levers to sweep within the backhand court and practice your backhand push with the ball moving around randomly.

Lesson 18: Forehand Push

The forehand push is the next stroke to learn. Like the other forehand strokes, contact the ball to the side of and slightly in front evenly distributed on both legs. Push the racket towards the bottom of the ball by straightening out the forearm. At the same time, take a small step forward after ball contact.

The racket head should rotate around so it is pointing forward at the end of the stroke. It may help to bend your upper

so you can better see the bottom of the ball. Regain the ready position between each stroke.

Practice the forehand push at slow speed and frequency until you can consistently push 50 in a row crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally, alternating crosscourt and down-the-line. Increase the frequency to 4 and the ball speed to 3. Next, practice the push with the robot set to sweep within the entire forehand court. Then change the control levers so the robot sweeps the entire table and practice combining forehand and backhand pushes. Recover to the ready position after each stroke and before moving to the next stroke. Your goal is 50 consecutive pushes without missing.

 
Photo 14: Backhand Push (Crosscourt)

Notice that the speed of the racket is constant. The even spacing between images indicates a smooth, flowing stroke. Also note the small step forward with the with the right leg and how the upper body is tilted forward so the elbow hangs in front of the body.

Images 1 & 2 (almost completely overlapping): End of back swing. Racket was open.

Image 3: Forward swing. Racket angle has not changed. Right leg begins to step forward at the same time as the forearm begins to push the racket forward.

Image 4: Just after ball contact. Racket tip is starting to rotate forward.

Image 5: Follow through.

Image 6: End of stroke. Arm is almost completely extended forward. Right leg has (as shown by position of face). Racket tip is pointing forward

 

 
Photo 15: Forehand Push (Crosscourt)
Notice the upper body has been tilted to the right and the right leg steps in as the ball is stroked.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken back by pulling the forearm back. Racket angle is open.

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket angle has not changed. Right leg begins to step forward at the same time as the forearm begins to push the racket forward.

Image 3:Just before ball contact Racket tip is starting to rotate forward.

Image 4:Follow through. Forearm and upper arm continue to push the racket forward and the racket tip continues to rotate around.

Images 5 & 6:End of stroke. Arm has been almost completely extended been lowered slightly (as shown by position of face). Racket tip is pointing forward. Stroke could actually have ended at Image 5. Racket movement between 5 and 6 is unnecessary.

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BACKHAND BLOCK

Jena Newgarden

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

 

 

BACKHAND BLOCK

The backhand block, like the forehand block, uses the speed and spin that is already on the ball to return the ball back across the net. The biggest difference between the backhand and forehand block is the backhand forehand block makes contact with the ballto the side and in front of

Stand about 12 inches in back of the center of your backhand court (the left court as you face the table, for right handers) in a squared

Intercept the ball with a still racket as the ball is rising and just before it reaches its peak. Angle the racket open or closed by rotating the forearm to make the ball return low over the net. If your return is too high, you must angle the racket more closed by tilting the face of the racket toward the table. Conversely, if your return is too low and doesn't clear the net, you must open the racket angle slightly by tilting the face of the racket closer to vertical.

Lesson 10: Backhand Block With No Foot Movement

Adjust the robot to deliver topspin shots to the middle of your backhand court at a slow pace and speed. Practice your backhand block in the same manner and in the same sequence as you did the forehand block. Start slowly with no oscillation and blocking the ball back crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternating shots in the two directions. Gradually build up the ball frequency and speed. Be sure that you can do, without missing, 50 crosscourt blocks, then 50 down-the-line blocks, and finally 50 patterns of alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks.

Remember not to swing at the ball. Merely block the path of the ball with your racket and let the ball's speed and spin cause it to rebound across the net. Experiment with tilting the racket angle downward until you can consistently place the ball back in the desired direction and low over the net.

Lesson 11: Backhand Block With Foot Movement

When you have reached your current maximum limits in Lesson 10, you're ready to combine movement with the backhand block. To add movement to the robot, turn the main switch off and set

Photo 11: Backhand Block (Croscourt)

Notice angle of the racket. It is tilted slightly closed to compensate for the topspin on the ball and slightly to the right to make the ball (almost hidden by the racket) counterbalances the racket hand. Weight is equally distributed on both legs.

the sweep control levers to the numbers 3 and 6 positions if you're right handed and to the numbers 1and 4 positions if you're left handed. Set the ball frequency and ball speed controls to 1-2 points below your maximum rate, as determined in Lesson 9. Adjust the oscillator speed setting as described on pages 2-4.

The balls will be randomly delivered from the center line of the table to the backhand corner. Practice blocking the ball back crosscourt with your backhand until you are consistent, then practice down-the-line blocks, and finally alternate crosscourt and down-the-line blocks, all with the ball moving to random positions within your backhand court at slow speed. Always you. Avoid reaching for the ball with your arm. MOVE YOUR FEET! Keep your elbow it is going to shoot so you can move into position before the ball is thrown to you. Once you complete this sequence at below maximum speed and frequency, gradually turn up the ball speed and ball frequency controls until once again you reach the upper limit of your current ability without losing consistency.

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