Jena Newgarden

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



The first stroke to learn is the forehand block. It is called a block because you want to block the path of the ball with your racket. The block almost feels like no stroke at all. You do not swing at the ball, but merely intercept the ball with your racket almost like a bunt in base ball. The block uses a ball's speed and spin to make your return go back over the net. The block does not add more speed or spin to the ball. It simply redirects the speed and spin back to your opponent. It is used to return topspin.

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, 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, angle the racket more open by tilting the face of the racket closer to vertical.

One common mistake for beginners, when they are getting ready to hit a forehand, is to reach out and touch or lean on the table with their free hand. This is a direct violation of the rules and will cause you to lose a point in a match. So keep your free hand up and use it to counterbalance your racket hand.

Lesson 3: Forehand Block With No Forehand Movement

Now that we are ready to play against the robot, pick up your racket and hold it with a shakehand grip and with the racket face perpendicular to the floor and the wrist tilted down. Position yourself right at the end of the table, just to the left of the center line as shown in Photo 7 (left handers need to stand to the right of the center line and will have to substitute right for left and left for right in all further instructions.) Take up a slightly sideways stance so you can make contact with the ball to the side and slightly

With the robot controls set as follows: spin - topspin, ball speed - 2 to 3, ball frequency - 3 to 4, oscillator speed - off, oscillator range - 3 to 4, head angle - C or D, head directed to forehand court. Turn the power switch to "ON" and after waiting for the balls to load up, prepare to block the ball back across the net with a still racket. DO NOT SWING AT THE BALL. Merely intercept the ball just before it reaches the peak of its trajectory after it has bounced on your side of the table. Experiment with tilting the racket angle downward until you can consistently place the ball back in a crosscourt direction and low (approximately 2-3' inches over the net. Make the ball go back by redirecting the ball's speed and spin.

Photo 7: Forehand Block (Crosscourt)

Note angle of the racket. It is tilted slightly down (to compensate for the topspin on the ball) and slightly to the left (to to the right with about 60% of the weight on the right leg.

Do not add more speed to the ball with your stroke. Remember to keep your wrist steady and tilted down. Do not allow it to flop around. Your goal is to correctly execute 50 crosscourt blocks in a row without missing.

Once you have gained consistency at blocking the ball back crosscourt and low, bend your wrist backward slightly so your return goes down-the-line, in stead of crosscourt. Practice this down-the-line block until you can consistently place the ball back low over the net. Your goal is to correctly execute 50 down-the-line blocks without missing.

The next step is to alternate crosscourt blocks with down-the-line blocks. Practice until you can successfully execute 25 patterns of one crosscourt block followed by one down-the-line block. When you can do this, you're ready to add more frequency and speed to your shots.

Turn the ball frequency off. Reset the ball speed setting to 3-3 1/2 so each ball is delivered close to the end line on your side of the table. Turn the ball frequency to 4 and practice crosscourt blocks until you do 50 in a row without missing. Then practice down-the-line blocks until you do 50 in a row. Finally, practice alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks until you successfully do 25 patterns without missing.

Turn the ball frequency off and reset the ball speed to a higher setting. When you turn the frequency control back on, adjust to a setting higher than your previous setting. You do not necessarily have to turn up the ball speed and frequency to the same level, although this is usually the case with the block. You may also need to adjust the head angle to keep the ball on the table. When you turn the ball speed higher than 3-4, you have to raise the head angle so the ball doesn't bounce on the robot's side of the table first. Rather, the ball is delivered so it first bounces on the player's side. Repeat the same sequence of crosscourt blocks, followed by down-the-line block, followed by alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks. It may be helpful to back off from the table slightly as you turn up the ball speed to allow more time to position your racket correctly.

NOTE: As you build up the ball speed, it becomes increasingly important not to swing at the ball. Be sure to attain consistency at each step before proceeding to the next step. Keep increasing the ball frequency and ball speed settings until you have reached the limit of your current ability and you begin to get erratic in your ball control and placement. Make note of the settings when you have reached your maximum limits.

Lesson 4: Forehand Block With Footwork

When you have reached your current maximum limits, you are ready to combine movement with stroking. To add movement to the robot, with the main switch off, set the sweep control levers to the numbers 1 and 4 positions if you are right handed and to the numbers 3 and 6 positions if you are left handed. Set the ball speed controls to 1-2 points below your maximum rate, as determined in the preceding lesson.

Turn the main switch on and adjust the ball frequency to a comfortable level. The balls will be randomly fed to an area from your forehand corner to the center line of the table. Practice blocking the ball back crosscourt with your forehand 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 at a slow speed. Once you complete this sequence at below maximum speed and frequency, gradually turn up the ball speed and ball frequency controls until you reach the upper limits of your current ability without losing consistency.

It will help if you watch the robot head to see which direction it is going to shoot so you can move into position before the ball is thrown. When moving sideways to hit a forehand it is important to move the feet to the remain upright and bent slightly forward. Remember tomove first, stroke second. Avoid reaching for the ball. If you are having trouble moving, you might want to shadow practice table tennis footwork .


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Develop Your Push With Robo-Pong

Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach

Perhaps the most overlooked stroke in the game is the simple push. The ability to execute a good quality push stroke is critical for players of any style. The push is used to move your opponent around and for returning underspin serves. If you can't produce good spin on your pushes, your opponent will have many opportunities for an easy attack.

The basic elements of a good push stroke are:

  • Make as much friction (spin) contact as possible.
  • Contact the ball as it is descending.
  • Contact the bottom of the ball.
  • Direct the ball to one of three locations:
    • Deep to the backhand corner
    • Deep to the forehand corner
    • Deep into your opponent's playing elbow.


Stroke description:

The push stroke should actually be thought of as an over-the-table chop. It is a short stroke executed with the forearm and wrist. The most common error is to reach too much for the ball and over extend the arm. This causes a loss of control. You need to catch the ball close to the body. Another common fault is to start the stroke with the arm held too high. This will keep you from contacting the bottom part of the ball and producing good spin.


Suggested Practice Session:

  1. First of all, set your Newgy Robot to produce a deep underspin return to your backhand.
    • Practice making as much spin as possible on your pushes (5 min)
    • Practice directing your push to one of the three prime locations listed above. (5min)
    • Practice changing the amount of spin on your returns. Changing the amount of wrist used does this. (5 min)
  2. Now adjust your Newgy Robot to oscillate backspin returns within in your backhand court (oscillator lever positions 3,6 for right-handers; 1,4 for left-handers).
  3. Next repeat the above sequence directing the ball to your forehand side (oscillator lever positions 1,4 for right-handers; 3,6 for left-handers).
  4. Finally, set your Newgy Robot to full table oscillation (oscillator lever positions 3,4) and Repeat the above exercises.

Important Points to Remember:

Good pushes require good footwork. Reaching for the ball will produce weak shots. Both the amount of spin and the location of your push returns are equally important. Good quality pushes will force errors or weak attacks from your opponent.

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The Chop Block - A Winning Variation

Jena Newgarden

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.

Stroke Description:

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.

Practice Suggestions:

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.

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Fast Push Techniques

Jena Newgarden

By: Richard McAfee, USATT Certified National Coach

The push is not often thought of as an aggressive tool, but rather as a basic keep-the-ball-in-play stroke. The reason for this is simple. Adding speed to a pushed ball is difficult as underspin causes a ball to rise up during flight. Push too fast and the ball will sail off the end of the table. Because of this, most players emphasize producing heavy backspin (as opposed to fast speed) with their pushes if they want to force errors or weak attacks from their opponents.

Rather than only using heavy spin on your pushes to force weak returns, mixing in a fast push can be a great surprise tactic. Often a surprise fast push will force a weak shot from your opponent and enable you to step-around and attack with a strong forehand loop or kill. Here is how to execute a fast push stroke.

First and foremost, contact the ball at the top of the bounce. Your racket should make friction contact with the ball (spin), contacting the middle of the ball and pushing forward and down. This is very different from producing a spin push where the ball is contacted on the way down and more towards the bottom of the ball.

To practice this shot, set your Newgy Robot to produce a push return and have it oscillate over the entire table (Oscillator Lever positions 3 & 4). Now practice mixing spin pushes with a sudden fast push until you can produce both shots with ease. Good luck and good pushing.

Important Notes: Adding sidespin to this stroke can make it even more effective. Also, when you use the fast push in a game situation, look to attack the next return.

Basic Elements of Push Strokes

Stroke Element Spin Push Fast Push
Timing As ball is descending Top of bounce
Ball Contact Location Bottom of ball Middle of ball
Ball Contact Type 
(Friction or Force)
Friction Friction

(Editor's Note: If you have trouble learning this stroke, you may want to start off with having the robot deliver the ball 12 to 18 inches high above your side of the table. This will allow for a greater margin of error. When you gain consistency with your stroke against a high ball, lower the ball delivery angle a little at a time until you can fast push even a ball that is barely over the net.)

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