Table-tennis grips: Which one is the best (for you to use) ?

This is always an ongoing & raging argument among table-tennis players.  Every player especially new one seems to have their own “opinions” about what is the best grip that you should use to play table-tennis

 

Before that question is answered, let s look at the various grip types in modern table-tennis. Most of the grips are with minor to bizarre (basement) variations of 3 primary grips :-

 

  1. (Tennis) shakehands (or European ?) grip :-  This is probably the most popular or also probably most recommended grip probably because this is considered the most “normal” grip from other racketsports viewpoint and also because this is the only truly two-sided grip where you have clearly defined forehand and backhand. This grip is also referred to as horizontal grip in China. (See more on this in topic 2 where it is compared to vertical grip). In this grip you hold the racket just like you would hold a tennis racket , only difference being that your thumb & index finger must sit on the bottom of the blade parallel to the bottom side  on opposite sides of the blade. The thumb is on the side where you play your forehand ( on the right side of your body) and index finger on the backhand side ( mostly on the left and sometimes in the middle of your body and sometimes even on the inner right side). The forehand is traditionally played on your rightside and backhand on your left side of the body but sometimes in the middle or even to your inner right. This grip “was” considered overall the best grip because you can play forehand and backhand equally with ease and power.  One of the well-known problems of this grip which has been called the “shakehander disease” (in table-tennis only  not tennis) in the centre weakness. This happens when, due to extreme incoming ball speeds, the player is indecisive whether to play a forehand or backhand and it is usually too late for an amateur player. This may not be a big problem for a professional player as they seem to know or sense  what the ball is exactly going to do, three dys in advance while an amateur may not understand what happened even after the ball has passed by.  A major variation of this grip is known as the hammer grip, where the racket is held exactly as you hold a tennis racket with all 5 fingers away from the rackethead.  A legendary world champion Fernc Sido of Hungary used this hammer grip and amazingly had a complete all around game despite gripping this was & his being stocky. But generally this is considered a basement hacker grip and not recommended. A mistake many new players make is to stick the index finger farther up the back towards to the center of the blade (some even right up the middle) on th backhand side. This is a mistake & while this may strengthen the forehand a little, it also equally makes the backhand weaker. Few others stick their thumb up the middle of forehand which creates a backhand grip and almost totally kills yours forehand. Neither one is recommended. Yes there had been one world champion Hasegawa of Japan who had his index finger right up the middle of backhand-side & supposedly had one of the fastest & most powerful loops(topspins) in the world but this again is rare & not recommended. The best shakehand grip is therefore the traditional one with both thumb & index finger parallel to the side on the bottom of the blade to start with. Some minor variations can be made but only when you are past advanced stage. It is also EXTREMELY important to keep the rackethead as close as possible to the throat on bladehead side and not grip the racket down and away from the throat. Many players make this mistake and this causes loss of power and some control. Later on you can move it slightly away from the throat if this works later but only when you have developed past advanced player stage.All other bizarre basement grips such as having two or three or all four fingers up on the middle of the back of blade are most ridiculous and totally useless & must be corrected by the coach even if the player had used this for years & years.   
  2. Oriental (penhold) grip :- The definition of “orient” as countries of eastern Asia is used here which primarily includes countries of China, Japan & Korea but other countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand etc but excludes countries of rest of Asia such as India , Sri Lanka, Iran etc. (Unfortunately, despite being most dominant in the “sport” of “table-tennis” these oriental nations are also responsible for creating a bad image for the sport by referring to it using the name of a “game” called “ping-pong”)  More players (but decreasingly) than not from these oriental nations use what is called the penhold grip or vertical grip. In this grip, the racket is held like you would hold a pen with thumb & index finger and the whole racket is vertical to the ground as opposed to the shakehands grip where the racket is horizontal. Traditionally this was considered a one-sided grip because only one side the front side or forehand side of the racket has rubber and is used to play both backhand mostly in front of the body as well as forehand to the right side (a rightie) just like a shakehander. There are two sub-types of this grip called Jpen & Cpen but both Cpen & Jpen provide for devastatingly powerful forehands whether top-spin looping style using smooth rubber or flat-hitting style using short-pips, but relatively weaker backhands (traditionally but this has changed in a different way called reverse penhold which will be discussed later). Penholder serves  (Jpen or Cpen) are also known to be lethal & deceptive at all levels of play with extreme spins compared to shakehand player

      The JPen stands for Japanese (& Korean) Penhold Style because it is mostly used in Japan & Korea. The rackets used by these players usually have a rectangular rackehead rather than oval for shakehand or circular for Cpen style  which stands for Chinese penhold.  For Jpen grip the three fingers rest on backside of the rackethead and backside of the racket is not used. This Jpen grip provides for an very powerful forehand compared to Cpen but much weaker backhand compared to Cpen or shakehand grip.For Cpen grip the three fingers on backside do not rest on back of the rackethead but are kept curled above the blade. This provides a better backhand for Cpen than Jpen but both Cpen & Jpen are relatively weaker compared to shakehands (this is from among the entire population of players with all different grips but there are always exceptions such as 3 time World Champion from China, Zhuang TseTung who was a Cpen player but supposedly had a better (Cpen) backhand than forehand .

       The Penhold grip is essentially a grip for attacking style of play and not for defensive style of play. There had been no known defensive player at the professional level who used the penhold grip of any type to play a chopping defense though there been some top amateur players. All defensive chopping players at all levels are shakehand style players.

       The latest development in the Penhold Grip arena is what is called the RPH (Reverse Penhold). This is a variation of the Cpen grip but you need rubbers on both sides of the racket.  You play the forehand as usual Cpen but on the backhand you do not use the forehand as you do in traditional Cpen but you use the back side of the racket just like you would play a backhand using a shakehand racket. But because of the weird orientation angle of the backhand side of the Cpen racket compared to a backhand of a shakehand racket, this revese penhold (RPH) can provide a natural sidespin on the backhand loops throwing most new players totally off balance. Moreover it can be even more difficult to play someone who uses different rubbers on backhand and forehand. Long-time coach of the World Champion Chinese national team and Olympic and World Champion Liu Guoliang pioneered this grip in the 90’s and he used short-pips (hitting rubber) on one-side & smooth (spinning) rubber on the other side.   More and more Cpen players (mostly Chinese) are moving to this grip.

 

  1. The American (or Seemiller) grip : This is referred to as such because it was literally moved from American basement into a legitimate playing style. This was primarily referred to as Seemiller grip initially as many time US Singles champion & World top 20 player Danny Seemiller and his doubles partner his brother Ricky Seemiller who reached top 10 in the World in doubles as well as another brother Randy Seemller made this grip known.  This is primarily a one sided grip though there had been few American players who had successfully used it in two-sided mode. This grip is now referred to as Amerian grip because there was another US Champion & top 20 in the World player,  also American called Eric Boggan who used a variation of this grip. This grip is only known in North America as many basement players knowingly or unknowingly (of Seemiller & Boggan) use this grip. As stated earlier this is mostly a one-sided grip where only one side of the racket, the forehand is used but somewhat similar to but also somewhat different from the penhold grip. Unlike having the thumb and index finger parallel to side and on the blade of the racket, these two fingers sit on edge of the racket. Only the forehand is used in a windshield wiper fashion on the backhand side. There are many subtle variations as to where & how exactly the index finger & thumb sit on the edge of the racket.  Danny Seemiller’s grip is forehand oriented giving a weaker backhand and Eric Boggan slightly modified the grip to have a more consistent backhand. Danny Seemiller in his prime had one the fastest & most powerful forehand loop (topspins) in the world but because of this players who tried to attack Eric Boggan on his backhand got decimated because his grip gave him a  backhand like a wall. All these players also use two different rubbers (anti top-spin rubber usually on one side) on either side for variation by twiddling the racket and using the other side.         

 

Final Verdict :-  What is the best grip

 

It used to be that shakehand grip was always the most recommended grip due to the fact that it provides overall the best forehand and backhand and an all around game.  The traditional penhold player was mostly limited to blocking or at best lobbing from the backhand side.  However the RPH has completely changed the balance of powers since a RPH Cpen player can spin powerfully equally from both backhand & forehand.

Theoretically speaking, as it stands now (strictly theory ONLY….reality is addressed at the end of this paper), there is no doubt the Cpen with RPH is the superior grip. This is because

  1. There is no longer lack of powerful topspins from RPH backhands from Cpen
  2. Penholders (Jpen or Cpen) in general have spinier & deceptive serves
  3. The backhand can be used in the topspin mode with RPH or used in the deadball block mode using traditional backhand mode
  4. Whether you have a hitting forehand or spinning forehand, penhold is superior
  5. If you use a combination racket with hitting & blocking short-pips  on one side and top spinning smooth rubber on other side and if you can hit from both sides with short pips and top-spin & powerful backspin pushes over the table both sides with smooth rubber, this 4 dimensional power for a penhold player is far superior and powerful compared to a similar combination shakehands player using short-pips / smooth rubber.  

However unfortunately,

There is no such thing as a universally best grip that will work equally well for everyone. The best grip for you on the other hand,  is what is you have been cursed or blessed with. You need to experiment with your grip and identify the grip you are born with. Many coaches make the mistake trying to force a player to choose a grip based on personal preferences and that is a big mistake. In the late 70’s when Hungarian were dominant or in 90’s when Swedes were dominant everyone tried to switch to shakehand and it was the fad. In the 2000’s everyone wishes they can play RPH and this seems to be the fad. Of course the probability of your being a penholder is quite low if you are not oriental but that does not mean you may not be the exception. There had been a few Europeans at the top level who were penholders but it is very rare. Also if you are oriental it does not mean you should play penhold because a larger percentage of Orientals are shakehanders (compared to the probability of European or from Western Asia (such as from India, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc) being a penholder).  Both are of course mistakes because you need to stick to the grip you were born with.  This may not be hard because most born to be shakehand players usually seem to be bad with penhold grip.  However strangely most penhold players are reasonably good with shakehand grip as well but that does not mean they must switch to shakehands. Who knows we may have a world champion one day who will play shakehand, Seemiller & penhold grips equally well at the highest level LOL 

 

What makes tabletennis so interesting is the fact that every individual is unique. You need to identify what grip and playing style suits you best.  Given that I recently saw reverse penhold chopper who could chop from the backhand in RPH mode after ball like a shakehand chopper anything seems possible LOL

 

       Anyway it is not farfetched to experiment using two different grips.  Since penhold grip provides for heavy and deceptive spins, there had been some shakehand players who serve using a penholdgrip and switch back to shakehand for the ensuing rally.  Many American grip type players may switch to shakehand grip when pushed away from the table.

 

     Also as I said earlier, it seems lot more penholders can play decent shakehand far more than shakehanders who can play decent penhold. But it seems that most shakehanders can play American grip at least in the blocking (on backhand) and looping (on forehand) modes ( shakehanders would probably have the most difficulty pushing in American grip mode) . So there is nothing wrong in experimenting if you may be the first player who can play multiple grips as situation warrants.