Understanding & attacking 

side-spins (loops,lobs,chops,serves)

 

Terminology :-

 

Before I start let me give an over-simplified description of 5 types spin in table-tennis. I say over-simplifed because it is a bit more complicated than this but for the purposes of this discussion this is sufficient.

 

1.       No spin  (Happens when the striker hits the ball dead on 90 degrees imparting no spin whatsoever).  Best example I can give is the flat serve in tennis where the sever just hits the ball focusing all energies on generating pure speed and no spin at all.  This is also referred to in ping-pong circles as “slamming” or “smashing” the ball.  This kind of playing style all but vanished in tennis in 70s when Jimmy Connors was the last of pure flat hitters. In table-tennis this style vanished in late 80s. Emphasis in modern table-tennis is maximum spin first then speed. 

2.      Top-spin  (or over spin) is the bread butter spin in table-tennis as well as tennis. The ball is spinning towards the same direction as ball travel direction ( Z axis ) . The striker hits on the top or over the ball to generate top-spin and hence the name top-spin or over-spin

3.      Back-spin (or under-spin) :-  Seems to have limited application in tennis as slice. In table-tennis it is referred to as the chop. The ball is pinning in the opposite direction of ball travel. So in essence top spin is the opposite of back-spin. The striker hits under the ball and hence the name under-spin or called back-spin because the ball is spinning backwards instead of forwards as in top-spin

4.      Side-spin happens when the ball is spinning from left to right or right-to left but along the X-axis plane The X-axis plane lies parallel to the ground). The ball travels in the z-axis

5.      Cork-screw spin happens when the ball is spinning clock-wise or counter-clockwise in Y axis-plane as the ball travels in the Z axis. If you are familiar with physics of an electromagnetic wave, these spins are identical. The electromagnetic wave travels in Z direction. The magnetic field component lies in X axis (parallel to ground plane). Think of side-spin as magnetic field. The Electric field is in Y axis in a plane perpendicular to X axis. Think of the electric field as the corkscrew spin.

 

To keep things simple here I am not discussing cork-screw spin but only side-spins as they may be more dominant spins from a practical stand-point.

 

 loop a ball that carries very heavy top-spin from your opponent and shoots straight out and / or dips after bouncing on the receivers’ side. A side-spin-loop also contains heavy top-spin as well but also a contains a heavy-side-spin component that causes the ball to sharply curve left or right sideways in addition to dipping due to the heavy top-spin. In tennis the side-spins are mostly significant only in the serve when the (second) serve is usually a slice (backspin curving and dropping to the low right of a rightie receiver from a rightie server) or a twist (topspin awkwardly shooting high up to the high left of a rightie receiver from a rightie server.) Otherwise in tennis you see an occasional side-spin (drops & lobs) here and there during rallies but in table-tennis very heavy side-spins exist during rallies as well as serves and this greatly complicates matters for a beginner or even an intermediate player. This is because, given the small playing area in table-tennis, the heavy side-spins can pull the ball completely from one side to the other side and totally out of the table, resulting in loss of points . The myriad combinations and variations of no spins and (side-spins with (top-spins or back-spins)) can drive a beginner or even an intermediate player crazy in table-tennis.

chop is a ball that is like a slice in tennis but carries lot more back-spin (also known as under-spin) coming at the receiver. A chop , like the loop can also contain a side-spin component. Generally you can distinguish a loop from a chop by looking at how the ball behaves after bouncing on the receivers’ side of the table. If the ball shoots out and dips down it is a loop (top-spin). If it tends to more shoot up and not shoot out it is a chop (backspin) . With that in mind we will look at how to attack side-spin loops first and then sidespin chops and finally we will discuss how to attack sidespin serves.

 

Counter-(side) looping your opponents’ Sidespin Loops

 

 


 

Figure 1

Look at the diagram above looking at the table from above (The net is in the middle and the doubles line is also shown just for reference purposes only) . All references are right-hander opponent to right-hander receiver. Your opponent’s sidespin hookloop is shown in Red and you are the receiver and your returns are shown in Blue & Green Let us say your opponent sends you a sidespin loop (in solid red line above) forehand to forehand .that hits the table and breaks to your right. If you are a clueless opponent , who also contacted the ball on the back or to your right of the ball) , you will most likely return the ball as shown in solid green line, which if you are lucky will land on the table to the extreme right of your opponent and most cases go out. or land on your side of table (as shown in broken lines green) But if you are lucky it lands so deep right and inside that you look like a genius but in fact you are clueless.

 

If you really understand how sidespins works , you will send the ball as in the solid blue line trajectory. And this gives you an error margin of the entire table to your left (your opponents’ right) , as this is the direction the ball tends to pull due to your opponents’ initial sidespin if you contact the ball on the back or to the right (your right) . Even if your opponents heavy sidespin pulls your return to his right it will still land in the middle of the table as shown in ( dotted blue lines ) But if you REALLY know what you are doing , you will also contact the left (your left) of the ball, and not the back or to the right (your right) of the ball to somewhat nullify your opponents’ sidespin.

 

A professional player can return the ball around the net and slide it on the table without it bouncing (fully legal ) as shown above (In violet color)

 

The problem with initiating side-spin loops is that you need to be prepared for both extreme angles of return as above. If you send a side-spin loop to an intermediate player, (s)he will most likely follow the green path , but if it an expert player is your opponent , you can guess the return will follow the blue path..

 

A left-handers forehand inside out loop (also known as fade loop I believe) will also travel the same direction in Red ( in Figure 1 above)

A right-handers backhand inside out loop (or fade loop) will also travel the same direction in Red ( in Figure 1 above)

A left-handers backhand hook loop will also travel the same direction in Red ( in Figure 1 above)

 

 

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Figure 2

 

Look at the diagram above looking at the table from above (The net is in the middle and the doubles line is also shown just for reference purposes only) . All references are left-hander opponent (in red) to right-hander receiver (you returning in blue or green) . Your opponent’s sidespin hook loop is shown in Red and you are the receiver and your returns are shown in BlueGreen Let us say your opponent sends you a loop (in solid red line above) from his / her forehand to your backhand .that hits the table and breaks to your left. If you are clueless , who also contacted the ball on the back or to your left of the ball) , you will most likely return the ball as shown in solid green line, which if you are lucky will land on the table to the extreme left of your opponent and most cases go out. or land on your side of table (as shown in broken lines green) But if you are lucky it lands so deep left and inside that you look like a genius but in fact you are clueless..

 

If you really understand how sidespins works , you will send the ball as in the solid blue line trajectory. And this gives you an error margin of the entire table to your right (your opponents’ left), as this is the direction the ball tends to pull due to your opponents’ initial sidespin if you contact the ball on the back or to the left (your left) . Even if your opponents heavy sidespin pulls your return to his left it will still land in the middle of the table as shown in ( dotted blue lines ) But if you REALLY know what you are doing , you will also contact the right (your right) of the ball, and not the back or to the left (your left) of the ball to somewhat nullify your opponents’ sidespin.

 

A professional player can return the ball around the net and slide it on the table without it bouncing (fully legal ) as shown above (In violet color)

 

A right-handers forehand inside out loop (or fade loop) will also travel the same direction in Red ( as in a left-handers hook loop above in Red in Figure 2)

A left-handers backhand inside out loop (or fade loop) will also travel the same direction in Red ( as in a left-handers hook loop above in Red in Figure 2)

A right-handers backhand hook loop will also travel the same direction in Red ( as in a right-handers hook loop above in Redin Figure 1 above)

 

 

 

 

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Initially most players have great trouble remembering how to handle these side spin loops from their opponents. Here is how you remember these steps.

 

Return the loop to the same half (lengthwise half on both sides) side of the table towards which the ball is breaking to. If the ball breaks towards your forehand half of the table , return it to the same half side of the opponent , which will be his / her backhand half side (Do NOT return to his forehand half side) . . If the ball breaks towards your backhand half of the table , return it to the same half side of the opponent again , which will be his / her forehand half side (Do NOT return to his backhand half side) .

 

Once you have mentally mastered the above concept subconsciously, then you can add as to which side of the ball to contact when returning sidespin loops.

 

Fighting natural tendencies when returning side-spins

In general when two players just routinely train against each other without side spins but just straight hitting back and forth (or straight looping & counter-looping back and forth with no side spin) and train cross-court,  this somewhat becomes a habit to help your training partner. ( Unless you are consciously practicing going down the line returning an incoming cross-court  which only very advanced  or professional players do). So the natural tendency at lower levels is always go cross-court, which causes problems in dealing with side-spins. For example if an advanced opponent serves to a beginner with the ball breaking towards left of beginner on beginner’s  deep backhand (way out to the side of the table with ball not reaching the endline at all) , a clueless beginner will always return towards the server’s left and  if the serve has extreme side-spin, the beginner will miss the table altogether with the ball floating to the left side of the advanced player/ server and the advanced player wins the point easily. But the beginner really did not seemingly do anything wrong because the whole table is to his right and whereelse can he return it ? But the fact of the matter is, to counter the heavy sidespin, the beginner may need to aim the return down the line (towards the far right if the server).  But then again, the beginner will have to angle his backhand in a weird way with his racket angled towards right  of the receiver . I say weird because this is only weird from backhand perspective since this is not the natural angle of the backhand which usually points cross-court not down the line. An advanced receiver on the other hand may even step around and loop the ball down the line with his forehand (in which case the racket angle for forehand seems more natural facing towards the striker’s left).

 

So the whole point of this long-winded analysis is this :- If you are not a advanced player or above, always go down the line with your returns (not cross-court) against serves or any other heavily side-spun balls,  that are breaking away far to your left or far to your right away from your body. In other words (assuming both are right-handed) and a ball is breaking way away far towards your left on your backhand, play your backhand down the line (towards  rightie opponent receiver’s far right forehand)   or  if you are a rightie and a ball is breaking way away far towards your right on your forehand, play your forehand down the line (towards a rightie receiver’s far left backhand).

Conversely, if the ball comes in and breaks into your body, you can play your natural stroke and go cross-court without thinking much.

 

What is very interesting about this (theory and analysis etc) is that though you may know all this in theory but in the speed of the rally you may forget this and play the natural wrong angle and curse and slap yourself silly for going the wrong way LOL

 

 

Attacking your opponents’ Sidespin Lobs

 

The principles are basically the same as explained for attacking loops as above except that you are contacting the top side of the ball. One of the best ways to handle lobs however is to not let it raise of the table but smother-kill them right off the bounce. Also if the ball has come up (especially balls close to the net) , you may want to consider chop-killing them . Either case of chop-kill or smother-kill you still contact the sides of ball as discussed above for counter-loops (but more towards the top of the ball than a counter-loop as above )

 

Attacking your opponents’ Sidespin Chops

A chop as explained earlier will bounce on the receivers’ side and tends to shoot up more than to shoot out and dip , as a loop does.

A side-spin-chop has an additional side-spin component as well, causing to break left or right just as explained for the loop above.

Therefore where to send the ball and what side to contact are the same as in Figures 1 & 2 for topspin, but the differences are as described below

 

To attack the side-spin chop , you as the receiver, should contact the ball as above, to the right or left of the ball and not a lot behind it but the racket angle is lot more open depending on the degree of the backspin content of the received ball. You may even contact the bottom half and not top half of the ball. If the ball has very heavy side-spin, you will attack the ball with a vertical racket (as if you are going to aim for the wall and not the table as the incoming extreme backspin will pull the ball down to the table)but the key again is to contact mostly on the side of the ball (left or right) or otherwise, the ball will miss the table or hit the bottom of the net. Attacking chops takes lots pf practice , especially against chops coming from a long-pips, as they contain deceptively extremely high amounts of back-spin (the very objective of the original invention of long-pips for defenders is to reverse and amplify the extreme high amounts of top-spin generated by the loop-attacker).

 

Attacking your opponents’ Sidespin (& no spin) Serves

 

Your opponents’ (very good) serves in general contain no spin or (back-spin and side-spin) or (top-spin and side-spin) .

To start with, how can you tell if the ball has spin of (any kind ) or no spin ?. If you can see the logo on the ball somewhat clearly , the ball has no spin or has very little spin. You attack these no spin balls by flat flipping or generating your own spin in your return anyway you wish.

 

If you cannot see the logo on the ball clearly, then it is because the ball is spinning quite heavily. But reading spins is so difficult because you have to decide whether it has top-spin or back-spin as well as whether it has side-spin and if so in what direction. You have to decide very fast and correctly if you are going to attack the serve by looping it or flipping it or flat-killing it instead of a safe push , which is what your opponent wants. As you may know even the professional players mostly don’t attack the short serves but push it back , praying and hoping that the opponent won’t launch a powerful attack and finish the point.

The key to attacking serves is understanding how the racket-head-tip  (See Figure 5 Below ) of your opponent is moving at the very exact last moment of contact with the ball and ignoring all the fake and sometimes excessively convoluted body & arm movements & contortions of the server expressly designed to confuse and mislead the receiver, except that in many such cases it is most likely a no spin serve as opposed to a heavy spin serve (of any spin).

 

 Figure 5

 

To play a safe return of serve , the universal principle in service return is to return the ball towards the opposite direction of the movement of the servers’ racket-head-tip at the final moment of contact with the ball.

 

If the racket-head tip of server is moving towards his / her left , return it to his / her right

If the racket-head tip of server is moving towards his / her right , return it to his / her left

It is that simple if you are careful enough to only take into account the racket-head tip direction at the final moment of ball contact only and not all the entertaining drama before that because the best serves have the racket-head-tip direction reversing at the last moment of contact.

 

If it is a no spin serve , the tip of the racket as well as the whole can only move forward only, because by its very nature , if the tip of the racket-head moves sideways but not the handle, then the serve has to a sidespin serve .

 

If the racket is moving mostly sideways than forward , it is most likely a side-spin back-spin serve

If the racket is moving more forward than sideways , it is most likely a side-spin top-spin serve

 

If the server contacts the ball more under , then it is a side-spin back-spin serve

If the server contacts the more behind and sides of the ball , then it is a side-spin top-spin serve.

 

To understand which direction the ball will break, upon hitting the receivers’ side of the table, the receiver must note the direction in which the direction the racket-head-tip of the server is moving (known as follow-through).

 

If the racket-head-tip is moving from right-to-left (with the racket head below your wrist) during final moment of contact, the ball will break towards the receivers’ left. A common mistake made by many (intermediate) players is to step around and contact on the left and behind of the ball to loop it. A professional player can get away with this because of extreme counter-spins (any type) they can produce but not an average player. A safer return stroke therefore is to contact on the right and back of the ball and loop it towards the server’s right (righty servers’ forehand)

 

This right to left  Pendulam serve (with whole racket-head almost below the wrist for heavy top-spin or almost parallel to the wrist for heavy backspin but not above the wrist in either case) is quite common serve among intermediate club rightie players who can only do this side-spin and not the other way around left to right and if you make a note of remembering who these opponents’ are , you can safely loop-kill towards the servers’ forehand everytime, the only adjustment you need to make is for the amount of back-spin or top-spin component of the incoming serve.  Many players do not have theReverse Pendulam Serve in their arsenal of serves,  in which the racket-head-tip moves from left to right (rightie server).

 

One of the common serves that club players have trouble against is the Tomahawk serve where the rightie server pulls the racket-head-tip from his left to his right but the whole racket-head is above the wrist . This is usually a top-spin / side-spin serve breaking towards the right of the receiver. The problem is that this serve has the exact effect as in Figure 1 and so if played properly has the effect as in green. So the receiver should return it as shown in Blue by contacting his left-side and back of the ball and NOT the right (or outside) and back of the ball.

 

In the case of reverse Tomahawk serve the rightie server pulls the racket-head-tip from his right to his left , again with the whole racket-head is above the wrist. The effect is same as in Figure 2 and the receiver must return the ball by contacting to his right side and back of the ball.  

 

A tricky one is the combo Tomahawk-Pendulam serve where the rightie server starts as if it is a Tomahawk serve with racket-head-tip moving left to right , but (s)he does not contact the ball yet but continues for a full circular motion of the racket-head-tip, pivoted on the wrist , with the racket-head-tipcontinuing to move  right-to-left now (the racket-head-tip direction has reversed completely to right-to-left during final ball contact).    

 

A reverse combo Tomahawk-Pendulam serve is humanly physically impossible  

 

In the Sword Serve the server fully disguises which direction the racket-head-tip will move until the very final moment of contact but yet the racket-head-tip does still move slightly left-to-right or vice-versa if only 2 or degrees off the full 90 degree contact which is theoretically impossible and therefore this serve cannot have as much side-spin as Tomahawk or Pendulam serves but can have more top-spin and the Sword Serve is mostly sheer drama . In this case you can still go by which direction the ball breaks to. If the ball breaks towards the receivers' right , you (the) receiver should return the ball down the line  towards your receiver’s left,  by contacting the ball to your left and back & this requires playing against your natural instinct to go cross-court. If the ball breaks towards the receivers' left , you (the) receiver should return the ball cross-court, towards receiver’s right by contacting the ball to your right and back  

 

Regardless of the fancy name of serves or its movements, the bottom-line still is that you are still only primarily concerned about the racket-head-tip direction (follow-thorough) at the final moment of contact

 

Another way to try to remember sub-consciously is this > Contact the same side of the ball towards which the servers racket-head-tip is moving at the final moment of ball contact . If the is moving to receiver’s left , the receiver should contact on his / her right.

If the racket-head-tip is moving to receiver’s right , the receiver should contact on his / her left.

Against incoming top-spin / side-spin the receiver may also need to hit slightly towards the top back ofthe ball

Against incoming back-spin / side-spin the receiver may also need to hit slightly towards the bottom back of the ball.

 

Of course all this is not easy to absorb and implement in one session. If only that was as easy (like mastering using long-pips in one day ………….NOT) , then every intermediate player would be 2600 in one day.

 

You may want to start with learning to return serves first and the magical mantra phrase again is

 racket-head-tip direction.

The elaborate description of side-spin above boils down simply to one thing > racket-head-tip direction.

It is easier to observe racket-head-tip direction during serves because you are more mentally prepared as you start from a resting position both mentally & physically . But during the very fast pace of a counter-looping rally you may not be mentally prepared or have the time to think deliberately & analyze movement of the racket-head-tip . During a fast paced-rally you may want to simply try to keep the ball on the same half ( full lengthwise both sides) of the table as towards which the ball is breaking to (as in blue the above 2 diagrams) , instead of trying to force it towards the other half (as in Green in above two diagrams) , as mistakenly done by many average club players. 

 

You may want to analyze and visualize ball movements on your own as described above or using a better method and hopefully you can think up of one and market it to become a millionaire by turning beginners into instant professionals. 

 

PS :- My head is spinning , just describing the left / right , top / bottom , topspin /backspin orientations .If some of my orientations are in error inadvertently due to copy and paste reversing and mirroring or conceptually, feel free to correct me or challenge me. As you may also note finally, which part of the ball you contact plays a key factor , right / left, bottom half / top half , back of the ball or under the ball etc etc

 

Final summary of SideSpins

 O  Your ForeHand HookLoop = Your BackHand fade loop

 Your ForeHand FadeLoop =  Your BackHand  HookLoop

 

A righty’s ForeHand HookLoop = A lefty’s BackHand FadeLoop

A righty’s BackHand FadeLoop = A lefty’s ForeHand HookLoop

 

A righty’s tomahawk serve = A righty’s reverse pendulum serve

(both serves above break toward receiver’s right).

A righty’s reverse tomahawk serve = A righty’s pendulum serve

(both serves above break toward receiver’s left)

 

For a tomahawk serve the entire RacketHead is above the server’s wrist

For a pendulum serve the entire RacketHead is below the server’s wrist

Many variations of in between are possible to generate SideSpins either direction.

In one such case the length of the racket (rather than the width) is moving left to right (or right to left) to generate the SideSpins.

 

However is ALL cases, the universal principle for return of SideSpin serves is valid :- For a safe return, return the ball towards the opposite direction of where the server’s RacketTip is moving towards, at the moment of ball contact.

 

For tomahawk or pendulum serves, the RacketFace is almost parallel to the net

For a sword serve, the RacketFace is almost vertical to the net .

 

A righty’s tomahawk serve = A lefty’s pendulum serve

(both serves above break toward receiver’s right)

A righty’s reverse tomahawk serve = A lefty’s reverse pendulum serve

(both serves above break toward receiver’s left)

 

A ball breaks away if it goes towards the right side of a righty.

A ball breaks away if it goes towards the left side of a lefty.

(Always return breaking away balls down the line for a safe return. and this means you have to train yourselves to play against your natural instinct to go cross-court.  This means returning towards the left  SideLine of a righty receiver or towards the right SideLine of a lefty receiver……..does not matter whether you are a lefty or a righty) . This also means you would contact the inside left most bottom (inside closest to your body) of the ball if you are a righty and never the right top or if you are a lefty you contact the right most  bottom (inside closest to your body) of the ball and not the left top)   

A ball breaks into the body of the receiver if it goes towards the left side of a righty.

A ball breaks into the body of the receiver if it goes towards the right side of a lefty.

(Always return ball breaking into your body cross-court for a safe return and this means you can play your natural instinct to go cross-court.  This means returning towards the right SideLine of a righty or towards the left SideLine of a lefty……..does not matter whether you are a lefty or a righty). You will contact the ball on the right top outside of the ball and not the left bottom if you are a righty and left top outside of the ball if you are a lefty .

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To safely return a tomahawk serve or reverse pendulum serve, angle your Racket Face aimed towards server’s BackHand.The server can be either righty or lefty.

Within table limits (or over the table) , this usually involves using your backhand if you are a righty or using your forehand if your are a lefty.

But if the ball has reached outside your side table endline, if you are a lefty you can use ( attack using ) your forehand aimed towards server’s left side.

If you a righty, you can step around and use (or attack using) your forehand  aimed towards server’s left side.

To safely return a reverse tomahawk serve or pendulum serve, angle your Racket Face aimed towards server’s ForeHand.The server can be either righty or lefty.

Within table limits (or over the table) , this usually involves using your backhand if you are a lefty or using your forehand if your are a righty.

But if the ball has reached outside your side table endline, if you are a righty you can use ( attack using ) your forehand aimed towards server’s right side.

If you a lefty, you can step around and use (or attack using) your forehand  aimed towards server’s right side.

   Most professional players with best serves can disguise the contact  by rapidly moving the wrist  left to right, then left to right , then again right to left  (or vice versa), with contact made during second direction reversal making it very difficult to read SideSpin direction.

      All these detailed explanations are almost hilarious & ridiculous if you take into account the fact that this is not like in few other sports where you can just stand there for minutes and calmly analyze how to play each ball, given that you have less than a second,  in one of the fastest sport in the world.  However it is possible to make your strokes instinctive (as most professional players do) with proper training.

1.      The best place to start with is learning to angle your racket properly to negate opponent’s heavy SideSpins. 

2.      Next key factor is not to play with the instinct for ball breaking away to your forehand and go cross-court but train yourselves to always go down the line instead.

All the detailed analysis basically comes down to two above simple concepts