Advanced & (un-orthodox) strokes : Analysis & synthesis

An average club player always wonders why someone else is so much better than him even though he/she apparently seems to have all the athletic skills. Though one's flaws & weaknesses becoming painfully obvious when a player plays in a USATT tournament, where your skill is determined fairly accurately with your rating (Many may disagree but that is an entirely different issue), you inevitably hear comments(about opponent who had beaten him) like" Boy ! Is he weird" or "I would easily beat her but for her wristy goofy sidespin" etc. etc.However if you think about it rationally & objectively you will realize that it may not be so strange after all.Most of us serious club players always run into (are beaten by) basement kings (& queens) who think they are invincible because they have one of these wacky strokes.It is well known that Waldner constantly experiments & invents new shots even when he plays a serious match (actually this a knock against him !).Then what is the difference between Waldner & a basement superstar. Why is the basement player called names, whereas you admire Waldner when he plays probably the same exact weird stroke ? One reason of course is that Waldner executes them at much higher speeds & spins with near perfect placement & accuracy(it is a well known fact that the Swedes actually practise shots aimed at the white lines !!). An average club player can learn by carefully analyzing the basement player as well as Waldner.From a scientific viewpoint, analysis is the opposite function of synthesis.Analysis is the study of an existing stroke.Synthesis is the design of a stroke, given your playing style & needs.I am sure you will relate to this more easily if you have a technical(such as transfer function analysis & synthesis) or science background(such as polymer chemistry or genetic coding). Advanced & un-orthodox strokes can be analyzed from many different perspectives, & this article is just one of such many approaches.

It should first be pointed out that these strokes are not everybody.If you are a very young player with a lot of potential, you should first master the basic strokes to maximum possible consistency before experimenting with these types of strokes, since many of these strokes are "transitional" strokes used in a "mix'em up" mode.

Once you have mastered the basic strokes to the maximum possible consistency (that your talent & skill allow then you must seriously consider these strokes, because to become a better than average player you will need to add as many strokes to your arsenal as possible (but within your style limitations).Advanced strokes can be divided into three groups 1.Counter strokes 2. Combination strokes 3.Counter-Combination strokes. All the so called "weird shots" are indeed one of the above three.

Counter strokes:- are simply strokes that mirror your opponents’ strokes.A simple counter stroke of course is a push where you push back your opponents push.It sounds easy but unlike the good old days when (hard-rubber defensive) players pushed each other to death, in the modern game, if your push is weak you might as well kiss the point goodbye because the ball will be loop-killed out of this planet.If you opt to push it should with a purpose with accurate placement so as to catch the opponent in an awkward spot or at the very least cannot be attacked.A counter-push does not necessarily have to be short & low.Even some very good players can have trouble with long pushes with an arcing trajectory(especially into the body), as the ball comes so dead and is difficult to either hit or loop.All advanced stroke are similar in style to this simple (counter-push) stroke.Often overlooked stroke is counter-chop; which is somewhat more difficult than counter-push & it is also very difficult to execute with any rubber other than regular or super-sticky inverted with relatively thinner sponge.Counter-chop is generally a wristy stroke & over the table.But this is a very powerful stroke as a change of pace weapon for offensive players.Of course the most common counter stroke is the counter-drive which really is not an advanced stroke but to be above average you need to be able to counter-drive consistently along with of course the more difficult counter stroke, the counter-loop.The counter-loop is of course a much analyzed stroke & you need to be able to counter-loop from all points, re-loop at bounce or near the floor, with the in-between stroke being the most difficult since the spin is at its maximum.To be able to loop is one thing but to have the ball counter-looped back at you consistently is entirely another matter; however this is what separates the good from great.

Combination strokes:- A combination stroke is, as the name simply implies, a combination of two different strokes.A simple combination stroke which is more easier for a penholder is the push-block.You are pushing the ball but also blocking it.This is generally executed at bounce & is very effective when a shakehander uses it since it catches opponents usually by surprise.In a good push-block the ball goes back very short & very quickly, making it very difficult to attack.The chop-block is a difficult version of push-block but easier for a shakehander than a pen-holder.For a chop-block you catch the ball at bounce like push-block but impart lot more spin by rapidly pulling down the racket head, preferably in a compact wristy stroke.This is very effective against loopers especially with long arm swings.This can also be a solid weapon for physically handicapped players who cannot move well & I have seen one handicapped player who has perfected this technique.

A more difficult version is the side-chop where you impart heavy sidespin as well as backspin & this is an absolute must in any choppers arsenal.To execute this you pull across from left to right (backhand, generally over the table) while also chopping, but this requires good timing.On the forehand it is a squat-chop (or a wiper chop) & easier for shorter players, in which you sit down & play the ball at about shoulder level (like a windshield wiper), pulling it left to right & is usually against a loop or smash & played away from the table.

Side-block-smash is even more effective against loops especially on your forehand, where most players have a weaker block.In the modern game if you just keep straight blocking the ball it serves you no purpose since a consistent looper will usually prevail.One way to end this is to side-block-smash.On your forehand, you aggressively punch-block at bounce, into the ball (for speed) & at the same time pulling the racket up (for reversing topspin) & also right to left (for sidespin).The ball is contacted on its rightside, rather than on the back, as in a normal block.Due to the speed & side & top-spin, it is very difficult for your opponent to repeatedly loop & most times you will win the point outright.

Inside-out-slap-smash is a truly brilliant basement stroke but extremely effective.A righthander steps to his deep backhand & smashes the ball in a slapping fashion, pulling the racket from right to left, creating sidespin (which is what drives other inexperienced player's crazy).For an advanced player this is a good change of pace tool.

The side-block is a block where you also pull your racket left to right (or vice-versa) imparting sidespin.This is very effective against mid & long-distance top spinners since it catches them out of position often & also makes it difficult to keep topspinning successively. A push-loop is a paradoxical term used for a push when you return the ball with super-backspin(as when your loop is chopped back with your opponent's long-pips).The incoming ball has an incredible amount of backspin & unless you are a very very good player, all you can do is push it back carefully & the ball goes back with topspin(left over from incoming chop) & this gives it the name push-loop.With good placement, therefore, this can be just as effective as a loop itself.

The most important combination stroke of course is the side-loop in which the ball has both top & side spin.You need to be able to break the ball both ways (towards left or right) with both wings(backhand & forehand).For most players it is easy learn forehand sideloop first & then graduate to other combinations.You must understand ball movement angles very clearly because the sidespin can be used against you at supersharp angles both by knowledgeable & unaware opponents.As an example if you sideloop to the forehand of a righthander with the ball breaking away towards his right & if the opponent has no concept of sidespins & if he blocks it, the ball will go to your extreme short forehand angle & will catch you out of position. It is more complicated against a skilled opponent who may adjust for the sidespin & correctly smash it down your backhand or if he is great he may even loopkill against the spin to your short forehand at extreme angle(like the weaker opponent but at much higher speeds & spins).The sideloop by itself is generally not a point-winning stroke but is a great point-opening stroke.Unless the sideloop is attacked strongly, you will generally be in a position to smash or loop-kill the return if it was blocked back.This pattern (side-loop,loop-kill) can be a useful weapon against blockers.Placement & sidespin is more important than heavy top-spin against a blocker.By placing the ball in the deep forehand corner of a blocker, you can force a weak block(since he has to block against the spin), which you can loop-kill or smash.However topspin is more important than sidespin against a hitter; otherwise the hitter can smash the side-loop down the line easily.This is all the more true in the case of pips out hitters.

The sideloop with an interesting name is the slice-loop.A righthander executes this stroke by pulling his racket from his right to his left(creating sidespin & the ball will break towards the left of the opponent) & at the same time pulling the arm (in a semi-circular motion) downward & then upwards & forward (creating topspin).This is a very difficult stroke & calls for perfect timing & contact. For heavier spin make contact on the left of the ball.To make it more versatile, you can also contact the ball when your arm is going downwards in the same stroke, making it a side-chop.Even more difficult stroke is the slice-loop the other way around but left-handers, for some strange reason seem to be more successful but with a short swing, which makes reading the break direction difficult. A slight variation of this is the inside out loop which is also quite difficult. The ball breaks in the same direction (towards the right from left of the player executing the stroke).

The lob-loop is in fact a slow-loop but executed from long distance.The slow speed of ball travel & heavy spin buys time to get ready for the next shot.One has to be able to place the ball deep consistently; otherwise the ball can be killed at sharp angles, despite the heavy spin.

The flip-loop (or flick-loop), used against short serves, is one of the most difficult strokes & only very good players seem to be able execute this.In top table-tennis just flipping the ball over the net does not help you much because it can be looped back hard even if your flip has extreme angles & placement.To reduce the power of this third ball loop, you need to loop yourself first but with a wristy flipping motion (you rub the ball with a grazing motion), which of course is a very difficult stroke since it calls for perfect timing as well as predetermining the spin(s) of the incoming serve.Side-flip-loop is an even more complicated stroke where you also pull your racket left to right (or vice-versa), usually adding (rather than reversing) to the sidespin on the incoming serve.Yet some players seem to have mastered this technique so much so that they can even side-flip-loop AGAINST the spin of heavy side-spin-serves !!.

Side-chop-smash is an extremely important but most neglected stroke.When an opponent lobs & if the ball is short, you can smash hard at the ball but at the same time also chopping it as well as pulling the racket right to left(righthander).The ball will break very sharply to opponent's right & if he is way back & you win the point outright.Even if he returns it, it will miss the table to your right, unless he compensates & hits the ball to about 2 feet to the outside of left of your table (due to your extreme sidespin !!).This is a must against short lobbed balls;if you just keep straight smashing it, then it just becomes a lobbing exhibition for your opponent & (s)he can wear you down(Moreover regardless of how good anyone is, they end up looking stupid if they miss smashing a lob !!).You can chop-kill(without side-spin) even mediuim low, medium long (lobbed) balls (or even pushes) with some practice but it would be extremely difficult to side-chop-kill low, deep balls.

Side-chop-block is a chop-block but also with racket moving right to left (or vice-versa).Very difficult to execute since it calls for perfect timing but can stop your opponent from going into a loop-fest or as a change of pace weapon.

Side-push is a heavy push executed over the table.You push the ball but also pull your racket left to right or vice-versa.This is very important for choppers especially to break the push & loop patterns used by attackers, in which an attacker will loop one ball to drive the defender away from the table & then push the ball to bring him in & then will smash or loop-kill any weak push returns (forced by the "puppeting" of say a tired defender)by the defender (who may be uncomfortable near the table, as most choppers are).But if the defender uses the side-push, then this will force the attacker to make more errors or the least play a low-speed lift or loop.The defender can also use side-flip-loops (discussed earlier) to mix it up even more since the flip is (slight) top-spin & push is (slight) back-spin.

CounterCombination Strokes:- In executing a counter-combination stroke you are doing so many different things all in the very same stroke.A counter-sideloop is a simple example, in which you side-loop back an opponent's side-loop, usually reversing the spin.You need to compensate for opponent's sidespin & place it accordingly on the table(Again world-class players can of course place it anywhere they want !).Assuming both right-handers, if a sideloop breaks towards your right, you want to place the ball on the opponent's left-half of the table(otherwise opponent's sidespin will carry the ball out of the table to his right).It is also necessary to lift the ball over the net since your return will usually dip due to opponent's sidespin.

The side-re-loop is the same as side-block-smash discussed earlier except that you use little more arm motion for more spin & speed. This of course is more difficult than the side-block-smash as it calls for perfect timing.

The side-counter-chop is a chop against the chop but also with side spin, created by moving the arm left to right as well as downward & forward.It is difficult to execute with thicker and or hard sponge rubbers & can be best executed with a medium thin supersticky rubber.This is very effective against heavy choppers, as it prevents them from chopping heavily again & again, enabling you to get your own loop in.

The flat-counter-kill is a stroke in which you are flat hitting back an opponents flat kill.This is an extremely difficult stroke with very low error margin, yet some pips out hitters seem to be able to flat-counter forever (micro-inches above the net) without missing.This can be more difficult with inverted rubbers.

This by no means is an exhaustive collection of advanced & unorthodox strokes.The purpose of the article was only to stimulate your thought processes in analyzing & understanding advanced (& seemingly unorthodox) strokes & help you invent (this is the synthesis phase) your own set of "strange" strokes.