Robert Ho's Table Tennis Tidbits #3

By Robert Ho | July 24, 2017, 4:38 p.m. (ET)

Jun Mizutani

 

Table Tennis Tidbits #3 By Robert Ho


Serve and Receive

 In 1987 the Swedes revealed the potency of 2 winged looping with inverted rubber by overpowering the pimpled rubber penhold attack style of the Chinese which had been dominant for about 3 decades.

Paralleling the emphasis on 2 winged looping was the heightened importance of  short serves and short returns of service to make it more difficult to gain the initiative by either the server or receiver.  This situation led to the awareness that opening the attack against a short service is often easier using the backhand loop rather than the forehand loop even though the serve-returner may be required to move deftly toward his forehand corner to use the backhand loop. During the course of a match, duels of multiple short pushes may arise as each player attempts to make it difficult for the opponent to open the attack.  The need to push well has accompanied the great emphasis on looping; now may arise 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or n-ball attacks in the course of a match.  Because of the increased rebound speed of the latest rubbers, sidespin pushing has become common for 3 important reasons: to move the opponent more to one side of the table or the other; or to move the ball toward the opponent’s body to “crowd” his stroke; or to decrease the forward velocity of the ball by contact with the ball on a side rather than its central posterior surface.  So both delicacy and power are important in the modern game.

 The “half long” serve has become important.  An obviously short serve (one that would bounce twice on the receiver’s side if not intercepted) ordinarily invites an unambiguous decision for a short , delicate return unless the receiver is very skilled and confident in making “flip” returns.  A fast, long serve invites an aggressive, attacking return or block or chop depending on the service spin..  But if, after the ball is served and bounces on the table, it is not obvious that it will clear the table or bounce a second time on the table (near the end line), the receiver must quickly decide the nature of his reply as his stroke may be crowded by the table. 

 In the ‘70s Li Zhen Shi came to the U.S. from China to coach Americans.  He had been ranked #3 in the world.  One evening he allowed me to “sample” his serves.  I was unsuccessful in returning 20 consecutive serves of varying spin, speed and placement.  Of course there was a marked disparity in our skill levels, expressive of the inherent differences in neuromuscular capability among people for executing complex movements and to visualize/recognize such movements.  I encountered more spin from Li than I had from local players using inverted rubber inspite of the fact that he was using short pips sponge rubber!

Slow motion photography of Jun Mizutani of Japan and Christophe Legout of France executing various serves is revelatory confirming the adage that “the hand is quicker than the eye”.  Position of ball contact relative to end of table, height of ball contact relative to the level of table top, trajectory and length of follow through after contact, arm and body movement in execution, trajectory of ball in relation to point of contact are phenomena difficult if not impossible to assess in “real time”.  Camera angles are critical for cinematography to be instructive.

 

A short spinny serve requires short, abrupt contact between racket and ball with little follow through, unlike strokes during a volley.  The backswing is crucial to impart sufficient force to propel the ball over the net; abrupt interruption of the stroke after contact prevents the ball from going long.  With appropriate calibration of the forces, one can also produce a fast, deep serve with much or no spin depending on the contact angle of the blade.  Much practice is required to fine tune one’s serves but do not require a partner /robot.  The short, abrupt movement of the blade requires coordination with an abrupt, short forward shift of the body (with little foot movement) to impart sufficient momentum to the ball for maximum effect.

 

Visual ambiguity of the server's movements, from the receiver's standpoint, can induce a faulty response by the receiver.  The opposite can also be true, e.g. chopper Wu Yang's apparent outside-in backhand chop return of serve has elicited a higher or longer response than intended by the server on numerous occasions because the ball may have no spin or side-topspin; she tends to use this return at unpredictable occasions from her forehand side of the table.

Visual ambiguites of the service: the server’s position relative to the table and racket hand orientation, feinting moves prior to and after racket-ball contact, ball-racket contact relative to the table—when the ball strikes the table near the server’s end of the table, the serve may be short, long, or “half long” depending on the calibration of the mechanics of the server.   On the other hand, if the ball strikes the table midway between table end and net, the serve will definitely be short or into the net. 

From the receiver’s standpoint, the server’s racket movement in contacting the ball relative to the table signals the following: toward the floor—downspin; toward the ceiling—topspin; toward the right—sidespin right; toward the left—sidespin left.  Countering the service spin requires oppositely directed bat moves by the receiver.  It is also possible to return the serve by deviating from the logic of opposites by proper bodily positioning and stroke technique the complexities of which exceed linguistic delineation, hence the value of slow motion photography.


Visual ambiguity of the server's movements, from the receiver's standpoint, can induce a faulty response by the receiver.  The opposite can also be true, e.g. chopper Wu Yang's apparent outside-in backhand chop return of serve has elicited a higher or longer response than intended by the server on numerous occasions because the ball may have no spin or side-topspin; she tends to use this return at unpredictable occasions from her forehand side of the table.