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Table Tennis Techniques - Mirroring

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Table Tennis Techniques - Mirroring

Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks!

© 2010 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
At the time of writing (July 2011), I've been playing for around 26 years, and spent most of that time as a long range combination bat defender. But in all that time, I've had one problem with my chopping technique that I had never been able to solve, despite spending a lot of time and effort on various attempts to rectify matters. And now that I'm back defending again after taking a break, my problem came back in full force as well - and appeared to be just as unsolvable as ever, darn it!

That was until last week, where a fortuitous accident led me to the solution at last, via a technique that I'll call mirroring, although you don't need a mirror to do it!

The Problem

In all the many years that I've spent playing as a long range defender, I've never possessed a consistent, heavy, low, long range forehand chop with my inverted rubber. It didn't matter whether I used fast or slow rubbers, thick or thin sponges, tacky or normal topsheets, or offensive or defensive blades, I've never been able to chop heavy with my forehand inverted rubber with any degree of consistency.

In the past, I've worked around this problem by using a controlled float with my inverted rubber, and twiddling to my long pips in order to produce a heavy backspin chop on my forehand side. But as you can imagine, this was a less than ideal solution, since smarter opponents would catch on pretty fast to what I was doing, and adjust their game accordingly, safe in the knowledge that any forehand chop with my inverted was float, and any chop with my long pips was the heavy backspin. Much too predictable, and a problem against high level opponents.

The Solution

Now that my legs appear to have come good and I'm back defending, I once again gritted my teeth and had another go at tackling this particular knotty problem of producing a consistent, low and heavy backspin forehand chop with my inverted rubber.

And as expected, I was once again struggling to produce a heavy, consistent forehand chop. When I tried to copy Evgueni Chtchetinine (the awesome Belarusian defender) and come right under the ball, hitting it at nearly 6 or 7 o'clock, I needed to make an extremely good brush contact with a fast wrist action, or else the ball skied up high into the air. If I got the contact a little bit too thick, the ball tended to fly way off the end of the table, and if I got the contact a fraction too thin, the ball never even made it up to the net. I still don't know how he manages to do what he does - the margin for error seems very low to me.

On the other hand, when I attempted to get a much more solid contact of the ball, I still seemed to be unable to produce much spin, and I was back to my old days of playing a controlled float with my forehand chop against strong loops. Sigh.

After two or three training sessions where I wasted my time going back and forth between these two unsuccessful methods, I decided to take a break and try chopping heavy using the inverted rubber on my backhand side for a change of pace.

Interestingly enough, I managed to hit several good chops almost straight away from the backhand side (along with a few misses of course!). I wasn't thinking much about my technique or contact, more about what I wanted the result of the stroke to be - a heavy, low, yet consistent chop. And somehow I'd struck the correct technique on my backhand side without really trying. Within ten minutes or so I was able to produce a very consistent but spinny backhand chop with the inverted side - something I'd never really had before - I'd never bothered to try since I always used the long pips to produce a heavy backspin ball on the backhand.

A few years ago, I would have been satisfied with the fact that I could produce a heavy backspin chop with my backhand, resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't do the same with my forehand, and just continued to float with my inverted and twiddle to the long pips to produce a heavy forehand chop. Now that I'm much older and a bit wiser, I decided to pay more attention to what I was doing quite naturally on my backhand side, and then try to transfer that success that to my forehand chop technique - which is why I call it mirroring.

By paying more attention to the mechanics of how I hit the backhand stroke, I of course lost some of the natural fluidity in the stroke, since my conscious mind was getting in the way of my subconscious stroke pattern. But after an awkward few minutes things smoothed out, and I was able to once again produce a consistent, low, heavy chop with the inverted, while paying attention to how I was actually producing the stroke. I also could have videoed the stroke with my videocamera, but I was more interested in how the stroke actually felt rather than looked in terms of preparation, swing speed, bat angle, wrist usage, and contact point, so I left the camera on the backburner as Plan B.

At any rate, a few minutes of conscious monitoring soon showed me that I was hitting my inverted heavy backhand chop completely different to how I was attempting to hit my forehand. My heavy backhand chop was produced by a forwards and downwards motion from roughly shoulder height to waist height, with a bat angled neither completely open or perpendicular, but more towards the middle of these extremes, so the contact with the ball was not near 6 o'clock, but more close to between 7 and 8. I wasn't attempting to measure my bat angle exactly, but just get the overall impression of where I was hitting the ball.

The big difference was in the speed I was swinging. My backhand had a nice zippy swing, even though the ball was leaving my racket with only moderate speed. I was also using plenty of wrist, but snapping the wrist in line with the direction of the bat swing path, which kept my consistency high while adding extra spin to the shot.

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