Want to try some table tennis and need a racket? Is it time to go from that old sandpaper ping pong paddle to a racket with power and spin? Of course, you can keep borrowing a friends paddle, but since you are becoming a table tennis menace, it’s time to buy your own and make it unique to your style. This article will give you some things to consider when searching for a perfect match between you and your new table tennis racket and also acquaint you with the styles of tournament players and their equipment.
Of course, each tournament player has a unique technique and combines equipment based on their particular style and preferences. That said, here are the “main” styles of play at tournaments and the equipment choices each TENDS to prefer.
The “Close-table Attacker” emphasizes short spinny serves and tries to finish the point quickly. Attacking shots are made within a couple feet of the table with short, efficient strokes. This style is based on fast paced shots that dictate the point even when not on the offense. Generating power quickly is best done by a light carbon blade, large sweetspot, durable topsheet, and hard sponge for easy power shots and quick, driving loops.
The “Mid-distance Looper” generally starts several feet from the table which requires quick foot speed. At this distance, topspin looping or counterlooping strategies dominate rallies. In this case, several plies of wood with reinforced carbon will be a bit heavier but will supply the extra “kick” at lower racket speeds. A durable topsheet, but a softer sponge, is best for topspin rallies and counterlooping.
The “Short-pips Attacker” has very fast paced shots which benefit from a center ply of horizontal carbon laid up with intersecting vertical layers of carbon. The rubber should have short pips with hard sponge which are better for an extremely offensive backhand. These are slightly wider than traditional pips. This player wants a grippy topsheet with a soft sponge for an arcing topspin loop to set up a backhand finish shot.
The “Long-pips Chopper” uses a medium speed blade and oversized racket head for defensive placement and chops. The rubber needs to be tacky and the sponge very hard and springy so that the heavy chops can be executed with the inverted rubber. The pips should be long to help the player pinch-hit, block, and chop against heavy topspins.
The “Long-pips Blocker” use long pips rubber to confuse opponents to blunt their attack and cause unforced errors and/or set up their own attack. Blades have to be extremely fast but have great feel so no carbon fiber. The attack must be fast with an extremely soft sponge for a longer dwell time which can also serve the defensive side of play. Effective chopping, blocking, pinch hits, and punch on attacking balls are part of the equation for this racket.
The “Anti-spin Blocker” has multiple plies of soft Cottonwood for great feel creating a very slow, controllable blade covered by a soft, anti-spin rubber. This player plans to disturb their opponents with a variety of defensive shots. Should this player want to attack, a fast rubber will be necessary. In this situation the blade and rubber are a bit of conflict requiring great skill and precision.
The “All-around Player” tries to do it all! They emphasize consistent, spinny shots without excess power or speed. Several all wood plies in the blade create fast, but not extreme speed. For more offense, the rubber should be harder, good for topspin rallies and driving loops. On the other hand, this player might favor more defensive skills with a softer sponge and grippy topsheet which is better for underspin and placement.
Players using the “Chinese-penholder” and “Japanese-penholder” usually require very specialized blades and rubbers for these techniques. The Chinese style includes close to the table power loops on the forehand and requires a soft sponge for a controlled backhand. The Japanese style is extremely powerful and fast with good ball feel from Hinoki wood blades and a softer sponge for longer dwell times.
FOR THE ENTHUSIASTIC BEGINNER OR STEADY PLAYER
Just in case you are not quite as far along in your table tennis prowess as the players above, here is some advice for a style still in its developmental stages. The first step in choosing the right racket is to determine your interest level. Are you just playing for fun, starting to learn, playing for exercise, or training pretty seriously?
Once you have decided that, you can shop by category within the Beginner, Learner, All-Round, Sport, and Competition areas of interest. The author’s site has several rackets in each category to give you some of the best options when selecting the one that best fits your style, however, there is more to know about racket specs that will be helpful.
SPIN, SPEED, CONTROL, AND WEIGHT
Sorry, you can’t have them all! Now that you’ve read about how the tournament players handle these characteristics, consider their styles before you determine what racket works best for you. Try to prioritize them in terms of your preferences. Of course, this requires knowledge about your own style and physical attributes. If your game has not matured sufficiently to be able to address these issues, choose an all around racket, until your style better reveals itself.
Take a look at the weights of each racket. Lighter blades can usually be swung more quickly, but they won’t have the mass of heavier blades. Mass means more power. A good rule of thumb for finding the most suitable weight for you is probably to look for the heaviest blade that you can still swing comfortably and quickly. Ideally, this should give you the best speed when making your shots.
Go For It! Although, the best way to choose a racket is to hold it in your hand and get a feel for it, getting a hold of every racket available to buy is impossible. The choices can be overwhelming, so the guidelines here can help you get started and narrow down the choices. If you are new to the sport, don’t try to put your own racket together using a separate blade and rubber combination yet.
For your first racket, a good choice is a racket/rubber combination that is already prepared for you like the Rossi Action Racket. It’s moderately priced and has playing characteristics that are fairly all around so that it will help you during the development phase of your game.
If you are dedicated to BUILDING a racket/blade combination that meets these general requirements, the Rosskopf Allround and the Mambo Rubber would make great choices. At the same time, you take your chosen sport to a new level of dedication by learning to build your own racket’s playing surface and frame. This is one of the great things about table tennis because most tennis players never learn to put strings in their racket!
In any case, go take a few lessons with it and compare it to what your coach uses or other rackets at your local table tennis center. After that, you will quickly get a feel for the differences. That will take time as table tennis racket variations can be very subtle, especially if you are not well versed in all the shots in the sport!
At some point, you will know whether its time to build a blade/rubber combination that more meets your game and physical abilities. Whether your buying a complete racket or building one, the first choice is handle type among the anatomic, flared, or straight varieties. To choose that, style will play a role.
The anatomic handle was developed to fit the natural curves of your hand and has a bump in the center, so that a player’s hand can wrap comfortably around it. The flared handle widens at the end to allow players with strong shots to maintain control of their racket during those key points.
The straight handle offers more flexibility in grip, as players can alternate easily between forehand and backhand. This handle is often preferred if players tend to twiddle (shift their hand position on the handle when switching between forehand and backhand) or play a defensive game. Each handle type has its strengths, so choose wisely once you are familiar with your style!
Next on the agenda is choosing the type of rubber. Table tennis rubber sheets generally consist of a top sheet and a layer of sponge underneath. The top sheet can either be pips out or inverted (smooth out, pips in), depending on your preference. Pips out surfaces are the classic surface of table tennis, but as the sport evolved, inverted rubbers grew increasingly popular. In general, pips out rubber, usually offers more control, but less spin variation.
On the other hand, inverted rubber tends to give you more spin and speed, but with less control. For more additional effect, as you read above, players can opt for a layer of sponge underneath the top sheet, which basically enhances spin and speed of the ball. The thicker the sponge, the longer the “dwell” time of the ball, and thus more spin and less speed. Conversely, the thinner the sponge, the shorter the “dwell” time of the ball, which means more speed and less time for adding spin. Whew!
Although, the best way to choose a racket is to hold it in your hand and get a feel for it, it’s just not practical to try even most of the rackets available. Visiting a table tennis center is a great way to meet new players, find a coach, and try some different rackets. Be part of this new community of great people and you will get advice on what can be an overwhelming decision. Be a table tennis menace!