Racket-twirling:- Techniques & tactics
In modern tabletennis you no longer see a large percentage of competitive players playing with the same rubber surface on both sides of the racket. Rackets with two different surfaces are becoming increasingly popular. It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the ethics etc. of using such rubbers but to provide some tips on fully exploiting one of the major advantages of such rackets. For the sake of convenience I will refer to rackets with either anti or medium or long pip rubbers at least on side as a combination racket & I will refer to other rackets with combinations of short pips (including hard rubber) or regular inverted as "custom racket" & both types combined as "special racket". This article will not explore each rubber type in great detail but only as necessary. If you are playing with a "special" racket it makes no sense not to learn to twirl regardless of your playing style. I chose the word "twirling" as opposed to flipping (term popular in US) as opposed flipping since it is confusing with the flip stroke; twirling is also referred to as twiddling in other countries. Most of the club players who try to use long-pips as magical overnight solution to their problems usually give up after one day( & then whine about long pips) because they don't have the patience to adopt (I call these players "closet junkies"). Though you never stop learning, this is truer with special rackets & you need the patience to stick it out. Generally when you start with any "special" racket you first have to reasonably master the rubbers on their "dominant" sides first. That is for instance, if you start with a "custom" racket with inverted on forehand & short pips on backhand (as most players do), you should first learn the strokes on respective sides with reasonable skill & consistency. Only then, are you ready to "twirl". The most important aspect to understand about twirling is that it is a "pattern" & not an isolated series of random one-shot occurrences (Though table-tennis is in general a sport of pattern execution, just like playing chess but while skiing down a suicidal slope at 100 MPH at the same time or playing chess using a clock of milli-seconds, this all the more true in the case of special rackets). The complaint most heard is "I twirl but I keep forgetting to twirl back". The reason for this problem is that you have not trained to think yourself in patterns. In twirling, you start with simple patterns & then move up to difficult ones; this process can take months & months depending on your skill level & you have to constantly design & add more new patterns. You start with simple patterns. The simplest one is twirl just to serve & then immediately twirl back. You twirl your racket before you commence your service motion. You twirl back as soon as the ball leaves your racket, so that you won't be caught with the wrong rubber on the wrong side. Once you are comfortable with this, the next step is to twirl as you toss the ball & then after you have tossed the ball & ultimately, just before ball contact. The next pattern is to twirl during serve-receive. At first you can twirl & be ready before the opponent serves, return serve & twirl back as soon as the ball leaves your racket. Some players hide their racket below the table (which is kind of unfair, though rules allow it, because the rules don't allow the server to hide the racket) before serve receive but I would not recommend this because this takes away your advantage, because if the opponent cannot see the sides, then he will serve as he wishes. But if you keep the racket visible but twiddle just as he tosses the ball, then this gives you the advantage if he is looking at your racket just before he serves(thus forcing him to serve where you prefer to receive serve !). Eventually your goal is to be constantly twiddling as the opponent prepares to serve & stop just before you contact the ball. A simple pattern towards this goal is to double-twiddle(which is the same as no twiddle) & then triple-twiddle(which is the same as single twiddle).When you twirl for serve return you will first have to learn to push with both surfaces on both wings, then top-spin or back-spin or hitting as your style dictates. Even if you never plan to twirl you can gain a huge psychological edge, if you can make the opponent (new unfamiliar opponents) thinking that you are twirling all the time even if you really are not. You do this by twirling for almost every stroke during warm up & during the first few points of each game but at the same time only hitting the ball with only one side (for instance if you use inverted on one side & long-pips on the other, you always use inverted). Or you can do the same thing during the first few points of each game, in which case it is even more effective. This is especially easier to execute for one-sided grip(penhold/Seemiller type) players. More complex patterns are third & fifth ball attacks combined with twiddling. Until you have completely almost mastered (I'm not aware of anyone who has FULLY mastered it !) twiddling, the most important factor is to remember to return to your original sides at the end of patterns. This is the biggest problem with twirling but nobody can avoid getting caught on the wrong side once in a while but the advantages of special rackets far outweigh this disadvantage & if you carefully apply yourself, you will eventually reach a point where you are confident enough to twirl even during the most critical points of the match (such as deuce in the fifth).It is of course much easier for one-sided players (penholders, Seemiller grip etc) to twiddle, since they have total control of when they choose to twiddle. Twirling your racket (even if you are not at the table) is a problem for a beginning twirler but keep in mind that even the most experienced twirlers occasionally drop their rackets or get caught while twirling but with practice & time, this can be minimized (cannot be totally eliminated). Again, remember that you twirl because the advantages far outweigh isadvantages. When twirling, you should not develop the habit of using the other hand to twirl since these effects your balance. You can improve your twirling by twirling as an exercise even when you are not at the table(such as when watching TV or when waiting to play or warming up etc.). You can improve your twirling by watching other fellow twirlers or videos. It is easier to learn this by ignoring the rally (& opponent) while watching a match, except to only look at the twirler's racket observing all possible patterns used by the twirler. A simple custom racket has an attack inverted rubber on say forehand & a sticky inverted on backhand; a complex custom racket has say an attack inverted on forehand & short-pips on backhand. Custom rackets are relatively easy to twiddle as compared to "combination" rackets which are a little more complicated & cannot be addressed in a short article such as this (However the basic techniques discussed here can be extended to combination rackets;the major difference is in tactics). The block,push & chop type strokes are easier to learn first for twiddling type play. The top-spin twiddling, where you loop & drive from both wings with either rubber, is the ultimate twiddling game & also the most difficult to master. But you can greatly improve your topspin custom racket play if you keep in mind that, in general for all custom rackets, all you have to do is to adjust the racket angle.(If you loop with pips on backhand, your racket is more open & stroke more upwards;when you have twiddled, you simply close theracket more & stroke more forward). But by developing a graduated system of patterns of twiddling, you can maximize the advantages of playing with "special" rackets. The custom racket with short pips on one side & inverted on the other side is an ideal racket for most players who want to diversify their game but don't want to deal with complications of "combination" rackets, since you can spin reasonably well with short-pips, in addition to the advantage of a knuckling flat-hit, which is a good contrast to the spinny inverted side. The purpose of this article is to encourage more players to use combination rackets. There has been some hate mail going around in this newsgroup as to why only players who use same rubber both sides are superior and are real athletes etc under the clever disguise that they are trying to "save" poor tabletennis. Most players are indeed intimidated by this harassment tactics by those players who use primarily inverted both sides and reglue. In other words it the "socially cool thing" to do. This is fine and there is absolutely nothing wrong if you only play for the sheer joy of playing. But don't goo around whining and complaining about other players equipment just because you yourself are too "chicken" to use proper equipment to match your style and are afraid of becoming a social outcast among elite group of inverted regluers. And also don't confuse your fantasies with reality. Sure I myself fantasize that I had Rosskopf'sbackhand loop, Gatien's forehand loop, Persson's backhand kill, Jiang's forehand kill, Waldner's serves and Secretin's lobs all using my shoes as my racket, but that is not reality. Don't be bullied into using the equipment you don't want. Play with whatever suits your style. You should also use the fact that the non-special racket user dislikes you (for all the irrational reasons) to your advantage; (s)he hates losing to you; this thought terrifies them because by choosing a special racket (according to their gospel) that you are an inferior athlete. You should exploit this fear to your advantage. I personally don't believe in trash talking during a match but if you are into it by all means by all means use it. You want to get your opponent (who is phobic to special rackets) very upset and lose his cool and make him forget you are using a special racket. This will force him to make more errors and when (s)he remembers back that it is due to your racket you want to talk more trash and make him / her forget that you are using a special racket. The goal should be to make your opponent irrational phobic hateful opponent think a lot about your racket and prevent them from remembering their own strategies. In other word you want to exploit their hatred to your maximum advantage. Other sleazy tactics for special racket users :-1. If possible don't warm up with your opponent. Go right to the match. If (s)he is curious about your equipment this will upset him / her royally and that is exactly what you want. Don't 'show off' all your shots during warm-up. It means nothing. Another tactic would be to warm-up but to spray the ball all over the place everywhere but on the opponent's side and hopefully think make the opponent think that you suck.2. Don't play practice matches with a potential opponent. If you do conceal all your dirty tricks and give him / her a false sense of security and superiority. Winning a practice match means nothing. 3. If you have more than one racket and can play with different rackets use it if it will work. But please make sure you clearly show it to the opponent because the rules require it. (I will address on how to be a " material player" in a future posting).