October 14, 2015

Emulating the Equipment of the Top Players

One of the best and worst habits intermediate players make is copying the equipment of the top players. There's no question that if you want to play like a world-class player, you should use the type of equipment that is used by world-class players (mostly tensor-like sponges), whether it's the same brand or something similar.

However, far too often players use specific equipment because the world-class players are using it, rather than using what's best for them. I'm going to use Butterfly's Tenergy 25 as an example. (Disclosure: I'm sponsored by Butterfly.)

I went over the 43 international players and 20 North American players listed as sponsored players at butterflyonline.com. Of those 63 players and 120+ racket surfaces, only one uses Tenergy 25: Koki Niwa of Japan, world #14 in men's rankings. (According to this bio, he uses Tenergy 25 on the forehand, with Tenergy 05 on the backhand.) Why is this? Because most world-class players (or those training to become one) take big swings at the ball from both sides, and so use the various surfaces designed for that – usually (for Butterfly) Tenergy's 05 (most popular), 64, and 80. Exactly zero used the softer FX, less powerful versions, for the same reason – at that level, the premium is on power.

So does this mean we should all use the same powerful surfaces as the world-class players? The answer to that is an emphatic It Depends.

I'll use myself as an example. I'm 55 and well past the stage where I'm trying to take the world by storm and beat the Chinese. I both hit and loop on the forehand, but on the backhand I mostly hit, counter-hit, and block, and sometimes loop. So what do I use? For several years I used Tenergy 05 FX on the forehand, which gave me a very consistent loop. But gradually I began to realize that at my level (still trying to hold a 2200 level, though I'm probably well below that now) I needed a little more power on that side, and so went to Tenergy 05. (I use 2.1 on both sides.) Since players have more room to swing on the forehand side, I think 05 (regular or FX) is often a good choice for anyone who loops regularly on that side. However, many players should consider using the FX version for more control, especially if your level is under 2000 in USATT ratings. You can always go to the regular version later on. (With the harder sponge, you have to swing harder to sink the ball into the sponge. The softer FX is better if you don't swing so hard – so it's especially good for younger and older players.)

But on the backhand players are more cramped, and so usually have shorter swings, and usually loop less. I could use 05 or 64 (two of the most popular on the backhand) to strengthen my occasional backhand loops, but that's not what I usually do on that side. (I mostly loop either against backspin or against soft but low blocks.) For most of us, once we are into rallies, on the backhand we are more hitters, counter-drivers, and blockers. And for that, Tenergy 25 is simply better. And so I use 25 on the backhand. And like all tensor-type surfaces, it's still excellent for looping, as well as fishing and lobbing. Of course, using it on the backhand is opposite of what Koki Niwa does, with the 25 on the forehand, 05 on the backhand! (I'm not sure why.) So once again . . . it depends. 

Here's the description of Tenergy 25: "Adept at drop-shots, flicks, short pushes and quick counter attacks, Tenergy 25 is perfect for close-to-the table play." The part that should be most important for many of us is the "quick counter attacks," meaning it's great for counter-hitting in fast rallies.

So what should you use? Yep, it depends. If you are training for a very high level, or just want to emulate the top players, then by all means go for Tenergy 05, 64, or 80, or something similar, perhaps using the FX version at first. But if you aren't swinging for the fences on the backhand, I'd recommend something for more normal players – and that's Tenergy 25. I would say that for the majority of players under 2200, Tenergy 25 is better than the other versions, at least for the backhand. (It's used on both sides by USATT Hall of Famer David Sakai, one of the best counter-driver/blockers around.)

Here's more info on the Tenergy series: Part 1 and Part 2, and a video (10:20). Here's an article about Koki Niwa (with links to video, and here's an article about Koki Niwa's techniques.

In the Zone: Training Emotional Skill in Table Tennis

Part 6 is new. I previously linked to 1-5.

  • Part 1: Introduction and the Nature of Emotional Skill
  • Part 2: Ten Attributes of Poised Players, What About Us?, and Diagnose
  • Part 3: Intervention and Changing Goals
  • Part 4: The Components
  • Part 5: The Skills
  • Part 6: Training Emotional Skill

Ask the Coach Show

Episode #172 (17:05) – Getting a Relaxed Swing (and other segments).

USATT and NCTTA Partner to Host Team Challenge at 2015 Nationals

Here's the USATT article.

My Interview with Expert Table Tennis

It's now up as a USATT news item. It's mostly about tactics, though we cover other issues.

Jack Wang Interview

Here's the USATT interview with the cadet star.

11 Questions with Jerry Vasquez

Here's the USATT interview.

Butterfly's Off-the-Wall partnership with inclusion Table Tennis

Here's the article.

No Arms, One Leg? No Problem!

Here's the video (49 sec) of Luiz Henrique Medina. (It's in Spanish, but the video tells the story.)

The Magic Chopper: Zhang Xielin

Here's video (3:14) of this Chinese star from the 1960s, who was nicknamed "The Magic Chopper," and who dominated against the Europeans (and presumably the Japanese, who he is playing here, in the men's team final in 1965). What's interesting is that he was a penhold chopper!!! I've always wanted to see him play, since I'd heard so much about him, and this is the first time. He often chopped with sidespin, which flummoxed the Europeans, but his fellow Chinese apparently were used to playing him.

2006 BBC Documentary: Planet Ping Pong

Here's the video (57:17) on the history of table tennis. (I linked to this back once before, back in 2012.) "The story of table tennis and how it became the most popular sport in Asia. The programme revisits the glory days of the 30s and 40s, when thousands would cram into Wembley to watch top players do battle. Contributors include Britain's only world champion Johnny Leach, China's former World and Olympic women's champion Deng Yaping, and writers Howard Jacobson and Matthew Syed." Also narrating parts of it are Marty Reisman and Tim Boggan.

Jimmy Butler Floored

Here's the video (69 sec) as he falls, gets up, falls again, and tries to continue the rally while on the floor. After 13 sec, it switches to a kid who just won a game against Jimmy and is rolling on the floor and screaming, "I beat the National Champion!" It finishes with a weird puppet in an opera thing. (Jimmy's off to play in the Men's World Cup this weekend in Halmstad, Sweden, Oct. 16-18.)

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Re: October 14, 2015

Larry, I am also over 50, and I also tried quite a few of Tenergy rubbers (05, 05FX, 64FX, 80, 80FX, 25, 25FX). I also often counterblock and fish on BH but also need an occasional loop or a roll there, especially when receiving a service or if my opponent sends me a relatively passive/slower ball to my left side giving me that extra fraction of a second to move my tired feet for the better position to execute the shot.

And my impression was that while 25 and 25FX and exceptionally good in blocking (they are less sensitive to the incoming spin, because the pips under the surface are so much wider than on other Tenergies), they are not great on executing BH loop, especially when your swing is short (BH flip or roll during service receive, for instance). Another example is executing a BH loop away from the table - with 25 you certainly would have to at least change the angle of attack compared to almost all other Tenergy rubbers. I can see that is your impression as well, but difference in our styles (and technique) must be rather significant, because after a while I realized that 25 was not really doing a good job for me there, compared to 80 or even 05FX.

In any case, it's different for every player, but my overall take on 25 was that this is the rubber for players with a game considerably different from my own.

Also I believe your statement that nobody among top level Butterfly players uses FX versions is not entirely correct. As far as I know, Kalinikos Kreanga uses (or used?) 05FX on his BH.

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: October 14, 2015

Hi Jim,

I find any of the Tenergys easy to loop with. I've been tempted to use the 25 on my forehand because of this. On the backhand I have no problem looping either against backspin or against soft blocks, though I don't usually try do to so in fast rallies. (I've never tried Tenergy 25 FX.) 

Regarding Kreanga, according to Butterflyonline, he uses Tenergy 05 (regular, not FX) on both sides:


Re: October 14, 2015

Well, Butterfly's European site says 05FX on both sides :) . I also heard that from people who met him relatively recently.


Same from the website of French TT Federation (he plays almost exclusively in France now)


Larry Hodges's picture

Re: October 14, 2015

You could be right; I only know what it says online. And of course having two sites say the same thing doesn't mean anything if one simply got the info from the other. Unless someone can actually ask Kreanga or see closeups of his racket, we don't know. But based on your links, he likely at least used to use FX, and very possibly still does. If so, he'd be the only one out of the 63 players listed that uses FX (unless others are listed incorrectly) - but I doubt it as FX generally isn't used by the best players. 

Re: October 14, 2015

In any case I agree with your point. Top players certainly use harder sponged rubbers - their ball feeling and touch is superior to that of the regular players so they can get away withg using less sensitive rubbers but power and speed are at a premium at that level because a tiny fraction of a second makes a difference between losing and winning the point.