September 5, 2016 - Looping Slightly Long Balls

Many players have great difficulty looping slightly-long balls, especially with the forehand. These are usually serves or pushes that go only a little bit off the table. Most players push them back – and since the ball is relatively deep, they can’t get a good angle nor can they rush the opponent with a quick push, and so their return is ineffective. The solution, of course, is to loop these balls. (And the nice thing here is that when you read these balls right, they are easy to loop very aggressively.) How do you learn to do that?

Here are three tips for learning to forehand loop against slightly-long balls. (Tips 2 and 3 apply to the backhand loop as well.)

  1. You need to be very close to the table, with your head directly over the end-line. This allows you to look down on the ball, making it much easier to see if the ball is long, as well as easier to time it.
  2. Realize that you can loop a ball even if it is actually slightly short, i.e. the second bounce would be on the end-line or even an inch or so inside. You simply stroke aggressively over the table with a slightly upward stroke. Once you realize this, you’ll see that balls that seemed unloopable are actually very loopable. (You can go over the table even more with the backhand loop, by using more wrist. In fact, a backhand banana flip is essentially a loop done over the table.) Some worry that they’ll hit their hand on the table, but if you are aware of where the table is, you just stroke slightly behind or above it. If you can contact a small, moving ball, how hard is it to avoid hitting a large stationary object? (In 40 years of play, I don’t recall ever hitting my hand on the table while looping.)
  3. Practice! How do you do this? Have someone feed you multiball backspin where the ball is only slightly long, or do it live where you serve and your partner pushes the ball back slightly long. You’ll have to adjust to each shot as some will be longer, some shorter, including some too short to forehand loop. Get your head over the ball (see #1 above), recognize that you can loop balls that you didn’t think you could before (#2 above), and loop those that are loopable. At first, if you think the ball is unloopable, let it go. You’ll be tempted to adjust and either push or flip, but letting it go is the only way to get true feedback. Watch it and ask yourself, “Could I have looped that ball?” Often the answer will be yes. Eventually, with practice, you’ll be able to judge this, and then you can stop letting the ball go, and practice either looping the loopable ones, and pushing or flipping the shorter ones.