February 5, 2024 - Types of Topspin Contact

Good contact with the ball is key to making a good shot. There’s even a stereotype that all Chinese coaches do in training sessions is walk around watching the player’s feet and listening to the sound of the contact. (There’s some truth to this – I’m not Chinese but sometimes this is what I do when coaching.) You should learn to listen to your own contact, and try to repeat both the sound and the feel. That, along with good positioning and stroking technique, is how you get consistency.

With any topspin contact, you stroke upward at least some. (More up against backspin, less against topspin.) The direction of the stroke, the angle of the contact, and how much you sink the ball into the sponge all affect the shot.  

I divide topspin contact into roughly five types, as follows. The first four would be considered loops. How many of these do you do?

  1. Barely grazing. This is for slow, spinny loops, especially against backspin, where you barely graze the ball, creating tremendous topspin. Contact is mostly with the rubber, and only slightly into the sponge. This is mostly done against heavy backspin, with a mostly upward stroke. The focus here is huge amounts of topspin but little speed, with the ball making a huge arc. The sheer amount of spin gives opponents trouble. However, the problem with a slow loop is that if they go deep on the table (as they usually do), then you have to arc them relatively high to get the depth, and so opponents can attack them. If you loop them short, then the opponent can even more easily attack them, if he reacts immediately. However, by varying the depth, it can create havoc with opponents – and many players struggle against them in general.
  2. Medium into sponge. This is for medium loops. They are usually the most consistent loops, with your power going equally into speed and spin. They are often used to keep an attack going. If well placed, they can be effective.
  3. Deep into sponge. This is for stronger loops, where you are putting great pressure on the opponent and often winning the point outright.
  4. Sponge and wood. Now you are sinking the ball deep into the sponge at an angle, but with enough power that it still goes into the wood. This is for kill loops. They aren’t supposed to come back. Because of the sheer speed on these shots, they should only be done against a weak ball, or (occasionally) against a more difficult ball where you are in perfect position and read the ball (especially its spin) perfectly.
  5. Glancing blow. This is for smashes, regular counter-hits, and most blocks. For this, you hit the ball at an angle, but sink mostly straight through the sponge into the wood, with a slightly upward stroke, giving moderate topspin. This is also how you hit most attack shots with a hardbat or pips-out. When blocking, you can meet the ball almost straight on for a “deader” ball, but this would have little or no topspin.