By Larry Hodges
Table tennis is supposed to be fun. And nothing (except perhaps lobbing) is as fun as counterlooping. There is something magical about throwing yourself into the ball from off the table and arcing the ball back on the table with topspin. If you haven’t counterlooped, you’ve missed out on quite a lot--but you have a lot to look forward to. Unlike lobbing, however, counterlooping is an important part of most top player’s games, and if you’re a serious player, you need to learn how to do it.
It is assumed that the reader has a decent forehand loop, with relatively good technique. If not, get a coach and practice! This article is not about looping technique. It is about using your looping technique to loop your opponent’s loop right back at him.
Equipment: The sponge on your racket is very important for counterlooping. You’ll need a grippy inverted surface. The sponge itself can be either hard or soft. If it’s hard, you’ll have to generate more force to sink the ball into the sponge. If the sponge is soft, I’d recommend using speed glue.
The Four Types of Counterloops
1. Defensive: This is done from well off the table against a very strong loop. Contact is very late, on the ball’s descent, at about knee level. It is a slow but spinny shot, often arcing several feet over the net.
2. Consistent: This is the most common counterloop. Contact is after the top of the bounce, but before the ball drops below table level. The purpose is to be consistent, yet aggressive, putting pressure on your opponent.
3. Aggressive: This is when you have time to wind up and put full power into your counterloop and go for a winner. Contact should be as close as possible to the top of the bounce.
4. Off-the-Bounce: This is the most aggressive counterloop of all. Contact is before the ball reaches the top of the bounce, often just after the ball bounces on the table. It’s a very tricky shot that takes a lot of timing and anticipation, but almost always wins the point outright.
When to Counterloop
Counterlooping is normally a very physical shot, so the question of when to use it depends on your physical agility, how strong your loop is (in terms of both consistency and power), and your playing style. If looping is your strength, then incorporate counterlooping into your game as much as possible. If looping is not a strength--well, it’s still a fun shot, but it’ll take some time before the shot becomes a consistent point-winner.
Even if you normally play a close to the table blocking game, having a good counterloop gives you the ability to counter-attack consistently against a weak loop, rather than continue blocking or go for an erratic smash.
The Secret to Counterlooping
Stroke forward, not up!
Those four words sum up 90% of the problems players have with counterlooping. Because so many players learn to loop against backspin first, they learn to stroke upward--and the habit carries over into counterlooping, with disastrous results. Technically speaking, you will stroke slightly up on most counterloops, but the primary direction is forward.
Specifically, when counterlooping, you want to contact the top of the ball, a little toward the back, driving mostly forward. You should also contact the ball a little on the far side of the ball from you, hooking it and putting some sidespin on the ball--it’s a more natural stroke.
You will have to learn to adjust your stroke path depending on your distance from the table, the speed & spin of the incoming ball, and how hard you plan to counterloop. You will have to contact the ball more on top and stroke more forward: if you move closer to the table; if the incoming ball has more speed or spin; or if you are going for a more powerful counterloop.
You will contact the ball a little more toward the back and stroke a little bit more upward: if you move away from the table; if the incoming ball has less speed or spin; or if you are going for a softer loop.
It’s best to contact the ball a little on the outside of the ball, i.e. the far side of the ball from you, giving your loop some sidespin. This is both more natural (since arm is already sloping downward from the shoulder, you’d almost have to raise the racket tip up to avoid sidespin) and allows you to contact the ball without meeting the incoming topspin head-on.
One thing to watch out for is a soft loop that drops in front of you. To counterloop this ball, you’ll have to get closer to the table. If it’s too late for that, then loop the ball almost on the very top of the ball, even though this contradicts the previous paragraph. The reason is that the ball’s trajectory is downward, and when it hits your racket, the ball’s topspin will make the ball jump upward. Also, there is a tendency to lift against a ball that is dropping in front of you. Resist this urge at all costs!
Overpower the incoming spin
With all the spin on the incoming ball, you will have to overpower it to replace it with your own spin. This is not as hard as it seems as the ball’s rotation automatically changes when the spin hits your inverted surface. Some players get in the habit of just getting their racket on the ball, and guiding the ball back. This leads to a weak, defensive loop. Don’t wimp out--use your own force to overpower that incoming ball and add your own spin.
To loop off the bounce, you will have to be very close to the table, and either react very quickly as your opponent loops to you, or anticipate his shot. You should only loop off the bounce when you expect a relatively weak loop.
The secret to looping off the bounce is a short swing, a racket held relatively high, and contact almost on the very top of the ball. Overpower the incoming spin--don’t baby it. Watch your opponent pick up the ball from the barriers.
Study the Stars
There’s no better way to learn a technique than by seeing it done. Get a tape or watch almost any top player with inverted sponge.
I was shocked where I read your description of four different types of counter loops. I had no idea people categorized counter looping in this way but your descriptions of each type show that they each require distinctly different techniques to execute. I've been looking for specifics on counter looping technique and your article is the first that provided what I consider an appropriate analysis along with deconstruction of the shot technique(s). Nicely written, concise and informative, thank you for taking the time to write it and make it available to the public.