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How to Play with Antispin

Deceiving your opponent with Antispin rubber

by Greg Letts - an Australian state coach, an International Umpire and one of the top ranked players in his country.

In today's article I'd like to discuss the subject of how to play table tennis with antispin rubber. I have used antispin previously, but it was quite a while ago now (over 10 years) so I'd be happy to hear from anyone with more recent experience who has something to add.

That said, let's get down to it.

How does antispin work?

Suffice to say that antispin rubber is not the solution to all your table tennis problems. It is a rubber that has been created to fill very specific requirements. When used for those purposes, it does an excellent job. The problems start when people start trying to use it for what it is not designed for, or equipped to do.

What are the advantages of antispin?

Antispin rubber has several good points, including the following:

  • A large difference in the way it reacts to spin compared to normal rubber, which can cause the opponent to make mistakes, and can also increase the control for the user;
  • A possible difference in speed compared to normal rubber (if slower, softer sponge is used), which can also cause the opponent to make mistakes due to the change of pace;
  • A possible closer match in speed to normal rubber (if harder, faster or speed-glued sponge is used), which can be more difficult for the opponent to know which side has been used until it is too late;
  • A closer match in sound (when the ball is struck) and visual appearance to normal rubber, which can cause the opponent to incorrectly decide on which side of the bat has been used to strike the ball, hopefully causing an error;
  • It can be intimidating for players who do not understand how antispin works, and may give up before the match even starts;
  • It can allow older players who have slower reflexes or other physical limitations to slow down the pace of the game, allowing them to compete on a more equal footing. It can give these players the chance to use their experience to play a tactical game that maximises the assets that they do have (usually experience, reading of spin, and use of strategies) while minimising their liabilities (slowing reflexes, less agile, slower footwork, less stamina, less power).

What are the limitations of antispin?

Despite all these pluses, you don't see every person out there playing with antispin. Here are some reasons why:

  • It's harder to generate spin using antispin - which can be a severe limitation when it comes to making powerful attacks. The safety margin provided by hitting with heavy topspin is greatly reduced when using antispin.
  • It's difficult to vary the spin using antispin (depending to some extent on the brand used). Suffice to say that when compared to normal rubber (and even long pimples), it is much more difficult to kill or change the spin to any significant degree with antispin.
  • When choosing his own strokes, the player is much more dependent on what spin is put on the ball by his opponent (we'll discuss this in greater detail later).
  • Unless the player is a competent twiddler, it can be difficult to avoid getting pinned down on the antispin side by a good opponent.

Tactics and Techniques when using antispin - What to do

Check out your opponent

Study your future opponent carefully if you get the chance before the match, or even during your match if you have to, looking for such points as:

  • Is he good at noticing when his opponent twiddles?
  • Does he know how it works? Does he make a lot of mistakes or hesitate when playing against the antispin?
  • Is he aggressive or safe when playing against the antispin? Does it work well?
  • Does he return the antispin balls with little spin, heavy spin, or varied?
  • Does he play better against the antispin when you chop with it, or hit? Or is he equally good/bad at both?

Dealing with floated balls

Many opponents try to nullify the antispin by hitting no-spin balls to it, so that there is no spin to reverse, thus helping them have less problem in reading the spin. Others use a no-spin return in the hopes that the antispin user will pop the ball up high when attempting a normal chop with the antispin side (sound familiar?).

Here are some tips for dealing with floated balls to your antispin.

  • The bread and butter shot that you use should be a stroke that is mainly from up to down and with just a little bit of forward motion. The angle of the bat is slightly open, so the ball is lifted only a little. This results in a return from the antispin that will stay low over the net, and will be difficult to attack. Using more forward motion whilst keeping the amount of up to down movement the same will result in a return that is low and fast. Be aware that there is a limit to how fast you can perform this shot, since there is a minimal amount of topspin on the ball. You are basically relying on gravity to pull the ball on to the table, so to much forward motion will push the ball too far off the end before gravity can do its thing.

  • A second shot that can be made occasionally (don't overdo it) is a chop return with the antispin. There are two important things to note here: firstly, the swing must be reasonably fast, and secondly, the ball must be brushed, with the bat sliding under the ball.

    • Forgetting to swing fast enough will result in a ball that doesn't reach the net.

    • Forgetting to brush the ball will cause the ball to go high in the air, off the end of the table.

    • A reasonably fast swing with a good brush of the ball will result in a return that is low, fast, and that looks like it has a fair amount of backspin but actually has none. The opponent will probably misread the spin and return the ball too high, and this return should be attacked with your normal rubber.

  • A third shot that can also be used every so often is to hit the ball with a stroke that looks like topspin. The bat should be slightly open, since you will need to lift the ball a little in order for it to clear the net. Remember that there will be very little or no topspin on the ball, so you will be depending on gravity to bring the ball down on the table. This means that this attacking stroke cannot be performed at high speed, unless the ball is above the level of the net, in which case the ball can be hit directly onto the table. The higher the ball, the harder it can be hit.

    • Don't worry that you can't hit the ball very hard - against all but the best opponents the sheer change of pace and spin will be enough to prevent them from making a strong attack.

Dealing with spinny pushed/chopped balls

Quite often, your opponent will start with float balls to your antispin, and see how you handle them. This is because the float return is the easiest and safest for him to use. Once you have shown him that you can deal with the float ball without any problems (by using the techniques mentioned above), the more advanced opponent will often then try using heavily spun pushes to the antispin in the hopes that he can make you put the ball in the net.

The techniques mentioned above for the float ball will still work with the backspin ball, with some minor changes.

  • The up to down stroke with only a little forward movement now needs a lot more forward movement. The backspin from your opponent will be turned into topspin and cause the ball to drop a lot faster, so if you don't hit more forward, the ball will go into the bottom of the net. Don't change the amount of up to down movement though, just add a bit more forward motion. You will end up with a quite fast push/block that drops quickly onto the opponent's side of the table.

  • The chop return can be used more often now. The fast chop stroke with a brushing of the ball helps to return the ball with a little topspin, although it looks like chop. Again, you should find the unwary opponent popping up his return for you to hit with your normal side.

  • Hitting the ball now becomes a much more workable option. Your opponent's backspin will be converted to topspin, and will help bring the ball down onto the table faster. This means that you can hit the backspin ball with a lot more power than the float ball. The main thing to be aware of is that you will need to hit the ball harder forwards while still hitting it a little bit up with a slightly open bat to get the lift to clear the net.

    • Hitting the ball harder but failing to lift the ball will give you a fast ball that dives into the bottom of the net, or even on your side of the table.

    • Lifting the ball but failing to hit hard enough will result in a ball that rises above the net on your side of the table, but falls into the bottom of the net or even on your half of the table.

    • A properly struck ball will rise a little above the net before dropping on the other side of the table. The more backspin the opponent puts on the ball, the harder you can actually hit it and still drop the ball onto the table.

Dealing with Topspin Balls

I'm assuming here that you are playing fairly close to the table - simply because it's difficult to use antispin to counterhit or topspin balls back from 2-3 metres away from the end line - and so the standard chop is used more often from a distance.

Here are your basic options when returning a topspin ball from close to the table:

  • Counterhitting the ball back is a viable option - the main thing to keep in mind is not to overhit - there will usually be a fair bit of pace on the ball from your opponent's shot, so you won't need to hit too hard. You actually won't be able to hit too hard and still get the ball on the table, since you won't be able to generate any meaningful topspin with your antispin.

    • The higher the ball bounces, the harder you can hit and still land the ball on the table. If the ball bounces well above the level of the net, you can pretty much hit the ball directly onto the opponent's half. As the ball gets lower in relation to the net, you will need to reduce your speed in order to allow gravity to drop the ball on the table.

    • Don't bother with brushing the ball when counterhitting - you won't generate enough topspin to make it worthwhile. Just use a solid counterhit to maximise your chances of making good contact.

    • Due to the nature of antispin, you will return a ball with a small to medium amount of backspin, depending on how much spin your opponent originally put on the ball.

  • Blocking or push/blocking is also very useful. The key here is to have 'soft hands' or a looser grip on the blade, to help absorb some of the power of the attack. You may also need to tilt the bat a little bit forward to adjust for the tendency of the ball to jump higher.

    • Focus on placing the ball around the table rather than trying to hit winners. Allow the antispin to do its job in changing the pace and varying the spin compared to normal rubbers. Resist the temptation to blast the ball back at the opponent - you'll miss 4 or 5 for every one glory shot that goes on.

    • After your block or push/block, get ready for a slower, weaker return from lower level opponents. Be prepared to step in and put the ball away with your normal rubber. Higher level opponents will be able to maintain their attack, so remember to keep moving the ball around and varying the type of return you use.

General Tips

  • Most antispins are a fair bit slower than normal rubber and can drop the ball shorter much more easily. Against less mobile opponents, take advantage of this by using extreme angles to move your opponent wide to the backhand, then wide to the forehand etc.

  • Antispin is not designed to power the ball through your opponent. Unless you are very good with it, stick to playing safe and sure, moving the ball around the table, and changing your stroke for variation. Resist the temptation to try to hit winners with the antispin - get the ball on and let the opponent make mistakes in reading the spin and pace.

  • In general, don't hit the ball twice in a row with the antispin. The second hit is rarely as effective as the first, since the opponent has had the first one to adjust to the change in pace and spin. Hit once with the antispin and then look to use your normal rubber to put away the return. If the opponent manages to get the ball back to your antispin after you hit the first time, change to a push or push/block and move the ball around the table instead for your second shot - you can always try another hit later.

  • Don't be afraid to twiddle - but generally twiddle once and then go back to your normal side.

  • Don't get lazy and use the antispin as an excuse to not watch the ball and bat carefully when your opponent is serving - as you go up against better opponents being able to read the serve will be an important part of your game, antispin or not. In fact, try to return less often with the antispin - it has less ability to vary the spin and good players will often look to serve to the antispin because of this.

  • Finally, remember that the antispin is there to allow you to slow the game down and hopefully set up your attacks with your normal rubber. Don't get caught trying to hit every ball with the antispin. Be looking to use your normal rubber to attack when possible, and use your antispin when you have to, or for a specific pattern to set up an attack.

© 2005-2024 Greg Letts

You may also read Greg's blog and purchase Australian TT videos from Greg's own website

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