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Playing against Anti-Spin (Part 1)

How to defeat your defensive opponents

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

Ban Junk Rubbers!

Anti-spin and long pimples, yuk! They should be banned! Everyone should have to use normal rubbers!

Sound familiar? I think we all have heard a fellow table tennis player say this at one time or another. Suffice to say that anti-spin and long pimples don't look like disappearing soon, and although there may not be many players in the World's Top 100 Men using anti-spin or long pimples, I'm willing to bet that you, dear reader, are not in such elite company either or else you probably wouldn't be interested in hearing my views on how to play against these 'funny' or 'junk' rubbers. I'll start with anti-spin because it's a bit simpler to play against than long pimples.

So take a deep breath, gird up your loins and read on...

What is Anti-spin Rubber?

In general, anti-spin rubber is a smooth sandwich rubber with little or no grip on the surface of the rubber. You can hold a table tennis ball in your fingers and rub (not roll) the ball along the surface, and the ball will simply slide along the surface with very little friction when compared to a 'normal' smooth rubber. Different anti-spin rubbers have varying amount of grip, which is why not every anti-spin plays exactly the same, but they will all have much less grip than a normal rubber.

Why do People use Anti-spin Rubber?

Anti-spin is used by players of a variety of styles, but overall there are three main reasons why anti-spin is used:

  1. To provide very good control of the ball regardless of what shot your opponent makes;
  2. To provide variation in the behaviour of the ball in comparison to strokes made with the normal rubber that is typically on the other side of the bat.
  3. To allow the user of anti-spin to turn or 'twiddle' the bat in his hand and make his opponent incorrectly guess which side of the bat was used, thus forcing a poor return.

How does anti-spin work in theory?

There are several factors involved in how a particular anti-spin rubber works. Each anti-spin rubber uses these factors differently, which is why no two anti-spin rubbers play exactly the same way. The factors involved are listed below. Please keep in mind that this is my theory about anti-spin, so I'm not claiming to be the last word on the subject.

(1) Amount of grip of the topsheet.
All anti-spins have much less grip than normal rubbers, but this does not mean that they all have no grip. There is actually quite a difference in grips between different anti-spin rubbers. The more grip they have, the more the player will be able to change the spin that you have put on the ball.

(2) Softness of the topsheet
The softer the topsheet, the more the topsheet will 'wrap' around the ball when the player attempts to put spin on the ball, and the more spin the anti-spin will generate. Keep in mind that this will not be anywhere near the amount of spin that comes from a normal rubber, but it is still significant. A player with a soft topsheet will be able to produce more spin variation that a player using a stiff topsheet, such as one of the Dr Nebauer topsheets that is rock hard.

(3) Thickness and hardness of the sponge
As in (2) above, the thicker and softer the sponge, the more the rubber will be able to wrap around the ball and generate spin which a brushing motion is used. This will also affect the speed of the return, as noted in (7) below.

(4) Speed of the rubber
The faster the overall rubber, the less time the ball will stay on the rubber and the less opportunity to spin the ball. I think that there have been studies done that indicate that the speed of the rubber does not affect the dwell time, but this is my gut feel about the effect of rubber speed.

(5) Speed Glue
Speed glue softens the sponge, allowing the rubber to wrap around the ball more and generate more spin as well as speed.

(6) The type of stroke used
A stroke where the rubber makes flat contact with the ball without brushing it will have the least effect on the spin already on the ball. A brushing motion will apply more spin than a flat stroke (but still a lot less than a normal rubber), keeping in mind that if the ball already has a lot of spin on it then the anti-spin rubber will struggle to change the spin in any significant way.

(7) Speed and bounce of the return (as pointed out by heavyspin)
The effect of the anti-spin on the spin of the ball is not the only problem that you will face. Compared to a stroke with an ordinary rubber, the amount of speed on the ball will be less with the same stroke made by an anti-spin rubber. A thicker, harder sponge will tend to return the ball faster, but it will still not be anywhere near as fast as a normal rubber. A speed-glued anti-spin rubber might just about get there, though. In addition, the bounce of the ball off the table will also be different, due to the difference in spin and speed applied by the anti-spin rubber.

All of these factors will affect the amount that your opponent can change your spin. Bear in mind that if you spin the ball and your opponent does not change your spin, the ball will keep spinning in the same way but it's overall motion will be in the other direction, so if you hit a topspin it will come back to you as backspin, and if you hit a backspin it will come back to you as topspin. This is true regardless of what rubber your opponent is using, it is just easier to do with anti-spin. (Think of a chopper chopping a loop, for example. The spin on the ball is always in the same direction, but it is coming to the chopper as topspin, and to the looper as backspin.)

How does anti-spin work in Practice?

To explain how anti-spin works in reality, it is probably easiest to compare it to how normal rubber works. Imagine this scenario: You and your opponent are both using normal rubbers such as Sriver. You topspin loop the ball to your opponent, and he plays his stroke by moving his bat from near his knee to above his head, in a fairly typical topspin action. What type of speed and spin will be on the ball that is coming towards you?

Answer: The type of spin can vary all the way from a slow heavy topspin if your opponent has spun the ball without much forward motion, to a medium-fast loop with medium spin if he has spun the ball and hit through the ball about equally, to a very fast loop or drive with not very much spin if he has hit through the ball without spinning it much.

In this day and age of smooth grippy rubbers, most intermediate and advanced players will know what is happening instinctively when they are playing, and adjust accordingly. This type of topspin rally is what the many hours of training has prepared you for. It is an entirely predictable scenario - if you watch your opponent's stroke closely enough, you will know what spin and speed is on the ball coming towards you.

Now imagine that your opponent is playing with an anti-spin rubber. Once again, you topspin loop the ball to his forehand, and he uses the anti-spin side to play a stroke from his knee to his head, in a fairly typical topspin action. What type of speed and spin will be on the ball that is coming towards you?

Answer: The ball will be anywhere from a heavy backspin ball to a float ball, depending on the type of anti-spin used and the type of contact made by your opponent. It will not be a topspin ball. Read on for the reasons why.

Continued in Part 2

Photo: Donic Anti A40
© 2005-2022 Greg Letts

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

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