Playing with Long Pimples (Part 1)
Should you be using long pimples?
by Greg Letts - an Australian state coach, an International Umpire and one of the top ranked players in his country.
Are Long pimples for you?
If you are reading this article, you are either: (a) using long pimples already and hoping to improve your game; or (b) thinking about using long pimples in the future.
In Brief - Which table tennis players should be using long pimples?
I'll go into more detail later, but if you answer 'Yes' to any of the following questions, you should give long pimples serious consideration.
- Have you got a natural affinity for chopping, and want to maximize your chances of winning?
- Are you naturally a retriever of the ball, who likes to take whatever his opponent can throw at him at keep putting the ball back on the table?
- Are you finding that age or injury is preventing you from getting around the court like you used to, and opponents are taking advantage of this?
- Are your reflexes slowing down as you get older, but you want to stay competitive?
- Have you been watching Joo Se Hyuk and find yourself wishing you could play like that?
- Are you someone who enjoys the battle of wits with your opponent as you fight for each point?
- Are you a natural showman, and like nothing better than having the crowd watching your game and cheering you on?
In Brief - Which table tennis players should not be using long pimples?
Again, I'll expand on this later, but if your reason for using long pimples is listed below, you are probably using them for the wrong reason.
- Are you too unfit to move around the court?
- Have you got a flaw in your technique that you are hoping to hide?
- Are you poor at reading spin, and hoping to cover it up?
- Are you hoping to win easy points because your opponents won't be able to play against your long pimples?
In Depth - Why should you use long pimples?
Now let's take a more extensive look at the reasons you might decide that long pimples are for you.
Just as there are natural born loopers out there, you may be a natural chopper or defender. If you find yourself with an aptitude for backspinning the ball, then you may wish to take advantage of this and use the best materials for your style. Due to the power and spin given by the speed glued bats of today's attackers, most choppers use a medium to long pimples (mainly on the backhand) to help them control the ball when defending, and to generate heavy backspin to help set up their own counterattacks. Choppers using normal rubbers on both sides are few and far between.
Some players simply enjoy the process of wearing an opponent down by taking the best he has to offer and continually putting the ball back on the table. These 'brick wall' type players will benefit from the improved control a long pimpled rubber will give them, and the extra variation it provides.
Players who are restricted in their movement due to age or permanent injury can help compensate for this by intelligent use of a long pimpled rubber. It can be used to slow the speed of the game down, thus allowing them more time to move to the ball. Long pimples can also allow the player to maintain a position closer to the table, by providing a racket surface capable of absorbing the power and spin of the modern game at short range.
Players with slower reflexes than normal, or players whose reflexes are slowing down due to age, can compensate for this deficiency by using the long pimples to slow down the pace of the game, thus giving them more time to react to the opponent's strokes.
Those of you who have watched the likes of Joo or Matsushita and wish to emulate their feats at whatever level you can, might also put a sheet of long pimples on your bat and copy your heroes. Be prepared for a long, hard struggle (it's fun too though!), but who knows, maybe in 10 years time young players will want to be the next you!
If you like the "table tennis as chess" aspect of the game, then you may want to play with long pimples as well. Having the two different rubbers on your bat opens up whole new strategies and tactics to experiment with and master. Finding the particular crack in an attackers game, then applying the pressure until his game goes to pieces can be an immensely satisfying experience. Just be aware that they'll be trying to do the same thing to you!
If the roar of the crowd spurs you on when you play, then long-range defending and counterattacking may be the style for you. A good battle between an evenly matched attacker and long-range defender gets the crowd going like nothing else. People will be packed around the court cheering your returns from off your shoetops, the barriers, and the next court. And being the defender you are naturally considered the underdog and will have the crowd on your side!
In Depth - why shouldn't you be using long pimples?
While the brotherhood of long pimpled players is always happy to have new members, it may be better for your table tennis career if you are thinking of using long pimpled rubbers for any of the reasons below.
Lack of Fitness
If simple lack of fitness is preventing you from playing your best table tennis, then you owe it to yourself to get fitter and play your natural style. You'll be a better player in the long run than if you stay unfit and try to play a style that compensates for your laziness, but hurts the rest of your natural game.
Flaws in Your Technique
This is probably one of the most touchy subjects when the topic of long pimples is discussed, and I'm pretty 50/50 about it myself. It seems these days that anybody who uses long pimples to cover a weak shot with normal rubber, such as a poor backhand, is instantly dismissed as a craven coward, too scared to be a man and learn how to play properly. While I agree that a player should do all he can to improve his technique to get rid of weaknesses first, I also feel that if you have worked hard for years on improving your flaws (ie you have gotten coaching and trained hard) and they stubbornly remain, then you should feel OK about putting some long pimples on your bat and seeing whether your game improves. After all, there is nothing sacred about playing with normal rubbers - maybe your 'flaw' with normal rubber will be a strength with long pimples!
Inability to read spin
If you have problems reading spin, and think that long pimples will help you, you are both right and wrong. Some types of long pimples will help you ignore the spin on the ball to a large extent. The problem is that unless you are going to use the long pimples on both sides of your bat, there is no way known that you are going to be able to twiddle your bat around fast enough to cover both forehand and backhand with the long pimples whenever you want. Sooner or later you will be forced to hit a shot with the normal side when you don't want to, and you will have to read the spin on the ball. Using long pimples to help you ignore the spin will only make your ability to read the spin get worse, and you'll make a mess of those balls you are forced to hit with the normal rubber. Concentrate on improving your ablity to read spin instead - you'll get further.
Hoping for easy points
Those players looking to use long pimples to win easy points are going to be disappointed sooner or later. At the beginner's level, you will win a number of points simply because your opponent doesn't know how the long pimples work. At the intermediate level, your opponent will have a fair idea about how long pimples work, but you may still get a couple of easy points just from the difference in speed and bounce affecting your opponent's timing. You can also get an extra few points from twiddling regularly and taking advantage of the fact that your opponent won't notice or won't react to the different side fast enough.
But as you go to the advanced levels, forget it. Your opponent will know how your long pimples work, and he will notice which side of you bat you have used and adjust accordingly. The slower speed of the long pimples can actually work against you, as your opponent's rhythm won't be affected and he will use the extra time to set up for more powerful shots. There are still ways to get points using the long pimples, but none of them are the cheap fixes you were getting at the lower levels. You'll have to work just as hard, if not harder, to earn your points against advanced players. And at the pro level, just forget it. Who's the last professional you saw casually standing there at the table, twiddling his bat and winning effortless points? The professional long pimple players are the Energizer bunnies of the table tennis world, bounding back, forward, and sideways in their quest to earn a point. Cheap points - fuggeddaboutit!
What Table Tennis styles use Long Pimples?
Now it's time to talk about the different ways players use long pimples, and which particular style is the right one for you.
Although long pimples can be used in a variety of ways, to my mind there are 4 basic styles in which long pimples are used in Table Tennis today. These styles are:
- The classic defensive style, where the long pimples are used to aid the constant backspin retrieval of the ball;
- The modern defensive style, or aggressive backspin style, where long pimples are used to apply varying amount of backspin to force a weak return that can be counterattacked;
- The push/block style, where long pimples are used to slow down the game and interfere with the timing and rhythm of the opponent;
- The attacking style, where long pimples are actually used as an offensive weapon.
Each of these styles has different ways of using the long pimples, and each style also places different requirements on the player. We'll take a look at each style in turn, and hopefully along the way you should be able to find one that suits you. Keep in mind that a blending of 2 or more styles is also possible, such as the classic defender who likes to counterattack every now and again; or a push/blocker who can also hit with the long pimples from time to time. The basics of each style will still apply to the parts of each style that are combined though.
Classic Defensive Table Tennis Style
In the classic defensive style, the emphasis is put on the safe backspin retrieval of the ball over and over again. The idea is to keep the ball in play until the opponent makes a mistake. As such, the classic defender tends to shy away from taking risks, and instead is looking to make as few errors as possible.
How long pimples are used
The use of long pimples can help the classic defender by providing him with a 'safe' side to hit the ball with. The heaviest and fastest of loops can be countered by using the long pimples to chop the ball. Spin variation is also used to make the attacker misread the spin and hit into the net or off the table. The classic defender won't try to attack many balls with the long pimples, as the margin for error is too high. He will usually counterattack only easy setup balls, using his normal rubber to do so. His preferred position is at least 2 metres from the table, so that he has more time to hit the ball, and can do so as the speed and spin of the ball is decreasing.
The classic defender requires patience and self-control, and is usually the type of player who avoids taking risks. The higher the level he plays at, the fitter he will need to be, in order to cover an increased defensive area. The ability to turn or twiddle the bat as desired is also an asset, in order to be able to return any difficult balls with the safety of the long pimples.
Level of Play
The classic defender is usually found at the beginning and intermediate levels of play. Once their opponents are capable of consistent looping, the classic defender finds it very difficult to cope with the power of today's speed glued loops. The best classic defenders can compete at the advanced level, but need to be in peak physical condition and have the cunning of a fox. At the professional level in the men's game, the classic defender is non-existent, but the occasional classic defender can be found in the women's game, due the lesser power of women players.
Modern Defensive Style
Exponents of the aggressive backspin style, also known as the 'modern defensive style', are also capable of the 'brick-wall' defence of the classic defender, but prefer whenever possible to use their spin variation when chopping to obtain a poor return from their opponent, which can then be topspinned for a winner. More risks are taken with this style, which is more in line with an 'attack via backspin' strategy than a pure defensive style. The modern defender is also always on the lookout for loose returns of service, which can be 3rd ball attacked. His playing position will vary depending on whether he is defending or attacking at any particular time.
How long pimples are used
Modern defenders use the long pimples to provide a rubber that is capable of heavy spin variation with good control. By varying the spin, they are able to force the opponent to make mistakes just like the classic defender does, but they are also hoping to loop or smash any high or tentative returns. They are generally more likely to take a chance and hit with the long pimples when close to the table, in the hopes of forcing a weak return, although this will only be done occasionally. They will also attempt to make their opponent hit his opening attack to the pimple side (usually the backhand), so that they can immediately start setting up for their counterattack. Twiddling is also used occasionally, but not as much as the classic defender, since the forehand is mainly used for looping, and is often speed-glued.
The modern defender needs to be fit and mobile to allow him to counterattack, with the ability to switch from defence to attack at the flick of a switch. He needs to be willing to take more chances than the classic defender. The ability to twiddle is still an asset, although not as important as for the classic defender. Good serves and service returns are also needed, in order to take advantage of 3rd ball attacks, and also to force the opponent to attack to his long pimples.
Level of Play
The modern defender can be found throughout all levels of play, although not in high numbers. They are probably most often found in intermediate levels, where they can use their long pimples quite well, but their opponents still struggle against them. As they move to the advanced level, the need for deception in their contact of the ball becomes more important, as does the need for high levels of fitness and a consistent loop of their own. At the professional level, today's few modern defenders are extremely fit and mobile, and quite often using speed-glued smooth rubber on the forehand to give them maximum power on their counterattack.
Push/blockers tend to keep themselves close to the table, and vary the speed and spin of the ball in order to upset the opponents timing and rhythm, and provide themselves with attacking opportunities. Aggressive push/blockers are looking for the chance to attack wherever possible, while the more defensive push/blockers are content with wearing down their opponent by taking no chances and allowing their opponent to miss.
How long pimples are used
An aggressive push/blocker will use long pimples to allow him to stay close to the table while absorbing the speed and spin of the opponents attack. Powerful attacks by the opponent are countered with the long pimples where possible, in the hopes of having the opponent struggle with the next shot, which can then be counter-attacked. The long pimples are also used when pushing to have the opponent misread the speed and spin of the ball, allowing the return to be attacked with the normal rubber.
A defensive push/blocker will also use the long pimples to handle the attacks of his opponent, but is generally hoping to use the spin and speed variation provided by long pimples to force mistakes from his opponent's attacks, rather than taking the offence himself. The long pimples are also used to affect the opponents timing and rhythm, resulting in slower pace in the points.
Push/blockers find good reflexes an advantage, in order to handle the first strong attack of the opponent. Good serves and return of serve is also beneficial. A strong character is also needed to maintain their position close to the table when the push/blocker knows a strong attack is coming. Mental sharpness is also a plus, for spotting opportunities to take the offence or tempt the opponent to attack.
Level of Play
Push/blockers are usually found in the beginning and intermediate levels of play, where they can be very awkward opponents. At the advanced level the push/blocker starts to struggle, due to the power and spin of the modern attacker, combined with the increased consistency of attack at this level. Push/blockers are no longer found at the professional level (as far as I know!), due to the overwhelming advantages of modern equipment and the 2 colour bat rule which work in their opponent's favour. I think the last real push/blocker of this type in the professional men's rank was the Hong Kong player ..... who was ranked #4 in the world in 1985, and made the semis of the World Championships in that year.
Players of this type use the long pimples to attack with, giving their opponents a great deal of trouble with this unfamiliar type of attack.
How long pimples are used
In this attacking style, the long pimples are used to provide the player with a safe surface to roll the ball over the table with. The ball is not hit hard unless a smash is possible. The player is relying on the opponent's unfamiliarity with this type of attack, hoping that the opponent's timing and rhythm will be thrown off, resulting in mistakes. The smooth side of the bat is used as occasional variation to keep the opponent of balance, and also to block back attacks to that side. Attacks to the long pimples are hit back in a flat stroke, which produces a 'chop-block' type of effect.
The attacking long pimple player needs to be willing to put up with negative comments from his opponents, who often cannot believe that they are being out-attacked by a long pimpled rubber! Good reflexes are also an advantage, as well as good serves to help set up the initial attack.
Level of Play
You won't find many players of this type at any level (thank goodness!) They can create havoc at the intermediate level due to their uniqueness, and even advanced players can find this strange style takes a while to get used to. At the professional level though, this style simply does not have the weapons to compete with the power, speed and consistency of the top players.
Continued: Playing with Long Pimples (Part 2)
Image: Butterfly Feint Long III OX
© 2005-2019 Greg Letts
You may also read Greg's blog and purchase Australian TT videos from Greg's own website
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