Advanced Table Tennis Techniques

Advanced Strokes
The Loop
The Chop
The Flip
The Lob
Advanced Service Techniques


The advanced strokes described within should be gradually incorporated into a beginner's training regimen. After you have solid control of the fundamentals, the experimentation of these difficult strokes can begin. Again, no amount of written instruction can show you exactly how to do these shots correctly. Even if it is your playing partner with just as much experience as yourself, have him/her critique the motions, and do the same for him/her. And watch the professionals do it, be it on television, exhibitions, or even competitions, should you be lucky enough to be able to attend(tip:watch their bodies move, not the ball). Finally, even if you don't readily have access to a table and training partner, many serious players use shadow-practicing and it should be a part of your training too. Good luck!

The Loop

The loop drive is the primary attacking stroke of serious players today. A loop is basically a spinny counterpart of a drive, emphasizing topspin over forward motion. Likewise, a stronger upward motion is required in the swing, grazing the ball instead of hitting it. Despite the nature of the loop, they can go just as fast as the drive-approaching 100mph for an over-the-table loop by a talented player. If there were any doubts about the endurance requirements of table tennis, try hitting decent loops against extreme backspin time and time again. Players not used to this stroke may find it the most tiring for the first time.

Depending on the characteristic of the incoming ball, the loop must be modified to hit the ball correctly. If a ball is coming in fast and high with heavy topspin, the paddle should be more closed and the swing should go forward more. However, if a chop came floating your way, then the correct thing to do would be to open the paddle somewhat, and perform a strong upwards swing-think of it as 'pulling the ball back up with the paddle'. This is especially what makes the loop such a tough stroke. As the ball touches the paddle for only a short time, as well as meeting on a more perpendicular path(as opposed to the highly parallel paths during a drive), good timing is critical to avoid completely missing the ball altogether. This means keeping a sharp eye on the ball throughout the stroke is important, as it is for all other strokes.

FOREHAND LOOP: From the ready position, bring the right foot slightly back(while transferring your weight to it). At the same time, rotate your body backward, and the paddle should be brought back and slightly down, depending on which spin you are hitting against. Bend your knees slightly. Start the stroke by rotating the waist and hips forward, and start straightening out the knees to add more force. The forearms should gradually accelerate from the backswing to contact, snapping for maximum speed when you meet the ball. Hit topspin balls at the top of the bounce or while it is dropping. Hit backspin balls while it is dropping. Follow-through forward more for topspins and upward more for backspins. The weight should be completely transferred back to the left foot at this point.

BACKHAND LOOP: This time, the backswing goes in front of your legs, and to do so you should drop your right shoulder somewhat. Remember to keep the eye on the ball no matter what the other parts of your body are doing. Rotate your waist to the left and transfer the weight to the left foot. Against topspin, unwind your waist and hit the ball at the top of the bounce(or during the drop) with a forward motion, but remember to just graze the ball as opposed to driving it. Snap your wrist at contact. Against backspin, remember to apply more of an upward motion, but also add a bit of forward force or you could hit your nose in the follow-through!(nothing like defaulting due to a self-inflicted nosebleed eh?:)

Notes on the loop: Since a lot of paddle speed is required in this stroke, the extra backswing, bending of the knees, and the usual waist rotation and weight transfer are all needed, not to mention the wrist snap at contact. A forward graze will produce higher speeds, but they can only be used on relatively high balls at the top of their bounce. Use something between the all-out topspin loop and extreme backspin pull-up for most rallies. Killer topspins are prone to the net or going off the endline, and excessive usage of the high arcing loop can lead to a deadly smash by your alert opponent. A relaxed posture is doubly important for loops, both your speed and consistency will improve if you can go through the swing 'naturally'. Keep your rubber in good condition; how much spin and control you put on your loop depends upon the tackiness of the rubber. Bad rubber=weak loops(if at all).

The Chop

The chop is the mainstay of advanced defensive players. Essentially an extreme backspin shot, the ball tends to travel in a very flat trajectory and bounce low. Chops are always taken when the ball is dropping, often below the table-up to 15 feet away! Anything higher and the stroke becomes a push. Defensive players who chop do so to force the other player into an error, and to do so one may vary the amount of backspin or change the direction of the shots. Matches against two equally skilled choppers used to be an affair of many hours until the introduction of the expedite rule. For an explanation of the expedite rule and other table tennis terms, visit the terms page.

FOREHAND CHOP: Back up, depending upon the speed of the incoming ball. At the same time put your weight on the back foot. Bring the arm back and paddle up, while rotating your waist. When the ball has dropped to about the table level(it has to go off the end in order to execute a successful chop! Push short balls), rotate your waist, bring the forearm down, and snap your wrist at the point of contact, which should be at the bottom-back of the ball. The paddle should be open at this point. When chopping, remember to graze the ball barely enough to return it over the net. Avoid extra impact that would take away the backspin or hit it too long. The follow-through should be long enough that the arm nearly straightens at the finish.

BACKHAND CHOP: Similar to the forehand chop, bring the paddle up and the wrist back while rotating the waist. Transfer weight to back foot. Snap the wrist and follow through all the way.

Notes on the chop: The point of contact will vary depending on the topspin present on the ball. The more topspin on a ball, the lower it should be taken during a chop. This means against a loop, one must bend his knees in order to get low enough to return the heavy topspin. Don't let this cause you to lose sight of the table. Also, the farther you are from the table, the harder you need to chop down on the ball. Be sure to relax and use a smooth stroke.

The Flip

The flip is one alternative to the push in taking short balls. By allowing one to return such balls faster, it can provide an element of surprise. The nature of the flip requires a special foot position for support. The right foot(for right-handers) goes several feet ahead of the body, which often means sliding it under the table. In case the table has a crossbar that prevents your leg from getting through, just remember to brace yourself for the sudden forward lunge and put the right foot as far ahead as possible. The flip is a wrist shot. There is no room for anything else, so make sure you strengthen the wrist as much as possible.

FOREHAND FLIP: Bend the wrist back. Slide the right foot forward, then with the racket open, move it under a dropping short ball. When the ball touches the paddle, immediately rotate your wrist and move the arm forward and up, grazing it. Follow through, then immediately return to the ready position.

BACKHAND FLIP: Bend the wrist back. With right foot forward, execute a mini-loop with extra wrist and follow through.

Notes on the flip: How open the racket is before contact depends upon the backspin content of the ball. The most backspin there is, the more open the racket should be. For faster flips, graze the ball at the top of the bounce with more forward motion. If the ball is high enough, flip-kill(flip with extreme speed) it.

The Lob

An exclusively defensive shot, the lob is almost always used to return a smash far away from the table. A good lob will land deep in the table, with plenty of topspin/sidespin. The trick to lobbing is consistency. The opponent, provided he/she is skilled enough, will relentlessly attempt to smash every lob that comes his/her way. Occasionally they will try something else, but the most common scenario is the lob/kill rally. A lob requires plenty of anticipation and footspeed on the part of the lobber. Without either of those, one could not possibly hope to play catch up with a 100mph ball(although they do slow down considerably with distance).

To execute a lob, first detect the opponent's movements: if he/she is well into a smash, move back fast! Get ready, and drop your paddle low, along with the shoulder. Move the weight to the back foot. Bend your knees a bit more. When the ball comes your way, watch it carefully and push off on your knees, while bringing the entire arm up in an upward swinging motion. Hit the ball of the drop, on the back-bottom surface. Follow through high, then get ready for the unexpected(another smash, smother kill, etc.)!

Notes on the lob: Hitting back a lob can be very difficult if one is not prepared. Make sure to modify any stroke so that it can hit an extremely high ball, not one that goes up 6 inches. Also use the entire body to introduce more force into the stroke, as you will be hitting a fast moving(and often spinning) ball in a perpendicular direction. To smother-kill a lob(for variety), the paddle should be very closed. Perform a smash right after the ball bounces. Timing is extremely important.

Advanced Service Techniques

Advanced service differ from the basic service in the following ways:

  • The stroke is the same for all spins
  • By controlling where you hit the ball on the paddle(tip, middle, near handle) you can control the rate of spin
  • By controlling at which point in the stroke you hit the ball, the combination of spins is possible
  • The toss is often higher to aid in speed, spin, and deception
  • A variety of techniques, including high tosses and foot stamps, are used to prevent the opponent from anticipating the spin on the ball

There are two primary families of advanced serves: backhand sidespin, and forehand pendulum. Each uses a different side of the paddle, and both have variable points in the stroke that will produce one or more of the spins.

BACKHAND SIDESPIN SERVE: From the backhand side of the table, stand with the feet and shoulders 45 degrees to the left. This helps the body block some of the stroke from your opponent's view. Bend the wrist back. Bring the paddle, which is open, back and upward, while the ball is tossed from an open palm in front of the paddle. When the ball starts to drop, bring the paddle downward with your elbow in a semicircular motion sideways. At contact, snap the wrist. If you desire a sidespin serve with a little bit of backspin, graze the ball in the first third of your semicircular motion(downwards, right). For almost pure sidespin, contact the ball at the bottommost part of the swing. For topspin/sidespin serves, hit the ball at the last third, when the paddle is travelling upwards in the semicircle. This last spin may be the toughest to execute, but it can be done. Remember that topspin in these serves is not at all like the basic topspin serve, where the racket moved forward through the ball. The advanced topspin serve is more of a lob, or loop against backspin, where the paddle 'tugs' the ball upwards, causing spin. Thus it can still be executed with an open paddle. Follow through is the same regardless of the spin you chose, and this is important to complete the deceptive movement of the serve.

FOREHAND PENDULUM SERVE: The racket movement required in this serve cannot be achieved with the normal shakehands grip. The paddle is held almost entirely with the index finger and thumb. The other three fingers are curled against the handle. On one side, the index finger lies flat against the rubber, sticking towards the tip of the paddle. On the other, the thumb rests on the bottom part of the rubber(note: the thumbnail is not perpendicular this time to the blade. hold the rubber with the printed part of the thumb). Rotate the paddle back a bit more backwards in your new grip without bending the wrist-something that isn't possible with the shakehands grip. Now you can rotate the paddle in a semicircle with your wrist.

Stand in the forehand(or backhand) corner of the table, with your left shoulder and foot back so your body faces away from the table. This position helps hide the ball during contact. Place the ball in the flat of your hand close to your stomach, and with the new grip hold the paddle slightly behind the ball. Toss the ball about 1-2 feet into the air(more as you get better), and move the paddle back and up, with the hitting surface open. Use the elbow as a pivot point, and try to keep its movement to a minimum. the wrist back as far as possible. When the ball starts to drop, swing forward and down with the forearm, keeping the elbow in place. To hit a backspin/sidespin shot, graze the ball in the back-right region early in the swing, when the paddle is travelling down and left. For an almost pure sidespin shot, graze the ball at the bottom of the swing on the back of the ball. For topspin/sidespin, graze the back of the ball as you pull up on the racket. With this serve, the topspin portion can be especially tough when you consider the body is facing away from the table. For this reason it is vital to make sure that you perfect the grip for maximum wrist movement, and use the forearm and elbow only for the swing.

Advanced service notes: Be sure to shift your weight during the serves for maximum spin and speed. If speed is your goal, then there will be less spin. Speedy serves should hit your side of the table very close to your endline. That way the ball has the maximum distance available to travel in the air, and also land on the other side(preferable very close to his/her endline). Serving cross-court increases this distance. For increased spin or speed, make your toss higher. Incorporate exaggerated movements/follow-throughs to confuse your opponent. Everyone's serve is unique. If you have an unorthodox version and it shows promise, practice it. Practice a wide variety of angles, spins, and depths. After your service, remember to go into the ready position as fast as possible, and prepare for the return. If you use the special grip for the forehand pendulum, practice the transition from that grip to the shakehands(or insert your preferred grip here) grip. This goes double for speedy serves.