This month’s post is all about hooks and fades. I am sure a lot of you will have heard of them, but just how good are they and how do you perform them effectively?
What are Hooks and Fades?
Hooks and fades are attacking strokes which feature the addition of sidespin to your loops. Hooks produce sidespin when you brush around the outside of the ball. Conversely, fades occur when you brush around the inside of the ball.
Both hooks and fades are great strokes to call on when needed and can be effective at intermediate level and above.
Hooks are the most common of the two strokes for two main reasons:
- Hooks are FAR easier to perform. The hooking motion is not so dissimilar from the standard loop and, as such, virtually anyone can learn it.
- Hooks impart sidespin from left to right, in a counter-clockwise motion for right-handed players (if viewing the ball from above). This encourages the returning ball towards your forehand.
Unfortunately, fades are rather rare. I’ve seldom come across fades throughout my table tennis journey and not a single player comes to mind as a “fade-heavy player”. They are rather hard to perform and can feel very awkward. But don’t be discouraged, fades can be just as useful as hooks, it all depends on the circumstances of play.
Why Use Hooks and Fades?
One of the reasons hooks and fades are so useful is that they often encourage your opponent to start blocking. As everyone has their own favoured type of hooks and fades, the amount of spin and their sideways trajectory will differ. This can be particularly deceiving for the receiver.
When faced with an attacking shot that you can’t react to in time to execute an effective counter-attack, what is your natural response? To resort to the safest shot you can perform… the block.
And as an attacker, chances are you would prefer to force your opponent to start blocking. I know 95% of the time I would.
To make circumstances even better, the sidespin from your hooks and fades will make the return ball easier to anticipate. Let’s say your hooking (because let’s face it, you’ve opted for the hook over the fade like everyone else), the likelihood is that upon your opponent desperately trying to just return the ball, they’ve neglected effective placement.
Congratulations, you’ve just been delivered a gift-wrapped forehand shot. Perfecto!
How to Perform Hooks and Fades
To perform the hook, you must first be able to perform the loop, you can see the breakdown of this here.
To modify your loop to a hook, the only real change is regarding the movement of your arm and elbow. Rather than striking the ball at a straight angle, try striking it with a slight angle – lowering the tip of your bat a little will help with this.
As the ball will predominantly have topspin, the ball can still be driven forward with speed. The sidespin shouldn’t hinder the overall speed of the ball all that much. But that‘s where the beauty of the stroke comes in. You have complete control over how much sidespin you impart. The more sidespin you use, the more the ball will swerve, but the slower the stroke will be.
As hooks come so naturally once you’ve learned how to loop you’ll soon discover the nuances of the shot. This will enable you to know how much sidespin you can produce without it drastically affecting speed.
And as with all shots in table tennis, sweet variation will be your friend. It makes you more unpredictable, and therefore more formidable.
To perform the fade, you want to follow the exact same steps as for the hook except when it comes to striking the ball. Instead diagonally strike the opposing inside edge of the ball. Raising the edge of your bat a little will assist with this.
This will produce the opposite type of spin: the clockwise kind (when viewing from above), that will encourage the ball to return on your backhand side.
For a detailed breakdown of both strokes watch this great video by PingSkills.
When to Perform Hooks and Fades
Now that we’ve established exactly what it is hooks and fades are, it begs the question… When should I actually be using these shots? Well, I’m glad you asked! The answer is whenever a fitting opportunity presents itself. Probably not the answer you wanted…
The fact of the matter is that hooks and fades are great shots to use at virtually any instance you opt for an attacking stroke. Would I advise they formulate the majority of your attacking shots? No, not really. But hooks in particular, should be a shot that you use every match as an attacking player.
Speaking from experience, as a player that has somewhat neglected hooks in their game, they are just too effective not to use. Every time I’m knocking up with an opponent and he steps up to do his forehand loops and blasts hooks my way, I’m instantly a little intimidated. This is somewhat irrespective of his skill level (within reason).
Hooks can be very tricky shots to return and on particularly bad days, I’ve nearly lost to players that I should be beating 3-0, mostly due to their dreaded hooks. Hooks are just scary shots to return, plain and simple.
If we are talking about specific instances where hooks and fades should be used, I have a few recommendations.
The first, as I discussed earlier, is close to mid-distance from the table. To either force your opponent into blocking or when they are already blocking.
Another great time is when you are smashing. Anyone with a strong lob game will be comfortable away from the table and may be returning your smashes like clockwork. Wait for the ball to fall a little and then throw in a hook or fade into the corner. If they have drifted too far away from the table they will have too much distance to cover when the sidespin kicks in. This will probably give you an easy point and make them think twice about lobbing again as well!
Another opportunity is as a loop opener off of backspin. For any players that like to strike the ball as it is falling, hooks can be very effective in this instance. Your arm motion will be mostly concealed beneath the table. Lulling your opponent into a false sense of security. Very few players use hooks off of backspin so this can catch your opponent’s off guard. But please note, it is more of a high-risk, high-reward shot.
Alex’s Top Tips
Having used the hook with relatively good success over the years, I have formulated a few top tips which will hopefully enhance your hook/fade game.
The first tip is to know your player. The moment you start knocking with a player you should be constantly analysing their game for any weakness that you can exploit. When it comes to hooks and fades, pay particular attention to their movement. Do they look stiff? Do they have a habit of not moving their legs and just moving their arms to play shots? These giveaways scream hooking/fading opportunity.
Leading on from this, how far is their reach? Lanky players will be hard to beat when just relying on heavy hooks and fades. They cover a greater horizontal plane than most players. This is one of the reasons hooks and fades work so well against younger players. With unfortunately short arms, it shouldn’t be too challenging to put hooks and fades past them.
*** For Very Advanced Players***
Perhaps the most useful yet difficult tip I can give you is wrist manipulation. I would consider this to be a very advanced stroke.
The best shots in table tennis are the ones you don’t see coming!
These types of hooks and fades are very difficult to read. You might notice that when anticipating where your opponents are going to hit the ball, you are really looking at the player rather than the ball.
What direction are they facing? What type of shot are they going for? All of these factors can give you a strong estimation of where the ball will land and with what type of spin. Generic hooks and fades whilst tricky, can be read much like any other shot. But I would argue that hooks and fades with an emphasis on wrist manipulation are a completely different ball game (no pun intended).
These hooks and fades have the same setup as loops right up until a brief instance before the moment of contact. This is the point where the wrist is manipulated significantly to produce either a hook or a fade. Where most hooks and fades are caused by the arm and elbow striking motion of the ball, these types of hooks and fades are almost solely created by manipulating the wrist.
This eliminates the ability to effectively read the stroke for the first 80% of the movement. Thereby creating a much smaller window to make a read.
Whilst competing for the University of Reading I came across such a player who used this technique consistently to great effect. Nearly all of his setup and initial arm movement suggested an ordinary loop into my crossover. But as previously described, right before contacting the ball he would manipulate his wrist to produce either a heavy hook or fade to the corner of my backhand or forehand. My entire team was in awe, we’d never seen such a masterclass in the art of deceit.
Needless to say, he destroyed me. But I learnt a valuable lesson about how to enhance my loops, and now that I’ve passed on this knowledge, hopefully, you can too!