Hello, racketlon players! My name is Ben Larcombe and I’m a professional table tennis coach. On Sunday I played in my first ever racketlon tournament. It’s now Wednesday and my body still aches all over! I’m glad I did it, though. I’ve wanted to enter one for years – despite the fact I’m no good at badminton, squash, or tennis.
I often receive emails and messages from racketlon players that are trying to improve their table tennis, and now I have a bit more of an understanding and respect for what you go through. Racketlon certainly isn’t an easy sport!
South Eastern Open
Before I get into the bulk of the post, where I’ll be sharing some table tennis tips for racketlon players, I thought you might be interested to hear how I fared in the Men’s C event at the South Eastern Open. You can view the results in full here.
I turned up at Limpsfield Lawn Tennis Club at 10am with my wife’s childhood tennis racket, my dad’s old badminton racket, and searching for Ray Jordan in the hope of borrowing a squash racket. I was in a group of five, playing a round robin format. My rest match was first, so they were already all warmed up and ready to destroy me one by one.
The thing about racketlon is that because every point counts there is absolutely no mercy. In my first match, against David Kearnes, I managed to win the table tennis fairly comfortably (21-7) but was then soundly beaten 21-2, 21-3, and 21-4 in the badminton, squash, and tennis. Ouch!
The fact that I’ve never really played badminton, squash, or tennis in my life was clearly evident. Unfortunately, my table tennis didn’t appear to help much in terms of crossover skills. I spent the entire badminton match running around in circles and then did the exact same thing in the squash. I was exhausted. The tennis was much less tiring – but that was only because I put virtually every shot I played either into the net or way long.
So, I lost that one +40. Which I think it pretty bad.
In fact, I lost all of my matches. But I definitely got better as the day went on. Mike Jones only beat me by 13 points and Nick Cook was only 8 ahead (single figures!).
The winner of Men’s C was Thomas Penn, who was a brilliant badminton player but also very solid at squash and tennis. Looking at the results, I think I did quite well to lose to him by only 27 points (the official results say it was +18 but I think they have mistakenly entered the squash result as 12-10 to Tom instead of 21-10). A +27 loss is 13 points more than I got against David – who lost to Tom by just one point in the sort-of Men’s C final.
I’m interested to see what kind of ratings I’ll be given for the four sports. I feel like I’m equally bad at badminton, squash, and tennis. From looking at the racketlon table tennis ratings of a few players I know, I reckon my table tennis is probably A2. Perhaps A1 if I started training again.
The tournament was a lot of fun, the conditions were great, and my competitors were very friendly. If you are interested in giving racketlon a go yourself you can view the upcoming UK Racketlon tournaments here.
On to the good stuff…
Table Tennis Tips for Racketlon Players
Table tennis is the first sport you play in racketlon so it’s a great way to build an early lead in the match. It is also a highly specialist sport; which means that the average sporty racketlon player probably isn’t particularly good at it.
At the elite level, I’m sure most racketlon players have spent the time learning to play the sport properly – they’ve mastered the correct technique and strokes. However, away from the very top, I get the impression that a lot of people are just doing their best and largely picking it up through trial and error. Come into the sport with a bit of a strategy and you should be able to do very well!
Here are four table tennis tips for racketlon players that I’ve settled upon after my experience at the South Eastern Open on Sunday…
1. Master heavy spin serves
The huge amount of spin it is possible to generate in table tennis is what really differentiates it from other racket sports. From my limited experience; in squash, the serve is all about placement; while in tennis, it is more about power. In table tennis, it is heavy spin that is important.
In most of my games on Sunday I was able to simply “serve off” my opponent by serving heavy backspin, mixed in with a few sidespin/topspin serves to keep them guessing. The serves didn’t have to be deceptive in any way – because they couldn’t read the spin – so I could just focus on imparting as much spin as possible and then watching the ball ping off their bat in various directions.
Occasionally, I would chuck in a fast serve as well. If this is used as a surprise it is another easy point.
Learning to serve with heavy spin probably isn’t as difficult as you think. Sure, you’ll need to spend a few hours practising on your own with a bucket of balls and a table, but if you understand how to slice a ball in squash or tennis you should be able to pick up a heavy backspin table tennis serve fairly easily. All you are doing is “hacking” or “brushing” heavily underneath the ball with your bat angle close to horizontal.
For a very brief explanation and demonstration, here’s a video by Welsh international player and coach Ryan Jenkins…
It might feel awkward at first if you are used to hitting the back of the ball instead of the bottom, but after a bit of practice – and provided you have a decent bat that allows you to grip the ball – you should be generating some serious spin. Once you’ve mastered the backspin serve it isn’t too difficult to transfer that same contact to the ball in other directions to create sidespin or topspin, or a combination of spins.
The only time heavy spin serves won’t work is if you find yourself against a player with a completely dead bat. One of the guys I played on Sunday was using a table tennis bat he’d had since he was a kid. The rubbers were less than grippy!
A dead bat can’t create heavy spin (which is a bit of a disadvantage) but it isn’t affected by incoming heavy spin either. In fact, it may even reverse the spin you put on your serve when they return it – which can really mess you up if you don’t know how to deal with it. Therefore, if you come up against a dead bat you’re best to just serve without spin and focus on your placement and speed instead.
2. Backspin is your friend
The backhand push is the easiest and safest stroke in table tennis. Therefore, as a relative newbie to competitive table tennis, it should probably be your most used shot.
If you are familiar with tennis, the backhand push is a bit like the backhand slice. Actually, it is probably more like a backhand drop shot. The main difference is that in table tennis we generally play our backhand strokes directly in front of our body, instead of to the side. This actually makes it easier to control as you can keep most of your body fixed (no rotation necessary) and just use your arm.
Instead of explaining further, here’s a video…
The forehand push is quite tricky to master but you should be able to cover most of the table with your backhand push. This is a bit unorthodox, but if your aim is simply to beat your non-table tennis playing opponent by as many points as possible this could well be a good strategy.
Your aim when pushing is to be super consistent – basically, you are waiting for your opponent to make a mistake. Good pushes with either lots of backspin or a good variation in placement (some deep into the corners and some short over the net) should force errors from less experienced players.
It isn’t going to look very flashy, but it should win you plenty of points! Provided you are adding some backspin to your push, your opponent will need to be a very confident table tennis player in order to go for a topspin loop and turn the rally into an offensive one. If they aren’t, you’ll just be doing push-push-push-push.
3. Work the angles
So, now you should be able to “serve off” and “push off” weaker table tennis opponents. But what happens if you come up against a fairly competent player who can return your serves and push consistently? Well, you need to win the rallies.
If your opponent is a bit of a table tennis pro, then, unfortunately, you probably aren’t going to be able to out rally them. In this situation, you are probably best going for some bigger shots and trying to win points by catching them out with an awkward shot. Even experienced table tennis players can find it very tricky dealing with an aggressive unorthodox player – especially when you have the pressure of every point counts.
Against the average player, I would recommend aiming for the corners and moving them from backhand to forehand, and side-to-side.
Compared to the other sports (badminton, squash and tennis) you might assume that footwork and movement aren’t very important in table tennis. After all, the table is only 5 foot wide. You should be able to cover it all from one spot by reaching, right? Wrong!
Reaching from one corner to the other is a recipe for poor strokes, getting tangled up, and losing your balance. You need to be stepping into position for your strokes, even if it is just one step to the right or the left.
But you’d be surprised how difficult it is to move your feet when there is so little time to react. When faced with an incoming shot most recreational players find themselves almost rooted to the spot, like a goalkeeper frozen for a penalty. That’s why working the angles is so important.
Here’s a video explaining some of the options. Hooking and fading are a bit advanced, but you get the idea.
Think about serving wide to the forehand side and then placing your next shot wide to the backhand. That might be enough on its own to force a mistake.
And there is no need to serve standing in the middle of the table either. Provided you serve behind the end line of the table, you can move right the way over to your wide forehand or backhand side. This will give you a much better angle for getting your serve to go off the side of the table. Once you’ve got your opponent off balance it’s much easier to finish them with a well placed second shot.
For more tips regarding the serve and return, you might like to download my FREE eBook, The Table Tennis Playbook.
4. Try long pimples
Finally, I’d like to talk about long pimples. If you are new to table tennis you may have never even encountered these before, but I believe they may be the perfect table tennis “hack” for racketlon players.
In badminton, squash, and tennis, all rackets are basically the same. Sure, some rackets are better than others, but they are all made of some sort of frame and strings (I think). In table tennis, there are a lot more options!
Most players will have a table tennis racket with reverse rubbers. This means the pimples are facing in (towards the sponge) and the surface of the rubber is smooth. However, you can get pimpled rubbers as well (with the smooth side facing the sponge and the pimples facing out). These come in two varieties; short and long.
Short pimples play in a way that is fairly similar to reverse rubbers. But long pimples can do all sorts of weird and wacky things. Most beginners and intermediate table tennis players really struggle to play against long pimples because…
- They can’t figure out what the ball is going to do.
- They get very little practice playing against long pimples.
- They get so frustrated their whole game falls apart!
Interested? I bet you are!
The clip below is from a match between two professional players but it demonstrates just how effective using long pimples can be. The Chinese player in the red shirt is frustrating the poor Korean with all sorts of weird spins and directions by using her long pimples to mess up the rallies.
It will take a bit of time to get used to playing with long pimples – if you do decide to make the switch – but I’m sure that it will help you to beat the majority of non-elite table tennis players you encounter at racketlon tournaments.
And you don’t have to have long pimples on both sides of your bat. Most players choose to have a normal reverse rubber on one side (which they can use for their heavy spin serves and orthodox strokes) and long pimples on the other.
With a bit of practice, you can actually learn to “twiddle” your racket during the point, so that you can switch between using the long pimples on your forehand and backhand. This can really mess your opponent up!
If you fancy having a go with long pimples you can either buy a sheet of pimpled rubber from a table tennis retailer and replace one of your existing rubbers with it. Or, you can actually buy table tennis rackets that come with one rubber reverse and the other pimpled.
The DHS X6003 is available for just £37.99 from Amazon and features a traditional Chinese tacky reverse rubber on the red side with a long pimpled rubber on the black side. Perhaps you could buy it and give it a go. It might just be a simple way to significantly improve your table tennis scores without doing any extra training!
What do you think?
I might have over 15 years of playing and coaching experience in table tennis but I’m still a complete newbie to racketlon. I’m sure there are plenty of other brilliant table tennis tips for racketlon players that I haven’t even thought of.
If you are a racketlon player – and you don’t mind sharing your table tennis tricks and secrets – then please leave a comment below and let us know some of the tactics you use to win the maximum points possible in your table tennis games.