By Larry Hodges
The two-color racket rule has partially neutralized the effectiveness of combination rackets. Although, you can now easily ell which side your opponent used, you still must be able to play against each individual rubber.
The most deceptive surfaces are anti-span and long pips and each rubber can be either slow or fast depending on the thickness of sponge used. Anti and long pip players use four basic shots (push, chop, block, and drive) and you must know how to respond to each one. I’ll talk about each in the order given beginning with anti.
An anti push has very little spin on it. If you watch closely, you should be able to see the ball’s label. To push it back, contact the BACK of the ball, not eh bottom or you’ll pop it up. To loop the anti push, you must graze the TOP of the ball. Realize, though, the anti ball will not land as deep on your side of the table because the LACK of backspin causes the ball to drop short, not float long. Consequently, you should be positioned closer to the table for a more effective shot. Since an anti push has little spin, you should be able to make a strong shot off of it every time provided you play it correctly, in fact, unless it goes to short, a good looper should be able to score consistent winners as long as he is in good position.
An anti chop is similar to an anti push. It will usually have less spin than an inverted chop but more spin than an anti push. It too will tend to go short because of less backspin. Playing an anti chopper is a tradeoff – you should be able to make stronger shots than against an inverted chopper but the anti chopper can return your sots easier than the inverted player.
An anti block is almost always dead, unless your opponent chops down on the ball at contact. In that case, treat the return as a close to the table chop. As a dead block, the ball travels almost the same as an anti push so you respond as previously mentioned. Most mistakes of anti blocks occur because of the sudden change in speed. Your hard hit or spin shot doesn’t come back strong or long so you must move into position and adjust to the different pace.
When someone hits with anti spin, you get a very flat ball that tends to go very deep. Since topspin pulls the ball down, the lack of it makes it go deep. Don’t be afraid to back up half a step to return it. Against the dead drive, stroke up on the ball, trying to use topspin to control your return. Topspin will make it more difficult for your opponent to continue hitting with anti-spin. The anti drive can also have topspin if the hit was made off chop. Remember what kind of spin your anti opponent countered.
In many ways, playing long pips is very similar to playing anti. The basic difference is that anti deadens the existing spin where long pips reverses it. Because of this, when you push to long pips, the return push sends you topspin back and it will tend to arc rather than travel in a straight line. It will bounce high and medium deep or else low and short. Only a very good player can push deep with long pips and keep the ball low. So, once you understand the spin it becomes easy to handle. If the return is short, reach over the table and attack the ball, remembering it has light topspin if your push was heavy or a dead ball if your push was light. If his ball goes deeper, try to attack it hard after determining the spin, but remember that your opponent’s spin is dependent on the spin of your previous shot.
A long pips chop off a loop is the heaviest chop you will see because you get all of your own spin back. Therefore, don’t try to loop hard repeatedly; it’s too difficult. Instead, either alternate power shots, drop shots and rolls, or just attack soft until you see the right one to put away. If you don’t put much spin on the ball, you won’t get much chop back.
A long pips block is very much like a close to the table chop. It returns your spin like a chop but not as heavy. Since you get only some of your spin back, you can handle the return spin better. But since the ball returns more quickly, it may be harder for you to get into position each time.
When someone hits with long pips, the effect is almost identical to that of anti, it is easier to hit with long pips off of chop than off of topspin. Only with a fast (thick) sponge base can you hit against topspin with long pips. Without the thicker sponge base, the long pips would impart backspin to the ball, making a topspin drive impossible. It is also hard to hit a dead ball with long pips, since the ball has a tendency to float long.
When playing an anti-spin chopper, remember that he can return any spin with ease. Only power or tenacity will beat him. This doesn’t mean blasting every ball, but it does mean playing every point with the intention of eventually going for a winner. And since an anti chop is really not a very strong shot, you should have plenty of opportunities. Move the ball around, change speeds, and soon you should get a ball to hit. Against long pips, where the more you attack the better the return, don’t over attack, pick your shots carefully. And remember if he’s got inverted on one side, attack that side as well. Since anti puts little spin on the ball and long pips return the spin as heavy as you hit it, it’s effective to SOFTLY attack the anti or long pips until you get the right ball you can go strong with into the inverted. Also remember, a chopper’s weakest spot is always his middle, the transition point between forehand and backhand.
Seemiller style players usually use inverted and anti and because they use one side of the racket, you won’t see the anti until they want to use it. Just be alert and pay attention to which color is “on.” They will use the anti mostly to return serves and to drop you close to the table which will force you in and out. Many Seemiller-grip players return almost all serves with anti so learn to take advantage of that situation. A fast flat serve is hard to return effectively with anti, especially to the forehand. Often, it’s good to just play consistently until the anti ball comes and then you can open strongly, again to the forehand.
Against the shakehand close-to-the-table combination player, simply play the shots as they come, playing the anti or long shots hard. If he flips his racket, then things get more complicated. One good trick is to repeatedly attack the anti or pips until he flips and gives a quick block return which you simply block right back to the opposite side. He will be especially vulnerable If you catch him with the anti/pips side on the forehand. When serving against a shakehand combination user, remember that he has to return the serve with whichever surface he has on that side unless he can flip very fast. So, you can usually catch him with sudden fast serves to the anti/pips side.
This is just a basic guideline for play against the combination bat of anti and/or long pips. In real match play, it can be much more complicated so always be thinking about what’s happening and why. Be aware of all the possibilities and you’ll rarely get fooled. Be flexible about your shots and strategies. Find what works and then do it!