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What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Playing With Short Pips Rubbers?

27 November 2017  | Posted in: Table Tennis Tips

About the Author

Patrick HrdlickaPatrick Hrdlicka is a table tennis enthusiast, who was introduced to the sport by his parents at the age of six. Patrick progressed to play in the highest national cadet and junior team leagues in his native Denmark and was among the top 40 players in his age group, which fostered several long-standing members of the Danish National Team. With college looming, Patrick quit the sport for almost twenty years. During this hiatus, he obtained a Ph.D.-degree in chemistry and accepted a position as professor of chemistry at the University of Idaho.

At the beginning of 2014, the mid-life crisis and yearning for table tennis grew too strong for Patrick and he decided to pick up the sport again. Bitten again by the table tennis bug, he plays 4-6 times per week. 

Since his comeback to table tennis, he has enjoyed combining his analytical and experimental skills with his love for table tennis, testing and reviewing a wide range of table tennis equipment.

There is a ton of options when it comes to table tennis rubbers. Most players use paddles with two regular inverted rubbers, which allows for a topspin-based game from both wings. A subset of players, however, use short pips rubbers. Most commonly, short pips are used on the backhnd along with a regular inverted rubber on the forehand. Players using this style include Mima Ito, Tang Peng, and Tan Ruiwu. Less common is the combination of short pips on the forehand along with a regular inverted rubber on the backhand as used by Mattias Karlsson. A short pip style that used to be quite common but is witnessing decreasing popularity is the all-out attacking and blocking style of penholders like He Zhiwen, Wang Zengyi, or Shan Xiaona. Finally, some players like Hou Yingchao and Yuto Muramatsu use short pips instead of long pips for a versatile defensive style that allows the occasional surprising attack. 

Tabletennis11.com’s CEO Sergei Petrov and I both play with short pips rubbers. Sergei uses short pips on his forehand along with a regular inverted rubber on his backhand, whereas I play with the opposite configuration. We were asked what the advantages/disadvantages of playing with short pips rubbers are and here's what we came up with.

Advantages:

  • Low sensitivity towards incoming spin: The reduced surface area of short pimpled rubbers means that they are far less affected by incoming spin than regular inverted rubbers. This is particularly true for short pips rubbers with a vertical arrangement of pips. As a consequence, it is easier to “hit through" the opponent’s spin, something that is especially advantageous on service returns. Another area that benefits from the low spin sensitivity is blocking against strong topspin. Blocks can be played with a significantly more open bat angle with short pips than regular inverted rubbers and the low spin sensitivity allows for excellent control in ball placement.
  • Multiple strategies to confuse the opponent: While not having the disruptive effect of long or medium pips, flat hits and blocks played with short pips rubbers typically produce a sink effect, i.e., a ball with a very low trajectory that remains flat after the bounce and which gives the perception of a dip. This effect is reinforced on blocks against loops as these shots often result in slight spin reversal, i.e., backspin. The trajectory and bounce differ from regular inverted rubbers and forces the opponent to change their timing. This can result in unforced errors and easy points. Additional confusion can arise if the short pips player uses a spinny inverted rubber on the other side of the blade as the opponent constantly needs to adapt to different trajectories and timing. Moreover, short pips players can further confuse opponents by "twiddling" the blade mid rally. For example, changing from short pips on the backhand to short pips on the forehand. Finally, defenders using short pips on their backhand can greatly vary the spin on their chops, ranging from no-spin floating balls to a heavy backspin ball. 
  • Reduces the weight of paddles: Short pip rubbers are typically 15-35% lighter than regular rubbers with similar sponge thickness which reduces the weight of a paddle by 10-20 grams per side. The lower weight can reduce fatigue in the shoulder, forearm, and wrist. This will decrease the likelihood of injuries, something that older players, in particular, will appreciate. 
  • Shorter strokes and faster reset: The lower weight allows for more compact strokes and a faster reset (i.e., return to the starting position), which increases the likelihood of being in the correct position for the subsequent shot.
  • Simplifies game style. Given that short pips are not particularly useful for topspin shots or mid to long distance attacking (chopping, especially with thin sponges, is the necessary stroke here), this results in a simplification of a player’s game style. Generally, short pip players adopt an aggressive style comprised of flat hits, aggressive blocking, and pushes when needed. 

Disadvantages

  • Topspin and mid distance play: The decreased grip of short pips rubbers renders it difficult to generate topspin and lift low balls. Short pip players are, therefore, often forced to make pushes or soft “rolling hits” against long and very flat backspin balls unless they time their flat shots perfectly (see below). For the same reason, banana flicks are difficult to execute with short pimpled rubbers. Also, it is difficult for short pip players to generate powerful shots from mid to long distance. Such shots require topspin to generate the necessary ball trajectory that brings the ball over the net with a kicking bounce. Short pip players typically must resort to well timed flat hits or chops.
  • Timing is critical: Given the above, it is essential to hit the ball near or at the top of the bounce to make a successful flat hit, flick, or block. This, in turn, places significant demands on correct footwork and positioning. The margin for error is smaller than with regular inverted rubbers, which can become more obvious in tense game situations, where the adrenaline is flowing and muscles are tightening up. A little bit too early and the ball goes into the net. A little bit too late or too high and the ball goes long. 
  • Short game: Due to the decreased spin, short pushes tend to pop up a little bit higher than with inverted rubbers, which might give opponents a chance to attack. 

There has been considerable debate if the decreased emphasis on spin that resulted from the change to the 40+ ball has rendered short pips rubbers less relevant. In my opinion, short pips rubbers remain relevant because the 38 mm-->40 mm-->40+ ball change brought with it a decrease in speed while not eliminating the effects of spin. 

Players interested in trying out short pips rubbers and who currently play with regular inverted rubbers, should consider short pip rubbers such as Yasaka Rakza PO or Spinlord Waran which have horizontal pip alignments. These rubbers tend to be spinnier than short pimpled rubbers with vertical pip alignments such as TSP Spectol Red or Nittaku Moristo SP and allow for stroke mechanics that are the most similar to regular inverted rubbers, which will ease the transition. The two latter pips are useful for players looking to play a flatter and more disruptive style. In fact, I changed to short pips in the middle of a major tournament as I grew increasingly frustrated with my regular inverted BH and noticed an instant improvement.

Just like with inverted rubbers, there is a wide selection of short pip rubbers, each with a unique combination of pip alignment, size, shape, grip level, density, and sponge hardness and thickness. Any of the short pip rubbers mentioned above will be a good starting point for exploration of the short pip universe.

READ MY SHORT PIP RUBBER REVIEWS:
Yasaka Rakza PO Review
TSP Spectol Red Review
Nittaku Moristo SP Review