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Changing Your Rubber on Time

06 July 2018  | Posted in: Fun & Inspiration

About the author

Radivoj Hudetz

Radivoj Hudetz is a 70-year veteran of table tennis and the Chairman of the ETTHoF board. 

He was the coach of Bayern, the German junior team, the former Yugoslavian national women team, and the former Yugoslavian champion women team HASTK Mladost Zagreb. He's an author of several books on table tennis techniques, tactics, and history. He's also the chief editor of table tennis periodicals “Tischtennis aktuell” and “SPIN”, and an author of several films and DVDs on table tennis. He's also the former president of Yugoslav Table Tennis Association and the former General secretary of the Croatian TT Association. He was the tournament director of the World Championships 2007. 

Currently he's an honorary member of ETTU and a member of the ITTF President Advisory Council. He's been honored with the ITTF award of merit, with the Croatian Table Tennis Association’s Trophy and with the Sport Award of Croatian Republic.

Rubber Cutting


Change your rubber on time

For the avid table tennis player, the rubber on their racket is a temporary thing. It has to be changed at regular intervals due to the fact that, over time and use, it wears out. Another reason to change rubber might be to find an individually better rubber of the same kind, for example to change their rubber to a newly developed version. Very rarely will a player change one kind of rubber for a different kind of rubber. For example, switching from inverted to pips.

The first question is of course, which rubber should you use to start playing table tennis with? If you are a young beginner who just joined a club to start their journey into the sport, you will most likely get advice from a coach or an older and more experienced player on what your first real racket should be.

At the very beginning, premade rackets are good enough, there is no reason to buy a blade and separate rubbers to make a racket at this point. Of course, even among premade rackets, you can find quite expensive ones with top quality, fast and grippy rubbers attached to powerful blades. Be careful, these rackets are not good for a beginner, you need to already have some level of skill to master playing with this level of a racket. Normally, you will find a reasonable description on the cover so you can see if the racket is suitable for beginners. For small children just starting to play, you can find rackets with smaller handles for their smaller hands

Beginners, at least in Europe, always start off with inverted rubber. The rubber should not be too thick, fast, or grippy. If they are, then a beginner would have a lot of trouble controlling the ball.

Once these first steps are completed, when you start to play more often, you should then choose proper rubbers that you will glue on the blade of your choice. For the rest of your table tennis life, you'll be getting fresh sheets of rubber when your old ones are worn out or when you would like to try out something new!

These days, one can browse through table tennis shops and see a vast offering of various rubbers from different brands. All of these rubbers are divided into categories like rubbers for defence, offence, and so on. Different makers have different ways to describe their products and how to evaluate their characteristics. There are principally three classes; for beginners and casual players, mid level players, and rubbers for high level competitors. Characteristics like speed, spin, control, and in some cases sponge hardness are explained. The playing quality of the sheet's characteristics are mostly described with a number from a scale (1 to 5, 1 to 10, 1 to 100) but these numbers are somewhat subjective. 

No manufacturer explains which method is used to measure speed, control, and other characteristics of a rubber. There were some attempts to find objective methods for measurement but in the end, the figures offered by makers are usually the result of tests done by experienced players. Though, please don't be disappointed with rubber manufacturers because they haven’t developed objective measurement methods, the same situation has gone on for ages with wine tasters. They taste and tell you how good a wine is and nobody argues with them. You are the one who decides if you like the wine or not.

This data about a rubber that you might be interested in is should only be considered as a loose guide. It gives you an idea of what to look out for and if the rubber suits you at all. The only real way to find out if a rubber suits you individually is to test it. You will have your own tastes and preferences and you must like what you feel. It's important to have a good feeling! Though be mindful, a one or two minute hit isn't nearly enough. Try to be able to test it for a longer period of time. There are some shops offering test rackets either in the physical shop or it can be sent to your home. Use these opportunities if they are available or see if you can test a rubber you are interested in from a player in your club. Positive and negative opinions from only 1 or 2 minutes of hitting can often later turn into the opposite opinion. 

Each rubber after some time loses grippiness and speed. This means it needs to be changed. How long you will be able to use a rubber depends on many factors. Some rubbers last longer and some shorter under the same conditions of use. But more importantly is how often you practice and if you use booster or speedglue. The more often you play and/or the more often you tune your rubber, the shorter the lifespan of your rubber will be.

Most top players change their rubber after about 6-7 days of full practice. Otherwise, players playing at lower classes change their rubbers not nearly as often. The problem that arises if you do not change your rubber for a new one on time, is that with the new one you will suddenly have a rubber with very different characteristics. It will be faster, more grippy, and with less passive control than the old one. 

In this case, you simply changed your rubber too late, you adapted your game to a slower, less grippy rubber and suddenly you have another faster, grippier rubber in spite of the fact that it is the same brand, same type, and same sponge thickness as before!

Many years ago there was a Russian world class player named Sarkhojan who Butterfly Sriver on both wings. He regularly changed the rubber on his forehand but never on the backhand side. Ultimately, he in reality played his forehand with an attacking rubber and his backhand with an antispin rubber. After long use, what was once an attacking rubber on his backhand, developed the characteristics of an antispin rubber. It became slow and not grippy at all! 

Due to acceptable discrepancies when manufacturers are cutting the sponge of the rubber, some small differences may occur in the thickness of two rubbers which are declared to be the same. A top player can notice the difference so they check the rubbers to ensure that they have the absolute same sponge thickness. The factory might also do this for them. Players can precisely weigh rubbers with pharmacist scales. Rubbers with the same weight will have a sponge with the same thickness. An average player will most likely not even notice such small differences in the thickness of their sponges.

Today, we have newly developed rubbers that are adapted to new balls. Balls are still changing and rubbers follow these changes. It is highly recommended to test new rubbers, you are not married to a specific type of rubber from a specific manufacturer! Never forget that table tennis is an individual sport and so is your feeling for the ball. What suits your friend does not necessarily suit you!

The new plastic balls have already resulted in the development of new rubbers that have been adapted for them. At this point, almost everybody has to play with plastic balls. See how it changes your game, then adapt your technique, tactics, and equipment to the new ball. 

Sometimes it is recommended, mostly for young players, to change the type of rubber on their racket. In most cases, it will be changing the backhand side to a short pips offensive rubber for an attacker or changing to a long pips rubber for a defender. Such changes are seldom done with experienced players. However, some elderly players, if they change, switch mostly to long pips or antispin in order to try to destroy the game of their opponents, have less problems with their spin, and to require less mobility on their part.

If a young player, for obvious reasons, changes their backhand to short pips or long pips rubber, such a change can be successful. But later in life, if you try such a change the chance for success becomes smaller as you have already developed years of muscle memory to a specific technique, you have developed certain tactics in your matches, and then suddenly you have to turn everything upside down. If there are enough important reasons to make a change this big, then it should be done in between playing seasons (or whenever your longest competitive break is) to have enough time to adapt your game. 

If you are going to replace your worn out rubber with a fresh sheet of the same type, then be sure it has the the same thickness and that you use the same glue with the same gluing procedure. If you are tuning the rubber then, of course, use the same tuner and again the same procedure. If you change anything in the whole procedure you might be astonished by the change in characteristics of your rubber. If you want to change anything like the glue, tuner, quantity of tuner/glue, or how many times you repeat the procedure, then do such an experiment in training, not directly before a tournament. For a complete change of rubber, you need much more time. This is especially the case if it is a change from one type to another rubber type. Even for a change of inverted to a different inverted rubber, you need time for adaptation. Do not do it when important matches are taking place soon!

Article by: Radivoj Hudetz

Editing by: George T. Latterman

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