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Review: Nittaku Ma Long Carbon 3

16 April 2021  | Posted in: Table Tennis Reviews

Nittaku Ma Long Carbon 3 – A fast and bouncy composite blade with a soft feeling.

     Nittaku recently released the Ma Long Carbon 3 blade, which – as the name implies – has been designed with input from Ma Long, arguably the greatest player of all times. The 5+2 ply blade is constructed using a weave of FE Kevlar carbon below the surface ply. Nittaku describes the Ma Long Carbon 3 (MLC3) as a blade that is mid-fast with a medium feeling and asserts that the FE Kevlar carbon outer ply construction realizes an increase in speed without a loss of ball control. According to Nittaku, this “Made in Japan” blade renders it possible to add additional spin to the ball and create high-arc trajectories. 

     The Ma Long Carbon 3 is delivered in Nittaku’s sturdy standard box, which is silver and blue with key blade characteristics listed on the front. The MLC3 has a relatively thick core (~3 mm) that is surrounded by a thin middle ply (~1 mm), the FE Kevlar carbon weave, and a thin outer ply (combined < 0.6 mm). The name of the blade is printed on the FH side of the straw-colored outer ply, which looks like limba to me, whereas the back of the blade is without text. The handle is light grey, with a dark grey curve line that goes through the plastic lens listing the blade name in red and silver font on black background. A shiny silver Nittaku tag adorns the bottom of the handle.  

     The MLC3 has a somewhat elongated oval shape with the following dimensions (height x width): 160 mm x 152 mm with a thickness of 5.7 mm. The FL handle has the following dimensions: length ~101.7 mm, width ~26.1-34.9 mm, and height ~21.5-25.2 mm. The grip and neck of the blade are rather narrow, which some players will large hands may notice. The construction quality of the MLC3 is less refined than other Nittaku blades that I have tested, with unsanded wings and relatively sharp edges. And “Kevlar” is misspelled! The test blade weighed 89 g and produced a deep pitch (resonance frequency ~ 1227 Hz) when bouncing a ball on the naked blade, which would suggest that the blade is either slow and/or utilizes some soft wood types. In fact, I have only tested one other composite blade with a comparable resonance frequency, i.e., the Stiga Carbonado 45.   

Testing Procedure

     I tested the brand-new blade as-is without any additional varnishing/lacquering. I attached well-used sheets of DHS Hurricane 3 (2.15 mm, black, provincial version, 40-degrees orange sponge) and Spinlord Waran II (2.0 mm, red) short pips on the FH and BH side, respectively, using one layer of Revolution 3 normal viscosity glue. I tested the set-up over 3-4 practice sessions playing a mix of regular and match-like drills against my regular high-level practice partner using Neottec Neoplast Pro 40+ or Nittaku J-Top training balls. 

Initial Impressions

     The large playing surface area results in a center of gravity that is shifted towards the head. The test setup felt well-balanced and far nimbler and lighter than its relatively high weight would suggest (185 g – please note that the test rubbers did not cover the entire playing surface; a 2-3 mm gap was left between the rubber and the handle). 


     FH drives are fast and solid. On one hand, the initial feeling upon striking the ball is quite soft, yet the stiffness from the outer ply FE Kevlar carbon weave serves to propel the ball. I’ll be honest, these mixed responses (soft, yet bouncy and fast) confused me throughout the test. My short pip BH drives felt more solid and “thick”, resulting in excellent consistency.


      FH loops against regular blocks required adjustments from my side. As with FH drives, the initial contact is soft, but the blade is also quite bouncy with a short dwell time, resulting in long, and pronouncedly flat trajectories. Accordingly, I had to moderate my input power and swing speed to avoid overshooting the table. Once adjusted, I was able to play diagonal FH loops with high consistency. However, judging by my hitting partner’s blocks, the spin levels were only moderate. Occasionally, I was able to send off a real cracker down-the-line and/or around-the-net but my consistency of these shots was generally lower than with other blades as a greater proportion of the shots got caught in the net or went long. The MLC3 works better a couple of steps away from the table, for example when loop driving. Along these lines, I enjoyed the MLC3 in loop-to-loop rallies as the blade afforded ample power to make penetrating shots even from afar.

     FH loops against long pushes were hit or miss. When I timed the shot well, a fast, deep, and near-unreturnable FH loop ensued. If I mistimed the FH loop, the ball caught the top of the net or went long. The margin for error is quite limited.    

     My consistency on BH “loops” with the short pips against backspin was lower than usual, as many of my shots went long. When I tried to reduce my swing speed and/or to use a more compact stroke, the shots became too slow and predictable and allowed my practice partner to execute punishing counter-drives.


     I enjoyed the feeling provided by the MLC3 on long FH and BH pushes, which were flat and spinny, rendering it challenging for my hitting partner to execute high-quality loops. However, active stroke mechanics must be used. When I used more tentative and passive strokes, the ball tended to pop up a little more, allowing my hitting partner to attack relentlessly.  


     Passive FH and BH blocking with the MLC3 is solid, as most of the incoming energy is absorbed. I was able to execute some nasty BH chop blocks as the blade gave me the right mix of stiffness and speed. Conversely, I struggled mightily to control active blocks and counter-drives. The blade’s bounciness kicks in on these higher impact strokes and very often resulted in the ball going long. Soft hands are needed to successfully execute these shots. 


     It is no surprise that the MLC3 works well on smashes. The blade’s bounciness on high-impact shots gives smashes an additional kick, resulting in unreturnable shots. 


     As usual, when using a blade that has a soft contact point, I struggled a little bit with my FH flicks. The MLC3 did not give me sufficient feedback on striking the ball, which made me lose confidence in subsequent FH flicks. This was exacerbated by the MLC3’s bounciness, which often resulted in my flicks going long. Conversely, I enjoyed better consistency on BH flicks, presumably since the combination of the MLC3 and the softer Waran II, generates a crisper feeling upon striking the ball.   


      I faced no problems executing short backspin serves, which seemed to carry the average spin load. Long top-/side-spin serves, on the other hand, had a tendency of clipping the top of the net, though I am sure with more practice, I would be able to execute fast and dangerous serves.  


     The Nittaku Ma Long Carbon 3 is a fast and bouncy outer ply composite blade that generates a relatively soft feeling. Unlike the marketing material, I would characterize the MLC3 as having a shortened dwell time, which in turn produces relatively low ball trajectories and average spin levels. Highly skilled players with excellent footwork and timing will be able to take advantage of the blade’s power reserves and create deep, penetrating shots. Intermediate level players will be able to generate fast and direct shots when properly positioned, but also miss some shots since the blade is not very forgiving of improper timing. 

About the Reviewer

     Patrick 'Pong Professor' Hrdlicka is a table tennis enthusiast with a Ph.D. in chemistry who combines his analytical and experimental skills with his love of table tennis in order to test and review a wide range of table tennis equipment.