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Review by Patrick: The Fortino Series

14 January 2020  | Posted in: Table Tennis Equipment

About the Reviewer

     Patrick 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. This time he put the FORTINO series to the test.

                                                                         

 

Tibhar FORTINO series – Dyneema-reinforced power.

On this occasion, I set out to evaluate Tibhar’s new fiber-reinforced blade series, i.e., the FORTINO series, which has three members: the OFF- rated 7+2 ply Fortino Performance, the OFF rated 5+2 ply Fortino Force, and the crown jewel of the series, i.e., the OFF+ rated 5+2 ply Fortino Pro, which has been rumored to be Vladimir Samsonov’s new blade. The two former blades are manufactured in Slovenia, whereas the latter is made in Germany. A commonality between these blades is that they are reinforced with a special fabric that combines carbon and Dyneema® fibers, i.e., the strongest fiber in the world on a weight-by-weight basis. Purportedly, this fabric provides the best value of bend-resistance and hardness, resulting in fast blades with a dramatically increased sweet spot and prominent catapult.  

  

Tibhar provides the following speed and control ratings for the blades: Fortino Performance 8+/9, Fortino Force 9+/8-, and Fortino PRO 10/7+. For comparison, the highly popular 7-ply Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition blade - which also happens to be my regular blade - is rated at 9-/7- (let me foreshadow my review by stating that the control ratings for the composite blades are too high and/or too low for the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition blade). 

All FORTINO blades come in the same cardboard box, which offers fantastic blade protection. The box has a sleek, modern-looking white, red, and black color scheme. A sticker on the front lip of the box identifies the blade and provides blade-specific information (speed, control, and plies). General information about the FORTINO series and the Dyneema® fibers is can be found on the back of each box. A small tube with a sample of the Dyneema® fiber is provided inside each box.      

Testing procedure: I tested the three FORTINO blades in order of increasing speed (Performance, Force, Pro) using a sheet of Nittaku Hurricane Pro 3 Turbo Blue on my FH (black, 2.0 mm) and a sheet of Nittaku Moristo SP AX short pips on my BH (red, 1.8 mm). The rubbers (~40 h usage) were attached to the blades using a layer of Revolution 3 normal viscosity glue. I tested the set-ups over several sessions, playing drills and matches against my usual training partners using the Nittaku J-Top training balls.

Tibhar Fortino Performance 

Tibhar describes the Fortino Performance as the member among the SUPER STRONG SERIES with the highest amount of feel. Supposedly, this 7+2-ply blade offers power for any situation, along with excellent ball-feedback. According to Tibhar, this FORTINO variant is perfectly suited to modern table tennis, enhancing speed, catapult reserves, and the necessary control, for the offensive game with an emphasis on a punchy but controlled attacking style. 

Appearance: The Tibhar Fortino Performance has a modern-looking design. The playing surface is straw-yellow and has a slight shine to it, which suggests that it has been lightly treated with some sort of varnish. The FH side features text (“Fortino Dyneema, the world’s strongest fiber”), whereas the BH side is devoid of text. The handle design has three vertical stripes, which are dark grey, light grey, and salmon red. The FH side of the handle has a black lens with the text “Tibhar Series P” and the Fortino trident logo. The handle butt has a square silver metallic tag with the text “with Dyneema” on it. Overall, the build quality seems ok, although the playing surface feels bumpy above the printed text. Moreover, neither the blade edges nor wings have been sanded and are, accordingly, relatively sharp.  

The Fortino Performance has an unusual 7+2 ply construction as follows: a rather thin core (white wood) that is surrounded by a very thin ply, followed by a thin layer of the Dyneema fabric, a relatively thick penultimate ply, and a very thin outer ply. The test specimen is smaller than average (height x width: 155 mm x 149 mm) with a thickness of 6.4 mm and a weight of 87 g. A simple bounce test produced a relative high-pitched sound (main frequencies: 1399 Hz and 1485 Hz). The comfortable RST handle has the following measurements: length: 102 mm; width: 29 mm; thickness: 23-24 mm. 

 

Playing impressions: The Tibhar Fortino Performance is noticeably slower and has a stiffer feeling than my regular blade, i.e., the 7-ply all-wood Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition. Furthermore, fewer vibrations are transmitted into the hand and the blade’s balance is also a little different, with the Fortino Performance feeling more head heavy. The blade feels crisp during FH and BH drives and produces relatively flat trajectories. The blade’s moderate speed was most apparent on BH loops in loop-to-loop rallies. I had to use significantly bigger strokes to ensure that the ball landed on the table, which affected my timing and consistency. Equivalent strokes executed with the FH are less affected since the stroke mechanics require greater physical effort and automatically generate sufficient power. In fact, the feeling in FH loop-to-loop rallies is great. I experienced excellent control despite a relatively flat and long ball trajectory. Fast FH loops against backspin can also be played with good confidence and sufficient clearance over the net, but spin levels are clearly lower than with my regular blade, presumably due to the stiffer nature and shorter dwell time of the blade. The lower spin levels gave my opponents an opportunity to put me under pressure with aggressive blocks and/or counter loops. The stiffer feeling, however, is beneficial for power loops, flat hits and – especially - blocking, where the Fortino Performance felt solid and controlled, both on the FH and BH side. Blocks with the Moristo SP AX short pips were more glassy than with my usual blade and created a noticeable wobble, which confused my opponents. Flat hits felt solid and controlled, but it was difficult to make blistering fast shots. The Fortino Performance held up well in the serve-receive game. I was able to play aggressive flat pushes against backspin serves, which put my opponents under pressure. The blade’s stiffer nature also allowed me to make controlled, albeit not super-fast flicks but did compromise my touch game a little bit, inasmuch short pushes and drop shots tended to be slightly longer than normal and with less spin. The Fortino Performance worked surprisingly quite well on serves. My backspin serves were loaded with spin and could be kept short, whereas long serves could be played with high levels of control. One minor gripe: the slightly smaller head size caused me to hit the blade edge more often than usual.

Conclusion: The Tibhar Fortino Performance is well-suited for close-to-the-table attackers who prioritize controlled drives over spin. Given the blade’s moderate speed, it will probably be most suitable for intermediate-to-advanced players looking to progress from 5-ply ALL+/OFF- all-wood blades and compensate for the loss in speed following the introduction of the 40+ ball.   

 

 

Tibhar Fortino Force 

According to Tibhar, the 5+2 ply Fortino Force has been designed for “an aggressive topspin game - amazingly direct but also very precise for all strokes.”. The look of the Fortino Force is near-indistinguishable from the Fortino Performance except that the black lens on the FH side of the handle has the text “Tibhar Series F”. In addition, a different ply composition is employed. Thus, a medium-thick wood core is surrounded by a thin layer of the Dyneema fabric, which is followed by a relatively thick red-dyed ply, and a very thin outer ply. The playing surface is minimally smaller than usual (height x width: 157 mm x 148 mm) with a thickness of 6.2 mm. The blade is light (80 g) and produces a high-pitched sound when a ball is bounced on it (1485 Hz), which suggests a relatively stiff blade. The AN handle has the following measurements: length: 102 mm; width: 28-29 mm with the handle butt at ~33mm; thickness: 23-24 mm (as a side note: I have not played with an AN handle in 30+ years but must admit that I did not notice major differences relative to my usual ST preference). Overall the build quality of the Fortino Force seems to be similar to the Fortino Performance (see above), although I did notice some microscopic chips along the blade edge.     

 

Playing impressions: The Tibhar Fortino Force feels lighter, less head heavy, and significantly faster than the Fortino Performance. Compared to my regular blade, i.e., the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition, the Fortino Force is slightly faster and markedly stiffer. The blade is very fast on FH and BH drives, producing deep and flat ball arcs. The feeling upon hitting the ball is crisp but with few vibrations traveling into the hand. I found it particularly important to execute strokes with focus and good technique when using the Fortino Force as the ball otherwise had a tendency of going too long. FH loops against backspin are reasonably easy to execute but my consistency was lower than usual, nonetheless. The ball trajectory on FH loops is quite flat but the blade’s OFF level speed means that there is sufficient clearance over the net. Explained differently, the ball starts dipping further back on the table than usual, meaning that my main concern was to avoid overshooting the table. The spin levels on my FH loops were only average, which I attribute to shorter dwell times. Given its speed and trajectory characteristics, it should come as no surprise that loop-drives are quite deadly with the Fortino Force, provided that the shots are well-timed. Along similar lines, the blade has plenty of power to enable loop-to-loop rallies far from the table. Thus, I was able to engage in BH loop-to-loop rallies using the Nittaku Moristo SP AX short pips far from the table, which is one of the most difficult shots with short pips. Aggressive blocking with both FH and BH felt solid and fast with excellent control and was facilitated by the crisp contact point. Blocking with the short pips felt less glassy than with the Fortino Performance and it was easier to return for my opponents. Flat hits with the Fortino Force are – unexpectedly – very fast. Aggressive serve returns are facilitated by the crisp, medium-hard feeling of the blade, but once again, care must be taken to not overshoot the table. I found it challenging to keep defensive serve returns short and flat given the blade’s speed. For sure, good hand control is required. In spite of this, the Fortino Force worked well for me in serves. I had no difficulties making high-quality short backspin serves and long topspin-based serves.

Conclusion: The Tibhar Fortino Force is a composite blade for the advanced uncompromising attacker, who values speed over spin. This is a blade that requires excellent technique, and which does not tolerate lapses in focus. Its catapult profile renders it particularly suitable for mid-distance players.

Tibhar FORTINO Pro 

Tibhar describes the 5+2 ply Fortino Pro as the fastest blade in the SUPER STRONG SERIES, especially suiting offensive players who refuse compromises and who need to make the most of their blade in all playing situations. Tibhar further asserts that the placement of the Dyneema fabric underneath the surface ply allows for harder serves and dynamic topspins with more penetrative power. 

The appearance of the Fortino Pro is identical to the two other Fortino blades except that the outer ply is a metallic grey, and the black lens on the FH side of the handle has the text “Tibhar Series Pro”. 

The Fortino Pro is a 5+2 ply fiber-reinforced blade like the Fortino Force, except that the Dyneema layer is placed right under the surface veneer rather than surrounding the core, which results in an even stiffer and harder feel. Specifically, the ply construction is as follows: a thin core that is surrounded by a relatively thick ply, followed by a thin layer of the Dyneema fabric, which is capped off by a relatively thick outer ply. Like with the other blades in the Fortino series, the playing surface of the Pro is slightly smaller than normal (height x width: 155 mm x 150 mm) with a thickness of 6.4 mm. The blade is solid (89 g) and produces an extremely high-pitched sound when bouncing a ball (~1700 Hz) on the naked blade, which is highly indicative of a very stiff and fast composite blade. The Fortino Pro’s RST handle has the following measurements: length: 102 mm; width: 28 mm; thickness: ~23.5 mm. The build quality of the Fortino Pro is higher compared to the other Fortino blades, with a significantly smoother playing surface over the printed text. Also, the blade wings are sanded, which results in a more comfortable grip straight out of the box. 

 

Playing impressions: The first couple of FH drives quickly revealed the Tibhar Fortino Pro as a fast and extremely stiff blade that produces a distinct high-pitched sound upon ball impact while transferring minimal vibrations to the hand. The blade’s OFF level speed, pronounced stiffness, and incredible power reserves, renders it necessary to execute FH drives with some restraint to prevent the ball from careening off the end of the table. The feeling on BH drives is similarly crisp, and fast shots with flat trajectories are generated. The consistency of my BH drives was better than for the FH drives, something that I attribute to the inherently slower swing speed of the stroke. Akin to my observations with the Fortino Force, FH loops can be played with the necessary safety over the net, primarily due to a long trajectory, which causes the ball to dip late. Accordingly, FH loops against backspin are very deep and fast but have lower spin levels than usual, which rendered it easier for my opponents to return the shots. The Fortino Pro has tremendous power reserves that become apparent at very high swing speeds, for example when playing FH loop-to-loop rallies from afar or executing power drives close to the table. In contrast, the blade feels a little slower than the Fortino Force in BH loop-to-loop rallies when using the Nittaku Moristo SP Ax short pips. It is as if the Fortino Pro has a very fast top-end gear that only kicks in upon full physical commitment, whereas it has a slightly more dead and stiff feel on lower impact shots. Along similar lines, flat hits and close-to-the-table counter loops can be played with blistering speed. Blocking with the Fortino Pro is also excellent. The blade’s thickness effectively absorbs, redirects, and transmits the incoming kinetic energy, allowing for very fast and controlled blocking. Well-timed blocks played off the bounce with a short snappy motion produce particularly fast and near-unreturnable shots. Aggressive serve returns can be played with good confidence given the blade’s stiffness, but good timing is necessary, as the ball otherwise goes too long. The Fortino Pro holds up surprisingly well in the short game, provided that soft relaxed hands are used during the shot execution. Pushes and drop shots can be kept short and low, but lack spin. I had to exercise restraint on long BH pushes with the Moristo short pips as the ball otherwise had a tendency of going too long due to the short dwell time. For similar reasons, I found chopping from long-distance to be very challenging with this fast and stiff blade. I also found it necessary to fully concentrate when making backspin serves to prevent the ball from going into the net. Even so, the serves were less spinny than usual. Unsurprisingly, the Fortino Pro worked great on fast no-spin and top-spin serves. 

Conclusion: The Fortino Pro is the most balanced blade of the SUPER STRONG SERIES inasmuch it has the speed and catapult for dangerous shots to be played from mid-distance, yet it has a slightly more dead feeling on low-impact shots, enabling an effective touch game close to the table. In this respect, it reminds quite a bit of the Donic Ovtcharov Carbospeed. In my opinion, the blade paired well with the chosen rubbers. Combining the Fortino Pro with fast inverted European/Japanese rubbers would result in setups that are beyond my ability to control. This is a blade for the highly advanced attacker.    


Summary of the FORTINO series

  The three blades share some fundamental characteristics. All of the blades have a distinctive stiffness to them, resulting in uniform bounces and relatively flat ball trajectories, which renders them suitable for a direct offensive style that has an emphasis on speed over spin. The Fortino Performance is the slowest of the three and is best used close to the table. The Fortino Force is the fastest of the three on low-to-medium impact strokes and suits mid-distance players (and probably was my favorite). The Fortino Pro is a balanced blade that allows for a relatively controllable short game due to the lack of catapult on low-impact shots but has incredible power reserves when fully engaged, enabling dominance both close-to-the-table as well as from long-distance. All of the Fortino blades are high risk, high reward blades.