At the last World Championship held in Budapest, Hungary a few days ago, it was surprising for many to see a Swedish player, Mattias Falck, in the final of the men’s category. That had not happened since 1997, when the famous Jan Ove Waldner won the title of world champion.
However, the second surprise was to see a male athlete play with short pips on his forehand and in particular, watching the difficulty that his opponents, even Asians, had playing against his style of play.
Hence this big question, are short pips still relevant in the game of table tennis in the 2020s?
Let’s first visit the advantages and disadvantages of short pips.
Let’s start with the disadvantages of the short pips:
- The technique is difficult and different. Using short pips to compensate for technical weakness may seem like a good idea and may sometimes work. However, the truth is that the use of short pips requires excellent timing, a technique without hesitation and therefore very good movement and very good use of the body. We can furthermore consider that the margin of error may be even smaller than with that of normal rubber.
- It is more difficult to generate mid-range topspins or to lob effectively because short pips give the ball less rotation. On the other hand, other solutions exist; to hit from mid-distance or to chop from mid-distance or far from the table.
- It may be difficult to attack on some heavy underspin balls. That’s partially true and partially false. The fact that short pips are less sensitive to spin allows it to be easier to attack off many types of balls. Obviously, the attack will be less effective, but is enough to compensate with a better placement and it also leaves the opponent less time to react by hitting the ball before the top of the bounce.
- Some coaches will tell you that the short game can be more difficult in terms of short chops and banana flips. Here too, it is necessary to make a distinction. Straight flips can be much easier and quicker as the pips are less sensitive to spin. And, an athlete like Mima Ito, proves beyond a doubt that the banana flip can be even more effective in terms of speed with a short pip. With short chops, the push will surely be less effective, but it will be much easier to control if we decide to strike the ball right off the bounce, and the variations of spin (returning the opponent’s spin) can destabilize the opponent.
Now let’s take a look at the advantages of short pips:
- The main advantage of short pips is that it is less sensitive to the spin of the opponent’s shots. This mainly allows you to play more balls before the top of the bounce and thus put a lot of pressure on the opponent. For example:
- When attacking, it is easier to hit the ball very early, fast and forcefully with tremendous accuracy.
- It is the same thing when blocking and also it is much easier to control, since the margin of error with the racket angle is much greater. Therefore, it’s a lot easier to put pressure once again.
- Aggressive service returns either with flips or pushes are also helped by the fact that the short pip is less sensitive to the opponent’s spin.
- The technique is different, the movements are usually shorter. As we have already said, this allows you to put more pressure as it allows less reaction time to your opponent. But it also allows you to hit the next ball sooner, furthermore allowing you to anticipate faster. Some coaches point out that these short movements are facilitated by the fact that the racket is often lighter, because short pips weigh less than regular smooth rubber. But the weight depends mainly on the thickness of the short pip used. We can also say that a lighter racket can prevent certain types of injuries, for example on the shoulder or wrist.
- Short pips have a disruptive impact on the opponent’s timing, although less so than long pips, but it can be really annoying for the opponent and lead to many unforced errors:
- Smashes and flat blocks produce a backspin on the ball. The trajectory of the ball remains low and after the bounce, the ball often plunges downward.
- On topspins with a lot of spin, the short pips can slightly reverse the spins and accentuate the plunging.
- All these changes of trajectory affect the timing of the opponent’s shots and can lead to easy points, especially if he is not used to playing against short pips.
- A short pips player who uses a combination racquet with a smooth rubber may cause even more confusion to their opponent by changing racket sides, depending on the situation. This can become very confusing for the opponent because it becomes more difficult to adapt to the constantly changing balls played.
Note for defenders:
Many high-level defenders use “spinny” short pips, that can add rotation. This allows them to vary the amount of spin in their chops more easily, from floating balls to balls with extreme backspin. And compared to long pips, they can attack and counter attack more easily at the table.
In short, are the short pips still relevant in game of table tennis in the 2020s with the current plastic ball that has less spin and less speed than the older balls?
I think Mattias Falck’s style and results at the last World Championships prove that the answer is YES.
Other athletes like Mima Ito, in the women’s division, also prove it by their results in recent years.
And even among defenders, the young Yuto Muramatsu, has a very effective game.
The lack of variety of styles
I will end with a personal note about the lack of variety of playing styles in the province where I have been coaching for 42 years, Quebec.
Unfortunately, Quebec has very few players with short pips and very few defenders. The variety of styles of play are very limited. In my opinion, this is caused by two phenomena.
- Current coaches have very little knowledge of pips (long, medium and short) and the different styles of play possible with pips.
- Players who dare to try short pips often end up by giving up on them, because their training partners do not like to train with them, because they create a lot of unforced errors.
And here we enter into a vicious circle that has predictable but unfortunate consequences as soon as one of our athletes participates in an international competition and faces these styles of play, especially in the women’s division.
I only have to think about the last US Open where our female athletes played several pip players and were clearly at a disadvantage not being familiar playing against these styles of play.
Hence the importance of having athletes with these pip styles of play in our different clubs.
The evolution of short pip material
In recent years, the quality of short pips have evolved. Short pips that put more spin such as TSP Super Spinpips, allow for a technique very similar to the technique used with smooth rubber. This allows for faster learning, but also makes the use of combination racquets easier and more efficient.
The new sponge has also been incorporated into the new short pips, which makes them even faster and more dangerous. For example, Super Spinpips Red and Blue from TSP.
To conclude, PPD offers you a range of very good quality short pips from different brands: andro, TSP and Victas.
More traditional short pips:
Short pips that add more spin:
And if you want to give it a try at a low price, go with the Adidas short pips that are currently on Sale in the Spring Cleaning section.
By Thierry Verviers
Montreal Prestige Table Tennis Club
May 2, 2019