Picking the Perfect Ping-Pong Paddle
I’ve written elsewhere about recommended table tennis blades for beginners, and the top ten classic table tennis blades, but for advanced players choosing a table tennis blade is not as simple as finding the first one that feels nice in your hand and playing with that for the rest of your life. Well, actually it could be, but if you want to get the right blade for your style, there are several things to consider.
The weight of the blade itself can be a factor. Lighter table tennis blades can usually be swung more quickly, but heavier blades have more mass to use when hitting the ball. In physics terms, momentum is equal to mass multiplied by velocity, so you should look for the heaviest blade that you can still swing comfortably and quickly – this should give you the best speed when hitting the ball.
The stiffness of the blade refers to the amount of flex or bend the blade has. A stiffer table tennis blade will generally be faster but less spinny than a flexible blade.
The balance of a blade refers to whether the centre of gravity of the blade is closer to the handle or the tip of the head. Loopers and hitters tend to prefer head-heavy blades which help them generate that little bit of extra spin and speed, while blockers and defensive players quite often prefer blades with the centre of gravity towards the handle, which can increase the feeling of control. Bear in mind that the centre of gravity of a table tennis blade can change quite a bit depending on the weight of the rubbers you choose – heavy rubbers will tend to move the centre of gravity out towards the tip of the racket head.
The general wisdom regarding table tennis blade speed is that faster blades tend to be used by the more aggressive players, and slower blades by the more defensive. Players who use more spin also tend to prefer slower blades, because they believe that a slower blade increases the amount of time the ball is in contact with the rubber, giving them more time to put spin on the ball. Note that this does not mean slow blades necessarily – for example, Timo Boll may use a slower blade than many other professionals – but you can bet it is still pretty fast!
The difference in air resistance between large headed table tennis blades and smaller headed blades is pretty much insignificant, so the main issue of concern here is that larger rackets require more rubber to cover the surface, which makes the racket heavier and also tends to move the centre of gravity of the blade away from the handle.
The choice of handle is usually a matter of your own preference. There are a couple of things to consider though. The rule of thumb is that players with stronger forehands tend to prefer flared handles, possibly because they allow you to get a better grip when executing the forehand stroke. Players with backhands closer in strength to their forehand seem to prefer straight handles, since this usually gives them better flexibility on the backhand stroke. Defenders and combination bat players who twiddle the bat also tend to prefer straight handles, since they are easier to turn in your hand.
Besides the standard penhold (both Chinese and Japanese) and shakehand type handles, there are others exotic creations such as the pistol grip blades, and even the V-grip blades. Whether these different handles are fads that will come and go, or the start of new styles remains to be seen. They are pretty much unproven at the world level, so I’d probably suggest against using them unless you wish to be an innovator and risk using an inferior handle and grip.
In the last fifteen, manufacturers have also introduced technologies such as the WRB, VSG, and Senso, which basically hollow out the handle to move the centre of gravity closer to the tip of the table tennis blade. Exotic claims are also made about reducing vibration, increasing touch and feel, etc, but these are best treated with a grain of salt. Try them out and see for yourself whether the reality lives up to the marketing pitch – who knows, maybe it just might!
Layers / Plys
There are two things to consider when talking about the layers of your table tennis blade. The first is the number of layers in the blade, and the second is what the layers are made from.
The number of layers in the blade can vary from 1 to usually a maximum of seven. Three and five ply blades are also popular. It is theoretically possible to have 2, 4, and 6 layered blades, but in practice this is rare. The number of layers in the blade isn’t necessarily related to the speed of the blade though, so you probably don’t need to worry too much about how many layers your blade has.
According to the Laws of Table Tennis, at least 85% of the blade by thickness must be natural wood. Without boring you with the details, this gives manufacturers some leeway to include layers made of such material as carbon fibre, aralyte, or glass fibre. The effect of these materials can vary – carbon is said to strengthen and stiffen the blade, while also increasing the speed and the size of the sweet spot of the blade. Aralyte is meant to also increase the size of the sweet spot, but is supposed to dampen vibration and give a softer feel than carbon.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you also shouldn’t judge a table tennis blade without trying it out with your normal rubbers. A blade that feels wonderful uncovered can turn out to be horrible to use, and not suitable for you at all. Wherever possible try to get permission to actually put your normal rubbers on the blade and play a game or two with it – under real match conditions. Holding the blade in your hand and bouncing a ball on it a couple of times just isn’t the same. And considering the prices of blades these days, you don’t want to make the wrong choice if you can avoid it.
Your Playing Level
Don’t overdo it when upgrading your table tennis blade. A common mistake among intermediate players is to go from their beginning blade straight to a super fast blade. If you have only been playing for a couple of years, the chances are that you are not yet ready for the fastest blades on the market. These table tennis blades are designed for the professionals, and generally require a near professional level of skill to get the most out of them CONSISTENTLY. Anyone can hit the occasional amazing shot using a bat that is way too fast for them, but what about all the shots that you missed?
If you want your moment of glory when you win the tournament rather than when you hit the shot of the day, don’t automatically buy the fastest blade you can get your hands on. Resist temptation and ask an experienced player or coach to watch you play for a while and then tell you what they would recommend for your style and level. You might be surprised by what they have to say!
The last thing to think about when purchasing a new table tennis blade is the cost. Blades can vary in price from only a few dollars to over $200 US!
Be aware that expensive is not necessarily better. What you are looking for is a blade that suits the way you play table tennis, not that costs you the most or the least. A cheaper blade may have just the right mix of characteristics that suit you best – so why pay any more than you have to? A good suggestion is to try to select a blade before looking at prices, so that you are not influenced by the price tag one way or the other.
I hope this guide will help when it comes to choosing the right table tennis blade for you. Use the advice I’ve given above to help narrow down your selection, then try to find a blade that feels comfortable in your hand, and that you like the feel of when you put your normal rubbers on it and play. Once you have found a blade that you like, only then worry about the price. After all, chances are you will be using it to play table tennis for quite a few years!
Now that you know what to look for when choosing your table tennis blade, why not get some advice on upgrading your rubbers to put on your nice new blade?
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