Playing Against Pips/Anti
by Han Xiao
Many players have a lot of trouble playing against “junk rubber,” which usually includes short pips, long pips, and anti. At lower levels of play, using pips or anti is often seen as an advantage that can give a lot of free wins. As players improve, using these types of rubbers as a core element of your game suddenly becomes a disadvantage due to players’ improved abilities and knowledge of the inherent weaknesses of pips and anti. Today, we’re going to go over what some of the strengths and weaknesses are of pips and anti in order to improve our performance against players who use them. If you use these types of rubber, it can give you an idea of what players are likely to do against you, allowing you to hopefully find ways to avoid these situations and counter certain tactics.
Playing Long Pips
We’re going over long pips first since long pips are the simplest to understand. The easiest way to describe long pips is that they reverse the spin on the ball. From a physical standpoint, what they actually do is give back whatever spin was already on the ball, but from the opponent’s standpoint, a topspin ball will come back as underspin, an underspin ball will come back as topspin, and a nospin ball will come back as nospin. In addition, for the most part long pips have a great deal of trouble adding pace to the ball. Doing so is difficult and can cause a loss of accuracy in the hands of all but the best players.
Most players who use long pips are blockers and choppers. Here are some tactics to use against these players:
• Don’t apply too much spin on most shots unless you need to. Applying a lot of spin, especially topspin, will just make your next shot very difficult due to the heavy spin that will be returned to you.
• When attacking, attack suddenly, rather than constantly attacking with the same speed and spin. Attacking at a medium pace allows a long pips player to block or chop very comfortably. Instead, play with less spin and pace until you can find a ball to attack hard to the middle or wide to a corner.
• Realize that when a player with long pips returns with nospin or underspin, the resulting ball will not go forward. You need to move your body forward to meet the ball. Otherwise, you will mistime the ball badly and maybe even whiff.
• Sometimes, put very little pace and/or spin on the ball. This is very difficult for long pips players to deal with because they need spin and pace to work with. For example, serving fast, deep nospin serves or very slow nospin serves can make life very hard for a long pips player, and can set up a much easier attack.
Playing Short Pips
Some players can play comfortably against long pips, but have incredible trouble against short pips. Short pips generate less spin than inverted rubber, but are also somewhat more resistant to light to moderate spin. This allows short pips players to easily control play from close to the table. However, the lower spin generated also means that short pips are less effective away from the table, and require much more precision that playing with inverted rubber.
When playing against short pips, here are some things to keep in mind:
• Although short pips may produce a ball that looks quick, the ball does not kick forwards as much as a ball hit by inverted rubber. This means that you need to move forward to meet the ball. When a short pips opponent is very aggressive, don’t panic and don’t back off the table too much. Only back off enough to give yourself time to react.
• Because short pips don’t generate quite as much spin and power as inverted rubber, don’t expect to be able to use the pace that’s already on the ball quite as easily against an opponent with short pips. For example, when blocking against a short pips attack, you will need to punch or spin the ball more than when blocking against inverted, and move forwards through the ball.
• When attacking, realize that attacking with pace directly into short pips does not bother the short pips opponent too much, nor does attacking with low to moderate spin. Either attack with heavy spin, or attack hard to the middle or wide angles.
• It is very difficult for short pips to lift heavy backspin since short pips cannot generate much spin of their own. Pushing heavy and deep to a short pips player can produce a very weak attack that has light to moderate topspin but not much pace. A good blocker or counterlooper can easily transition into attack after forcing this shot.
• Don’t serve and receive too much short into short pips. Short pips are very good close to the table as well as inside the table, especially short pips penholders where this advantage is amplified. Try to open up the point using deep shots, heavy spin, as well as wide angles. This will force the short pips player back off the table where they are disadvantaged.
To see some of these tactics in action, watch this match between Dmitrij Ovtcharov of Germany and Tang Peng of Hong Kong. Note the change in the match after the first game, especially how the style of points changes and how Ovtcharov adjusts the placement and style of his attacks.
You should have noticed that Ovtcharov not only falls behind in Game 1, but also players right into Tang’s hands by attacking hard into the backhand, where Tang is able to control the play very easily. Even though Ovtcharov loses one more game in this match, the rest of the match is much more open since Ovtcharov is able to open up the table, attacking wider angles as well as the middle and as a result forcing more mid-distance rallies where Ovtcharov is heavily favored.
Playing Against Anti
Anti-spin rubber isn’t very common, especially outside the United States. However, within the United States we’ll see it from time to time, mostly from Seemiller grip players. It’s quite common for these players to use anti on the back side of the racket to block against very aggressive opponents as well as to return serve, much like American table tennis legend Dan Seemiller. Since these players don’t use the anti as a core element of their game but as a change of pace most of the time, it can be difficult to apply specific tactics against this. However, against an opponent who is over-reliant on the anti, you can apply very similar tactics as against long pips players. However, we should realize that instead of the heavy spin reversal characteristics of long pips, anti simply negates most of the spin on the ball and gives a very dead nospin ball back. Most of the tactics still apply, such as sometimes playing with very little spin and pace when anticipating that the opponent will try to use the anti, and moving forward to meet the ball since it will not kick forward very much after bouncing.
It’s impossible to cover everything regarding playing against unorthodox rubber in one go. For example, medium pips are an in-between type of pips that take some of the characteristics of short and long pips and create quite an unpredictable rubber that is both difficult to play with and difficult to play against. Playing against medium pips requires combining tactics of playing against long and short pips players and also a great deal of experience in reading spins and reading bounces.
In addition, tactics against different types of players changes at different playing levels. For example, against low level long pips players, pushing the ball, waiting for a topspin return, and smashing the next ball can often result in an instant point. One tactic can often defeat these types of long pips players. However, at high levels, long pips players are much better at controlling the ball and defending against hard loops and smashes, so the same tactic is much less effective.
However, we have hopefully covered enough material here that players who really struggle against these types of rubbers have some idea of what the strengths and weaknesses are of “junk rubbers,” as well as the characteristics of these rubbers and some tactics against them. Playing against them effectively takes practice and experience, but knowing is half the battle. For players who use pips and anti, knowing what tactics higher level players are applying against you will hopefully also help you to expect and counter these tactics in order to improve your game.