Table Tennis Racket
A table tennis racket or paddle is used by players in the game table tennis. The racket is made from laminated wood covered with rubber on one or two sides depending on the grip of the player. This is called either a paddle, racket, blade or a bat depending on where in the world the game is being played. In the USA the term "paddle" is common, in Europe the term is "bat," and the official ITTF term is "racket." This section will use the ITTF term.
Table tennis regulations allow different surfaces on each side of the racket. The different types of surfaces provide various levels of spin or speed, or in some cases, nullify spin. For example, a player may have a rubber that provides much spin on one side of his racket, and no spin on the other side of the racket. By flipping the racket in play, different types of returns are possible. To help a player distinguish between different types of rubber used by his opposing player, international rules specify that one side must be red while the other side must be black. The player has the right to inspect his opponent's racket before a match to see the type of rubber used and what color it is. Despite high speed play and rapid exchanges, a player can see clearly what side of the racket was used to hit the ball. Current rules state that, unless damaged in play, the racket cannot be exchanged for another racket at any time during a match.
Recent years have seen an advancement in technology of table tennis blades. Materials of different properties may be combined with the wood in the blade to enhance its playing performance. Many blades today feature one or more carbon layers within them to enhance their 'sweet spot', and to give the player a greater margin of error when playing powerful shots. Materials incorporated into table tennis blades today include titanium, acrylate, aramids, fiberglass, and aluminium.
The rubber coating may be of pimpled rubber, with the pimples outward, or it may be a rubber that is composed of two materials, a sponge layer, covered by a pimpled rubber, with the pimples pointed inwards or outwards. Some rackets are not covered with rubber at all, because a "naked" racket is more resistant to a spin. However, it is illegal to use these types of racket in competition as they are not approved by the ITTF. Some types of rubbers are also not approved. Approved rubbers have the ITTF emblem on the base of the rubber.
Players have many choices and variations in rubber sheets on their racket. Although a racket may be purchased with rubber by the manufacturer, most serious tournament players will create a customized racket. A player selects a blank blade (i.e. a racket without rubber), based on his playing style. The type of wood and synthetic layers used to make up the blade will provide a slower or faster blade. The player can choose from different types of rubber sheets which will provide a certain level of spin, speed and specific playing characteristics.
Normally, a sheet of rubber is glued to a blade using rubber cement and not removed until the rubber wears out or becomes damaged. In the 1980s, a new technique was developed where the player would use a special glue called speed glue to apply the rubber every time he played. The glue would help provide more spin and speed by providing a "catapult" effect. This technique is known as "regluing" and has become a standard technique for top players.
The surface of a racket will develop a smooth glossy patina with use. The rubber surface needs to be regularly cleaned to ensure it retains a high friction surface to impart spin to the ball. Players use a commercial cleaner, or just water and detergent as cleaning agents.
Racket construction and new rubber technology (skilled elite players typically select and attach the rubber to their own rackets and glue them before every match) contribute significantly to the amount of deviation from the expected ball flight path. The fairly recent development of speed glue speeds up the departure of the ball from the rubber considerably, though at the cost of some ball control on touch shots where little or no spin is put on the ball. Speed glue was allowed for the last time in the 2008 Summer Olympics. From the 2012 Summer Olympics on speed glue will be banned at the Olympic games.
Different types of rubber sheets
1. Inverted (non-Chinese): This is the most widely used rubber type. The surface is smooth, with the pimpled side facing inwards toward the blade. This enables the player to generate high levels of spin and speed. Spin is generated not by the action of the topsheet alone, but also by the ball sinking into the sponge and allowing greater surface area to contact the ball.
2. Inverted (Chinese): Chinese rubbers typically have stickier (or "tackier") topsheets. Spin is generated mainly by the topsheet, as opposed to the sponge, which is more condensed and firm. The result is usually a far better short game and potential offensive capabilities than normal inverted, but also a less consistent defensive and/or counter play.
3. Short pimples (or "pips"): Short pimples-out rubbers are usually used by close-to-the-table hitters (for example, Liu Guoliang). They do not generate as much spin as inverted rubbers, but also make the user less susceptible to the opponent's spin. Speed generated from a short pip rubber is generally greater than that of an inverted with the same sponge. Depending on the thickness of the sponge it is also possible to play a chopping game with short pimples by varying the spin of the return. Whilst blocking and attacking a "dead ball" effect is often noticed. Ding Song is an exponent of this style.
4. Long pimples (or "pips"): Long pimples-out rubbers carry relatively long and soft pips. They do not have the ability to generate any real spin of their own, but feed off of the opponent's spin instead. This allows the user to confuse the opponent and upset his or her rhythm. Long pips rely on the opponent's oncoming spin, as they tend to "continue" the opponent's spin, by bending upon impact, rather than reversing or changing the spin like inverted rubbers (for example, a topspin executed by the opponent will return to him/her as a backspin after contact with the pimples). Long pips are usually used by close-to-the-table blockers, or choppers, but, in some cases, they can be used away from the table for long distance chops. They are usually only used on the backhand side, as they offer very limited attacking capabilities. Depending on the grip of the sides of the pimples and the thickness of the sponge it is also possible to play an aggressive game with long pips, although without much spin capability.
5. Anti-spin: Anti-spin rubbers may look similar to the inverted ones, but their surfaces are very slick and frictionless. Like long pimples, they cannot generate much spin. Anti-spin is also not very susceptible to the opponents oncoming spin, due to the low coefficient of friction of the rubber's surface, as well as the incredibly soft sponge, which is designed to cushion or absorb the momentum of the ball upon impact. This is also used to confuse the opponent, but is not widely used on a competitive level.