As you progress in the development of your table tennis skills, you will have a larger reliance on spin as a key weapon.
Not only is it useful for attacking strokes. It’s also useful to deploy as a defensive stroke that can help turn defence into attack.
Here we take a look at how to effectively play and return spin strokes and the best time to use it.
What is Spin?
In table tennis, when a ball spins while bouncing on the table, it can manipulate the trajectory of the ball.
As the ball rotates in midair, differences in air pressure cause the ball to curve and dip. Once the ball makes contact with the table, the underlying rotation and air pressure also causes the ball to either speed up or slow down.
This can make returning the ball difficult for an opponent for a couple of reasons.
- The first is that it makes it difficult to anticipate the direction of the ball after it bounces on the table.
- The second is that after connecting with the opponents paddle, the ball will bounce off in a different direction. Unlike a flat shot where there is no spin on the ball.
So essentially, players use spin to deceive their opponent. But it is also used to slow a game down and buy yourself time to get back in position.
Types of Spin
In principle, there are 3 main variations of spin stroke which we will cover.
There are however a variety of ways these strokes can be applied. These are more advanced techniques and are not covered here.
How to Return Spin Shots and Serves
Being able to return spin serves and shots is more important the more skilled your opponent is.
You can achieve this by ensuring your body is in the correct position to make the return and adjusting your paddle to the correct angle.
When practising returning spin serves, focus on how the ball leaves your paddle. You’ll need to make the necessary adjustments to the paddle angle to correct the trajectory of the ball.
Returning Backspin (underspin) strokes
Backspin strokes will move downward off the paddle, so you’ll need to tilt the paddle in an upward angle.
Returning Topspin (overspin) strokes
Topspin strokes will bounce upward off the paddle, so you’ll need to tilt the paddle in a more downward angle.
Returning Sidespin strokes
With sidespin strokes, the ball will shoot out sideways. So you’ll need to adjust the angle of the paddle to counter the direction the ball is spinning towards.
It’s vital to practice returning each type of spin stroke. This will help ensure you can read the opponents serving motion to detect which type of spin they use. This will also give you a feel for how each spin stroke reacts when connecting with your paddle.
After several rounds of practice you will find the best angle to position your paddle. Once you have it, then continue to repeat the motion until it becomes natural.
The type of paddle and rubber you use will also have a big impact on how the ball will react after it connects with the paddle. You can check out our guide to ping pong paddles to find out more.
Playing Spin Shots
Being able to play spin shots correctly is an advanced skill, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t pick it up right away.
We do recommend getting a handle of the basic skills first before training for spin. Read our gameplay tips for ping pong beginners and guidelines on how to serve correctly to refresh the basics.
Playing a Topspin Shot
The most common offensive stroke in table tennis is topspin. Playing a topspin stroke will mean the ball will curve down towards the table.
Using topspin, players can apply large amounts of power to the stroke. Instead of flying off the table (as it would with a flat stroke), the ball curves down to bounce on the table.
To begin practising the topspin shot, we recommend starting with the forehand stroke. The backhand topspin shot is harder to master.
How to execute a topspin shot:
- Start with your paddle low, and below the ball.
- As the ball approaches, wait for it to bounce.
- As the ball is at a high enough position, move your arm and forearm upwards and strike the ball with your paddle at an acute angle (80 degrees).
- The ball will begin to curve downwards and will pick up speed after it bounces off the table.
- Now it’s up to your opponent to counter. If they don’t judge your spin, they’ll make an error in returning the shot.
Playing a Backspin Shot
Commonly referred to as the slice, the backspin stroke is normally played as a defensive shot.
Playing a backspin stroke will help slow the game down. This buys you time to get back into position and back in the rally.
Backspin strokes typically make the ball bounce back towards you after connecting with the table. Opposite to topspin, the ball will slow down after it bounces.
Depending on how much spin is applied, it can be effective at putting an opponent off their game.
How to execute a backspin stroke:
- Start your stroke higher than the ball.
- At its highest point, strike the ball moving from a high to low position as quickly as possible. You’re looking to have a similar acute angle as the topspin but the direction is diagonal.
- Strike the ball at its lower side while still applying some forward pressure, as if you’re slicing downward.
- With a lot of spin, you can prevent the ball from bouncing forward and can even make it bounce backwards to your direction.
Ping skills have a useful video on learning topspin and backspin strokes.
Playing a Sidespin Shot
Sidespin strokes move from left to right, or vice versa. They’re a little trickier to detect, but the ball will make a low curve in the air with sidespin.
The stroke is more challenging to master than both topspin and backspin. Although if played correctly, it can be a great attacking and defensive weapon.
There are two main ways of playing a sidespin stroke.
How to execute a sidespin push shot
- With an open faced paddle facing your opponent, move the paddle sideways away from your body – either left or right.
- Depending on which way you go you will generate the resulting sidespin.
How to execute a sidespin pull shot
- With an open faced paddle, move it towards your body when hitting the ball.
- This will normally generate a larger amount of sidespin.
We’ve covered some basics of playing the main three spin strokes in table tennis. We cannot stress enough that it will take some time to get it right and the only way to master the spin is to practice, practice, practice!
As you build your skills, we encourage you to experiment and apply these strokes against your opponents spin strokes. You’ll need to pay even more attention to the angles of your paddle and body position. But with practice you’ll become a ping pong game room pro in no time!
Don’t forget that having the right paddle can make a lot of difference. You can check some of the spin ratings of some of our favourite paddles available right now.