www.tomveatch.com / Table Tennis

V grip Wrist Control

By Tom Veatch
January 21, 2003


Forehand stroke? Palm Up!

Here's a tip for V grip players which seems to be worth one or two hundred rating points (USATT system).

On the forehand, keep your palm up throughout the stroke.

Do not pronate your forearm (rotate it about its long axis) during the stroke.

History: On January 11, 10 days ago, I spent a couple of hours hitting with a robot and hitting a box of balls by dropping each vertically a few inches from the table and stroking against a dead ball hanging in the air, and I discovered an important principle that has made a big difference in my play in the last week and a half.

I have achieved a number of personal bests (winning table 2 in the round robins at both the Bellevue and Olympic table tennis clubs; no upset losses, achieving a couple of match points against Randall Ly (2113), and victories over Raymond Lock (1911), Rodney Lock (1687), Roel Aguanta (1746), Gary Stonecipher (1745), and Chris Solomon (1904), all players that I haven't beaten either ever or not recently. (ratings as of 11/8/02).
If you keep your palm up throughout the windup and contact and follow-through, the paddle orientation becomes solidly stabilized in terms of the altitude of the ball trajectory bouncing off your paddle. Unconscious adjustments of shoulder and perhaps the meaning of "palm up" are sufficient to handle any variation in incoming spin, from dead to heavy topspin; instead, the mental image during the stroke is a consistent one of keeping the hand palm up throughout the stroke.

Think of rattling a handful of marbles in your cupped palm. The primary V grip wrist motions of major and minor wrist-joint adduction/abduction (handshaking and hand-patting) can be made fairly freely without restriction, but just don't turn your forearm over from palm-up to palm-down or even palm-forward.

Don't forget to keep your paddle-side shoulder down! I spent a frustrating day playing yesterday, 7 hours, until around halfway through I realized that my paddle-side shoulder was high. I had been thinking about keeping my hand flat, which was great, but I had forgotten about keeping my shoulder down. Big Mistake! I played terribly until I figured out what I was doing; afterwards I beat Viktor Sidorov 3-1 at the Green Lake TTC, who is presently rated about 300 points above me.

Backhand loop? Make a stiff whip!

On the backhand also, keep your palm in a fixed orientation throughout the stroke. In this case it is palm down rather than palm up.

Before I figured out "Palm Up on Forehand" I had been working on backhand wrist control. I took a box of balls, bounced each on the end of the table, a dead, short, vertical bounce, and hit it with the backhand, using a small wrist stroke, to learn the how to let the hand whip.

Do 300 balls flat, with the palm down but pay attention to how loose or tight the wrist is. There should be some whipping effect as the forearm's stroke forward (NOT rotating around the long axis of the forearm!!) applies tension to the wrist in the initial part of the stroke, which is releases through the point of contact. But try to keep some stiffness in the handshaking motion of the joint, and do not bend the major joint very much; too much bend there destabilizes things too, unless you really want to spin heavily; the counterdriving backhand stroke should have a fairly straight wrist even at the windup endpoint). Keep the palm down, but you can open/close the minor wrist joint in the hand-shaking dimension (or in this context, better to think of wiping a table with a small wrist motion, palm down), to slap the ball flat. This makes a huge improvement in backhand counter-driving, which is the foundation of everything on the backhand.

Then hit 300 table-bounced balls with heavy topspin, again palm down, but with as much wrist motion in BOTH wrist joint axes (NOTforearm rotation about its long axis!). Again, whip it. Maybe 300 balls isn't enough. By this time you should be able to make an efficient wrist whip that is an effective kill loop.

Now that you have gotten some touch with a ball trajectory that is easy to synchronize your whipping motion to intersect correctly, your job is to learn how to do that same wrist motion as part of a big full-body stroke, against a much different ball bounce. It's a big world of differences. But the wrist whip with palm down should survive the learning process.

Against underspin, drop the hand below your knees in the windup; during the stroke your upper arm should move early to a horizontal position, extended straight in front of your shoulder, early in the stroke, body almost in a sitting position, leaning back; then the forearm whips strongly up and out. Spread out the wrist's whipping motion in time throughout the bigger body movements, so that they all move as an integrated whole, each accentuating the other. I have to re-emphasize even here, even at this point in the stroke, do NOT rotate the forearm about its axis! At the end of the stroke, your opponent should see the top of your paddle, not the bottom or side of it.

Using the Wrist

Simplicity is progress, it seems. I always wondered, How will the pronation of the forearm fit into the mechanics of the V grip? And the simple answer is, it doesn't. To paraphrase the Nike advertisement: Just DON'T do it!

This solves two major problems: blade angle, and point of contact location.

First, blade angle varies as the forearm rotates about its axis. If the player doesn't rotate the forearm, the blade angle is stabilized.

Assuming the forearm is horizontal and the wrist straight, the altitude of the rebounding ball varies as the forearm rotates about its axis), so the exact angle of rotation must be matched to the exact point of contact in order to hit the ball with an accurate altitude. This is quite difficult and a major source of instability. If the wrist is bent quite a bit, then forearm rotation can be used to apply power to the ball, but again perfect timing is required, and instability is the result.

Second, point of contact varies as the forearm rotates about its axis.

Assuming that the forearm is horizontal and that the incoming ball trajectory is also horizontal (perpendicular to the forearm, but perhaps crossing above or below the line of the axis of the forearm: if the wrist is bent, or even if the ball simply contacts the paddle anywhere other than the straight line down the axis of the forearm (that is, anywhere along its sides), then the rotation of the forearm about its axis will result in a different location in space of the point of contact with the ball, where the ball's trajectory intersects with the paddle. Easily the point of contact can slop around in a segment of the ball's trajectory of one inch (2cm) or even as many as three inches (8cm) in length.

Since top level players complain about balls that aren't completely round, presumeably because of the millimeter differences in the location of the point of contact produced by hitting a non-round ball on its flat spot, this kind of variation is a huge detriment to stable play. And indeed my feeling as a player is very clear: remove forearm rotation from the equation, and play becomes much more simple, easy and intuitive. My "mysterious fly ball" problem is vastly reduced.

So use my advice, don't spend the time I spent doing the wrong thing. And let me know if it helped.


Copyright © 2003 Thomas C. Veatch.