MASTERING THE FOREHAND LOOP
Written by Sean Lonergan
Above: The forehand loop demonstrated by Freddie Gabriel
The forehand loop is the most dynamic and powerful shot in table tennis, and when learned properly can be the foundation for your game. In earlier Paddle Palace publications I have written about serve and serve return. Next, you have to know what to do when somebody returns your serve. The key to learning the loop is to try to relate it to other sports. I know this may sound funny coming from a high-level table tennis player, but to me this is the way to approach it. If you just think of it as a table tennis technique you may not emphasize using your entire body as you should. The key sports that I relate the loop to are the tennis forehand, the baseball swing and the golf swing. Letâ€™s look at these.
Imagine a Mark McGuire or Ken Griffey home run. Would it be possible for them to hit the ball this far without getting all of their body into the swing by using their legs, waist turn, and stomach muscles. Imagine a Tiger Woodâ€™s drive without shifting his weight, or an Andre Agassi forehand without coming off the ground and meeting the ball early. These ideas should all be used in executing your loop.
First off, I will go over the loop against backspin. The loop against topspin requires more speed and less spin, but weâ€™ll get into those differences later.
When you loop against backspin, what is the most important thing in determining the strength of your loop? The answer is the ability to push off one leg and land on the other and get that force to go into the ball, either in terms of spin or speed. For more spin, you simply hit less of the ball (graze it) and aim more upward. For more speed, your weight transfers up and through the ball and your racket hits more of the ball (less grazing motion) to generate power.
When I was younger, the two things that really stuck in my mind was Danny Seemillerâ€™s description of what a loop should be like. He said to imagine that you are trying to throw a brick over a ten-foot wall. You canâ€™t do this with your arm alone. You crouch and get all of your leg strength into it. The second important thing I learned from Danny is balance. When you loop you have to get as much body strength into the ball as you can and still be ready to hit another shot. These are the major aspects of the stroke; next weâ€™ll break it down into its various segments.
When you loop against underspin the first thing you must do is get your body in position so that you have the balance to put all of your weight on your back foot. Once you see where the ball is going and have moved enough to have the time and balance to shift your weight, you should think about getting your leg back. I like to say that your two feet should be at a roughly forty-five degree angle in relation to the table when you are starting your loop. If you have more time you may be able to turn wider; if you have less you may have to cut down your body turn.
Once you have your body positioned you should bring you racket back from your ready position as your hips turn back at the same time. The ready position may vary from player to player, but roughly you should have your arm and hand relaxed and in front of your body around stomach level. The key to this movement and the reason why so many Chinese players are so good, in my opinion, is to keep this waist turn extremely efficient.
By doing this you generate the most power. In other words, if you keep your waist turn in as small of a circle as possible without having your hips sway one way or the other, you have succeeded. So with your waist you want to turn, transfer your weight back to one leg, and bring your arm back all at the same time. Who said table tennis was easy!
When you loop you should have your shoulders roughly squared to the table at the start and then rotate them roughly 90 degrees back, and end up facing the table again. The more rotation, the more power and the more your arm can stay relaxed and whip through the ball. This means that your upper body is rotating more than your legs. A good loop should have roughly twice as much rotation in the upper body so as to really wind up and uncoil on release. Once you understand how important rotation is to successful looping then you can focus on other aspects.
With your arm, the key to getting acceleration is both in being relaxed and explosive. Now this may sound like a contradiction and in a way it is. In order to loop well your wrist and arm must move at incredible speeds but must be relaxed. How does this happen? I think I am still personally searching for this perfect combination of relaxation and power, but what I have discovered thus far is that the legs must start the motion. If your arm starts the stroke, then you will not be able to generate power and spin. If you start by moving your legs in a way so as to throw your arm into the stroke, then your loop will fall into place. It is very important to start the stroke with your legs, as well as to start with your right shoulder slightly lower than your left shoulder. When starting your backswing, make sure your wrist is relaxed, and bring your arm back with your waist until your arm has straightened out and is slightly behind your right knee. Some players may not open their arm completely, and this gives them good control, but to get the most power out of your loop you need to open your arm as much as possible.
Once you have your arm back near your knee you have completed your backswing. Your shoulders should be roughly perpendicular to the table at this point and your body should feel somewhat coiled up. Now you should start the forward part of the stroke by pushing off your right leg and sending your arm upward and forward. Your arm and wrist should snap upwards and you should contact the ball when your arm is in the middle of its snap at a ninety degree bend in your elbow. You should contact the ball at the top of the bounce or slightly after the top depending on the amount of power or spin you need. After contact your arm should follow through by having your elbow come more forward and your paddle ending either in front of your head or upper-chest depending on your height. If you were to look in a mirror at this point your arm should also be around a forty-five degree angle. Your elbow should be spaced far enough from your body so that your arm would fall naturally into a backhand without having to adjust your elbow too much.
When looping, your head position is also important. Your head should start low in relation to the table, and end high. This visible way of seeing your head in relation to the table is one way to make sure you are generating upward force. One of the things I have noticed on tapes is that while top players have a lot of different ways of looping, they all have in common the waist turn and the body (and head) moving upwards.
Another important point to be aware of when you are looping is that you should try to have both eyes follow the ball - in other words, turn your head! Again relating it to baseball, players have a harder time hitting the ball if the head isnâ€™t turned enough to see the ball with both eyes. The same thing holds true in table tennis - try it and see.
Some typical problems that you should watch out for are as follows. If your loop doesnâ€™t seem to get enough spin you should try to graze the ball more. For more power, loop more at the top of the bounce; for more spin, loop slightly after the top of the bounce. Consider the arc of your loop. If you need more spin try to have the ball clear the net by at least six inches so that you have to create enough spin to pull the ball down.
What if there is sidespin on your loop? If your loop tends to hook (curve left) or fade (curve right), it isnâ€™t necessarily bad. A slight hook is natural if your wrist is relaxed, a fade usually means you are coming across your body on the follow through rather than forward and in front of your head. If you hook a lot, try to focus on hitting squarely on the back of the ball and make sure your wrist is straight at the start of your loop. Hooking and fading are useful, but should be used after you have developed your base loop and are able to do this intentionally.
DIFFERENCES FOR LOOPING AGAINST TOPSPIN
If you are looping against topspin instead of underspin the same concepts all apply. The main difference is that you wonâ€™t have as much time to prepare, so your stroke must become more compact. You will also start your swing about half way between your waist and knee rather than around your knee. Your weight shift should be more forward and your racket should contact close to the top of the ball rather than the back of it. The timing is still the same; for more power loop at the top of the bounce and for more spin a little later. The key is to remember to get as much body into it as you can but be faster at recovering from the shot. Make everything more compact, and you should be ready to try looping topspin as well as underspin.
Courtesy of Paddle Palace
Last Update : 06 November, 2002
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