Table Tennis Grip and handle shape
I was asked by an international player if I could provide my opinion and thoughts regarding table tennis grip and the handle shape? And does the grip or handle shape affect our backhand and forehand strokes?
I’m not going to lie, I’m not an expert in equipment but I am a great believer in having the best tools to maximise your potential.
I’m also a stickler when it comes to marginal gains and constantly look for that one extra Inch in gains…
As a player, I always played with a flared handle. When I started coaching top international table tennis players I noticed a trend in straight handles. So, decided to try it out and quickly adapted, I still play competitively on occasion and must keep up with the trends and changes of the game. The straight handle allowed me to develop my backhand!
My findings and thoughts:
Personally, I have a slight grip change, a straight handle allowed me to flip from backhand to forehand easily. The only time I’m unable to grip change is if someone has hit the ball at me very fast, with a quick change of direction. This is where I would block or attempt to just get the ball back into play (not ideal or consistent).
Playing with a flared handle my grip was off neutral alignment which enabled my forehand to be the more dominant side. My backhand was punchier and lacked control furthermore it was limited in terms of open-ups and topspin shots. When I changed to a straight handle, my forehand became less hooky and I developed a more solid all-around backhand.
Table tennis has evolved since I began mid to late 90’s. Back then forehands alone were good enough to win you a world title. Today without a backhand you’re effectively handicapped.
So how does, the handle and grip affect your game?
What I do know,
– If you make a tight fist your forearm rotation is reduced by 5-10%
– The Chinese Ma Long, Fan Zhendong etc. use a flared handles
– Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov play with a straight handle, note Timo has a big grip change.
– Your hand size also plays a key factor
– The blade and grip influences your backhand and forehand
What I don’t know,
– The science behind the grip and blade, meaning if you took a group of players and scientifically measured results would their results differ? Us humans are remarkable and we mould, change and adapt to our environment. So, if you did tests and found a slight change in power/speed/spin, would those results change after 6 months of practice with a new blade or grip?
– Does the same blade with a different handle give you more power/speed/spin? Possibly with the grip, yes but does the handle change the above? (Unkown) and if so, will the stats change after a practised time scale?!
– Is there a correct or incorrect grip? Timo Boll was World no.1 and currently no.3 with a technically incorrect grip! Waldner had grip changes and is still regarded as one of the all-time table tennis greats (greatest in my book).
– Should a grip be individualised? Meaning we all have different hand shapes and different styles, should we mould our grips and handles to suit our individual needs? In a perfect world YES
A grip is important and I often try to implement a traditional grip for all my players. But I have and still pull back at times when I see a player developing their game with resistance to my grip proposal. I’ve seen top players such as Patrick Chila have an extreme grip which saw his hand halfway down the handle. Now some would argue that he was never a world champion but others would argue he was a top 20 in the world player. This can be argued both ways, if his grip was better he may have been a top 10 players or possibly vice versa?! Who knows? The answer is he reached top 20 in the world with a technically incorrect handle grip.
Is the handle that important?
I think it makes a difference, yes and I believe there are pros and cons and arguments for and against. I know we’ve had World and Olympic Champions who used all three different shaped handles; Pen-hold, flare and straight!
Therefore in my humble opinion, your table tennis grip is important in allowing you to execute certain technical strokes and personal execution. But it will not fully determine your capabilities.
The blade handle regardless of shape has had champions and therefore is inconclusive. We mould and shape our future regardless of the surrounding.
If anyone has any scientific data or opinions on this matter it’s welcomed.
Written by Eli Baraty
eBaTT (Eli Baraty Academy of Table Tennis)
Coach Me Table Tennis