When setting out to perfect your table tennis game, the first tactical element a new player must master is their grip. All else follows from the grip; strokes, ball control, and serving are impossible to develop without a trained grip and the more strategic elements of the game will remain out of reach.
The two predominant grips in modern table tennis are theshakehand and the penhold. Often characterized as “Western” and “Eastern” grips, respectively, each has their own tactical strengths and weaknesses. There is no “best” grip in table tennis, only the grip best suited to your own strengths, weaknesses, and style of play.
We did mention the seemiller grip, as well, which has seen very little use in recent decades. Developed and popularized by table tennis champion Dan Seemiller, the seemiller grip is very well-suited to close-in block play and smashing forehand attacks, but it is weak in wide play and recovering from its powerful attacks. As the game evolved, it lost out to more flexible and responsive styles.
To close the week, we shared video from a 2011 charity tournament which featured opposing teams of shakehand and penhold players. Watching this game, and others in the series, will provide insight into the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two grips.
We hope our week of grip study helps you select the grip best suited to your strengths and style. We’ll see you next week, when we’ll take a look at some of the greatest players in the history of the game.
In 2011, Chinese coach Liu Guoliang initiated a charity tournament between two teams of popular table tennis players. One team was composed entirely of Shakehand players, the other of Penhold players. The following video is Match Four of the series, with Wang Hao (Team Penhold) vs. Timo Boll (Team Shakehand):
It’s a real treat to watch these top athletes relax and enjoy the game for a good cause.
Sometimes this grip is also referred to as the “American” grip or “Windshield Wiper” grip. This was a popular grip in the 70′s and 80′s and was used by both Dan Seemiller and Eric Boggan, who are the only American-born players to break into the world top 20 in the last 30+ years. So it is an acceptable grip.
In the last decade or so, however, this grip has slowly gone out of favor. To the best of my knowledge, there is no one currently on the world ranking list that uses this grip and there are only a few in the top 100 or so in the US.
The Seemiller is great for close-in blocking and heavy-handed returns, but is weak against wide shots to the forehand, underspins aimed wide to the backhand, and is slow to recover from its smashing forehand attack.
Because of the 12 degree distortion of the attack angle, the greater a penholder accelerates his arm (racquet) the closer the angle of the attack!
So a penhold player does not need to decrease the attack angle, because this is done automatically when he accelerates his arm with a relaxed wrist. The greater a penholder accelerates his arm, the greater the difference between actual speed of the racquet and the “edge” speed. But there is a compensation “mechanism” that does not allow the ball getting out of the edge. This “mechanism” is the closing of the attack angle of the racquet, during the acceleration.
Popovich is the inventor of a new table tennis paddle, the Popovich paddle, designed to compliment his own preferred grip and style of play.
The predominant Western table tennis grip is the Shakehand, and it is often the first grip mastered by beginning players. Ben Larcombe, a London-based table tennis coach, has a simple, accessible primer on the Shakehand grip available on his web site, “Expert Table Tennis”:
A lot of beginners try to play with two fingers on the bat, or no fingers (hammer grip). Some put their thumb up on the forehand rubber, others don’t wrap their fingers around the handle properly. Many have too big a gap between their hand and the top of the handle. I always emphasise that you should ‘shuffle/slide’ your hand up the handle until it reaches the top and then hold that grip loosely.
If you play in the Western world, chances are you will be exposed to mostly Shakehand players. It’s a powerful, simple grip with a easy switch from fore- to backhand play.
One of the first elements that any beginning player must master is a proper grip. Strokes, serves, and proper return strategy all follow from having flexible and consistent paddle control.
There is no one, perfect table tennis grip that suits everyone in all circumstances. At first, the choice of which grip to pursue is essentially arbitrary, and new players often default to using the same grip as their coach or fellow players. With time, however, they will develop their own preferred table tennis strategies and can select a grip which compliments their strengths.
This week, we’ll examine three table tennis grips: the shakehand, penhold, and seemiller, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each. By the end of the week, you should have a good idea which of these three grips best compliments your playing style, as well as the tactical strengths and weaknesses of each.
Tomorrow, we’ll start with the most common “Western” table tennis grip: the shakehand. See you then!
When you feel you’re ready, why not contact a certified referee and offer your services? They will be able to guide you as you work your way to positions of greater responsibility, over time, and can help you make the necessary connections to advance within officialdom.
Thank you again for volunteering. We hope to see you, court-side!