The Axis

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

A table tennis ball has no fixed axis in itself. But once it spins, an axis will naturally come into being.

A table tennis ball can produce three kinds of basic axes, topspin, backspin or sidespin to left or right. Rarely however do you get pure spin on just one axis, almost always there is a combination of spins, topspin and sidespin, sidespin and backspin. Quite often one spin will predominate but there will be more than one present. This is because very few of us play ‘pure’ strokes, we loop for example but not just with topspin, our stroke incorporates an element of sidespin, sometimes more sometimes less. Occasionally we get ‘float’ balls almost completely without spin, where you can clearly see the ‘trademark’ on the ball in flight, (if you watch the ball at the right time, not after the bounce when the ball will ‘acquire’ topspin).

The fact that the ball has an axis also means that there are two places on the ball, the two ‘poles’, where there is no spin even on the most viciously spinning ball. This is particularly useful information, because if you are able to make use of the ‘poles’ in your stroke play, you can in fact bypass the spin. If you can play a short sidespin serve at the pole underneath, then you can return all the server’s spin. Or if for example you have just killed a ball wide out to the opponent’s backhand and he chops it back to the middle with extreme backspin, you can bypass the spin by driving the ball with your forehand to the opponent’s forehand corner. By playing to the forehand you hit the ball near to the pole, if you played back to the backhand you would strike the ball on the ‘equator’ or the area of most spin.

The variation in axes is what causes the biggest problem when playing against long pimple or anti-loop rubbers. You serve for example with immense sidespin and backspin — the opponent pushes the ball back but because his or her racket doesn’t affect the spin on the ball, you get a topspin return with a sidespin kick and you wonder what has happened! In fact you just got your own spin back. You get topspin back because your backspin remains on the ball (if the opponent returns the ball, without changing the spin, then it must come back with topspin because the ball continues to spin in the same direction) and you get the same sidespin back as you initiated.