One of the main reasons for Timo Bolls ongoing success among the top players in the world — even his world rank no.1 – is for sure his excellent topspin technique on both sides.
“Both sides” in this case does not refer to his spectacular change of hands during rallies, but rather the heavy topspin play the left hander brings flawlessly to the table.
The number of players using both forehand and backhand for powerful topspins has increased a lot over the last years. Timo Boll has been doing this all along so he can be considered a prototype for this style.
That is why we have asked Timo to sit down with us and demonstrate his technique on his famous topspin play. So sit back and enjoy the demonstration and have fun trying for yourself!
Bolls two main techniques on answering topspins
In professional table tennis, a lot depends on a player’s ability to o answer offensively to topspins. With Timo Boll, we can see two distinct techniques.
First we have the slower and heavier topspins – often on short push from the opponent.
On the other side there is the fast and hard topspin played on an opponent’s topspin.
Pattern 1: Playing against a spinny topspin
The following pictures demonstrate a pattern that is fairly typical to Timo Boll. After pushing back the shot from his opponent and allowing him to attack first, Timo waits in the open stance in order to answer with his own topspin. This technique is all about reading the opponents’ spin.
Click on the first picture to enlarge.
Pattern 2: Playing against fast topspins
Important for modern table tennis is not only the ability to answer opening topspins, but also to respond to a fast topspin of the opponent. The following gallery shows Timo staying offensive and reacting with his own topspin. His focus is mainly on speed rather than spin. We will have a more detailed look at his technique later on.
Timo encourages us:
“Many non-professional players might think this is extremely difficult. But even if the technique differs slightly from shot to shot, there are some tipps that everyone can follow. If you practice this technique, it’s quite easy to learn all of a sudden.”
Forehand Topspin on heavy rotation
Let’s look at the exact movement when Timo Boll plays his topspin on heavy rotation. We pay special attention to the angle of the racket and the direction of the stroke. Pictures say more than words..
This gallery is the same shot from the front angle
Things to observe in the back swing
It is crucial to increase the distance to the table right after returning the serve to have enough space in order to play a topspin. As a lefthander, you move your left leg back to the right, keeping the upper body a bit flexed forward and turn the body and arm sideways for the swingback.
Things to observe in the shot
For Timo’s Topspin, he pays attention to moving the racket from the back to the front, mostly avoiding vertical movement as best as possible. The stroke is then supported by turning of the hip and wrist.
“Hitting the ball at the highest bounce is very important, it makes it easier to control the spin. Do not try to hit against the ball, but stroke it on the upper quadrant. Crucial is the timing: not too early, not too late.”
Backhand topspin on heavy rotation
If we take a look at the following picture gallery, we see Timo Boll answering topspins with his backhand:
The Swing back
Timo Boll imagines the shot and tells us:
“After returning the serve, I try to step away from the table to have more room to move, keeping the upper body tightened and a little flexed forward. During the swing back I keep the elbow elevated, turning a bit to the side and flex the wrist inwards until the tip of the racket points directly at me.”
“If one does not full pull through the shot with determination, it becomes very hard to deal with the rotation of the opponent’s shot. Especially on the backhand topspin this is crucial in order to produce enough momentum” Boll adds.
Let’s look at the swing back
At the shot itself, one hits the ball in front of the body, powering it from the lower arm and wrist. The perfect shot come from the balance between good stance, the angle of the racket and the position of the upper body as well as perfect timing. After the swingback, the Düsseldorf player aims for the upper left quadrant (as a lefthander) and deliberately keeps the racket closed.
“In comparison to the forehand technique, I try to hit the ball much earlier, during the up-bounce.”
Hitting fast topspins with the forehand
Answering a fast topspin with your own fast shot is a skill which every professional players has to have. This technique requires fast on-the-fly thinking and is considered to be very difficult to execute.
With the following examples of Timo Boll, it might just seem a bit easier to practice this technique. Let’s look at the next two galleries, demonstrating the shot. As usual, pay special attention to the racket and upper body of Timo.
The swing back
Timos base stance includes an open racket, held in front of his body, keeping tension in the upper body. Then he pulls his body and hips just a little to the right and swings back – more to the back than down.
“The swing back is much shorter against fast shots – just to save time”
The speed is what makes the shot controllable in the first place. In order to produce high speed, there is by design very little spin on the shot. That makes it much easier to deal with and allows a player to use the power against the opponent – once you are comfortable to deal with the power.
“The whole trick is to simply focus on your own movement and ignore pretty much everything else. At first, just aim for the other side of the table, do not try different placements.”
After the swingback, Timo Boll uses a short and explosive movement, hitting the upper part of the ball. The timing once again is essential: Hitting the ball on the up-bounce, and keeping the racket closed.
“I only support the shot with my lower arm and wrist, only “guiding” the ball back to the table. Important again is to close the racket and hit “OVER” the ball, not against it.”
“The shot already has enough speed, I only focus on executing the movement properly.”
We can see Timo here, demonstrating this technique in the following gallery.
The fact of the matter is: Do not be afraid of the shot and practice makes perfect..
Fast Topspins answered with the backhand
Often, it is much easier to deal with a fast topspin using the block shot. With that technique you cannot produce power yourself and more often than not – you are reduced to the passive role. So it makes sense to be able to answer that shot with a backhand topspin as well.
Let’s look at Timo and his technique:
The Swing back
Timo focuses on these points:
- Keeping the racket closed and the elbow up
- Do not bend the wrist too much
- Focus on a secure stance to increase stability
- Focus the ball
- Hit the ball early on the up-bounce
Because there is not much spin on the ball, you need to hit it a bit upwards, so it will not hit the net. This is the main difference to the loop-spin mentioned above.
“After the swing back, I try to hit the ball early and lift the racket a bit to the top, keeping a stable stance throughout. It is very important to guide the lower arm and wrist towards the other side of the table.”
The more one practices the shot, the more stable it gets. It makes it easier to try out the counter-topspin in a competitive match. It will get much easier in time, Timo knows this from experience.
This is the overall shot.
Comparison between the two techniques
The difference is best spotted in the swing back and racket stance.
Loop spin on forehand
Fast spin on forehand
Loop spin on backhand
Fast spin on backhand
Have fun practicing!
(Translation of the Japanese original text to German and editorial adaptation by Frank Völler. Translation into English by Sebastian Hallen)