First of all, you’re probably wondering, “what are pips?” The term pips refers to the pimpled rubbers on table tennis rackets.
They have raised tubes in a uniform pattern (instead of a smooth surface), and different kinds of pips produce different effects when playing table tennis.
All table tennis rubbers can fall into one of three basic categories.
1.) Grippy Inverted Rubbers
What you see is what you get. If your opponent strokes the ball with a topspin stroke, the ball will be topspin to some degree or another. Same principle applies to backspin or sidespin.
2.) Recreational Rubbers, Short Pips and Long Pips with Grip
What you see is not what you get. Even though your opponent might appear to be spinning the ball, the ball will usually have no-spin.
3.) Anti-Spin Rubbers and Long-Pips without Friction
What you see is not what you get. If you impart light spin on the ball, when your opponent returns the ball (even if it appears that he is spinning) the ball will be without spin.
If you impart very heavy spin on the ball, then your opponent’s ball will have some spin coming back to you. If you impart very heavy backspin, then the ball with have some topspin coming back.
If you impart very heavy topspin, then the ball with have some backspin coming back.
The trouble that most table tennis players encounter is that they impart very little spin on the ball, then are surprised when the pips or anti-return comes back without spin. The main point that you must remember is that anti and pips don’t create spin, they just return the ball with your spin.
Advantages of pips
Low sensitivity towards incoming spin:
The reduced surface area of short pimpled rubbers means that they are far less affected by incoming spin than regular inverted rubbers.
This is particularly true for short pips rubbers with a vertical arrangement of pips.
As a consequence, it is easier to “hit through” the opponent’s spin, something that is especially advantageous on service returns. Another area that benefits from the low spin sensitivity is blocking against strong topspin.
Blocks can be played with a significantly more open bat angle with short pips than regular inverted rubbers and the low spin sensitivity allows for excellent control in ball placement.
Multiple strategies to confuse the opponent:
While not having the disruptive effect of long or medium pips, flat hits and blocks played with short pips rubbers typically produce a sink effect, i.e., a ball with a very low trajectory that remains flat after the bounce and which gives the perception of a dip.
This effect is reinforced on blocks against loops as these shots often result in slight spin reversal, i.e., backspin. The trajectory and bounce differ from regular inverted rubbers and forces the opponent to change their timing. This can result in unforced errors and easy points.
Additional confusion can arise if the short pips player uses a spinny inverted rubber on the other side of the blade as the opponent constantly needs to adapt to different trajectories and timing.
Moreover, short pips players can further confuse opponents by “twiddling” the blade mid rally. For example, changing from short pips on the backhand to short pips on the forehand.
Finally, defenders using short pips on their backhand can greatly vary the spin on their chops, ranging from no-spin floating balls to a heavy backspin ball.
Reduces the weight of paddles:
Short pip rubbers are typically 15-35% lighter than regular rubbers with similar sponge thickness which reduces the weight of a paddle by 10-20 grams per side.
The lower weight can reduce fatigue in the shoulder, forearm, and wrist. This will decrease the likelihood of injuries, something that older players, in particular, will appreciate.
Shorter strokes and faster reset:
The lower weight allows for more compact strokes and a faster reset (i.e., return to the starting position), which increases the likelihood of being in the correct position for the subsequent shot.
Simplifies game style.
Given that short pips are not particularly useful for topspin shots or mid to long distance attacking (chopping, especially with thin sponges, is the necessary stroke here), this results in a simplification of a player’s game style.
Generally, short pip players adopt an aggressive style comprised of flat hits, aggressive blocking, and pushes when needed.
Disadvantages of pips
Topspin and mid distance play:
The decreased grip of short pips rubbers renders it difficult to generate topspin and lift low balls. Short pip players are, therefore, often forced to make pushes or soft “rolling hits” against long and very flat backspin balls unless they time their flat shots perfectly.
For the same reason, banana flicks are difficult to execute with short pimpled rubbers. Also, it is difficult for short pip players to generate powerful shots from mid to long distance.
Such shots require topspin to generate the necessary ball trajectory that brings the ball over the net with a kicking bounce. Short pip players typically must resort to well timed flat hits or chops.
Timing is critical:
Given the above, it is essential to hit the ball near or at the top of the bounce to make a successful flat hit, flick, or block. This, in turn, places significant demands on correct footwork and positioning.
The margin for error is smaller than with regular inverted rubbers, which can become more obvious in tense game situations, where the adrenaline is flowing and muscles are tightening up.
A little bit too early and the ball goes into the net. A little bit too late or too high and the ball goes long.
Due to the decreased spin, short pushes tend to pop up a little bit higher than with inverted rubbers, which might give opponents a chance to attack.