When I changed this summer to using long pips seriously, viz. in competition, I found the wide variety of long pips rubbers combined with the lack of precise information as to their various properties or how to make use of them made it hard, not to say frustrating, to decide which rubber to choose for a specific purpose. I tried to find out more about it all in order to clear things up, at least for myself. Here, I wrote it down. It is about how I understand long pips to work, and how their properties influence the way the ball is returned, as this gave me a general idea about how a certain type of rubber could be used. I have added a brief description of the rubbers I have used.
To get a complete understanding of how long pips work I would have had to discern between and establish precisely the properties of the tips of the pips and the sides of the pips, their length and elasticity, and the properties of the sponge. That proved to be hopeless. Precise information is not to be had. And at that, it seems these factors interact in a complicated way which makes the outcome of the interaction hard to predict. So I decided that, since I would only want to be able to make a general choice between types, it would suffice to know about the properties of the pips themselves.
I reasoned like this. When a ball makes contact with the rubber and nothing else is happening, the first thing it makes contact with is the surface of the tips of the pips. On contact two things can happen: friction will be produced when the surface is ribbed or sticky, and almost no friction is produced if the surface is smooth and non-sticky.
First case. If friction with the tip is produced on contact, the rotation (spin) of the ball will force the entire pip to bend in the direction of the rotation. Reacting to this deformation, the pip will flip back again (because of their elasticity) in the opposite direction to resume its original form; in doing so, its side will now make contact with the ball and, because of the friction this is producing, the rotation of the ball will be reduced. The degree of reduction depends on, a) the friction the sides and the tips of the pips make (more friction will result in more reduction), b) the degree to which the pips will bend and flip back (the stiffer the pips are, the less they will bend and flip back, resulting in less reduction of rotation), c) the elastic force the pips produce (greater elastic force will result in more reduction), d) the length of the pips (the longer they are, the more reduction), e) the number of pips per square centimeter, and f) the influence of the sponge (a dynamic sponge will add to the speed with which the pips flip back; if the top-sheet is glued to the sponge with tension, the same will be the case).
This means that if you hold out your bat and just passively block a topspin ball with long pips which have grippy tips and sides as well as good elasticity, the pips will flip back and – ideally - stop the topspin, so you will be returning a no-spin (dead) ball. However, the ball will also tend to bounce upwards from your bat, because of the friction – the same as it would with an inverted rubber, only to a lesser degree; so you have to close your bat if you want the ball to go low over the net. A backspin ball will be returned dead too, but will tend to drop off your bat (again, as with inverted rubber), so you will have to open your bat. A sidespin ball will be returned dead, but tend to travel sideways from your rubber, so you’ll have to compensate for that by angling your bat.
Second case. If the tip of the pip is smooth and non-sticky and hence on contact a very small amount of friction is produced, the rotation of the ball will hardly force the pip to bend; and the braking-effect of the pip flipping back will hardly be there. The rotation will continue and for your opponent the spin he gave will be reversed. The degree of reversal will depend on the same set of factors mentioned above.
This means that if you hold out your bat and just passively block a topspin ball with long pips which have less grippy tips, you will be returning a backspin ball. The ball will not tend to bounce upwards much from your bat, because of the relative absence of friction, so you do not have to close your bat if you want the ball to go low over the net. A backspin ball will be returned as a topspin ball and will not tend to drop off your bat much, so you will not have to open your bat much. A sidespin ball will be returned reversed too, and not tend to travel sideways from your rubber much, so you won’t have to compensate much for that by angling your bat.
Things may change when, if a rotating ball is making contact with the tips of the pips, the pips are in motion in the direction of the rotation or against the direction of the rotation.
If the tips are grippy and move in the direction of the rotation (for example when you are chopping a topspin ball or looping a backspin ball) and this motion isn’t faster than the rotation, nothing much will change as compared to passive blocking – the ball will still bend the pips. But if the motion is faster than the rotation and the tips are grippy, you yourself will bend the pips in the direction opposite to the rotation of the ball; now, when the pips flip back, they will add to the rotation. How much they will add will depend on the same set of factors mentioned above plus the speed of the hand. In practice, this means that you will have to chop faster (using more wrist) in order to add spin to a ball if your pips are grippier. That is why long pips with grippy tips are more difficult (technically demanding) to play with. It also means that the faster your hand-motion is, the more spin you can add (depending on the properties of the rubber; especially the degree of grippiness and elastic force, and the sponge thickness).
In contrast, if the tips are smooth and non sticky, bending the pips in the direction opposite to the rotation does not require great speed of hand; you do not have to be faster than the ball, because the ball doesn’t has much grip on the pips. This is why long pips with smooth tips are easier (technically less demanding) to play with. On the other hand, as there isn’t much friction, it is harder to bend the pips at all; so to bend them fully and profit fully of the spin-adding effect when they flip back, you still do have to move your bat fast, grazing the ball.
As for the factors influencing the degree of reduction or addition of spin, when the pips flip back, it is primarily their sides which make friction. Therefore, pips with more grippy sides will generally neutralize more spin on passive blocking and add more spin on chopping or looping.
Most of the available LP’s do have grippy sides, but there are exceptions (for instance Hallmark Phoenix). On passive blocking these pips will bend with the rotation of the ball and flip back doing nothing much; as a result the rubber is pretty much insensitive to incoming spin, which will be reversed well. With active blocks, or chops, or drives, very little spin will be added, but a lot of spin will – again – be reversed. A rubber like this wouldn’t differ much from an anti-spin rubber if it wouldn’t be glued onto a special kind of sponge (as the Phoenix is). Its sponge is thick and soft, which means the ball can dig into it if you let it or force it to, and in that case friction is increased because contact is made with a much bigger part of the ball. So, blocking while moving the rubber into the direction of the ball (which makes the ball dig in at contact), will have a similar result as passive blocking with pips that have grippy sides. The same is true for chopping and driving; spin can be added as the ball digs in. However, the player needs to be able to make contact with the ball both very lightly (so the ball doesn’t dig into the sponge) and very firmly (so the ball does dig in) at will. This means a rubber like this is difficult to control (and hence suitable mostly for technically advanced players). The same is true for rubbers with soft sponges in general, but – since with them the difference is greater when a soft sponge is added - a rubber with pips that have smooth tips and grippy sides will become relatively more difficult to control on such a sponge than an already technically demanding rubber with pips that have grippy tips and sides.
From this I concluded that for styles which have to focus on control (for instance blocking close to the table or chopping away from the table), rubbers with pips that have smooth tips and grippy sides, without sponge or with thin and hard sponge, are the more obvious choice. Sponges that are very elastic and hence can add to the speed of the ball (instead of cushioning it), like the sponges Galaxy uses for its Neptune, Dawei for its 388D-1 Quattro, and Friendship for their Mystery-I versions of 755 and 837, may add a bit to the effect the long pips have because they may help – on the rebound – the pips to flip back. As the degree of assistance will vary with the degree of compression of the sponge on impact (that is, how much the ball digs in), this is a factor which demands great technical skill to control. If a player needs more forward speed on his returns, either because he wants to be able to produce fast returns when blocking or because he needs to be able to return the ball from a great distance, he can get it with much more control from a rubber without sponge that is faster on its own.
All in all, it seemed to me a rubber on no sponge with pips that have smooth tips would be easiest and therefore safest to use; I would get most reversal with pips that have little grip (either the tips or the sides or both); and I'd be able to add spin with pips that have good grip (more so if apart from the sides also the tips of the pips are grippy).
The next thing to know was what I needed for the strokes I would be using.
For defensive blocking close to the table a rubber needs to be pretty insensitive to incoming spin and give good reversal, which (based on what I tried to figure out above) implies smooth tips and not too grippy sides.
For aggressive blocking close to the table a rubber needs to be usable for manipulating spin, which implies grippy tips and or grippy sides; sponge will help.
For safe hitting through spin a rubber needs to be pretty insensitive to incoming spin, so again smooth tips and not too grippy sides are implied, although the tips are the most important factor here.
For aggressive counter-hitting the rubber should be able to grip the ball, so grippy tips are implied. Sponge will help with increasing the speed of the return, making it more effective. For safe as well as for aggressive pushing the rubber needs a certain degree of grippiness, but not too much; too less grip will produce pop-ups, too much grip will make the amount of spin on the push too predictable. This implies grippy sides and smooth tips.
For safe chopping (returning the ball again and again on the table with enough backspin to force the opponent to loop with a high arc) the rubber needs the same properties as for safe blocking; for aggressive chopping (returning the ball making mostly your own spin) it needs the same properties as for aggressive blocking.
Defensive play close to the table seems to need pips with smooth tips and none too grippy sides, then, whereas defensive play away from the table seems to need pips with smooth tips and grippy sides. As a style would involve more offensive elements, it would need grippier tips and or sides, and maybe sponge as well.
My style of play is chopping-attacking. I mostly chop with my backhand, where the pips would be, and attack with the forehand (inverted rubber). When I chop I like to be away from the table, at least half a table-length, preferably a whole table-length, but not farther because I don’t want like to attack from more than a meter and a half away. I like to chop safely, bringing the ball back with enough spin to prevent an attack and hopefully force the opponent to loop relatively slow and with a high arc, so I can attack his loop. Pushing aggressively, forcing the opponent to loop (or push poorly), would also be a part of my game. And I want to be able to attack with the pips. Putting it all together, I concluded I would be best off using very long pips with smooth tips and very grippy sides, probably not on sponge, in order to get a combination of properties that would allow safe defense and occasional attack. I already had a number of LP’s (from more or less recreational use) and I also ordered some new ones to try them all out, to see if my reasoning had practical value.
I finally settled on the Dawei 388D, but I have added below a description of all the rubbers I used. They are inexpensive (except for the Saviga V; I can’t see why, though). I also bought one expensive pip, a Feint Long III; it does out-perform the Dawei 388D in many respects (not in reversal), but I am not so sure this makes a lot of difference in the amateur competition I am playing in – looking at the results I seem to do as well with the Dawei.
Smooth tipped pips:
RITC Friendship 755. Easy to use overall. Smooth tips, not max long pips, very elastic, with relatively low grip. Slow to medium fast. Standard sponge is medium hard and won’t increase the speed by much; Mystery-I sponge is softer and slower at low impact, quite a bit faster at high impact. Easy to attack with close to the table, especially on sponge. Good spin-reversal, especially in OX. Can be used for safe chopping away from the table, because it reverses spin well, but will not really add to the incoming spin, so you’ll be giving pretty much back what you got. A good looper will feed you a ball with relatively weak spin and attack the return with strong spin and speed; you’d have to spot those weak balls and attack them yourself or be able to return the strong attack confidently, again and again. Definitely well suited for beginning chopper-attackers. Also for blocking/hitting-oriented play close to the table.
Palio CK531A. Moderately easy to use overall. Smooth tips, very long pips, elastic, with slightly more grip than the 755. Slow in OX, but much faster on sponge. Very good spin-reversal (and because of that apparently popular with players who used to use frictionless pips). Can be used for attacks because of the good reversal, but is too slow without sponge to be a real attacking pip. Blocks well in OX because it reverses well and is slow. Chops can be done safely away from the table but fast chopping will add little to the incoming spin, so a chopper-attacker will need a very good and aggressive forehand to go with this rubber. For chopper-attackers a possible successor to the 755. Apart from that mainly for defensive play close to the table.
Meteor 8512. Easy to use overall. Smooth tips, long pips, elastic, with moderate grip. Slow in OX, not very much faster on its DEF sponge, but very much faster on its OFF sponge. Spin-reversal is moderate (to low with sponge). Blocks well because it is slow; because of its grip spin can be varied in returns, especially when using sponge. OFF-version maybe not quite as good an attacking rubber as 837. DEF-version can be used for chopping safely away from the table, but I couldn’t get fast chopping to add really a lot to the incoming spin. Comparable to the Palio, with less reversal and more control.
Dawei 388D. Moderately easy to use overall, but considerably less so on sponge. Smooth tips, long pips, very elastic, with good grip and even so good spin-reversal. Blocks pretty well, attacks well because of its grip, but excels in both safe and aggressive chopping away from the table, where fast chopping will really add to the incoming spin. Seems well suited for chopper-attackers; I chose to start with OX. Black will add the most spin, red will reverse slightly better. The cheapest rubber on the market that is most similar to Butterfly Feint Long II.
Pips with ribbed pips:
RITC Friendship 837. Easy to use for attacking strokes, in my experience much less so with everything else. Ribbed tips, long pips, rather stiff, with moderate grip. Fast. Standard sponge is medium hard and won’t increase the speed by much; Mystery-I sponge is softer and slower at low impact, faster at high impact. Influence of sponge on reversal is minimal. Popular because it is very easy to attack with close to the table and even at medium distance (topspin, no-spin and backspin balls alike), but spin-reversal when hitting is low. Because it is fast, stop-blocks are relatively hard to do. Because the pips are stiff, chopping will only add spin with very fast wrist-action and even then not much because of the moderate grip the sides have. Definitely not the ideal rubber to safely defend with away from the table. Maybe for very advanced chopper-attackers? Mostly for attack-oriented play close to the table.
Globe 979. Easy to use overall, but very fast on sponge. Ribbed tips, long pips, stiffer even than with the 837, with slightly more grip and even so pretty good spin-reversal. Blocks well close to the table on account of its good control, chops well away from the table on account of its good reversal and good speed. Chopping to add spin is difficult, since the pips are so very stiff. Incoming spin will never be a big problem with this rubber, but incoming speed may be pretty tough to deal with. Probably for accomplished blockers and choppers.
Dawei Saviga V. Very easy to use overall, especially so in OX. Ribbed tips, long pips, very flexible, with moderate grip and slightly better than moderate reversal. Its speed – medium to fast – makes it perfect for blocking and attacking close to the table or even from medium distance. Chops safe, but will not add much to incoming spin. A typical all-round rubber for players who don’t leave the table much.
Galaxy Neptune. Not so easy to use. Ribbed tips, long pips, very flexible, with good grip and good reversal. Versatile, does well in defense and in attack. Comparable to Dawei Saviga V, but slightly faster and more capable of adding spin on its own, also more sensitive to spin. Frankly, I would have settled on this one if it would have been a bit more easy to use…
Xiying 979. Moderately easy to use overall. Ribbed tips, long pips, flexible, with moderate grip and reversal. Very slow in OX. Chops safely away from the table and is able to add a little spin, blocks and hits well close to the table. Because of its low speed less suitable for classic defense away from the table and not very dangerous in attacks, but a safe all-round rubber for chopper-attackers who mostly play at medium distance or blocker-hitters close to the table.
Double Fish 1615. Rather easy to use overall. Medium speed in OX, but very fast on thick sponge. Ribbed tips, max long pips, very flexible, with slightly less than moderate grip and good spin-reversal. Blocks, attacks and chops very well, and is able to add a bit to incoming spin (not as much as the Dawei 388D). Very versatile rubber. For blocker-hitters (OX or sponge; I used it in OX on a fast carbon blade and it worked like a dream) and chopper-attackers who combine backhand safe defense with forehand aggressive attack all over the court and so are capable of much better footwork than I am…
Without opponent, no match.