[Here's a write-up of my experiences so far. I plundered what I posted already, condensed it a bit... a very little bit
. There are inconsistencies, mistakes, of course, I am still learning, so please take that into account.]
I bought a bargain Juic Neo-anti for 15 euro's, red, 2.0 mm, took it home, tried it for about 15 minutes and concluded it would never be better than the Dawei Saviga or Globe 979 (.5 mm) I have played with for about a year and a half now. Knowing myself to be hasty, and also being less and less happy with my performance using LP's (except for blocking close to the table, which I don't want to do, really), yesterday I decided to give the anti another go, this time in a classic set-up: Joola T.Hold Whitespot (by reputation one of the best blades for anti still on the market) with the 2.0 Juic Neo-anti red. I used a robot for half an hour to get the feel, than changed to practicing and playing games with a partner who is a very good looper and a fast attacker. I did better against him than I normally do with LP. We agreed I had better control, was better at slowing down the pace of the game as an upbeat to my attacks, and had few problems chopping away from the table with heavy enough backspin to build up a solid defense. I found chopping easier and more consistent, but of course there is no spin-development as with LP, I was just giving back more or less the same amount of backspin. At first I didn't like that, but then I realized that chopping with SP also doesn't build up heavier spin. The Juic can't make as much spin of its own as an SP can, but as it has some grip (slightly tacky topsheet and good soft gripping sponge), adding a little bit to incoming spin is possible. The potential for offensive strokes seems also limited as compared to LP and SP, but attacking backspin is easy and produces low and fast balls, attacking no-spin is quite good, attacking topspin on the top of the bounce or before tends to produce strangely floating balls, and flat hitting high balls is perfect. All in all not so bad. I am really tempted to change to this stuff, as I use the LP mostly for solid defense at mid-distance trying to create opportunities for attack. Of course I know that no top pro plays with anti, but the risk of my becoming a top pro is negligible. In a week I have a tournament and I'll probably use the anti, if I am comfortable enough with it by then. If so, I will report.
Yesterday, I played my first tournament with the Juic antispin rubber (Neo-anti, red, 2.0 mm) on the backhand. Five matches, two against players of my own class who had better percentages than me in the competition, three against players of higher classes; I lost four, two of those in five, and won one in five. Using my LP, I would have lost anyway in straight sets against the players coming from higher classes, and won maybe one of the other matches, so the results would have been more or less the same, but play itself felt very different.
As I mentioned in the first post, the main difference between this anti and an allround LP like the Dawei Saviga is that the anti doesn't build up backspin when chopping, as an LP does (because of the pips adding some with every next chop), but control is much higher. This fact asks for different tactics and it took me a while to get an idea of what I should do.
With the LP I used to serve either heavy backspin wanting to force the opponent to push so I could attack his backspin with my pips, or fast topspin or no-spin in order to get a topspin return so I could get start chopping and then attack a weak (slow topspin) return. I thought it should work for the anti, too, since attacking backspin with it is very easy and fast; but chopping against topspin I found out I had to chop real well the very first time or I wouldn't send back heavy backspin - then again, the backspin I did send back was so heavy the opponent was much more likely to push (after having dropped some in the net), which meant I couldn't stay back after my first chop. As you have to go back for that first chop and then come in fast again if you want to attack the push, footwork has to be very good and swift; being well past my physical prime, after a while I decided I would last much longer if I didn't attack the push, but chopped it instead (because the backspin on my first chop was so heavy, the opponents almost never succeeded in pushing short, and the balls were bouncing well off the table, which made chopping possible).
So I did and found out that chopping against backspin can be very deceptive with this anti; chopping lightly (grazing the bottom of the ball) will return topspin, chopping slowly (getting the ball into the sponge) will return no-spin, and chopping quickly and heavy with good wrist-action (and again with the ball digging into the sponge) will return backspin. My opponents had quite a bit of difficulty in reading the spin on those returns.
That gave me some confidence and I felt less stressed running back and forth; also, the running didn't have to be that fast anymore; I relaxed a little and as a result my chopping improved. But I also had to change my usual placement - instead of attacking the push, aiming for the transition point or the backhand, I now started chopping in that direction, and when balls (attacks mostly) were returned on the table I chop-blocked them with the anti as I would have done with the LP. That didn't work well. I changed to attacking them with the anti and found I lacked the technique for it; also, when I happened to shoot off a good one, it was generally returned very fast which didn't improve things. So instead I began backing off again after chopping the push, to be able to chop the attack (if it came) more comfortably. This way, after a while I found myself defending more defensively than I had ever done before. Coming from an attacking style originally, I was in two minds about that, but had to admit thorough defense works with anti so I'd better stick with it.
Having more or less established my backhand as such, I still had to integrate it with the forehand. I used to attack very frequently with it, because playing with the LP I got many relatively weak returns, and I like attacking. But having come to play very defensively on the backhand side affected my forehand play - I started chopping and pushing on both wings instead of attacking. It felt awkward to me, even if it worked well, because now most of the points I won were mistakes of my opponent and most of the points my opponent won were very good attacks; that made me feel sort of half incompetent (which is a realistic view anyway, but not a soothing one...). I realized that until now, even after having changed to a defensive style a year and a half ago, I still tended to think of myself as essentially an attacking player. I also realized I had to give that up.
Instead of accepting this, I felt so frustrated that for the next (4th) match I foolhardedly picked up my LP bat which has a much faster forehand. I tried to play agressively with it, staying relatively close to the table, chop-blocking left and attacking right in the sort of Lo Chuen Tsung style that I like and thought was comfortable with, and made a distinct hopeless mess of it. So for the 5th match I returned to the anti and now, more or less convinced, played overall defensively, trying to attack only the obvious ones. I lost in straight sets, but my opponent was ranked far higher than me and a much better player (28 years old and played national level when he was a junior), and I came relatively close (7-11, 9-11, 7-11).
When, at the end of the day, I tried to make sense of it all, it seemed to me that playing with an LP I can either chop-block and stay close to the table, or chop away from it (taking time to build up the backspin), but with this grippy anti chop-blocking is less effective whereas chopping is so very effective from the first one on that I should do it at medium distance or I won't be back at the table in time to pick up the push which will often come. I will have to run more, but cover less distance, which should suit me. So I think I'd better go for a good and slow defensive rubber on the forehand and play a tight defensive game, chopping hard on both wings at medium distance which will prevent short returns, and coming in for balls that can be killed outright or looped softly. It will be quite a change, but I am going to stick to it. I don't think anti is used anymore in defense on a top-level, but Liang Geliang used to use it, before he changed to LP, and what worked on a top level in those days might still work on my own much more modest level now. It would be very informative to watch matches in which he used anti, but so far I haven't been able to find any.
As for the characteristics of the Neo-anti, it has outstanding control, is able to absorb the speed of even very fast shots, and is almost completely insensitive to spin.
Topspin can be chopped very effectively even when it is weak, because the grip (from the topsheet and the sponge) of the Neo-anti will add spin. Heaviest backspin is made when you graze the bottom of the ball, getting the ball to dig into the sponge, going in a sort of scooping horizontal way (like the Korean female defenders use their LP with sponge, or the Chinese female defenders their SP), but a fast and short diagonal downward stroke will also deal effectively with heavy topspin.
Attacking topspin is something I have yet to learn. It seems to work fine if you actually make a wristy topspin kind of stroke, but very short and mostly upwards, with the blade at least half open. A simple direct punch will work too, but only with high balls. But if you overhit, the ball will float over the table.
No-spin can be chopped (best when the ball has dropped a bit) or attacked (punch). Pushing it you have to make the stroke very fast or the ball will pop up.
Backspin can be attacked (flip, short loop, or press with slightly open blade and forward/sideward motion) or chopped (only when the ball is dropping). Pushing it in a normal way is out, for the ball will pop up.
Attacking backspin is slightly different from what you would do with an LP, in that the blade can be closed just a bit (if it is too open the ball will go long because the rubber will both drag and push it too much up) and the motion should be fast, short and not too much forward. With an LP you'll want the ball to bounce up from your pips and direct it over the net, adding speed; with this grippy and soft-sponged anti you'll want the rubber to grab the ball more or less like with inverted. You can actually flick or loop on the highest point of the bounce instead of immediately after the bounce, which means you have more time and more space to use your wrist and bring the bat up from the table as you would when flicking or looping with inverted. Making contact on the highest point also makes placement better/easier.
The main problem I had was to let go of LP technique. I tried, for instance, to scoop/push (it came automatically on returning backspin services) backspin balls and it didn't work, which seemed very odd at first. Then I tried it (consciously now) by doing it like it can be done with inverted, viz. not going under the ball too much but instead really jerking it up and pressing/whipping it forward, and this worked. It will even work well away from the table! Then I happened to see an old training-video of Liang Geliang and he did that stroke; also a female chopper, Tong Ling. It is just too bad that a lot of these "ancient" techniques is so hard to get at; it would be very helpful if someone who used to play well with this stuff in, say, the 1970's gave an account of them. Or better, demonstrated them in a video. Now almost all videos are about semi-frictionless rubbers.
[Meanwhile, after a half year, I have more experience and changed to use the Tibhar Ellen Def]
I got the Tibhar Ellen Def antispin rubber in black, 1.5 mm. The sponge is bright cadmium yellow and soft yet firm to the touch. The top-sheet is thick and fairly unelastic; it comes covered with a thick and mildly sticky plastic protection-sheet which I was unable to put on again after play, because I couldn't get all the bubles of air out, so I left it uncovered. The top-sheet itself is not really sticky, but comes close, and definitely has some grip, probably comparable to that of Juic Neoanti. In fact, those two anti's seem a lot alike to me, in speed, spin and control; the Ellen is perhaps marginally heavier and marginally grippier as well, and it has a completely different feel when using it - instead of the rich velvety feel of control of the Neoanti, it has a tough solid feel of control.
I used the Ellen on 3 different blades: Stiga Tube Defensive (fastest, almost ALL, some flex, rather heavy), the Joola Toni Hold Whitespot (medium fast, DEF+, light-weight, rigid but soft feel) and the Donier Defense (DEF, flexible, different gears, pretty light-weight). It worked on all three, but better on the Joola than on the Stiga (more control, more backspin in chops), and best on the Donier (perhaps even more backspin on chops, and very nice hitting).
I played for about 2 hrs against a robot, and 2 hrs in practice-matches on a small floor (8x4 mtr). Below are the first impressions.
Passive blocks, just holding the bat vertical and let the ball bounce off will give very little reversal (none off weak spin), but the ball will stay low over the net and land on the table no matter how hard the loop or smash. The absorption of speed is phenomenal, especially if you help by relaxing the wrist and arm. In the matches, when caught in the middle, I just bumped the ball softly over the net and it sort of died mid-table; the opponent could pick it up and flip or soft-loop it, but blocking the ball makes it go so slow that I have enough time to anticipate the next attack, be in position and chop or loop. Blocking is definitely not a winner, but a very good tactical option to gain time with the Ellen.
Counterhits can be done against no-spin or top-spin or high-bouncing backspin. No wrist, just flat hitting through the ball and a very short follow-through will produce pretty fast balls with little or no spin on them which can be placed with great precision. You need to make contact on the top of the bounce or just before. There is no need to be afraid that the ball will float long because of the backspin/reversal. In fact, this means you have the option to disrupt the opponent's play by counter-attacking at any moment you want to.
Looping/rolling backspin balls is easy. Spin-reversal (or -continuation) is great and the ball will go down shortly behind the net and rush away. If balls come in short (short pushing, short serving), you have to flip using a lot of wrist.
Pushing against backspin can be done too; either with or without wrist. Without wrist the spin will be reversed; with wrist the spin will be neutralized or you may be making some backspin of your own.
Chop-blocking is easy and requires a technique similar to that used with LP, but will work better/safer because there are no pips to bend. Even more fun is a backspin block (closing the blade a little bit, catching the ball and pulling the blade down and back a bit); against heavy topspin this will make heavy backspin and control on this block is great. Stop-blocking is effective too: just sort of bump the ball soflty with a loose wrist and it will land just behind the net.
Chopping is something special. You can do a diagonal chop or a horizontal one (wrapping the rubber around the ball); either way you can make a little backspin (when you don't use your wrist and underarm much) or a very great amount of it (really going for the stroke). The horizontal stroke will produce a slow ball and can only be done pretty close to the table; the diagonal stroke makes good speed if you want it to.
We compared the quality of the chops with a Dawei 388D, .7mm, same blade (Donier) and my opponents found little or no difference. To me, chopping with the Ellen felt much more controlled and especially good placement was easy (I never had a problem with the Dawei in this respect, but with the Ellen it is simply flawless).
Receiving serve is best done actively, as the rubber is a bit sensitive to sidespin. Taking the ball on either early or late and making a positive stroke, aiming well, there are no problems. A lot of serves can be attacked, like with SP: taking the ball early and punch it.
To me, the Ellen seems to outperform the Neoanti, not by much, but enough to prefer using it in the next training-sessions and matches. I am curious how it will play really away from the table...
The sponge reputedly tears easily when the rubber is pulled off a blade, so I used real moderate amounts of Butterfly free chack and pulled very delicately. Put it on three blades and had no problems...
An update on my progress with handling the Ellen. I played 6 matches this morning, playing against different opponents whom I have played before with the Dawei 388D (black, 0.5mm) LP. I lost one match I probably wouldn't have with the LP and I lost a lot of points because I am not fully used to play with the anti yet. For instance, it took me a while to realise that I should chop harder on the first chop, because the LP reversed spin more and now I have to make more of my own; of course I knew I had to, but in live play old reflexes return more or less of their own. When I did chop harder, balls were hard to return, and I stopped losing points. But I guess what impressed me most was how much more and better footwork was needed to be effective. Chopping harder means being in position in time; the LP produced passable backspin when I had to reach a bit for the ball and chop, but the anti doesn't work that way. Better positioning implies better anticipation, so I need to think out my tactics in a new way, too. I guess I have to play a tighter game, and smarter... On the upside I found hitting with the anti close to the table (cutting the sidelines) and away from the table (going for the corners) much better than with the LP; aim was precise, speed was good, balls stayed low and skidded more. Serving was better too; I used a side-spin serve, very slow, dropping the ball short behind the net and then bouncing low off the table over the sideline; I couldn't get that done with the LP. Blocking was very good when the opponent had backed off; it was easier to drop the ball short and placement was more precise. But against opponents who stayed close and attacked quickly blocking with the Ellen was ineffective, unless I blocked with speed aiming at the elbow, or sometimes when the angle was right, cutting a sideline. Curiously, I played my best matches against the strongest opponents, who had given me a lot of trouble when I used the LP. I am not sure if this was because of better placement, because of more frequent aggressive blocking, because of more stable chopping, or just because they were the last I played against and I had got the hang of it by that time... All in all it seems playing with the anti offers better possibilities for planned attack in combination with thorough defense, but I'll have to pay for that with footwork to match.
After playing some more matches (training) I have begun realizing how much I have to adapt to anti tactically. Using LP I had become used to just bringing the ball back on the table; now I need a much more aggressive chop and an aggressive attack on both wings. It has improved my chopping a lot in just days, especially the use of the wrist, and close to the table I don't block as much anymore as I used to; the Ellen seems to be capable of attacking just about any ball, if the timing is right. A backhand quick loop against backspin and no-spin needs a lot of power because the Ellen is slow, but that power is well spent. The good chops now force opponents to push more often, and I can attack the pushes more effectively. The difference with the LP backhand is that the anti is picking up the ball more, so more of the power is going into it; no need to hold back in attack anymore!
It is a more vigorous game, now, fun but exhausting. I do hope I can keep it up...
I also checked up on the weight of the Ellen. According to DTs Tabletennis Rubber Mass Database it is (for 1.5 mm red) 53.5 grs per uncut sheet and 0.176022 grs per square cm. Compared to Juic Neoanti (48.9 per uncut sheet and 0.171212 grs per square cm) it is marginally heavier; also much more light-weight than most inverted rubbers and comparable to Friendships Super FX Supersoft. That is how it feels to me, too.