After last Sunday's RR at Alameda I decided to shelve the hardbat for the time being. I was just not having enough fun playing and wasn't looking forward to it as much as before. I'm going back to the same shakehand setup as I was using last fall before the penhold/neck injury/hardbat/vortex opened up and swallowed me (well ok, I jumped in but whatever). There are no greener pastures and that knowledge is comforting in many ways.
I did learn some things from the hardbat though. One is that it's good to use the whole table. Moving the ball around, especially to relatively immobile players can be pretty effective. Another is that I don't think I have the temperament to be a defensive player. I'm not fast and never will be but I'd rather play a rapid fire game with a lot of spin and pace and be bad at it then a more patient and slower defensive game. Patience and intelligence are not my style when it comes to table tennis.
But I think the main thing about hardbat is that in order to spin the ball *you* have to spin it. The racket is not doing any work for you so you have to think about topspinning the ball if that’s what you want. There’s a subtle but I think important difference between this and what I was doing with my sponge racket. With the sponge racket I was thinking more about racket angle, contact point on the ball, brushing, etc. Topspin is a side effect because if you do all this stuff right the rubber will in some sense spin the ball for you. That’s what it’s designed to do after all. But the effect of that is that it’s easy to lose the feeling of actively spinning the ball and fall into the mindset of merely striking the ball in a certain way.
Armed with this precious knowledge I showed up at Alameda club today and luckily found my old sparring partners Scott and Dave hard at work. Naturally it was a disaster at first. How do people play with these rackets? All I had to do was touch the ball and it went flying in so many unpredictable directions. Absurdly, ridiculously sensitive. Also what ball? Where did it go? It was hard to get used to how muted the feeling was compared to the hardbat, it was like someone had strapped a pillowy spongy thing on my racket. Like they had actually glued it right on the wood itself. I hit balls for a couple of hours with various players and maybe by the end was starting to get the hang of it again. But mainly I had fun just hitting the ball.