The chop is a crucial defensive stroke in table tennis, usually used as an effective weapon by defensive player styles. It relies on heavy backspin to make the ball difficult for the opponent to return.
A well-executed chop can disrupt your opponent’s rhythm and give you an opportunity to seize control of the game. It requires precision, timing, and excellent footwork to be effective.
Being able to perform effective, consistent chops can be the difference between winning and losing. I posted a video on Reddit about chopping and was asked by many players how they could learn to chop like the featured national team player.
This article is my answer to that question, showing you 7 ways you can turn your chop into a match-winning weapon.
Table of Contents
1. Impart Strong Backspin on the Ball
An effective chop in table tennis generates very strong backspin with an extremely low arc. That makes it extremely difficult for your opposing player to lift back over the net.
To generate powerful backspin, you fundamentally need to brush the ball with a thin contact between the rubber and the ball. The faster and more vertical your stroke, the more backspin you’ll produce.
You’ll immediately be able to notice that this player’s technique cuts down on the ball very quickly the moment his racket makes contact with the ball. In particular, he is actually using a ‘long pips’ rubber on the backhand, helping make the ball float with exceptionally heavy spin.
When you impart super strong backspin on the ball during a chop like this, it forces the ball to have a lower trajectory over the net. This makes it more challenging for your opponent to attack the ball aggressively, as they must lift it higher to clear the net. Sometimes when the ball is a little bit higher, it would leave the ball open to a counter-attack.
Apart from that, a ball with backspin tends to slow down after bouncing, making it more difficult for your opponent to generate speed and power in their return shot. This forces them to generate their own pace, which can lead to mistakes and less effective attacking shots.
To build this technique yourself, you have to practice this motion repeatedly with both forehand and backhand strokes. Only through repetition will you perfect your backspin and make your chops harder to return.
2. Master the Timing
Like all the other strokes, shot timing is an important issue when you are chopping.
You want to aim to contact the ball just after the ball has reached its peak height and starts to descend. This timing allows you to apply maximum backspin and control on the shot, making it more difficult for your opponent to return.
A common mistake made by beginners is staying too far away from the table when attempting chop shots.
This is problematic because when the ball is returned shorter than expected, it becomes difficult to execute the chop in a timely manner. The ball is falling and losing speed quickly. As a result, it’s likely the chop will impart insufficient backspin and have a higher trajectory.
Therefore, you need to constantly adjust your positioning during chop shots to find the peak of the bounce when executing your shots.
If the ball starts to descend and you’ve already missed the ideal moment to chop it, my recommendation is to strike the bottom and side of the ball simultaneously. In these instances, your returns will have a slightly higher trajectory, but they will possess an unusual combination of spins.
The shot will have both backspin and sidespin, making it similar to a snake shot that changes its trajectory after landing on the table. This unpredictable movement and the strange spin can effectively confuse your opponent.
3. Adjust the Angle of Your Paddle
Like with most table tennis strokes, applying a different racket angle will lead to a different outcome. Choppers must experiment with different paddle angles to determine the one that best suits their playing style.
When you use a closed paddle angle (which means the paddle is tilted slightly forward) you create a faster and lower chop. This type of chop is more aggressive and requires your opponent to react quickly.
If you watch the video of Chen Weixing, you will find that many of his shots are like this. The returns are really quick and profound, forcing his opponents to make mistakes.
On the other hand, when you opt for a more open paddle angle (where the paddle is tilted slightly backward), the result is a slower, higher chop with increased backspin. This type of chop gives the ball a higher trajectory over the net and generates more backspin.
Your opponents will have to make a greater effort to lift the ball due to its reduced speed, but their advantage is that they will have sufficient time to prepare for the shot.
Apart from that, a vertical angle can generate some sidespin at times when you’re chopping with an inverted rubber. This sidespin adds an extra element of unpredictability to your shots, making it even more challenging for your opponent to anticipate and return the ball effectively.
In my experience, I prefer to mix these angles during both training sessions and matches. The goal is to keep my opponent uncomfortable and prevent them from adapting to my playing style. They might find themselves thinking, “What the hell spin is this, and why is it so strange?”.
You see, this type of shot not only leads to errors and lost points for your opponent but can also mentally defeat them, causing them to lose confidence in their own abilities.
4. Incorporate Body Movement
To maximize the power and effectiveness of your chops in table tennis, it’s crucial to involve your entire body in the stroke.
Many beginners, including my younger self, tend to chop the ball using only their arm. In fact, understanding how to harness the power of the entire body is what sets advanced players apart from average ones.
You should consider the movement across your entire body. Each element helps build speed, power, and consistency into your strokes.
Maintain a slightly bent-knee stance, which helps you stay agile and ready to move in any direction. Use your legs to generate power by pushing off the ground when performing a chop. This action transfers energy from your legs through your torso and into your arm, adding force to your shot.
Keep your shoulders relaxed and level while executing a chop. Tense shoulders can restrict your range of motion and hinder the fluidity of your stroke. Maintaining a relaxed upper body will allow for smoother, more effective chops.
Arms and wrists
Your arm and wrist movements should be well-coordinated with your body rotation. As you initiate the chopping motion, use your forearm and wrist to generate spin and control. Keep your wrist flexible to ensure proper contact and spin on the ball.
Hips and waist
During the chop, rotate your hips and waist to create additional spin and power. This rotation not only adds momentum to your stroke but also engages your core muscles, contributing to a more stable and controlled movement.
5. Enhance Your Footwork
Footwork is incredibly crucial for choppers. Unlike offensive players, choppers need to cover a lot of front-to-back ground during matches.
As a result, I believe footwork is even more important than hand techniques. This is because if you can’t reach the ball or fail to be at the right place when the ball approaches, it becomes nearly impossible to return it with sufficient quality, regardless of your skill level.
Footwork can be best improved through multi-ball training.
Let’s envision a training session where you are the chopper and I am the coach providing multi-ball practice. You should stand slightly away from the table while remaining in the center. I would then send balls to the four corners of the table.
There are two modes for this exercise: one where I deliver the balls in a consistent pattern, allowing you to move continuously, and another with irregular ball placement, requiring you to anticipate the ball’s direction before I send it.
Regardless of the method used, both approaches require you to move, hit the ball, then reset and prepare for the next stroke. I can recall that during my younger years, I had to practice with several large containers of balls every day. There were several times that I would need to change clothes multiple times during the training sessions due to the intensity.
Apart from regular and intense practice, there are also two smaller tips that will transform your game:
During the match or training, you can stay on your toes. Always be on the balls of your feet, ready to move quickly in any direction. This posture allows for faster and more agile movements, enabling you to reach the ball more effectively.
You should practice lateral movement without a ball, table, or racket. Choppers need to move side-to-side efficiently, as they often face wide-angle shots from opponents. Incorporate lateral movement drills into your practice sessions to improve your agility and footwork in these situations.
Even the best players will struggle to win matches with poor footwork. Make footwork part of your regular training routine and you’ll see a quick improvement in your chopping ability.
6. Twiddle the racket to use different rubbers
Twiddling refers to the technique of quickly rotating or flipping the racket in your hand to change between the two sides, each with a different rubber. It’s quite common to see players change the two sides between an inverted rubber and a long pips or short pips rubber.
Different rubbers produce varying amounts of spin and speed. By skillfully twiddling your racket, you can switch the rubber type in the middle of a rally, which adds an element of unpredictability to your shots. Ultimately making it more challenging for your opponent to anticipate the spin and speed of your returns.
As I mentioned, once the opponent gets used to your rhythm and playstyle, it’s super easy for them to win the game. Therefore, we have to constantly adjust our returns and surprise opponents with variations of spin, speed, and placement.
7. Utilize Ball Placement and Direct Shots to Their Weaker Side
Strategically aiming your chops at specific areas on the table can disrupt your opponent’s game.
I tend to test the weaker side of the opponent in the first few points of a match, and then aim at that area repeatedly.
For example, most players have weaker backhand, so I would send 80% of my chop shots to their backhand area and sometimes suddenly direct at their forehand area to surprise them.
Also, I recommend targeting the crossover point, or “elbow,” on my opponent’s weaker side to cause confusion and indecision. This can lead to errors or slower returns, giving us choppers an advantage.
A very good chop will land deeper on the table, which will make it super uncomfortable for your opponent to return the ball. For beginners, this should be used sparingly as the technique requires quite strong control and excellent ball feeling. When aiming deep the slightest misplacement will see the ball float long off the table..
What makes a good chopper?
Becoming a chopper in table tennis is not an easy feat. Even though many people may perceive defensive playing style to be elegant, they are very difficult to master.
However, I must emphasize that if you aspire to become a chopper, you must first accept that you will face fierce attacks and experience passive losses repeatedly until you gain enough experience and solidify your techniques.
During my first three years, I lost countless games to my peers, particularly when facing skilled attackers. Sometimes, I would fear their powerful loops, allowing them to score points easily with even average shots.
My coach constantly reminded me not to be afraid of my opponents. He explained that many of them were not as skilled as I imagined. He encouraged me to actively seek the ball and attempt to chop back some shots. Gradually, I gained courage and tried chopping more shots.
I discovered that after my first or two returns, around 60% of my opponents would make mistakes, especially with my long pips. This realization boosted my confidence, and I began to chop with more calm and focus, generating spinny shots and lowering my trajectory. Soon, I started winning matches.
Over time, I grew stronger, more powerful, and more confident. However, it was not an easy journey. So, if you ask me what makes a good chopper, I would say: confidence. My advice to you is to believe in yourself and practice consistently! Come on guys, we can make it!
Xinyu started playing table tennis when he was 8 years old in China and he's also the owner of popular table tennis blog ppongsuper . He has trained with the Chinese provincial team and now plays competitively in the Spanish national league. He's constantly striving to improve his skills and tactical abilities, as well as deepen his understanding of table tennis. He joined the Racket Insight team to share his passion and promote table tennis to more people!
Blade: Nexy Joo Sae Hyuk | Forehand:Butterfly Sriver FX | Backhand: Dawei 338d-1
Playstyle: The Defender