According to former national champion S Raman, table tennis spiked coverings have been used “from time immemorial”. That’s one way of saying it. Radivoj Hudetz, a former Croatian player now around 70, gave him a date – 1902, when Englishman EC Goode added rubber to a table tennis racket, bat or paddle for the first time. .
The type of spiked rubber – short spiked rubber – described by Hudetz was popular until the 1950s before sponge became the material of choice for use on a racquet’s wooden base. The sponge added power and made no sound on contact. But this removed the rally element from the game and was banned in 1959 – although players were allowed to use a sponge “sandwiched” between rubber and wood.
Fast forward to the World Championships in Calcutta in 1975, when dominant Europeans discovered a new rubber, the long pimpled rubber. The Chinese team was armed with this new coating which enabled them to win the men’s and women’s team events. It was a logical defying rubber that Europeans wielding topspins had seen on a table tennis court.
And it is a rubber that is still used today, but not so prominently.
The surface of a rubber with long spikes is covered with fine, tall “pips” or conical-shaped bumps. When the rubber comes in contact with the ball, the seeds bend and have the opposite effect on the rotation of the ball. For example, if an inbound stroke is played with topspin, the return will be backspin. If it comes with the backspin, it will come back with the topspin.
The deception comes into play when one considers that the effect of reverse rotation is provided regardless of the playstyle of the turner. It does not matter if the receiver is playing with a topspin motion (brushing the ball with a bottom up motion) or a chop (up and down backspin motion with an open racket face). The shot simply comes back with the opposite spin, whether it’s played with a topspin or backspin motion – basically it all depends on how the ball is spinning.
Players would often switch sides of racket midway through to confuse opponents as well. This ploy worked until the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) introduced a rule in July 1986 that required racquets to have different colored rubber on both sides – black and red. This helped opponents distinguish the color of long pimple rubber.
This type of facing was subsequently more popular among players with weaker backhands.
However, the accolades have not stopped flowing. Former world number one Deng Yaping of China used long pimpled rubber to win nine world championship titles and four Olympic gold medals (singles and doubles) at the 1992 and 1996 Games.
Indian paddler Manika Batra also uses this rubber. This has helped her provide some cunning to her deception-based game, which is also fueled by a big forehand. It’s a style that helped her win the singles and team titles at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and bronze in mixed doubles at the Asian Games that year.