I had my latest humbling experience yesterday during a county veterans match.
I was outclassed and defeated by a pusher. Yes, that’s right. I lost 3-0 to a player who stands close to the table and likes to push, push, push. He is also able to play decent topspin lobs away from the table. But it wasn’t the lobs which I found difficult. It was the pushes.
I thought I had largely progressed past the stage when a pusher would bother me. All you have to do is turn it into a topspin rally and dominate from there.
But this pusher was different. This pusher was using KenSpin!
If you are from the West Midlands area or play veterans tournaments, you may well have come across a player called Ken Read.
Slim, and in his early 60s, Ken has an unorthodox playing style. He takes the ball very early and sort of jabs at the ball. His backhand push is sharp, stays low and is loaded with backspin. But it is his forehand push which causes so many problems to his opponents.
He has developed a forehand push, using a tomahawk style action. The ball cuts across the table, with lots of sidespin. Sometimes it’s sidespin with backspin. Other times it’s sidespin with topspin. Sometimes it seems as though it has two spins at once. If you judge the spin incorrectly (which I did many times), the ball either kicks down into the net or floats long past the side or end of the table.
It sounds horrific. And I can assure you it was horrific to play against! I felt completely out of sorts. I could find no attacking rhythm. I was just a bit clueless as to what to do. I tried a few rallies of just pushing, but I would eventually break down first. I tried going all-out attack, but missed far too many. By the final game, I was just hoping Ken would lose focus and malfunction. He didn’t. I lost 11-7, 11-7, 11-8.
I had a chat with Ken after the match. I was eager to find out more about his unique forehand push. Ken developed this shot almost by accident when he returned to the game after a 10 year break.
His timing was off, and he found himself prodding forwards towards the ball. The style was unusual, but it seemed to be causing some confusion. So he decided to make it a feature of his game. He described it to me like using a tomahawk service action when playing a forehand push.
He showed me how he is able to use this action to generate sidespin with backspin or sidespin with topspin. He keeps his bat angle a little more vertical and then contacts around the side of the ball with either a slightly downward motion (backspin) or slightly upwards motion (topspin). It’s not easy to see the difference and that’s what makes it so utterly confusing. It’s genius! It’s so good his team mates started to call it KenSpin. He even had socks with KenSpin printed on them.
It made me feel a little better that Ken won all of his matches yesterday. Other very experienced players really struggled with the dreaded KenSpin too.
And upcoming junior players – the star players of the future – also have a nightmare against KenSpin. In one tournament, a parent of a promising junior player complained to Ken that he shouldn’t be playing all these unorthodox shots against juniors. It wasn’t a fair way to win. I think this complaint amused Ken somewhat. There’s nothing more satisfying than a disgruntled player (or parent) complaining that you are winning in the wrong way!
The power of unorthodox play
Ken’s unique forehand push is another example of how effective an unorthodox shot can be. As long as you can play the unorthodox shot consistently (which Ken can), then you can cause all sorts of confusion.
Ken told me he has a very good record against players who he plays for the first time. I am just the latest victim. Ken is currently ranked around 150 places ahead of me in the veterans rankings list and I can understand why. It might take me a few matches to get the hang of his style. I hope we get to play again.
I thought his tomahawk style forehand push was brilliant. I want to practise this myself. If I ever get good at it, I’ll make a video. But all credit will be to Ken Read and his crazy KenSpin.