The primary characteristics of rubber are speed, spin, and control. The primary characteristics of blades are speed and control (and weight). Some brands also rate the stiffness of their blades.
For speed, spin, control, and stiffness, we report the values that the manufacturers give us. Manufacturers each use their own system to come up with their speed, spin, control, and stiffness ratings; therefore you can’t use the speed, spin, control, or stiffness ratings to compare items from different brands.
Each brand uses a different scale for their ratings, e.g., andro uses numbers that range up to the 110s, JOOLA uses words, not numbers, DONIC uses a 0–10+ scale, and STIGA uses numbers that range up to the 160s. To help you interpret the ratings, we give the scale’s maximum following the rating (separated from the rating by a slash). If the manufacturer indicates the top range of the scale, we give that as the maximum. Otherwise, we use the highest value of that attribute for all the products from that brand. For example, if we show a blade as having a speed of “78/144”, this means that the manufacturer gave the blade a speed rating of 78 and the highest speed rating of any blade from the same brand is 144.
Every blade and rubber has a different feel; so, even within a brand, the fact that the ratings are the same for two items does not mean that they will feel/play the same.
We aren’t too clear on how manufacturers measure control. Control should probably be how easy it is to block, return a serve, and generally move the ball where you want. However, in practice, it seems that control is mostly just the inverse of speed and spin. That is, the less speed and spin, the more control. There is some logic to this but, whereas a slow, non-spinny rubber (e.g., antispin) may have a lot of control when you push, it will be harder to control if you try to drive or loop with it.
You can’t use the ratings to compare manufacturer-assembled rackets with separate (individual) rubber or blades, even within a brand.
Special-Purpose Rubber and Spin
Some manufacturers do not provide spin ratings for some special-purpose rubber sheets (long pips or antispin) because the amount of spin depends on how much spin your opponent puts on the ball.
There are many different playing styles. However, we can broadly categorize them as defensive, all-round, and offensive.
A player with a defensive style waits for their opponent to miss, e.g., by chopping or playing push and block.
A player with an all-round style has a balanced game of offense and defense. The all-round player enjoys rallying and prefers to get the ball on the table rather than blasting the ball at top speed.
A player with an offensive style is aggressive and tries to control the point. The offensive player uses heavy topspin, loop kills, and/or smashes to win the point at the first opportunity.
Blade/Rubber Style Classification
Some manufacturers provide style classifications for their blades and/or rubber. In this case, we report the classifications that the manufacturers give us. The following abbreviations are commonly used: DEF for defensive, ALL for all-round, and OFF for offensive. A plus sign means more/faster, while a minus sign means less/slower. So, an OFF+ blade will be more suitable for an aggressive player than an OFF blade, and an OFF blade will be more suitable for an aggressive player than an OFF? blade.
In general, defensive items are the slowest; all-round items have medium speed and spin; and offensive items have more speed and spin.
You can use this classification as a guide for choosing the equipment that matches your playing style. However, just because you have a certain playing style doesn’t mean that you must use equipment that is classified as being for that style.
For example, an aggressive player may want to pair a very fast, very spinny rubber with a medium-speed blade. In fact, this is an excellent choice for a player with a strong loop, and many world-class players use such a combination.
Another example would be a defensive player who, given the opportunity, also wants to attack and therefore prefers a fast blade or rubber.
Is Faster Better?
Faster is not necessarily better. If the equipment is too fast, you cannot control it. Top players can generate plenty of power, so they do not need the fastest equipment. On the other hand, top players often play with very fast equipment because they can control it better than lower-level players.
In general, a fast rubber on a slow or medium speed blade is a good choice for beginners and advanced players.