|Tiago Apolonia ZLC|
From MHTableTennis Instagram (Be sure to Follow!)
First of all before I even opened the box I was excited. The box is in Portugal colours which I thought was really cool. Opening the box and the blade design was the same. Red and Green for Portugal. Tiago I know is a real team player so it was cool to see some of his personality captured in the design.
Composition: Wood Outer (Double Limba Layers), ZLC Fiber Inner layers
Rubber Combo: FH; Tenergy 05 2.1, BH: Tenergy 80 2.1
Tiago Apolonia had previously been using an Innerforce ZLC so it is no surprise that there are a great deal of similarities to be found between the two blades. Tiago himself said there were many similarities but the Apolonia ZLC was a touch faster.
Moving from a slower blade, the speed of the ZLC was noticeable instantly for me. It took me a little while to close the angle off and adjust. What I really liked about the speed of the Apolonia ZLC was it's great ability to third ball off backspin. Usually with the Waldner Senso I had favoured a slower opening, particularly on my backhand side. With the Apolonia I felt a renewed sense of athleticism as I worked my way around the corner and hit some stunning 3rd ball forehands.
By producing a concise and sharp contact it is possible to achieve a great deal of acceleration in a short amount of time and that shows when playing the 3rd ball attack.
In the topspin rallies I had to close the angle quite a lot, especially when blocking as the catapult effect was a lot more than I was used to and also on the backhand with the marginally longer trajectory of the Tenergy 80 I had to make further adjustments.
You can see in the video above from my Instagram that you can produce a lot of power and acceleration against backspin. I felt that it was a key strength which I was impressed with, particularly since I was looking for a faster alternative to my old blade but with reasonable control ratio.
Control and Touch
One of the great qualities about the inner fiber ZLC blades is the carbon layers being closer to the core. Where the Mizutani is a 5 ply blade (3 wood and 2 carbon), the Apolonia is a 7 ply and thus the inner carbon layers are softened by a double layer of outer wood. So what does this do? Well it takes the incredible speed of the classic ZLC blade and cushions it so as to achieve great touch, incredible speed and a good element of control.
Having used an OFF- carbon with a hollow handle for over 5 years, I have become a big fan of more touchy blades with good control without losing the speed effect. While it took me a few sessions to wear the blade in and the rubber, I quickly began to appreciate the balance of speed with control. You can certainly feel that it is not quite as stiff as other ZLC blades which is something I personally like.
This structure helps it balance a powerful spin oriented and accurate attacking game with some intricacies like touch for counterlooping and topspin blocking close to the table etc.
One area I felt improved greatly with the blade was my close table counterlooping. Usually with the Waldner Senso I was able to make some early counterloops and fade inside out forehands but with the Apolonia the control at high speed is incredible, especially so early in the bounce. With a short controlled counter stroke I was able to produce a very high quality counterloop with incredible pace.
I also found that once I got the hang of the angle adjustments I was able to block fast balls more comfortably and also absorb spin better on opening balls allowing me to control my placement better. The blade definitely allows for a lot more variability in what you can and can't do with different incoming balls.
My initial hardships with the first few sessions were playing with too much of an open face when opening and having too long a swing on occasions. Making precise and efficient strokes is important as with any blade, I felt I was much better off making more concise ball contacts and slightly shorter swings to maximize the acceleration and accuracy. The real strength of the ZLC lies in it's ability to produce a high amount of spin even when accelerating forward over the ball.
I also had some trouble with my backhand block and counter, even my loop sometimes. I'm used to having a slightly slower setup so I tend to use a bit more wrist in my stroke, this was something which caused me a few problems as it sent the ball over the end, as you can see on a few occasions below.
Serve and Receive
I felt service contact was improved with the Apolonia, as with many elements of the game the double limba layer really plays an important role in increasing the dwell and contact time and gives a softer feel than regular ZLC blades.
On receive again I had to work some wrist adjustments with my flip to make it a little smoother and angle changes with my short push to keep the ball low, but after a number of sessions I'm relatively comfortable with that now.
On receiving faster serves it becomes easier to generate good acceleration with a short controlled stroke which becomes particularly advantageous when you have a little less time to react.
While training has been going pretty well, there are still a number of adjustments I need to make in the heat of a match. Obviously when you are changing blades there are still a lot of automatic responses and learned adjustments so it takes a little time to build new reactions for the new blade. I can see that the blade will bring some great improvements to my game once I make those adjustments.
Final Judgement: Winner!
After a handful of sessions with the blade, where initially I was skeptical that it might be too fast for me, it has worn in and I am convinced that the Butterfly Tiago Apolonia ZLC will be my new blade. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where my game goes with the added speed and soft touch of this blade! :)