Thoughts on the U.S. Open
I leave for the U.S. Open in Milwaukee in just a few hours. Here are a few last-minute thoughts.
Photo by Donna Sakai
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Thoughts on the U.S. Open
I leave for the U.S. Open in Milwaukee in just a few hours. Here are a few last-minute thoughts.
I leave for the U.S. Open tomorrow morning. Since my flight out of BWI is at 7AM I'll be leaving around 4:30 AM - it's an hour away. (Guess I have to get up really early tomorrow to do my blog.) I'll try to blog about tournament while I'm there, though between coaching and playing in hardbat events, I'm not sure how many of the "big" matches I'll get to see. I'm also going to attend some USATT meetings.
If you are at the Open, come by and say hello. And before you go there, make sure to get lots of sleep, eat well, and PRACTICE YOUR SERVES! Service practice and match play are the two most important table tennis things you can do just before a tournament. On the other hand, I may have to play or coach against you, so stay up late, eat potato chips, and watch plenty of TV.
U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream
About an hour ago I woke from the strangest table tennis dream possible. I grabbed a notebook and wrote it down.
This weekend I was hit with a virtual avalanche of spammers on both the Forum and Blog comments. They all came with varied (and apparently random) gmail addresses. I ended up spending many hours personally deleting several hundred postings and blocking (one by one) over one hundred gmail addresses. Finally, rather than put into place more stringent requirements for registration - something I may have to do later on - I simply blocked all gmail accounts.
If you have a gmail account, you probably can't post or comment right now, and probably can't register. If you have an alternate email, please use that. If you only have gmail, please email me and let me know; it would be helpful to know if many real people are affected by this. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Since I'm leaving for the U.S. Open on Wednesday, I'm probably going to have to leave gmail blocked until I return. Then I'll decide if I have to use more stringent registration procedures. (Which I haven't really researched yet.) The last thing I want to do is spend the U.S. Open deleting spam and blocking individual posters all day long.
Speaking of the U.S. Open...
Pushing those non-push receives
A lot of beginning/intermediate players tend to push back any serve that comes at them slow. This is fine at the beginning level where backspin serves come at them slow, while topspin serves come at them faster. At the higher levels, this is not true; intermediate players can serve with sidespin and topspin that goes out slowly, since they've learned to graze the ball, and so most of their energy goes into spin. And so if you push these serves, the ball flies off the end or to the side.
The problem is that beginners get it ingrained that they can push a slow serve, when they should be reacting to the spin, not the speed of the ball, and pushing only against backspin or no-spin balls. How do you teach them to break this habit?
I find it useful to have them put their racket down and simply watch (from a ready position) as I serve short sidespin and topspin serves, and to call the spin each time. (I simplify it to having them call out either backspin or side-top.) They can't always pick it up from just contact, but between contact, and the way the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, they can begin to read the spin. I stress that they should be looking to attack any serve that's mostly sidespin or topspin, and to look for those serves, rather than look to push. Then, if the serve obviously has backspin, they can choose to push.
Once they can call out the type of spin correctly, I then have them practice attacking the side-top serves. When they can do that, then I vary the serve, and they have to attack those serves, push the backspin serves. This seems a good way to break the "push anything slow" type of receive problem.
MDTTC camp happenings
Those topspin drills
When practicing, most players start off most drills with a simple topspin serve so they can get into the drill, whether it's a looping drill, a footwork drill, or some combination or other drill. But in a match, how often does a rally start that way? Far more often rallies start with someone opening by attacking against a backspin, the most common type of serve. So if you are relatively consistent in these straight topspin drills, you should move to a more advanced version, and start the drill by serving backspin, your partner pushes it back, you attack (normally by looping the deep pushes, flipping the short ones), and then continue with the drill. If you want to get better, you need to both push yourself with more and more difficult drills, and do drills that match what you'll face in a match.
Marty Reisman plays lobby pong
Yes, the flamboyant two-time U.S. Men's Champion passes the time ponging in a hotel lobby (1:21). And here's a clip of him winning the 1949 English Open over five-time World Men's Singles Champion Viktor "Mr. Backhand" Barna (1:50).
Rafael Nadal and Kevin Spacey playing table tennis
I think I posted this once before, but this two-minute video deserves reposting. Spacey says to Nadal, "You should be nervous because I'm about to beat you in a game that demands the physical stamina of a boxer, the agility of a gymnast, the tactical acting of a chess player." Here's Nadal again, hitting forehands
Shakehanders versus Penholders? Oops!
Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun practice session
Had a fascinating time watching these two train together yesterday as they prepare for the U.S. Open. Sun (rated 2730) is here for much of the summer, and is seeded fourth in Men's Singles at the Open (which starts in about a week), while Jeffrey (2612) is almost the same level - he's way out of practice, as he lamented during his first serious practice session in some time. (That's what happens to players who become coaches.) They spent most of the session taking turns feeding multiball to each other. How many of you do that, as opposed to just hitting?
Sun Ting ("Sun King"?) is a lefty with short pips on the backhand. He's basically a put-away machine on both sides. He's one of those players who absolutely rips his forehand. His backhand is like Shao Yu's, a top New York player also with a great pips-out backhand smash. Together, there's no safe place to put the ball. Add in great serves, and you see why the 2730 rating is probably way too low. The rating actually comes from playing in the North American Teams back in 1999 - when he was 15! He's now 27, and I'm told considerably better.
Jeffrey's loops aren't quite as punishing, but he's very steady, and has a nice backhand loop. He controls play with a great receive game. He won his last two tournaments, the Cary Cup and the Eastern Open, but since he's basically been coaching the last year or so without training, we haven't seen his best yet. During the training session, he was a bit disgusted with himself because he was winded several times. When he looked over at me one time after doing several minutes of an extremely fast footwork drill, I jokingly jogged in place and pointed at him, and he nodded. I think he's doing some serious physical training to get ready for the Open.
Serious Goofing Off versus Non-serious Goofing Off
Some players simply do not understand the advantage of SGO (Serious Goofing Off) versus NGO (Non-serious Goofing Off, with apologies to numerous Vietnamese players). In SGO, you are simply goofing off, and besides insulting your opponent, you are not only not helping yourself, you are developing bad habits. However, SGO can actually be valuable. For example, I saw one of our junior players play a lobber by constantly faking a smash and then just patting the ball back. I pulled him aside and said, "If you are going to drop shot his lob, then try to drop it for a winner." In other words, instead of just patting it back, he should go for a side-spin chop block, and try to double-bounce it so the lobber couldn't even get to it, or had to lunge. Another example: If you are going to lob, try to win the lob point with heavy spin (both topspin and sidespin), basically a high loop. Another example: If you are going to just return the serve without attacking it, then, well, do something serious with it - fake one way and go the other, and try to win the point with a "weak" return. Aim to this backhand, and as he's stepping around, go to the forehand and try not to giggle as the server stumbles all over the place trying to get to it.
Who was the all-time greatest SGO champion? Jan-Ove Waldner. You don't develop his touch and control without some serious SGO.
Why can't you serve like this?
Well, why can't you? There really are two types of serves: those whose purpose is to set you up to attack ("third-ball serves"), and those whose purpose is to either win the point outright or set up an easy winner ("surprise serves"). You should develop both.
Highlights of day one of the MDTTC Camp
Games against beginning/intermediate players
Because of a bad back, I've been playing an extraordinary number of "matches" against beginning and intermediate juniors in our junior session. I put "matches" in quotes because, well, they are beginning and intermediate players and aren't exactly going to challenge me at this stage in their development. Or are they? I started setting rules to equalize things. For example, I might have to push every serve to the player's forehand. Or even pop up every serve to the forehand. You get the idea. Suddenly a lot of close games! (Haven't lost any yet, but some good points.) One thing that came off well was when we played some straight backhand-to-backhand matches, where I'd spot five points. We'd put a box on the table to mark the middle, and any ball that hits the box or goes to the forehand side is a lost point. Then we go at it, backhand-to-backhand. Some really vicious points! So next time you're at your club and there's some "weaker" players, why not play them a serious match with improvised rules? It's great practice and makes every match competitive.
MDTTC Training Camp
Use it or lose it
Yes, I'm talking to you, the aging table tennis player reading this article. Or the young but lazy one. You both have the ability to move when you play, but you don't do it enough. Sure, you gradually slow down as you age, and so many older players become more backhand-oriented rather than attacking with their forehand, which takes more footwork. Sure, younger players may find that if they use less footwork and simply stand at the table, they won't get caught out of position. Both of these are defensible positions. But guess what? The loss of footwork begins with a single non-use of your footwork. The more you don't use footwork, the faster you lose it, which gives you more reason not to use it, which accelerates the loss of footwork, which . . . you get the idea.
It's not just footwork. When I was younger, I liked to counterloop off the bounce, or back up way off the table to counterloop. (Strangely, I was better at the two extremes.) Now that I'm older (read: stiffer and slower), these shots are harder to pull off. So it'd be best to stop using them, right? Then they'd become even harder to do from lack of use, making it even more important that I stop using them, accelerating the loss of these shots, which . . . you get the idea.
Let me rephrase what I said above: The loss of any part of your game begins with a single non-use of it. Because you can't stop using it without a first non-use. So keep using it, even if it leads to a few short-term losses.
And if you do have any complaints about your footwork, let me tell you about the . . .
One-legged nine-year-old table tennis player
The unconventional path
If your goal is to challenge the best players in the world, then you want to play the best possible style. But for anything less, almost any style will do. One of the ironies of coaching is that if certain styles have a 1% advantage over another, then nearly 100% of students are taught those styles. After all, who wants to be the coach that teaches someone an "inferior" style? And so very few new players are taught to be choppers, long pips blockers, pips-out penholders, hardbatters, the Seemiller (or American) grip, and so on. These aren't considered the "best" styles, and so almost nobody teaches or learns them. Is there a place for these styles?
One of the kids I coach discovered chopping just yesterday. He has a decent forehand, but isn't that strong of an attacker yet. He has a good backhand push, and is now learning to push on the forehand. Obviously, it's very early in his game development. But once he learned what a chop was, he wanted to learn to do it. It was his first time, and his chops weren't very heavy and they popped up, but he had fun. Conventionally, you don't teach juniors to be choppers. And conventionally, even choppers are supposed to develop a good foundation of forehand and backhand attack before becoming choppers. So . . . should we go conventional, or go with chopping? I'm leaning toward the latter.
I've never understood why more players don't learn to chop. It's not that they'll win many points that way - most won't - but it's a lot of fun, and adds a new dimension to your game. Why not give it a try?
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