Larry Hodges's blog

August 20, 2018

Tip of the Week
How to Quadruple Your Chances of Winning Those Five-Game Matches.

Hidden Serves - the Ma Long Serve
I've recently gotten into some discussions about Ma Long's serve. He's the reigning World and Olympic Champion, and while his world ranking has dropped to #7 due to lack of competition (plus his recent loss at the Bulgarian Open to Liam Pitchford), he's still generally considered the best player in the world.

But the simple reality is that he, like many other world-class players, rarely serves legally. Most of his serves are forehand serves where he throws the ball high and towards him, and as it comes down, he thrusts his head forward and down. The ball illegally goes behind his head, and he contacts it behind his chin, so the opponent can't see contact. Then his racket follows the ball, making it appear that he contacts the ball below the head. That's one of the main advantages of this technique. 

But ask yourself this - why would he and so many other top players spend so much time developing such an obviously illegal serve, where they have to bend their body into a pretzel, throw the ball behind their head, and do that vigorous head thrust just before contact, and then let the receiver see contact?

Here's the key rule on hidden serves - I've bolded the key parts.

2.6.4 From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.

Here is the video (13:43, with time between points removed) of the Ma Long - Liam Pitchford match. Both players are hiding their serves. (Most top players do, not just Ma Long.) Watch Ma Long's first two serves near the start, and you can see his head thrusts out and down as the ball goes behind it, with contact behind his chin. Immediately after contact the racket continues down, making it seem as if contact might have been below the head. (You can use the space bar to start and stop the video, and use the period and comma keys to move forward or back one frame at a time.)

Here's the still image just before contact. Note how the ball is next to his ear, with his racket directly behind it. Here's the very next frame, where he's contacting the ball. Juggle between the two, and note how his head has dropped down in the second frame to keep contact behind his chin.  Note that in the first frame, the ball has just gotten behind Ma's head. With the ball moving toward Ma, and his head thrusting it out, it continues to even more behind his head. 

I've played and coached against players with Ma Long type serves and know contact wasn't visible - that's the whole point of this behind-the-head serve motion, that it hides the ball until just after the split second of contact, while making it difficult for umpires to know for sure, especially with the racket following the ball downward and forward. I've watched players practice these serves and coaches teaching it to them. Just last year I played a kid who was about 12 but had already perfected the Ma Long serve. I never saw contact. I complained, to no avail. And so I had to return the serves defensively or be erratic, and lost to a much weaker player. The idea that our sport has reached the point where our coaches are teaching such openly illegal serves to 12-year-olds sickens me - and yet it makes perfect sense as we allow this type of cheating in our sport. 

Too many of us are in denial - first saying the serve can't be illegal, then saying, well, maybe it's illegal, but contact is visible, while ignoring both the video evidence and the logic of why players develop such intricate serves designed to hide contact and then supposedly choose to allow the opponent to see contact. We are living in bizarro land. 

There is a legitimate debate over whether an individual umpire should call these serves. They are illegal, but the problem is whether you want one umpire calling them, while the rest are not. This leads to inconsistent umpiring. What should happen is all of these serves are called, and then the players would stop using them. But alas, we are in a situation where few umpires call them, and so players use them, either to gain an advantage or to nullify the opponent's advantage since so many opponents are hiding their serves.

But there is no legitimate debate over whether illegal serving is widespread. We can see it with our eyes. Just watch the video, and those of other elite players. I'm wondering if we are the only Olympic sport that allows such open cheating? And before you object, of course it's cheating, by definition - to "act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage." There is an argument that if both players are doing it, then it is not cheating since neither is doing it to gain an advantage - they are doing it so their opponent doesn't get an advantage. But not all players hide their serves, and so when they do so against an opponent who doesn't, they are cheating. Whoever does it first in a match is also cheating. There's a simple way of looking at this - if both players played by rules unless the other play didn't, then both would play by the rules. Wouldn't that be great?

It's sort of like a 100-meter race at the Olympics where one player steps forward two meters, the race officials allow it, so another follows, and pretty soon nearly all of them have stepped forward those two meters, while arguing that it's not cheating since the others are doing it. But what about the ones who don't, who stay back? And do we really want to turn the 100-meter race into a 98-meter race? But the race officials don't want to be the bad guys who call out the players for breaking the rules, and so they allow the players that two-meter head start, if they choose, and pretend all is fine.

One argument I've often heard is that umpires shouldn't call a hidden serve because it affects the course of the match, especially when it's close. But why should this affect anything? Umpires should call the serve as the rules specify, regardless of how it affects things or the score. (I'm putting aside the "consistency" argument here, for now.) I know this is not always easy, but that's part of the job of being an umpire. I greatly appreciate baseball umpires who take so much flack while trying to do their best, and I similarly respect table tennis umpires who do the same. But again, there is that problem of whether to be the only one calling these illegal serves.

Some argue that if we were "strict" about enforcing the service rule, then we'd be faulting just about every serve. I strongly disagree - just for example, my serves are all legal, and so are many others. (I've never been faulted for serving illegally in my entire career, in hundreds and hundreds of tournaments.) But there's also a distinct difference between the effectiveness of different illegal serves. Comparing the problem of someone doing a five-inch toss instead of six, to a hidden serve is apples and oranges. There's a MUCH bigger advantage to hiding contact than from having a slightly short toss. We need to focus on the illegal serves that have a big impact. That doesn't mean players shouldn't be faulted for more minor serve problems such as a five-inch toss, but that's simply not a big issue, at least at the higher levels. Hidden serves is the elephant in the room.

But why don't more top players complain? Three main reasons. First, many have, but they have long learned that complaining about it is pointless, and so they are forced to simply learn to return these illegal serves, reading the spin from how the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, which is much more difficult than reading it from contact, and leads to more mistakes or less effective returns. Second, most top players have long ago realized they too have to hide their serves if they don't want to give their opponent an advantage, so most of them hide their own serves, either regularly or semi-regularly, and so it would be hypocritical to complain at this point about the opponent. And third, hidden serves are one of the big dividing lines between top players and almost-top players. The established players are used to hidden serves, the up-and-coming ones less so, and so by allowing hidden serves, top players more easily beat these up-and-comers.

I've also heard some say that if the umpire doesn't call the serve, then the serve is legal. That's nonsense - it's just rationalizing the fact that they got away with breaking the rules, and the serve is still illegal. It's like saying a burglar isn't committing a crime unless he gets caught. However, there is a legitimate argument that it's okay to serve illegally if the umpire doesn't call it (at least at the higher levels), since doing so is widespread among top players and so up-and-coming players have to learn to do this to compete. Many would disagree with this argument. I'm not happy with this situation, but it's an inconvenient truth.

One misconception about all this is that the umpire can't tell if a borderline serve is hidden from where he sits on the side. But the call shouldn't be whether the serve is hidden or not - the call would be from the following rules:

2.6.6 It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect.

2.6.6.1 If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.

So, by definition, if the umpire can't tell that the serve is legal (i.e. not hidden), then the serve is illegal. And yes, it's easy to do a forehand serve where the umpire can see this - it's how I serve, as well as Samsonov and others. But few umpires apply this rule, and instead go by the dictum that if they aren't sure the serve is hidden, then they don't call it. And so players have learned to serve so contact is hidden, but not so blatantly that the umpire will call it. The part that's harder to figure out is why they don't call a serve that goes behind the head, which is so blatantly illegal - the ball must be visible to the receiver from the time it leaves the serving hand. But that's usually rationalized with the idea that even though the ball is (illegally) hidden, contact is all that counts, which of course isn't what the rules say. And once given that, players can then get away with hiding serve after serve.

Ironically many players who hide their serve don't do it nearly every time, like Ma Long does. Some pick and choose when to do so, usually doing it at key times. The reason is that if you hide it all the time, then opponents get used to it, and so focus on reading the ball as it travels through the air and bounces on the table. But if you let them see contact much of the time, then when you suddenly hide one, they miss it badly. Also, even players like Ma Long will use serves where contact is visible, such as his occasional backhand serve, because while these serves aren't as effective if used regularly, if used sparingly the variation is effective since it takes time to adjust to any good serve.

Note that a good hidden serve isn't one where all one does is hide contact. The top players who hide their serve not only hide contact, but they try to fake a different spin. For example, they may serve sidespin or no-spin, with contact hidden, then follow through vigorously down to fake backspin. A good hidden serve looks like one type of spin from what the racket is doing before and after contact, but does something different at contact.

How did we get to this situation where top players regularly hide the serve and get away with it? The "short" answer is this.

When the hidden serve ban first came about in 2002, it was mostly enforced and most players stopped hiding their serves. Then, a few top players discovered that if they did borderline serves in a way that the umpire wasn't sure whether it was hidden or not, most umpires wouldn't call it, though a few did. I believe Wang Hao was one of the first big stars to hide his serve consistently and get away with it. Umpires didn't want to be the "bad guy" and call such serves when they weren't sure if they were actually hidden, even though the rules say they should - it's human nature to want to be sure before calling such serves. It started with a just a few players. But when umpires didn't call them for it, others started to do it. Since other umpires weren't calling them, and with the argument of being consistent with other umpires, they didn't call them either, and pretty soon it became commonplace.

So players found ways to hid contact where the umpire wasn't sure. Some would get called for hiding it with their body, shoulder, or arm, but then the Chinese discovered that throwing it behind their head was more subtle and less likely to be called. I believe it was in the early 2010's that this type of serve started to came out. It was in 2012 (the Olympic year) that I first noted the emergence of this style of serve. Several U.S. players who trained in China before 2012 copied the serve and told me that an entire generation of players were now using it there. In contrast, some note how USA's Wang Chen has been faulted a number of times for her hidden serves, but that's because she more openly hides it with her arm rather than develop these more subtle methods. Some still hide the ball with the arm, shoulder, or body, but more and more the behind-the-head method is dominating. 

Note that another reason umpires are hesitant to call such serves is because, as shown in this very discussion here, many spectators are fooled by the server into thinking the serve is not hidden, or at least contact is not hidden, and so object to them being faulted. Umpires, being human, realize this and so are less likely to call such seemingly borderline serves. 

The saddest part of all this is that coaches at some point have to give up-and-coming kids (and often their parents), "the talk," where they explain that many of their kid's opponents are going to hide their serve, and so if he wants to compete on an even level, he has to as well. Or he can train and train and lose to weaker players who do. Yes, an inconvenient truth until ITTF or someone solves the problem.

A few years ago I made a proposal on this, the Net Visibility Rule. I sent it to the ITTF Athletes Commission (then chaired by Samsonov), but alas, nothing has come of it. (They are looking into it, but Samsonov said they are facing bureacracy - and he's no longer chair. Saive is the new chair, but I haven't contacted him.)  I've also tried to get the USATT board of directors to take action, first by asking our umpires and referees to enforce the rule, and then by sending a letter to the ITTF asking them to prioritize this issue. The first attempt lost 1-6-1 (I was the only one in favor) as they didn't want to penalize our players. The second was also rejected as they thought my proposed letter would insult umpires by insinuating they weren't enforcing the rules, and so set up a three-person commission to rewrite it. That was on June 20, exactly two months ago, and we haven't heard back from the yet.  

MDTTC August Open
Here's the write-up, photos, and video from the tournament I ran this past weekend! It had a powerful draw, with seven players over 2550, eight over 2500. The Open final was Sharon Alguetti over brother Gal Alquetti. 

Bulgarian Open
Here's the home page for the Bulgarian Open, which finished yesterday, with complete results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's an interview  (2:05) with Liam Pitchford, who upset Ma Long at the tournament. Here's video of the match (13:43), with time between points taken out. Here's the ITTF article.

Liam Pitchford Beats Ma Long
Here's the article by Eli Baraty, where he analyzes the match.

Bty Training Tips: Jinxin Wang – Backhand Loop in Tournament Play
Here's the article and video (2:27).

New from Samson Dubina

New from EmRatThich

Our Biggest Mistake: Talent Selection Instead of Talent Identification
Here's the article from Changing the Game Project.

Can Engineers Play Table Tennis?
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Tomokazu Harimoto Talks about Tenergy
I usually avoid equipment articles here, as I have a conflict in interest - I'm sponsored by Butterfly - but these seemed interesting about the equipment of the 15-year-old Japanese whiz kid, #6 in the world. (I use Tenergy 05 on forehand, Tenergy 25 on backhand.) Here are the four articles.

USATT Insider
Here's the issue from last week.

National Collegiate College Newsletter
Here's the August issue.

ITTF Executive Committee Concludes Mid-Year Meeting in Prague
Here's the ITTF article.

ITTF Announces Record Number of Challenge Series Events for 2019
Here's the ITTF article.

WAB Club Feature: PowerStroke Table Tennis Club
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins on this club in Saint Augustine, Florida.

Colorado Springs' Olympic City Title Could Be Threatened
Here's the article by Han Xiao, former long-time U.S. Men's Team member, 4-time U.S. Men's Doubles Champion, and one-time U.S. Men's Singles Finalist.

Ma Long Training with Chinese Team Member Lin Gaoyuan
Here's the video (7:07), from Arnaud Scheen.

Tomokazu Harimoto - Service Training at the Korea Open
Here's the video (3:23) of the 15-year-old whiz kid from Japan, now #6 in the world.

Why Anyone Can Take Up Table Tennis
Here's the video (2:16) from the BBC.

Table Tennis Prodigy Estee Ackerman
Here's the video (1:36) from Fox 5 News. "Don't let her smile fool you. Estee Ackerman is a self-proclaimed pingpong prodigy. She has been playing for more than half her life." Esteen and I are both normally sponge players, but we won Hardbat Mixed Doubles at the Nationals last year!

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - July 2018
Here's the video (14:53).

Great Point Between Vladimir Samsonov and Quentin Robinot
Here's the video (34 sec). Former world #1 Samsonov of Belarus is down to #54 in the world, but was #8 last year. Robinot of France is world #96, was #65 last year.

Two Little Kids, Great Point
Here's the video (13 sec).

Playing Ping-Pong Across the Border
Here's the article from the Korea Herald, which features Hyun Jung-hwa. "Decades later, South Koreans still remember shedding silent tears as they watched a South Korean table tennis player stroke her North Korean teammate’s face before pulling her into a gentle hug -- right before the disbandment of the first inter-Korean sports team in history."

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 13
Here’s chapter 13 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. This chapter covers "Tournaments Abroad." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Water Pong
Here's the video (28 sec)!

Raining Ping-Pong Balls
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

New Minions Playing Table Tennis Video
Minions playing table tennis with lots of volleying (15 sec)! I've posted links to past videos and pictures. Below is my current lost, including this one.

Non-Table Tennis - New Science Fiction & Fantasy Stories Published
I have three new stories out!  My story "The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall" is in the new issue of Analog Science Fiction. My story "Satan's Soul" is out in Galaxy's Edge. And my story "An American Christian at the Pearly Gates" is out in Alternative Theologies: Parables for a Modern World, a new anthology that satirizes bad religion. Meanwhile, I've started a new science fiction novel, but am still mostly in the research and planning stage. Here's my science fiction & fantasy page, which includes my blog and bibliography. I plan to put up a new blog entry there today or tomorrow.

***
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August 14, 2018

Tip of the Week
Make Up-and-Coming Players Your Rivals - and Stay With Them!

USATT Board Teleconference
The teleconference started at 7PM and went until about 8:20 or so. (I'm on the USATT board of directors.) Ignoring formalities, there were three main segments.

1) USATT High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio gave a High Performance Update, which mostly covered recent USATT training camps and ranking tournaments. As I've noted before, the level and depth of play among our up-and-coming juniors is easily the best in modern history, i.e. since the hardbat era. (My club is helping - we had three of the four semifinalists in Under 10 Boys at the recent USA Nationals, and two of them - including the winner - is off today for two weeks training and competing in France, which finishes with the European Mini-Championships, Aug. 24-26. Here's the info page, but alas, it's in French.)

2) A long discussion of our upcoming in-person meeting in Colorado Springs, Sept. 21-23, where went over logistics and the agenda. Major topics that will be included:

  • Strategic Planning process. We will be having a Strategic Planning Meeting in November where we will be developing the USATT Strategic Plan, with assistance from USOC. Some of the issues discussed included USOC Presentation; Identifying Potential Panning Group Members; Plan to Survey Membership; and Potential Dates.
  • Needed bylaws to cover NGB compliance with USOC/SafeSport/USADA requirements
  • Staffing and Organizational Structure
  • USATT Event Discussion
  • ITTF North America
  • Strategic Direction of USATT
  • 2018-2019 USATT Elections
  • 2019 Committees
  • Financial Update
  • Fundraising
  • Insurance Coverage Review
  • Code of Conduct for USATT Membership

3) A roughly 30-minute closed session, where we discussed various personnel and disciplinary issues that I can't go into. But I can't believe what that duck did!!!

MDTTC August Open
This weekend I'll be running the 3-star $2700 Butterfly MDTTC August Open in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Here's the info page, where you can enter and pay online. (Entering online is really easy with Omnipong!) Events include Open, U2400, U2200, U2000, U1900, U1600, U1300, U1000, Over 50, Under 15, and Under 12. Deadline to enter is 7PM this Friday. We usually get around 90 players. The draw is looking pretty strong - with three days to go we have six players in the Open over 2550! (We'd have even more 2500+ players but several locals are out of town.) The top six seeds currently are:

  1. 2673 Alguetti, Sharon
  2. 2650 Liang, Jishan
  3. 2593 Chen, Bo Wen
  4. 2564 Ventura Dos Anj, Bruno
  5. 2562 Alguetti, Gal
  6. 2555 Alguetti, Adar

Shoulder Problems and Writing
It's official - for the foreseeable future, I'm retired from private coaching, though I'll continue with group sessions. I tried out my shoulder a few days ago, and while the muscles are looser, the main underlying problem - the frayed rotator cuff - hasn't gotten better. The doctor had said that it would take anywhere from six months to two years to heal. We elected not to go with surgery and let it heal naturally, but it hasn't worked out yet. Here are some of the problems I face. I can't reach in for any short balls, forehand or backhand. I can't extend my arm to reach for shots to my wide forehand. I can't follow through on backhand loops, even in demos, except very slowly, in slow motion, where I use my non-playing arm to guide the arm through the motion. I can't smash except at about 50% power. Surprisingly, I can forehand loop almost okay.

However, I can still feed multiball and of course do regular "walk around" coaching. I can also do basic demos. I'm actually supposed to do an exhibition in two weeks and I think I can do that, as long as I'm careful.

This does mean I'll be able to focus more on writing. While I do both table tennis and science fiction/fantasy writing, my writing focus right now is on the SF/fantasy side. In fact, I have a new short story that just came out today in Alternate Theologies, which is an anthology of stories that satirize bad religion. My story is "An American Christian at the Pearly Gates," which hypothesizes what happens when a hypocritical American Christian meets Saint Peter. I also have a story coming out next week in Analog Magazine! (They are the biggest science fiction magazine in the world, at least in English.)

I'm currently deep into research and some writing of a new science fiction novel, which hypothesizes that the minds of the first ten U.S. Presidents - Washington to John Tyler - have been living in an alien computer in virtual reality that appears to them to be Mount Vernon - but after a lawsuit, the aliens are forced to recreate their bodies and return them back to modern-day Earth. The U.S. is falling apart due to political battles, and the current vice president wonders, "Who can save us?" And then, up the steps of the U.S. Capitol walk the first ten U.S. presidents! They are soon involved in U.S. politics, leading to primaries and a general election that will involve (most likely) three of them - Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson - facing off against each other and other modern politicians as they run for president, each backed by some of the other past presidents. (Don't worry, I've resolved the problem with the Second Amendment, since all three of them already had two terms.) But much of the story is told from the point of view of Tyler, and the novel, while covering these past presidents clashing in modern politics, is really about the redemption of Tyler, regarded as a poor president. I will do my best to get some table tennis into the story!

Spin to Win - Short film about the Maryland Table Tennis Center
Here's the video (2:36) that features my club.

The Tables
Here's the video (15:03) of this award-winning table tennis video. Wally Green is one of the featured players. "A look at the powerful connection between a pair of outdoor ping pong tables in the heart of New York City and the unlikely group of people they’ve brought together, from homeless people to investment bankers to gangbangers."

Nigeria Open
Quadri Aruna and Guo Yan win! Here's the info page (with results) and news page.

US Table Tennis Hall of Famer Valleri Bellini Passes
Here's the USATT obit.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.

Bitzigeio Takes Long Range View of Current USA Success
Here's the article by Richard Finn on USATT High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio. 

AMICUS Training Tips Series
Here are two articles and videos by German coach Richard Prause.

New from EmRatThich

Embracing Routine Shots
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Table Tennis When You're Aged 17-21 Years
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Ping Pong Problems: 7 Common Table Tennis Mistakes
Here's the article from Go Sports Reviews.

Wenting Zha - Wide Angle Serve
Here's the article and video (2:12) from Brian Pace and Butterfly.

Multiball Footwork Drills
Here's the article and video (2:23) from Brian Pace and Butterfly, featuring Coach Li of NYITTC.

Reaching USATT Rating 2000 in Under 2 Years
Here's the video (7:41) showing the steady improvement as Tony Ma made the rather rapid journey to 2000. Here's discussion of the video at mytabletennis.com.

Harimoto Discussion
Here's the video (8:46) from Samson Dubina.

Koki Niwa - Service Technique
Here's the video (57 sec).

Spin Serve Fun and Games
Here's the video (6 sec) - This is the type of serving practice that leads to great spin and control of your serves, while keeping it fun. 

Training With Marcos Freitas and Chuang Chih-Yuan
Here's the video (10:03) from Arnaud Scheen.

DHS ITTF Top 10 - 2018 Korea Open
Here's the video (5:44).

Ask a Pro Anything
Here are two new ones from the ITTF and Adam Bobrow.

Emily Tan Makes World Hopes Team for Cadet Challenge
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

WAB Club Feature: PongPlanet
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins on this club in San Carlos, CA.

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 12
Here’s chapter 12 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. Chapter 12 covers " January-March 1995 Tournaments." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Rolling Pong
Here's the video (12 sec) as Adam Bobrow shows that table tennis really isn't that different from bowling with this around-and-under-the-net rolling ball.

Desk Pong
Here's the video (16 sec) - This is how you develop your game in the classroom!

Best of Pongfinity
Here's the video (2:45)!

Cartoon Table Tennis
Here's the page, which includes a number that I've linked to before, and some I've never seen before.

***
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August 13, 2018

I'm postponing the blog one day so I can include coverage of the USATT Teleconference scheduled for Monday night at 7PM. See you tomorrow!

August 6, 2018

Tip of the Week
Training the Subconscious.

Top Ten Surprising Thing About Top Table Tennis Players
Top table tennis players can often seem a different species than the rest of us. After all, they have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Here are ten things about top players that might surprise you.

  1. Away from the table they aren't that much different from other people. Really! It's only when they are training, and how intense they often are during training, that sets them apart. Bother them while they are training and you might get a slightly irritated "What do you want?" look. So wait until they are off the table and you'll find them 100% normal. Or at least close!
  2. They get their touch on short balls not by just hitting the ball lightly, but by grazing the ball. The grazing motion not only puts backspin on the ball, but makes the ball bounce off the racket more slowly, making it easy to drop the ball short.
  3. Their favorite serve is often no-spin! More specifically, half-long no-spin (so second bounce, given the chance, would be near the end-line), very low to the net, where they fake putting spin on the ball, usually backspin. This serve, when used in contrast to spin serves, is highly effective as it doesn't give the receiver any spin to use against you. They are harder to drop short and low or push heavy against than backspin serves, and harder to flip than sidespin or topspin serves. (But a big key here is keeping it low.) The first time someone told me that the no-spin serve was a favorite of many top players I thought he was crazy. But it's true.
  4. Often the biggest challenge a top player has is finding someone near their level to train with. Yep, getting good has its challenges.
  5. Most of them started when they were very young. It's very difficult to become a top player otherwise.
  6. When no one's around you'll often find them practicing their serves. Why? Because they have a drive to be great, and that includes "boring" serve practice.
  7. At tournaments they usually arrange in advance who they will practice with and at what times, who their coach will be, what they will eat, and so on.
  8. Top players are often besieged by much weaker players who want to play them. Don't be one of those besiegers. But when you do play a top player in practice, if you are willing to let them spot you points, it'll be more of a challenge and therefore more interesting to them.
  9. Not all top players are top coaches, but they all are good at teaching something. Pick their brains every chance you can!
  10. If you are looking for a good coach, ask a top player. They generally know who the really good coaches are.

Table Tennis News
Here are some you should be browsing daily.

Lifetime Achievement Award
On Thursday, July 5, at the USATT Hall of Fame Banquet during the U.S. Nationals, I was honored to be awarded this year's USATT Lifetime Achievement Award. (Five others were inducted into the Hall that night - I was inducted in 2003.) Here's the video (21:29). It starts with a pre-taped video from 2-time Olympian Todd Sweeris. At 4:24, 5-time U.S. Men's Champion Dan Seemiller gives his introduction to me. At 7:00 I give my acceptance speech. Here are some photos that they played on the viewing screen.

Capital Area Table Tennis League
You can now sign up for the fall season! This is for players in the Washington DC area - DC, Maryland, Virginia, and surrounding states. Here's the great promotional video (82 sec) put together by Pongmobile. Last season we had 17 teams and 84 players. Come join us!

ITTF Strategic Plan, 2018-2024
Here it is!

2018 Asia-Europe All Star Challenge
Here's the home page with news stories. Asia won 7-3.

Tom's Table Tennis Tips
Here's the latest newsletter from Tom Lodziak, with links to lots of tips.

Tom Lodziak's Blog
Here are his two latest entries.

Inside-Out Backhand Flick (Strawberry)
Here's the article from Eli Baraty.

Weekly Blog from Coach Jon
Here's his blog page, with entries every Thursday.

Radical Service Rule Suggestion
Here's the podcast (38:47) from Pingskills. Segments include:

  • Joke of the Week - What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?
  • On This Week - Maharu Yoshimura is having a birthday.
  • Winner of the Harimoto Competition
  • Tournament Wrap
  • Tip and Drill of the Week
  • Big Serve Rule Change
  • What is a Set?
  • Golden Point
  • Loose Grip

Legends Tour Videos

Han Xiao Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee
Here's the video (2:13:30). "Officials with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Gymnastics (USAG) and Michigan State University (MSU) testified before a Senate Commerce subcommittee on changes the institutions have made to protect amateur athletes from abuse." Han, a long-time U.S. National Team Member and four-time U.S. Men's Doubles Champion, is the USOC Athletes' Advisory Council Chair. He gives testimony from 42:33 to 48:33, and shorter segments at 1:36:50 and 2:09:21.

Melton Table Tennis Newsletter
Here's the latest newsletter from this Australian TTC, with lots of interesting articles. One thing - in the article on page 6 about table tennis on the moon (!), it says gravity there is 1/70th what we have on earth, but that's not right - it's about 1/6. (Here are their archives for previous newsletters.) Regarding table tennis on the moon, here's my October 24, 2012 blog on playing table tennis on the moon and other planets.

Most Round the Table Players Ever!
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Note that each table has a group of players, circling the table as they keep the ball in play - 1252 players in all!

Ping-Pong Battle in the London Underground
Here's the video (62 sec). "These guys play an epic tongue ping-pong battle in the London underground."

I'm Pinging in the Rain!
Here's the video (11 sec)! Make sure to have "I'm Singing in the Rain" in your head as you view it.

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August 1, 2018

Blog is Now a Weekly
I have sad news. After 7.5 years of almost daily blogging (1800+ blogs), and much contemplation, I've decided to switch to once a week (probably Mondays), effective immediately. The reason is simple - while I'm still very active in table tennis, I'm also getting more and more involved with my science fiction writing. After doing the blog each morning, it's very hard to continue right into my SF writing - there's only so much mental energy in a day, especially when I often have to go straight from that to coaching at night. So I'll be focusing my writing on science fiction, both short stories and novels. (I just started a new novel.)

Another reason is harder to explain to non-fiction writers, but I'll try. When I write science fiction, especially novels that take many months to complete, I have to get completely immersed in it. Even little distractions take my mind off it, and then I'm done for the day as far as SF writing. So I'm trying to remove as many such distractions as possible. If I don't do this, I won't write SF nearly as much or as well, and someday I'll look back and regret it. 

So I'll be blogging now every MONDAY morning, along with a Tip of the Week. I'm not 100% set on Mondays; I'm toying with doing it on Fridays instead. If anyone has any suggestions on the best day for this, comment below.

My private coaching is currently on hold due to my ongoing shoulder problems, and I don't know if I'll start that up again. I will continue with group sessions. As readers know, I've had shoulder problems all year, and after lots and lots of physical therapy, mostly to loosen the muscles around the actual injury, I now have looser (though still tight) muscles, but the shoulder still isn't healed - many movements are still painful. Doctors say this type of injury can take anywhere from six months to two years to completely heal. Their main focus has been on loosening the muscles that were pulling on it, though it's still not 100% certain what the specific problem is, though it's likely the slightly shredded rotator cuff, along with tendinitis and bursitis.

As to my science fiction writing, in September I have a short story coming out in Analog, the largest circulation science fiction magazine in the English language (I think there's one in Chinese that's larger), and a number of others. Mike Resnick, the editor of Galaxy's Edge Magazine (one of the big "pro" magazines that's bought 14 of my short stories) and who as a writer holds the record of 37 Hugo and Nebula award nominations (the annual SF awards), wrote to me recently saying, "Don't let this go to your head...but you're too good -not- to make a living as a [SF] writer." When I told him I was now working on a new SF novel, he wrote, "OK, you get to live."

My SF writing career has been taking off - I now have four novels and 92 short stories sold. Here's my bibliography.

Where should you go for your regular table tennis news, including coaching? Here is a selection of pages that have regular news items that often focus on coaching.

And here's the Ping-Pong Kid (3:03) - Nick Rudd - doing ping-pong tricks!

***
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July 17, 2018

Table Tennis Coaching Back Up Again - Sort Of
As you probably noticed, the site has been down since Friday morning, July 13. It literally went down minutes before I posted my Friday blog, which I wasn't able to post. My technical person wasn't able to resolve the issue until last night. What had happened was the "Access Log" went over 1 GB, causing an "overload of MySQL resources."

Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen side problem, the site almost immediately went down again. Hopefully it'll be up soon. Below is the Monday blog, where I took the Friday blog and added lots of new stuff. I was planning on blogs on Fri, Mon, Tue, and Wed (mostly covering the Nationals), but couldn't do them since the site was down. 

Last Blog Until August 1
Now the really bad news. I was out of town recently for 3.5 weeks (World Veterans and Nationals), and Thursday I'm going out of town again! I'll be away July 19-29, and so won't be blogging during that time. (I'm off to my annual science fiction writing workshop vacation in Manchester, NH.) After this I hopefully won't be missing any more days for a while.

Tip of the Week
Follow Through Back Into Position After Forehand Looping.

$10,000 Jim Butler - A.J. Carney Hardbat Challenge
Here's the video (91 min) of this challenge match that took place at the U.S. Nationals, on Saturday, July 7 at 1:30PM, with Adam Bobrow commentating. I'm sitting next to him, and occasionally comment to him. Initially the match was to be on one of the feature stadium tables, but with the tournament almost over tables were being taken down and moved into trucks, and the opening for the trucks meant that one side was looking into a glare. So they moved to another table. At 10:40 you can see the $10,000 cash. The match itself starts about 11 minutes in.

The challenge was initiated by A.J., and agreed to by Jim. The deal - best of seven to 21 - yes, you read that right! - with each putting up $5000 in cash. A.J. has dominated the U.S. hardbat world the last few years, while Jim dominated it for a number of years before that.

SPOILER ALERT! - Jim wins the match, 4-2: 15,-16,7,11,-15,19. There were two key turning points.

  • Jim goes up 3-1 in games, winning the last two games at 7 and 11, and is up 15-9 in the fifth, seemingly coasting toward an easy 4-1 win. They are having great points, with A.J. both counter-hitting and chopping, but with Jim winning most of the long points. But incredibly, A.J. scores 12 in a row (!) to win 21-15! Jim quite visibly was tired during this run - if A.J. can turn it into a physical fitness contest, he can win.
  • Jim is up 13-9 in the sixth, then he's down 14-15 - again, looking physical tired - and then is up 20-16 match point - yeah, lots of back and forth runs of points this match. A.J. scores three in a row before losing the final game, 21-19.

Here's my assessment of the two players. (Disclosure - A.J. and I are defending Hardbat Doubles Champions from the U.S. Open in December.)

JIM BUTLER

  • Overall: He has very good serves that allow him to take control of the point, with the ball tossed behind his head like many world-class players, but hidden serves are rarely called these days. (To see this, watch the serve when Jim's on the far side of the table. Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, and others do the same thing.) He comes at you from both wings with relentless drives, rarely missing, with an occasional backhand smash. He almost never backs up or chops. Except when he tires, it's simply hard to find a way to score against his relentless consistency.
  • Strengths: Great serves, rarely misses except when tired, keeps coming at you from both wings with strong drives, the threat of the big backhand, experienced and cool under pressure.
  • Weaknesses: Lack of forehand finishing shot, not as dominant on backhand as expected, and at key times toward the end had stamina problems.

A.J. CARNEY

  • Overall: Equally comfortable countering or attacking, or chopping.
  • Strengths: All-around play, very physical, great footwork, and sometimes able to run off strings of points in a row.
  • Weaknesses: No real weaknesses, though like Jim often focuses on consistency and so doesn't end the point as well as he could with smashes - I thought he should have smashed more on the forehand side. Doesn't have a specific overwhelming strength (except perhaps his fast footwork), other than ability to do EVERYTHING well.

Thursday's Links
Last Thursday (July 12) was my first blog after being out of town for 3.5 weeks, and it was loaded with links to blogs and articles by some of our regular table tennis writers and videographers, including Samson Dubina, Tom Lodziak, Eli Baraty, Jon Gustavson, Shashin Shodhan, Emratthich, and PingSkills. Why not browse over some of the ones you didn't get to yet?

Maryland Table Tennis Center Featured!
Here are three new articles or videos that feature my club, MDTTC, or its players!

  • Spin to Win about MDTTC
    Here's the new video (2:56) featuring MDTTC! (One small mistake - 15 sec in it has me as "Coach and Owner." I sold my share many years ago, and have asked them to change this to "Coach and Co-Founder.")
  • Melton Table Tennis Newsletter Features MDTTC
    Here's the new July issue from this Australia club. They visited MDTTC recently and have a feature article on it on page 6, "Table Tennis American Style"! "Arriving at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on a Saturday night we met with Larry Hodges and watched some of the juniorsquad training, and I have to admit, I was very surprised by the depth of talent on display." (Here are their past issues.)
  • Don't Tell That to Mel
    Here's the article by Bill Draper that features 96-year-old Mel Ketchel - a regular player at MDTTC, World War 2 veteran, and with a PhD in Physiology, was a professor at Tufts.

Banana Flip
Here's the video (5:12) from PingSkills.

3 Tips to Improve Your Table Tennis Serve
Here's the video (4:15) from Eli Baraty.

Tuning Footwork from Backhand to Forehand
Here's the video (3:26). I think they mean "Turning."

Korea Open
Here's the ITTF home page for the event, July 19-22 in Daejeon, South Korea.

Pan Am Juniors and USATT News
The USA Junior Team won six of the seven gold medals! Here's the USATT news page, with lots of articles on this and other topics. Here's the ITTF Pan Am Juniors page, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Titles Defended, USA Triumph at Pan Am Junior Champs
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington on Team USA sweeping Girls' and Boys' Teams at the Pan Am Junior Championships. Here's the video (6:40) of them taking the podium. Here's the ITTF article, United States asserts authority, status justified. Singles and Doubles start next.

The Man Behind MH Table Tennis
Here's the video (9:39) featuring Matt Hetherington, who is also USATT's Media & Communications Director, and one of the hardest-working people in table tennis!

RIP: Dragutin Surbek
Here's the ITTF article, and another from the Croatia News. Reading this was sort of a "wow!" moment for me as Surbek was the first top international player I ever met - sort of. At the 1976 U.S. Open in Philadelphia, my first big tournament, I went out to lunch and sat at the counter at some diner. In walks the Yugoslavian stars, world #3 Surbek and Milivoj Karakasevic (father of future star Aleksandar). There were only two open seats - one on either side of me. So Surbek sits to my left, Milivoj to my right, and they spent the whole meal leaning back and talking to each other in one of the languages of Yugoslavia, while I sat frozen in awe. Surbek went on to win the tournament.

U.S. Nationals Ratings
They're up!

Comfortable with the Uncomfortable - Secret Table Tennis
Here's the article from Eli Baraty.

Jin Ueda's Backspin Touch is NEXT LEVEL!
Here's the video (17 sec). (Jin is world #26 from Japan.) Many players think that short pushes have little backspin, but world-class players put surprisingly amounts of backspin on the ball when they push short. It's that very grazing motion that creates the backspin that also gives them touch, since grazing the ball puts little forward motion on the ball, and that, along with the backspin, keep the ball short. 

Technique Tutorial - Backhand Topspin
Here's the video (6:02), in Chinese but the demos are good. 

Zhang Jike Forehand Topspin Loop
Here's the video (5:06).

Barrier-Blinding Footwork?
Here's the video (14 sec)! I presume the drill forces the player to react quickly to the incoming ball.

How Table Tennis Balls Are Made
Here's the video (8:25) showing how plastic balls are made.

Dhiren Narotam Profile
Here it is! Five new members of the USATT Hall of Fame were inducted at the Hall of Fame banquet during the U.S. Nationals. Each of them will eventually have their own Hall of Fame profile. Dhiren's was written by Paul Lewis, and is the first of the profiles not written by Tim Boggan.

Doru Gheorghe, Contribution Acknowledged, Inducted into United States Table Tennis Hall of Fame
Here's the ITTF article. Others inducted were Aili Elliott (Li Ai), Henan Li Ai, Dhiren Narotam, and Norman Bass Jr., plus the Lifetime Achievement Award to yours truly.

Minimising the Risk, Croatian Star to Focus Efforts on Recovery
Here's the ITTF article on the world #39, Andrej Gacina.

Mattias Karlsson | Ask a Pro Anything
Here's the video (6:21) by Adam Bobrow on the world #18 from Sweden.

Former Rock Publicist Took Up Table Tennis at 69, Now She's a Rising Star
Here's the article featuring Carol Klenfner.

Ian's 2020 Paralympic Journey
Here's the GoFundMe page for Ian Seidenfeld, who is trying to raise money to go to the 2020 Paralympics. Here's the start of his intro:

"Dear Friends and Family, I am honored to be a member of the U.S. Para Table Tennis Team with hopes of representing Team USA in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan. Many of you have supported my table tennis endeavors over the past several years and I hope you will continue your support throughout the remainder of the Paralympic Quadrennium. 

"My Paralympic journey started well before I began playing table tennis. l was born with pseudo-achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism characterized by shortness of limbs and orthopedic issues related to bone and joint development. As a result, I encounter severe pain in my knees and hips. But at the same time, it is my physical disability that allows me to pursue my ultimate goal of going to the Paralympics."

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 8
Here’s chapter 8 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. Chapter 8 covers "1994 International Play." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Jason and Alex Piech at the Nationals
Here's the video (1:56)!

Water Pong
Here's the video (34 sec)!

Classroom Desk Pong
Here's the video (16 sec).

Hitler Reacts to ITTF's Game-Changing Announcement
Here's the video (4 min)!

***
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July 12, 2018

NOTE - Due to technical problems, the site went down Friday morning and didn't come back up until Monday night. (The problem was the "Access Log," which went over 1 GB, causing an "overload of MySQL resources.") Now that it's back I'll be blogging again on Tuesday morning.

Tip of the Week
Pinpoint Your Weakness and Then Pinpoint a Drill. (I linked to this yesterday in my short blog, but thought I'd link again for those who missed it.)

Three Weeks in Las Vegas
I could write a book about all that happened these past three weeks in Las Vegas - or does what happen in Vegas stay in Vegas? In my last blog before leaving, June 13, I wrote about my schedule, and it pretty much went as listed. I spent the first week writing 23 articles on the World Veterans - see segment and links below. Then I had a four-day reading/writing vacation. Then we had a three-day camp for MDTTC juniors where they did two sessions/day, about 2.5 hours each. And then a week of coaching at the U.S. Nationals. (See segment below with results.) I'll likely do several blogs on the various happenings, such as the Hall of Fame Banquet, the norovirus stomach virus outbreak (I spent the day before the Nationals sick in bed, along with many others) the USATT board meeting, discussions on national team selection process and hidden serve enforcement, the mini-table tournament, and the $10,000 Jim Butler-A.J. Carney hardbat challenge match.

Since this is primarily a coaching blog, I'll start with coaching highlights. We had 16 junior players from MDTTC at the Nationals, with seven coaches. Each night Wen Hsu from the HW Global Foundation (which runs the Talent Development Program at MDTTC - I'm one of their coaches - and raised the money to fund our coaches to the Nationals) posted our coaching schedule for the next day. I was primarily responsible for three players.

The key to great coaching at a tournament is players who are prepared!!! Coaching a match can seem like pushing buttons, but if you push the button for a short serve and get a long serve instead, you aren't going to be successful in your "coaching." Fortunately, the players were well prepared, both before arriving in Las Vegas and during the three-day camp. It's the player's responsibility to be prepared, and the coach's responsibility to make sure they are prepared and to know what the player can do - and if they work together, you get pretty good results. Coaches often get credit for tactical advice, but the players have to have developed the tools needed, and be able to execute them under great pressure. That ain't easy!

MDTTC has a history of starting out poorly at the Nationals and Open in Las Vegas, for a very simple reason - the kids would often fly 3000 miles the day before, and so were disoriented by the change in time zone (three hours earlier), thinner air (1000 feet elevation, which affects the ball in subtle ways), and different playing conditions (tables, balls, and background). The three-day camp solved this problem, and our players played really well right from the start. I coached over 40 matches during the tournament over five days. (None of our players played on the last day, Saturday.)

I had two coaching highlights on the first day. A kid I was coaching was down 0-2 in games and 8-10 match point to a player rated over 200 points higher. I called a timeout and said, "Serve fast no-spin to his middle. If it works, do it again." I knew the player could do this serve - he'd been practicing it. Sure enough, the opponent missed it - both times! The player did it again at 11-10 to win the game and went on to win the match. Perfect execution.

Later that same day I had another kid down 0-2 in games and at 9-all in the third, also against a player about 200 points higher. (I mistakenly told some he was also down 8-10 match point, but had the score mixed up.) Again I called a timeout, and again said the exact same words: "Serve fast no-spin to his middle. If it works, do it again." Once again it worked, the player deuced it, and went on to win in five! Perfect execution.

Later in the tournament I coached a pair of kids in one of the rating doubles events. They were up against a pair of elderly penhold hitters. They were down 1-2 in games and 4-9 in the third, but I didn't call a timeout yet. They scored three in a row to make it 7-9. Then, controversially, I called a timeout. Normally you don't call a timeout when your team has just won three in a row, but I had my reasons. They were about to serve, and I wanted to go over the serve with them. The kid serving had a tendency to serve deep, which he sometimes got away with here since the receiver couldn't loop. But the previous time he'd served the opponent had hit those serves. I told him to focus on doing a slow, spinny sidespin tomahawk serve, and with his back to the opponents, even had him shadow-practice it. Then he went out and did the serve. Perfect execution! Sure enough, the receiver pushed it about five feet to the side - twice in a row! They went on to win the match.

Several of the kids discovered the value of a simple short no-spin serve to the middle, while faking backspin. They do this in practice, but against players who they play regularly and so are used to it. Against new players, the balls were often popped up, pushed back weakly, or flipped erratically, and without any extreme angled returns (as is easier to do against serves to the forehand or backhand). They were able to serve and attack over and over off this serve, especially by mixing the no-spins up with backspin and sidespin serves, and sudden deep serves, and by varying the placement.

We had some great results at the tournament. Our best result was in Under 10 Boys, where Stanley Hsu came in first, with Mu Du and Andy Wu both making the semifinals - we had three of the four semifinalists. They had come in seeded #1, #3, and #4. All three had great tournaments, both results- and rating-wise, and if others don't also go up, will likely come out as #1-3 in the country. (However, the #2 seed will likely go up as well.)

I also ran the USATT Coaching University Serve & Receive Tactics Seminar on Tuesday night. The lecture & demos went 90 minutes, then I stayed another 30 minutes working individually with players who stayed late to practice. I went pretty much by the topics listed on the flyer. One change - the flyer has "Long Serves" and "Short Serve," which I changed to "Long, Short, and Half-Long Serves."  

During my three-week trip I read nine books (often in the hot tub at night and in bed afterwards), wrote three new short science fiction stories (during the four-day reading/writing vacation), and saw two movies ("The Incredibles 2" and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom").

USA Nationals
Here are the results! (Set dropdown menu at top to "2018 US Nationals.") The event was held in Las Vegas, July 2-7. Here are two feature news articles by Matt Hetherington.

World Veterans Championships
They were held in Las Vegas, June 18-24. I was there doing daily online news coverage and ended up writing 23 stories. Here are some links.

Pan Am Junior Championships
Here's their home page, with results, etc. The USA Boys' Team is in the final against Argentina, the USA Girls' Team in the final against Canada.

USATT News
Here's their news page - lots of stuff was posted during my 3.5 week hiatus. Most recent news items are on the Pan Am Junior Championships.

Focusing Forward, Top Coaches Meet with High Performance in Mind
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. Alas, I had to miss this meeting as it was inadvertently scheduled at the same time as my Serve and Receive Tactics Seminar (which had 33 players).

New from Samson Dubina

New from Tom Lodziak

New from Eli Baraty

New from Coach Jon

New from Fremont Table Tennis (Shashin Shodhan)

New from EmRatThich

New from PingSkills

Tom's Table Tennis Tips
Here's the most recent newsletter from Tom Lodziak.

What Should You Eat To Improve Performance In Table Tennis?
Here's the article from Ping That Pong.

Butterfly Amicus Prime Table Tennis Robot
Here's the article by Larry Thoman. (Disclosure: I'm sponsored by Butterfly.)

How Table Tennis Rubber is Made
Here's the video (3:34).

Maria Sharapova Tries Her Hand at Table Tennis After Wimbledon Exit
Here's the article from India Today.

Juggling Pong
Here's the video (2:24)!

***
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July 11, 2018

I Need One More Day - Really!!!
After being away 3.5 weeks, I returned on Monday to an overwhelming todo list that took half a day just to put together. I need one more day to tackle that list before returning to daily blogging. However, the Tip of the Week is up: Pinpoint Your Weakness and Then Pinpoint a Drill. And here's a video (24 sec) of someone playing with an oven tray. Don't tell me you haven't dreamed of doing that!

June 13, 2018

World Veterans Articles
I am writing numerous daily articles for the World Veterans Championships in Las Vegas, June 18-24 (along with Matt Hetherington and Richard Finn). Come on over and read these articles that feature such champions as Istvan Jonyer, USATT Hall of Famers, many more!

Last Blog Until Wednesday, July 11 12
As noted below, I'll be out of town 3.5 weeks. See you in July!

Upcoming Schedule and Events
A detailed, day-by-day schedule of the next 3.5 weeks.

  • June 14-17 (Thu-Sun). I fly out to Eugene, Oregon with dozens of others for a remembrance of my father, who died in December. Will also spend some time going over his estate and belongings, including literally thousands of books.
  • June 17 (Sun). I fly to Las Vegas for three weeks. I'll be staying in the Westgate Hotel. I'll attend the World Veterans Opening Ceremonies at 8PM.  There are about 4000 entries.
  • June 18-19 (Mon-Tue). Group Qualifications for Singles and Doubles. (Doubles starts on June 19.) I'll be doing daily online coverage the entire event, June 18-24 - there should be links at the World Veterans page and on the USATT News page. (Due to shoulder problems I'm not playing, though the shoulder is mostly healed now.) I'm looking forward to meeting one of my three big heroes from when I started playing in 1976 - Istvan Jonyer, the 1975 World Men's Singles Champion. (Click on "Medal Record - Show" on the right.) The other two were Stellan Bengtsson and Kjell Johansson. Stellan will also be at the World Veterans but since he moved to the U.S. many years ago I've gotten to know him pretty well, and look forward to seeing him again. I plan to discuss some USATT policy issues with him.
  • June 20 (Wed). A traditional day off at the World Veterans so everyone can rest. There will be sightseeing tours and the 2019 World Veterans Tour Kickoff Party. However, I probably won't be attending any of this as there'll be an all-day USATT Board Meeting with a packed agenda.
  • June 21 (Thu). Single Elimination Stage in Singles, played to SF.
  • June 22 (Fri). Single Elimination Stage in Doubles, played to SF.
  • June 23 (Sat). Semifinals and Finals of all Doubles and Consolation Events.
  • June 24 (Sun). All Championship Semifinals and Finals played. Award Ceremony presented by Bluestone Designs (Singles events and Closing ceremony. "Viva Las Vegas" Farewell Party presented by Patty Martinez Wasserman and Si Wasserman.
  • June 25-July 1 (Mon-Sun). I have a one-week writing & reading "vacation" in Las Vegas. I'll likely be working on both table tennis and science fiction writing projects. Most of the Maryland juniors (16 of them) are coming in early before the Nationals so I'll also be helping them train the last three days of this. I may see a few Las Vegas sites - see last item below.
  • July 2-7 (Mon-Sat). The USA Nationals. I'll be one of the five MDTTC coaches on hand to coach the juniors from MDTTC, who are mostly from the HW Global Talent Program which trains at MDTTC. Due to the shoulder problems I won't be playing, which means I can focus 100% on coaching. But I should be fine now warming players up for matches.
  • July 3 (Tue). I'll be running a FREE Serve & Receive Tactics Seminar for all levels, though focus is on intermediate/advanced. So far 14 have signed up. If interested, email me so I can put you on the roster. (Please include your state, age, and rating.)  
  • July 5 (Thu). The Hall of Fame Banquet is that night. I'll be there accepting the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award. Those being inducted into the Hall of Fame are Li Ai, Dhiren Narotam, Norman Bass, Doru Gheorghe, and Henan Li Ai. Here's the USATT Announcement. I have to give an acceptance speech - have it all planned out! It ends with a Top Ten list.
  • July 6 (Fri). The Men's and Women's Singles Final will be played that night.
  • July 8 (Sun). I have a free day here where I planned originally to rent a car drive out to the Grand Canyon for some sightseeing. However, for some reason I thought it was two hours away, but it's actually over four. So I'll likely stay in Las Vegas. I looked over the list of Las Vegas Attractions, and will likely visit the following: Titanic Exhibit, The Aquarium at the Silverton Hotel, Mandalay Bay Shark Aquarium, and the Mob Museum. Then, at 10:40PM that night I take a red-eye flight back to Maryland.

Pyongyang Open
Here's the home page for the event starting today in North Korea, June 13-17. (It's the last event on the ITTF Tour until the Korean Open, July 17-18.)

USATT Tournament Promotion Guide
Here it is, for those of you who missed it before. It was created by Matt Hetherington. 

Root of the Problem: Are you looking for it?
Here's the article from Samson Dubina.

Ohio Mega Camp
Here's the article and six videos from this camp run last week by Samson Dubina. The videos include a highlights video and five lectures/demonstrations.

Training 101
Here's the new series of videos from PingSkills, which are free. "Our latest set of tutorials titled training 101 is now complete and available on the PingSkills website. There are 10 lessons designed for someone just starting out in table tennis or for someone looking to coach someone new to the game. Each session builds upon the last and presents some fun activities to help learn all about the important strokes in table tennis, and of course how to spin and how to counter spin."

Show #312 - Tomokazu Harimoto
Here's the new podcast (33:29) from PingSkills. This week they cover:

  • Joke of the Week
  • On This Week - Patrick Franzisca, the man who serves into a shoe, turns 26 years old
  • Tournament Wrap - Japan Open and Australian Open
  • Tip and Drill of the Week - Watch Tomokazu Harimoto and Ma Long playing in a match and isolate their leg movement. Then think about how you can move in a match.
  • Beating Blockers
  • Awkward Long Ball
  • Beginner Serves
  • Choosing Sides

How to Backhand Flick Like Fan Zhendong!
Here's the video (2:40) from Table Tennis Daily.

The Deadly Strawberry Flick
Here's the video (3:41), where they demonstrate the opposite of the banana flick (or flip). Here's another, the Xu Xin Strawberry Flick (4:41).

Zhang Jike Forehand Loop
Here's the video (1:27).

Table Tennis Fans Flood Sina Weibo Calling for Return of Ex-Boss Liu Guoliang
Here's the article from the South China Morning Post (in English).

Legendary German Powerhouse, Rosskopf, Looks Ahead to Vegas
Here's the USATT article by Matt Hetherington.

Meet Yogesh Desai - Table Tennis Ironman
Here's the USATT article by Richard Finn.

Meet the Olympian Bringing Table Tennis to Freehold
Here's the article featuring Lily Yip, from App Magazine.

Table Tennis Tidbits #41: Teens and Twenties Triumph
Here's the article by Robert Ho.

The Tragedy of Decidophobia in Table Tennis
Here's the article by Coach Jon. "It turns out that there is a lot to be afraid of in table tennis!"

Where Are They Now? Anderson College Series
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 3
Here’s chapter 3 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Real-Time Tracking of a Table Tennis Ball
Here's the article. The full title is, "Research on real – time tracking of table tennis ball based on machine learning with low-speed camera."

Ito Mima vs Wang Manyu: 2018 Japan Open Highlights (Final)
Here's the video (12:33). Note - I linked to videos of the Tomokazu Harimoto-Zhang Jike Men's Final on Monday, along with Harimoto's SF with Lee Sangsu and QF with Ma Long.

Martin Jezo and Ronald Chen Exhibition
Here's the video (60 sec) as the two put on an impromptu exhibition at MDTTC.

Talented Ping-Pong Players Put on Mesmerizing Display Using SIX Balls
Here's the article and video (2:31).

Table Tennis Event Smashes the Salt Lake Scene
Here's the video (6:05) from Park City Television.

Ping-Pong T-Shirts
Here's an interesting selection from Fitness Magazine.

Table Tennis Emojis
Here they are.

These Ping-Pong Shots Are Dope
Here's the video (70 sec) of trick shots. I most appreciate the very first one, through the house of cards. Think about it - when trying this out, every time he missed he had to rebuild the thing!

Two Dogs Playing Table Tennis
Here's the repeating gif. (I may have run this once, long ago.)

Star Wars Power Paddle
Here's the page with it. Scroll down further and you'll get the "Come Along Ping Pong Paddle" at the Barbican."

Table Tennis Cartoon Animals
Here are a few. Just Google "Table Tennis Cartoon ANIMAL," and replace ANIMAL with your choice of, well anything. "Cartoon" is optional.

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June 11, 2018

Tuesday - No Blog
I have a bunch of work being done on my house early on Tuesday morning, and a horde of things on my todo list to get done before I go out of town Thursday morning for 3.5 weeks. So no blog on Tuesday. See you on Wednesday! That, alas, will be my last blog for 3.5 weeks, where I'll be at a family gathering for three days in Eugene, OR; and then three weeks in Las Vegas - the World Veterans (one week); a one-week writing/reading "vacation" (though I'll also be helping to run a 3-day mini-camp before the Nationals); and then the USA Nationals.

Tip of the Week
How to Make Your Strengths Stronger with Serve and Receive.

What Makes Tomokazu Harimoto So Good
The Japanese whiz kid won't turn 15 until June 27, and yet he just won the Japan Open as a 14-year-old. This wasn't his first Pro Tour win - he won the Czech Open last year two months after turning 14. But that time he beat Hugo Calderano of Brazil in the semifinals and Timo Boll of Germany in the final. While beating Boll was an incredible victory for Harimoto, this one just seemed different as he beat world #2 (and really, the best player in the world) Ma Long in the quarterfinals, world #8 Lee Sangsu in the semifinals, and in the final won 13-11 in the seventh against Zhang Jike, who seems nearly back to his old form. (See segment below on Japan Open for more info.)

Before this tournament, Harimoto was ranked #10 in the world, and that seemed accurate. Now? I'd say he's firmly proven that he can compete with the very best. Does this mean he's better than Ma Long? No - I'd still bet on Ma Long next time out. But I think Harimoto should legitimately be #3 or #4 in the world. At this point, he's on a par with Ovcharov, and breathing down the necks of Ma Long and Fan Zhendong.

I suspect that part of this is because of the removal of Liu Guoliang as head coach last year of the Chinese team. He was great at preparing players for each event and each match. There's a really good chance that he would have better prepared Ma and Zhang for Harimoto. This type of thing makes a big difference. But we'll never really know, will we? We just know that while Liu was coach, the Chinese dominated and beat all challengers. As soon as he left, the elderly Timo Boll and Ovtcharov began to challenge beat them, and now a 14-year-old is beating them.

Being the youngest to win a Pro Tour Event isn't a guarantee of great success. Before Harimoto broke his record, the youngest male Pro Tour winner was China's Yu Ziyang, who won the 2014 Japan Open at age 16. Yet his highest world ranking ever was #20, and he's currently listed as #372 (mostly due to inactivity). But Harimoto seems a lot higher in level than Yu was, so barring injuries or unforeseen happenings, I can't see Harimoto not becoming the dominating best in the world in the next few years.

Harimoto wasn't the only Japanese player to upset the Chinese - Mima Ito won Women's Singles. See Japan Open below and article on Japanese Teenagers.

So, how is Harimoto at age 14 able to compete and win against the world's best? I watched videos of his matches at the Japan Open, and especially against Ma Long. Here are the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final of the Japan Open for Harimoto.

Here are six things he does about as well or better than anyone else.

  1. Fighting spirit and screams between points
    While I don't really like the spectacle of a 14-year-old on the world stage screaming like a banshee every time he wins a point, I understand why it happens and why it helps him play. There's a lot of tension and pressure in these matches, and the screams help vent that tension. As players get older, they learn to control this, which is why most of the best players in the world in most sports don't scream as much, only perhaps at key points. But for a kid, it really helps to release tension in this way. It also helps in focusing, which is also easier as one gets older. And lastly, it does distract and irritate opponents, which can affect their play. So whether we like the screaming or not, we have to understand that they are part of what makes Harimoto so good. It's likely that as he gets older he'll quiet down, but not necessarily. 
  2. Backhand banana flip. Especially in returning serves he does this as well as anyone on the planet. The result is he can take the initiative when receiving as well or better than just about anyone. A key point - develop this shot early. Most coaches don't teach this shot until the player is relatively advanced, and then he's years behind a player like Harimoto who was probably trained on this shot early on. 
  3. Off-bounce backhand loop. I'm starting to suspect he does this better than anyone, and he makes it look easy. What makes the shot so strong is the combination of quickness, speed, topspin, and placement. Every time he's in a topspin rally he's a threat to end the point with one of these off-bounce shots. Others may have more power on it, but I'm not sure if anyone combines the best of every aspect of this shot. Here's the last point of his match with Ma Long - see how he rips a backhand off-the-bounce to Ma Long's middle, who can barely even react to it. (The shot itself was set up by a banana backhand flip.) Coaches should study the stroke and how he generates so much power with such a short, quick stroke - in some ways reminiscent of Bruce Lee's famous short punches. It's actually easy to copy the stroke without the ball (after watching Hashimoto do it) - the key is training this type of backhand until you can do it in live rallies like he can. 
  4. Attacking middle and then corners. He's extremely good at going after opponent's middles, i.e. their playing elbows, with his extremely quick topspins, and then following up with winners to the corners. Over and over he did this with Ma Long and others. Often the first shot to the middle won the point outright. (See last point of match with Ma Long above.) A key point is that when he went to the middle, he did so with very quick, off-bounce shots. 
  5. Forehand without backing up. He doesn't nearly have the power of Ma Long or Fan Zhendong (yet), but his forehand is quicker, allowing him to take nearly every ball without backing up. Off a hard-hit shot I'd guess he takes the ball on average a full foot quicker than Ma or Fan. This puts tremendous time pressure on opponents, and makes his placement even more effective as players struggle to cover for these quick, aggressive topspins right at their elbow or at wide angles. On most shots, he can still loop at full power, but when rushed, he sacrifices speed for quickness and angles. 
  6. Better hidden serve technique. At the higher levels, most players hide their serve, either over and over, or sparingly to catch opponents off guard. I've blogged about this many times, and consider it a travesty on our sport that we allow such cheating, but it's a reality, and Harimoto would have great difficulty competing at this level if he didn't do it as well. But he's one of the best at it as he shows the ball right up until nearly contact, fooling spectators, umpires, and even opponents into thinking the ball isn't hidden. But just as he's contacting the ball his head thrusts out just enough to barely hide (or sometimes not, to keep receivers guessing) contact, and with a quick, hidden motion, he can change the spin or give no-spin, and opponents have difficulty figuring out what the racket was doing right at contact, often getting fooled by what it was doing a split second before or after. 

Since I wrote about Harimoto's hidden serve, let's take a look at it, as well as Ma Long's, since both illegally hide the serve. Here are two sequences from their quarterfinal match. (It was tricky finding good sequences at the right angle. Now I wish I'd just used the first serve Harimoto did on the far side, this one, where he does the same subtle hiding as in the one below.) Note how Harimoto keeps the ball visible until just before contact, and only barely hides it? Then compare that with Ma Long. Both hide the ball by a last-second forward thrust of their head, but the ball goes way behind Ma Long's head so the ball obviously disappears. Before, I would have said Ma Long's hidden serve was subtle, as he waits until the last second before thrusting the head forward, making it impossible for umpires to see if the ball was visible or not. But Harimoto seems to take it to a new level, making it difficult even for the opponent to tell if the ball was hidden at contact as there's only that split second where the ball is hidden (or sometimes not, to keep receivers guessing), as opposed to Ma Long, where the ball so clearly goes behind his head. (I only did two photos for Ma Long as no more is needed to show how much more his serve goes behind his head.)

Harimoto:

Ma Long:

Japan Open
Here's the home page for the event, which ended yesterday in Kitakyushu, JPN, June 8-10. Here are some key articles - there are many more in their News section. Results are linked from the Information section.

Butterfly Training Tips With Brian Pace – featuring Shigang Yang: Forehand Flip With Multi-ball Training
Here's the article and video (1:20).

How to Improve Rotation in Topspin
Here's the video (34 sec) from the European Table Tennis Union.

New from EmRatThich

Interview with Iva Laginja, 2018 Maryland State Women’s Singles Champion
Here's the interview by Ayan Bagchi. "Ms. Iva Laginja is a 25-year-old Croatian born Austrian who moved to Baltimore, MD eight months ago to work at the Space Telescope Science Institute. She has recently completed her Master’s degree in Astronomy and Instrumentation from Leiden University (Netherlands) and two undergraduate degrees in Astronomy and Physics from the University of Vienna (Austria)."

ITTF World Junior Circuit - Where is USA?
Here's the article by Bruce Liu. While I believe it was the rise of full-time training centers that led to the rise of USA's juniors - you can't compete with the full-time training overseas if all you mostly have part-time players training in part-time clubs, which was the USA reality until full-time clubs began popping up, mostly in the last 10-15 years - he makes a good point that bringing the World Junior Championships or a similar event great spurs table tennis activity, as he explains.

Australia and United States Combine, Turn Tables on China
Here's the ITTF article on the 2018 Cook Islands Junior and Cadet Open in Rarotonga.

Table Tennis Superstars | 10 & 12-Year-Old Brothers
Here's the video (7:14) featuring Sid and Nandan Naresh. "12-year-old Sid Naresh and his 10 year-old brother, Nandan, already have their eyes set on playing professional table tennis."

2018 China Open: Ball Kids
Here's the video (58 sec).

Don’t Suffer from the Same Nightmare as Timo Boll!
Here's the video (1:50).

Romantic Dinner Trick Shots
Here's the video (2:01) from Pongfinity.

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