Larry Hodges's blog

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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June 8, 2018

Ma Long Forehand Loop
Here's a new ITTF video (56 sec) showing the world's best (though technically ranked #2) in real time and slow motion! Let's take a look at it, piece by piece. I'm including four still images from the video. (Note that when I say power, that means both speed and spin.)

BACKSWING. Let's jump to eight seconds in, where they show his backswing in slow motion. Key points:

  1. Nearly all his weight is on his back (right foot).
  2. Right foot is pointed partly outwards. This allows easy power from pushing off the foot.
  3. His feet are nearly parallel to the table. This allows him to both put more rotational power into the shot and play a quicker shot, but less power from weight shifting. It also keeps him in position for a powerful backhand. Most players put their right foot at least slightly back for this shot - I do - because you can't really play forehands effectively in a fast rally with the feet parallel unless you train regularly or start early and so ingrain it. It also requires substantial physical training to be able to rotate at the hips, waist, and shoulder as quickly and smoothly as he does, which is needed if you keep the feet parallel.
  4. He's dropped his right shoulder. This will allow extra power for topspin. As he loops with more power or plays closer to the table he'll drop it less; if he backs off the table or is up against heavy backspin he drops it more.
  5. Arm is close to body. This allows more quickness in the backswing. If you hold it out, it slows you down.
  6. Arm is almost but not completely straight. If it goes too straight, you lose quickness; if not straight enough, you lose power.
  7. His body is almost completely rotated sideways at the hips, waist, and shoulder.

START OF FORWARD SWING. Key points:

  1. After completing his backswing, he's pulled it his arm away from his body.
  2. The wrist is lifted up and back as he prepares to snap the wrist and forearm into the ball. The two go together. It's hard to see the wrist motion except in slow motion or with still images. 
  3. He's begun to rotate into the ball with his hips, waist, and shoulders.
  4. Shoulders are rotating upward and around.
  5. Eyes are glued on the ball.

CONCTACT. Key points:

  1. He's completely rotated into the shot with his hips, waist, and shoulders.
  2. Contact is almost directly to the side, not out in front. If you contact more in front, then that means the body rotation came to a stop so you could get your arm out in front, and so you lose much of your power.
  3. Head and body have rotated, but moved only slightly forward. If you move your head and body forward too much during this shot, it makes it hard to recover quickly enough for the next shot, so world-class players often barely move their heads except when going for all-out power. If you watch players who can seemingly loop over and over in rapid succession without backing up from the table, watch their heads and you'll see how they are able to recover so quickly between each shot.
  4. Shoulder has lifted up.
  5. Arm and wrist have whipped into the shot. At contact the elbow is maybe around 110 degrees and still closing.
  6. He's not watching contact. There's a certain point where you can't really react anymore, so there's no point in watching the ball all the way into contact on such a shot. If the incoming ball is very slow, such as a push or lob, then you might watch it all the way into the racket. Once it becomes pointless to watch the ball, it's better to look up to see what your opponent is doing.

FOLLOW-THROUGH. The most important thing? It should be a natural follow to the stroke itself. Key points:

  1. His head and body have moved only a little bit forward during the shot as they move mostly in a circle. This allows Ma to start and finish in almost the same position so he can recover for the next shot very quickly.
  2. Arm has rotated through the shot and is now at about 90 degrees.
  3. Most of his weight is now on his left leg. He's almost instantly using it to push back into position for the next shot.
  4. He's completely balanced, as he has been throughout the shot - this is key.
  5. He's watching opponent so he can react quickly to the next shot.

Here's slow motion video of Ma Long looping against backspin starting about 12 seconds in). The main differences here are that there's more upward motion, his head moves more forward (since there's no rush to return to ready position), and if you look closely, now he's using even more wrist.

Thursday Beginning Junior Class
I teach two beginning junior classes each week, on Thursdays and Sundays. We had our final Thursday session of the season last night, with the final Sunday session this weekend. As usual, on our final session we did "player's choice," where the players choose what they want to work on; then we did smash against lob, always a favorite, where they took turns smashing against my lobs and Coach John Hsu's. As usual we finished with games - this time I introduced them to Table Tennis Tic Tac Toe (TTTTT), as demonstrated in this video (64 sec) from Maria Ingles that I posted yesterday.

So no more beginning classes until late August - but now it's Summer Camp time!!! Yep, camps all summer long, Mon-Fri.

Japan Open
Here's the home page for the event, which starts today in Kitakyushu, JPN, June 8-10. But because they are on the other side of the world, that means their "today" is already done! Here's the Japan Open Day 1 Review (2:02).  Here's video (52:22) of world #4 Timo Boll's opening match against Tanaka Yuta (world #331) of Japan. Ma Long is top seed, no Fan Zhendong or Dimitrij Ovtcharov, so there's a good chance of a Boll-Ma Long final in Men's Singles - but Zhang Jike is also in Boll's half. As of this writing, Boll is already in the QF against Kenta Matsudaira of Japan, with Ma Long a round behind and up against Maharu Yoshimura of Japan - followed by a likely quarterfinal clash between Ma Long and Japan whiz kid Tomokazu Harimoto, #10 in the world at 15. On the Women's side, no serious upsets as of yet.

Table Tennis Diplomacy
Here's the article by Eli Baraty. "I am a great believer in table tennis diplomacy and Diplomacy as a whole. Many years ago a great event occurred called Ping Pong Diplomacy, In short, it's about how China opened their gates to America (click on the link to read about it). A month ago the table tennis world witnessed history once again but this time, I call it Table Tennis Diplomacy."

Even Younger Sora Matsushima, Next Child Prodigy
Here's the ITTF article. Japan keeps pumping out these child prodigies! China probably does as well, but they tend not to play internationally or get much public exposure until they are older. Many of the best Chinese first show up internationally when they are already among the top ten in the world or close to that. "Undoubtedly he oozes talent, the popular view being that at the same age he is ahead of Tomokazu Harimoto, a player who has left crowds open mouthed in recent years with wins against celebrated names."

Kelly van Zon, Most Celebrated Name on Duty
Here's the ITTF article. "Winner earlier this year in Lignano and Slovenia, Kelly van Zon of the Netherlands is the most decorated player on duty at the forthcoming 2018 Spanish Para Open which commences in Sant Cugat de Valles on Friday 8th June."

2018 Cook Islands Junior & Cadet Open – Breaking News
Here's the article by Bruce Liu.

Ping Pong (Table Tennis) Scenes - Movies
Here's the listing of 18 movies with lots of pictures!

Talking Tom and Friends - Ping Pong Wizard
Here's the animated table tennis cartoon (10:54)! The table is there from the start, but the real table tennis action starts at 1:35.

***
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June 7, 2018

Timo Boll Hand Switch at 2018 China Open - Revisited
Here's the video (45 sec), which I posted on Tuesday, of the point between Timo Boll of Germany (world #4) and Liang Jingkun of China, world #82. Let's look at it shot by shot. (Use the space bar to start/stop the action, and the left arrow to bring the video back 5 seconds - at least that's what it does on mine.) Note that Liang will end up pulling off the upset, -5,9,10,-7,-4,9,5. At the time of this point, Boll is up 3-2 in games but Liang leads 9-5, and 9-6 after this point. 

  1. Liang's serve. It's hidden, of course, since umpires these days almost never call hidden serves - or more specifically, don't call serves where they are not "satisfied" that the serve is legal. When a player contorts his body like this and then thrusts his head out just as he's about to contact the ball, there's no way an umpire can be "satisfied" that the serve was not hidden - he simply can't tell from his angle, meaning he cannot be "satisfied" the serve was not hidden, meaning there's no gray area anymore - the serve is illegal, period. See Rule 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."
    Watch the video - see how he thrusts his head out just before contact? Here's a screen image. Pretty clearly illegal, isn't it? But it isn't called, and there's no push by the ITTF, USATT, or any of the Rules or Referee/Umpire Committees to do anything about this pervasive cheating in our sport because cheating has become part of our table tennis culture. (There is some nuance here - cheating means to "act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage." Therefore, the first person to hide his serve is cheating. If you respond by hiding your own serve, you are not doing so to "gain an advantage" - you are doing so to take away the opponent's unfair advantage.) At the world-class level, players are used to it, and so have learned to read the spin by how the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, but it leads to more passive returns, like Boll's here, and more mistakes. Below the world-class level it can cause havoc.
  2. Boll's return. It's a relatively weak return, probably because of the hidden serve. But he deadens the ball some so that the table is partly in Liang's way so he can't wind up with full power.
  3. Liang's follow. He makes a strong forehand loop into Boll's wide backhand.
  4. Boll's block. It's extremely well placed, to Liang's middle, forcing Liang into an awkward position.
  5. Liang's second loop. Despite the awkwardness of his position, Liang uses his upper body to loop rather strongly to the middle of the table. This is a technique that was originally developed by pips-out penholders, then adopted for looping by 1993 World Men's Singles Champion Jean-Philippe Gatien, and now common by top players caught in the middle - it allows you to make a strong shot while staying right at the table. It's not really to Boll's middle, since Boll was already off to the side and in position for this, but it puts Boll out of position.
  6. Boll's loop from the middle. He makes a decent loop, but not particularly powerful, and it's not that well placed, going right into Liang's middle backhand. This is where Liang gains the advantage. Note how while Liang took the ball almost off the bounce from the middle, Boll takes the shot from the middle a little further back, which gives Liang more time and a bigger angle into the forehand.
  7. Liang's angled block. With Boll caught out of position and with a big angle to Boll's forehand, Liang does exactly that. Note that he didn't just blocked - he backhand topspinned off the bounce.
  8. Boll's awkward return from wide forehand. He's caught out of position, and so is almost falling back as he practically lunges for the ball, setting up Liang for a likely winning shot to the now open backhand side.
  9. Liang's shot to the open backhand. He should have ripped it, but instead seems to hold back a little for safety and doesn't really angle it well. I haven't seen Liang play before, but his Chinese teammates (Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Zhang Jike, Xu Xin) would have ripped this shot.
  10. Boll's hand-switching shot. Liang's failure to rip the ball or go for a wider angle is all Boll needs for this spectacular hand-switching shot.
  11. Liang's counterloop. When someone suddenly switches hands on you like this, the ball comes at you different than you expect, and so Liang makes a surprisingly good recovery with this counterloop.
  12. Boll's backhand loop. Just a nice shot. It completely catches Liang off guard. Except . . . .
  13. Liang's weak but well-place forehand. When you have to make a weak return, place it well, and that's what he did here. He also sidespin looped it so it broke even more into Boll's backhand side. Liang has the advantage here, and it seems there's nothing Boll can do that won't set up Liang for a strong forehand.
  14. Boll's inside-out forehand sidespin. I don't think you'll find this shot covered in instructional books. Boll is looking to do a forehand, but the angle and the sidespin caught him off guard. And so he improvises with a once-in-a career shot. (Has he ever done this in a big match before? I've never seen it. That's why it's called improvisation.)
  15. Liang's reaction. When you've trained all your life against standard shots, and then get something you've never seen before . . . well, his reaction is like an intermediate player faced with world-class hidden serves, and his return is about as good. (Note - world-class players don't just hide contact; they fake one spin, then change it right when contact is hidden.)

Japan Open
Here's the home page for the event, which takes place in Kitakyushu, JPN, June 8-10, starting tomorrow.

New World Rankings
Here they are. On the men's side, they are a bit saner than before with the best player in the world, Ma Long, moving from #6 to #2, after Fan Zhendong, the second best player in the world. (I think Ma has beaten Fan the last three times - that's what someone told me though I haven't checked it.) Overall, for the first time since they began the new system, the rankings look rather accurate on the men's side other than this. On the women's side, it's still hard to fathom that Ding Ning is #12, when she should be at the top with the other top Chinese - Chen Meng, Zhu Yuling, Wang Manyu, and Liu Shiwen, with Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan (#4) the only non-Chinese to break up that murderer's row.

3 Ways to Win a Table Tennis Point
Here's the article by Eli Baraty. "Each point is evidently different and no player plays the same way! But there are three different ways we approach a point or match."

How to Return a Topspin Serve
Here's the video (7:55) by Tom Lodziak.

Response to "Shut Up and Just Play"
Here's the article by Sean O’Connell.

WAB Club Feature: Atlanta International Table Tennis Academy
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

DHS ITTF Top 10 - 2018 Hong Kong Open
Here's the ITTF video (5:42).

Table Tennis Tic-Tac-Toe
Here's the video (64 sec) from Maria Ingles. I may try this out in my beginning junior class!

Insane Ping-Pong Gun
Here's the video (41 sec)!

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June 6, 2018

Waldner 2018
Many, perhaps most, consider Jan-Ove Waldner the greatest player of all time. I've never played him, but I've met and talked to him many times, even had lunch with him and other top Swedes when I interviewed them for an article. What would happen if he were in his prime today?

There's no way of making a perfect comparison. For one thing, Waldner played nearly his entire career with a 38mm ball, while we now use 40mm. Equipment has also gotten better. (Hidden serves are now "illegal," but it isn't really enforced, so that part won't affect him. Games to 11 instead of 21 won't make much of a difference.) So how would he do? Keep in mind that nearly always the next generation is "better" than the previous generation, with better techniques, better training, and better equipment. Only a true phenom like Waldner could hope to compete with players a couple generations later. (Of course, if Waldner were to have developed in modern times, he'd have access to these better techniques, training, and equipment, but we're going to look at him as he actually was, not as he might have been.) 

First, note that "greatest" is not the same as "best." Victor Barna is one of the greatest players of all time - he won Men's Singles at the Worlds five times. But I'm pretty sure that if I could go back in time when I was at my peak and play him when he was at his peak, using the rules at the time, I'd beat him easily, since I'll using Tenergy and throwing loops and serves at him that he's never seen before, and he'll be stuck with a hardbat. Similarly, the best modern swimmers are all faster than Mark Spitz, but he won seven gold medals at one Olympics, setting a world record in each of them. The best modern swimmers are better than Spitz, but Spitz was greater than all of the ones not named Phelps or Ledecky.

Getting back to Waldner, I think Ma Long has a better game than Waldner. He simply has too much firepower. But there's a catch - that's only after he's played Waldner at least once, perhaps more. Players who have played Waldner pretty much all report the same thing about, how uncomfortable it is to play him with all his misdirection, change of pace, and variety. These days nearly all coaches turn players into mini-Ma Longs or something close, and so the things that Waldner did to make players uncomfortable is mostly a lost art. It's not a matter of a player suddenly deciding he's going to try to change the pace or use misdirection; he'd have to have done it since he was a kid, while developing, so it's natural and instinctive, as it was with Waldner. Then you use these techniques as just another part of your game, to be used at the appropriate time, while focusing on the modern all-out two-winged looping game. 

Keep in mind that as good as Ma Long is, none of his shots are that much better than Waldner. He has a slightly better forehand, slightly better backhand, slightly faster footwork, and with his banana flip, is better at attacking short serves with his backhand. (In fact, that's probably the shot where he's most ahead of Waldner.) But Waldner had a masterful forehand - not quite as powerful as Ma Long, but dominant because of placement and consistency. Ma Long also has a better backhand attack from close to the table, but Waldner mostly (not completely) offsets that with his more all-around skills - he can loop, hit, or block, and his blocking is far better and among the best ever. Shot for shot, Ma Long seems to have an edge in almost any type of rally, though Waldner had more dominant serves, among the best of all time. 

So what is my conclusion? If Waldner were to suddenly show up in his prime, and ignoring the nitty details about the different ball size, etc., I think he'd cause havoc at first. Keep in mind that Timo Boll is 37 and still one of the five best players in the world - and he was never as good as Waldner at his best. In his first outings with Ma Long and Fan Zhendong, Waldner would give them great difficulty as they adjust to a game they haven't really seen, while Waldner will be a bit more comfortable against their styles. I'm not sure who would win at first, but I think it would be close at the start. But after they've played a few times, Ma Long's overall game would prevail, and Waldner would drop down a few spots in the rankings - my guess is he'd be #3, after Ma Long and Fan Zhendong, and he'd battle with them as well or slightly better than Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov. 

But the repercussions of Waldner showing up now in his prime? Suddenly the things he does that few others do would once again be on display. Players would see how effective it is to have misdirection, change of pace, and variety, and want to add those aspects to their games. And coaches would have a pretext to teach this part of the game early on, where before they felt compelled to teach only the "modern" game of relentless attack. Perhaps rather than attacking ten balls it would be better to throw something different 10-20% of the time, and catch the opponent off guard as Waldner did so well?

Of course, one problem is that most of the stuff Waldner does that I'm talking about was self-taught, so it's more important for a coach to encourage and guide it while the player experiments and finds out what works and when. You don't just throw a change-of-pace or misdirection shot at an opponent who is in position and ready for it - you do it when it will catch him off guard and set up a follow-up shot.

The key point is that the modern game is more advanced than what players did in the past, but that we've gotten so much into turning players into clones of the current best that we ignore aspects of the game that, if developed, would enhance their games.

Starting Out in Table Tennis
Here's the video (50 min) from PingSkills. "In this episode of the PingSkills we talk about how we got started with table tennis, we talk about a young Timo Boll, and we answer some of your table tennis questions."

USATT Nominates Players for 2018 Pan American Junior Championships
Here's the USATT announcement by USATT High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio.

2018 China Open: Day 4 Review
Here's the video (2:30).

Table Tennis Presents Another Golden Opportunity for Sir Peter Snell
Here's the USATT article by Richard Finn. "In his prime Sir Peter Snell of New Zealand was one of the most accomplished and decorated middle distance runners of all time." … "Long retired from running, today as he approaches his 80th birthday Snell has adopted he same attitude to competing in his most recent athletic endeavor table tennis as he did when he was an Olympian.

Ma Long, Landmark in Reach but Still More Goals?
Here's the ITTF article. "Success at the recent Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Platinum Kaisa China Open in Shenzhen means that Ma Long is just one win short of equalling the all-time ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles record of Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus, the owner of 27 such titles."

Zhang Yining Within Sight of Wang Manyu
Here's the ITTF article. "Like Wang Manyu from China, Guo Yue won four times in 2007 but the player to catch is their Chinese national team colleague Zhang Yining."

Champions Crowned at AGTTA Summer Open
Here's the article and video (35:06) by Brian Crisp of this tournament held this past Saturday in Atlanta.

Actor, Lead Villain, Fayed, in Hit Series 24 Joins Celebrity Lineup
Here's the article featuring table tennis hardbat & sandpaper star and actor Adoni Maropis. "We’re excited to announce THE FIRST of several Special Guests attending the Tenth Annual PingPongforCHARITY™ Events with Christian Laettner and Friends." … "Adoni has won the National Championship and US OPEN Championship in Hardbat and Sandpaper Ping Pong and represented the USA at the World Championships of Ping Pong twice at Alexandria Palace in England."

Pongfinity Trick Shots
Here's their latest!

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