Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of seven books and over 1400 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio.
Tip of the Week
Forehand Topspin Against Backspin, and Proper Forehand Technique
Here's the new video (3:36) from PingSkills. You should study it to learn to loop against backspin. However, it's also a chance for many of you to fix up your forehands in general by fixing your contact point. While this video features looping against backspin, many of the principles apply to all forehands.
Note in the video how he basically rotates his body around an imaginary vertical rod going through the top of his head, and how he contacts the ball almost directly to the side of this? Most players violate one of these principles, either moving the body forward too much as they do the shot, or (even more common) contacting the ball too far in front.
There are times when you should move the body forward on a shot, such as against an easy high ball or when you are rushed in stepping around the backhand corner, but normally you should go more in a circle. This both gives you great centripetal force as you rotate around, but also leaves you in position for the next shot, balanced and ready, which is how top players can play power shots over and over in quick succession.
But as noted above, the more common problem is that players tend to contact the ball too far in front. This either keeps them from rotating backwards fully (and so losing power), or forces them to reach for the ball (thereby dissipating power and putting you off balance).
Also note how the legs (and especially the knees) are used to rotate into the shot. The legs aren't just for standing; they are the primary start to every shot, and give you the pivot into your shots. (An expanded version of this will likely become a Tip of the Week.)
In the segment below on Japanese junior sensation Tomokazu Harimoto there's a 13-second video of him knocking balls off a table. Note the same principle - he rotates in a circle and contacts the ball directly to the side of that imaginary rod going through his head. You can see the same principles in this 46-second video of Wang Liqin demonstrating "The shot that owned a decade."
The Amazing Serve of Jun Mizutani
Here's the video (2:02). It's in Japanese, but you can learn just by watching, since much of it is shown in slow motion.
Ask the Coach (Werner Schlager Academy version)
Episode #6 - Practice Champions (German with English Subtitles). "Richard Prause talks about world champions in practice who cannot transfer their skills into the match. Listen to his advices and tips to become a match champion."
Ask The Coach (PingSkills version)
Episode #81 (21:33) - How Does Speed Affect Spin?
- Previous #PQOTD - 0:46: Who is hungriest for the World Championships 2015?
- #PQOTD - 1:59: Should the ITTF put in place stricter rules to stop ex Chinese players playing for different countries?
- Discussion - 2:24: Safir Open and Qatar Open
- Crying player - 9:43: Nigel: I was umpiring a junior match between a boy and a girl about 10-13 years old. The girl won the first game and the boy the second after that the girl came out crying, this seemed to put the lad off . How should you handle this sort of situation?
- Counter long spin serve - 11:23: Ernest: Is a topspin stroke the most effective way to counter a long serve? Are there any strokes to return long serve? Maybe you can suggest to me another way to return long serve effectively.
- Speed and Spin - 13:27: Kaustubh: How does speed affect spin and vice versa?
- Blocking a Sidespin Loop - 16:07: Brock: How can I block a loop with backspin and sidespin on it? The tall guy started doing this last time. How can I block it? I can block normal loops.
- Improving Balance - 18:42: Bhaswar: What are the exercises that we can do to improve our movement and balance while playing table tennis?
- Counter Heavy Topspin - 19:30: Lukas: What's the best way to counter a really heavy topspin?
- Best Ever - 20:47: Bhaswar: Who is the best table tennis player ever?
Swedish Junior and Cadet Championships
USA did pretty well there this past weekend. Here's the home page, and here's an article on USA results. Kanak Jha won Cadet Boys' Singles. Ishana Deb made the semifinals of Cadet Girls' Singles, including an upset over top seed Adriana Diaz of Puerto Rico in the round of 16. Nikhil Kumar made the final of Minicadet Boys' Singles.
Pan American Games Team Leader Position Opening
Here's how you can apply for the position.
Table Tennis Champ Revives Career After Battling Muscle Condition
Here's the article on 44-year-old U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler. (To see entire article you'll need to sign up as a digital subscriber to the Houston Chronicle.)
Texas Wesleyan Team Dominates
Here's the video (1:45, after an irritating 33 sec ad).
Cross Train Your Brain. Play PingPongforCHARITY.com
Here's the video (1:59).
11-Year-Old Japanese Sensation
There's a new wunderkind in town - Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan. He made it all the way to the final of the Safir Open, defeating world #43 Omar Assar (EGY) in the quarterfinals and world #71 Jens Lundqvist (SWE) in the semifinals before losing in the final to Xu Hui (CHN). Here's a video of his match with Lundqvist (5:07, with time between points removed). Here's a video of the final with Xu Hui (4:46). And here's a fun video (13 sec) of him smacking three balls off the table in multiball - no idea how many takes it took to get this! (Perhaps only one?) I read he's originally from China and immigrated to Japan. His original Chinese name was Zhang Zihe, but he took on a Japanese name. His parents are professional players from the Sichuan Province of China, with the mom, and possibly the dad, former members of the Chinese National Team.
Zhang Jike Forehand Training
Here's the video (77 sec).
Qatar Open Final - Samsonov vs. Ovtcharov
Here's the video (7:46, with time between points removed). Yep, Samsonov's still got it! (He'll be 39 on April 17.) Here's the home page for the event which finished yesterday. Here's a great point (50 sec, including slow motion replay) between Ovtcharov and Jung Youngsick in the quarterfinals.
How to Hit a Backhand
Here's video (47 sec, including replay) of Marcos Freitas of Portugal (world #10) at the Qatar Open showing us how to hit the backhand.
Jean-Philippe Gatien - He's Still Got It!
Here's 15 seconds of him doing multiball - 22 years after he won Men's Singles at the Worlds!
Behind-the-Back Shots of the Day
The Most Amazing Nets You Will Ever See
Here's the video (61 sec, including slow motion replay).
Roller Coaster Pong
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Ping Pong for Fighters
Ping Pong for Fighters by Tahl Leibovitz, a Paralympics gold medalist, is a relatively short read, which is both good and bad, i.e. reading it isn't a huge commitment, so don't expect War and Peace; it's a two-hour read, full of golden nuggets. It's available in paperback ($13.45, 152 pages) or Kindle ($9.95).
I've known Tahl since he was about 13 years old, when he was part of the New York Junior Team that competed with a Maryland Team in a ten-on-ten match. He was always a battler, but back then he didn't look special, other than a knack for pulling off spectacular shots. Well, he can still pull off spectacular shots, but as he relates in the book, he's learned patience and tactics, and knows how to use these shots - how to fight with what he's got. On the back cover I wrote, "Tahl Leibovitz has forever been overcoming the odds as he fought his way to the top, so it's only fitting that he wrote Ping Pong for Fighters - and if readers have even a fraction of his fight, they too can reach the top."
The book starts off with a foreword by Stellan Bengtsson and an introduction by Tahl. And then we get into the real text, divided into four parts: The Fight Against the Environment; the Fight Against the Opponent; the Fight Against the Ball; and the Fight Against Ourselves. Yes, this is truly a fighting book!
Early on there's a quote from Samuel Jackson in the movie "The Negotiator": "You are not in control," where he explains the importance of knowing which factors are in our control and which are not, and that we should not worry about the ones we don't control.
Soon afterwards comes this nugget: "When most players talk about their successes, they equate their performance with amazing play. They talk about how incredible they played to win a match. This makes them feel good, thinking or knowing that they did something out of the ordinary to win the match. They believe they played better than usually expected. But this mentality ironically hinders our progress as players. We handicap ourselves by creating the false belief that we can only have great results when we are playing our very best table tennis. This is simply not true."
It goes on to cover other issues, such as the use of cue words, how to deal with extreme pressure, how to learn to play various equipment and styles by playing that way yourself (such as with long pips and chopping), and perhaps most important, "Never be afraid to fail." He also goes over his PEZ plan: Placement, Extend the Rally, and Zero Unforced Errors, with sections on each of these.
Here he lists eight questions to ask yourself before a match. He then writes, "Many players want to focus on playing against people who are above their level, thinking that by beating those players, they will become much better themselves. It is important to play players above you and equal to you, but also those who are below you. Many players enter rating events above their level, hoping to be able to upset a higher rated player. They fail to realize that if they beat players at their level and below, they will improve much faster." He then expands on this.
He also writes about how to beat better players: "I began to understand that the way to beat better players was not to kill every single ball, but instead to control and redirect their power. Try to place the ball better and change the position, speed and spin of the ball constantly." He also wrote about imposing your will on their opponents. He finished the section by writing about scouting out opponents, and gave eight examples of tactical analysis.
Here Tahl points out and discusses the three situations where we play the ball: when we don't impart speed on the ball, such as a chop or stop block; when most of the speed comes from the opponent, such as a counterloop off the bounce or a fast block; and when we attack and impart our own speed, such as looping against a regular block. Then he has a section on "Making the Ball Work for You," with sub-sections on Create the Proper Distance; Proper Ball Contact; Develop Good Ball Control; Reduce Mistakes; Change the Ball's Trajectory; Improve Shot Quality; and Location, Location, Location (where he emphasizes down the line and attacking the middle). Then there are sections on stroke mechanics, serving, receiving, and equipment.
Here he quotes Jan-Ove Waldner, who once said that the single most important factor to serving well in a tournament was confidence. Tahl adds that he was once told, "…there was never an athlete who won who did not believe they could win." There's a section on "Don't Build Yourselves Walls to Climb," and then he discusses various self-defeating behaviors and statements, such as:
- "I have to play a specific way all the time."
- "Results define who I am."
- "I hate it when the games are close."
- "I can compete, but not defeat…"
- "I can't seem to close out the match."
- "I have to play my 'A' game to win."
Then comes the section on Channeling the Right Mental State, where he talks about "Having an open mind"; "Paying attention to concentration levels"; "Anticipating your opponent"; and "Focusing on one task at a time."
Then come sections on "Know What You Do Well"; "The Fighter's Guide to Mental Resilience" (including an anecdote about his putting up daily affirmation index cards all over his house, with a listing of his seven main affirmations); a discussion of on setting goals and visualization (and the importance of metal imagery); "Five Deciding Factors" (for evaluating your performance - Physical Fitness, Tactical Fitness, Mental Fitness, Technical Fitness, and Execution); "Train Like You Play, Play Like You Train"; "Developing Your Own Training Plan"; and finally, "Advice from Champions" (with tips from Thomas Keinath, Atanda Musa, Mikael Appelgren, Werner Schlager, Sean O'Neill, and a final set of adages from Tahl.
The book is bookended by two powerful quotes. At the start is the Olympic Creed: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is no the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well." At the end is Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" quote.
Finally, here's what Tahl himself wrote of the book and its title:
"This book is called Ping Pong for Fighters, and it’s about fighting all the different elements that are attached to table tennis. The fight starts inward and eventually moves outward, from within ourselves, to the ball, to our opponents, to the environment and the external conditions. I think what’s interesting about this book is that the reader takes the journey with me. All that I learned in over 20 years of competing in table tennis, is in this book. The goal of this book is to try and get the reader to approach the game differently. The book is basically a philosophy for the thinking and feeling player. A philosophy that encourages one to stay in the present moment, have self confidence and compete to the best of their ability. This book is also very direct and very easy to understand. It is not an intellectual discourse of any kind. The book reads more like a conversation consisting of helpful direction through experience and a philosophy of table tennis that is concerned more with experiencing what it feels like to think and play table tennis like a top table tennis player."
I'd recommend this book for any serious table tennis player - but read it with a highlighter or colored pen so you can mark off the best nuggets!
Other Table Tennis Books
While we're on the topic of books, here are some others.
How the Game Has Changed/Not Changed
Just a few things to muse over. Any big ones I've missed since about 2000?
=>The Game Has Changed
- Games to 11, no hidden serves, and a bigger, non-celluloid ball.
- Almost no more pips-out penholders or even conventional penhold backhands (except aging players). Just about everyone is two-winged inverted and (at higher levels) topspinning everything.
- I'm coaching 7-year-olds who spin their backhands off the bounce with tensor-type sponges.
- Full-time clubs popping up all over the country.
- More and more kids getting better and better at younger and younger ages.
- USATT Magazine replaced by USATT Insider.
=>The Game Hasn't Changed (in the U.S.)
- USATT membership is still a "round-off error" of around 8000.
- Most clubs are still "winner stay on."
- No serious system of regional team leagues.
- Top players unable to really make a living in the U.S. unless they also coach.
- It's still a small white or orange ball that you hit back and forth on a green or blue 9'x5', 30" tall table with a six-inch net.
ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.
Excuse Monsters: Learn About Taking the Blame
Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.
Basic Exercises in Table Tennis Training
Here's the video (40:45) from Tibhar.
Ask the Coach
Episode #80 - Choosing your serves
- Yesterday’s #PQOTD - 0:53: What are the critical factors for running a successful club?
- #PQOTD - 9:11: Who is hungriest for the World Championships 2015?
- Brock vs Tall Guy - 9:32: Brock: I played with the tall guy earlier today and he won 2-0 in matches, match 1: 21- 15 and Match 2: 21-17 so I'm really close now and I think I might beat him next week :) just so you know ;)
- Stopping the attack - 10:05: Daniel Lim: I recently played a player who had a very strong and accurate third ball attack and lost badly. Are there any general tips you could give to discourage or even prevent a third ball attack from an opponent?
- Cutting rubber - 13:02: Daniel Coto: I am able to glue the rubber correctly to the blade, but I am having nightmares getting a clean cut. I've seen people cut the sponge with the first motion and then the sheet with the second pass. I don't know what knife I should use.
- Serve choices - 15:33: Geoff: I have settled on the backhand serve for my "bread and butter" serve as it is successful. If my other serve is the tomahawk serve, the sidespin element on all my services would be in the same direction. Do you feel like this a drawback?
- Contact point on your bat - 18:03: Phil: For maximum topspin should you contact the ball with the top half or bottom half of the paddle?
- Fake Rubbers - 19:30: Christopher: What is your experience with fake blades/rubbers?
Canadian and US Collegiate Teams Meet
USA Team Leader and Coaches Selection Procedures for Pan Am Games
Here's the info, and how you can be a part of it!
ITTF Legends Tour
Here's a new highlights video (44 sec).
Amazing Rally at 2014 Chile Open Final
Here's the video (44 sec).
Ma Lin, "The Dragon"
Here's a stylish picture of him - he turned 35 yesterday.
As we freeze inside (if you are in certain parts of the U.S.), this paddle has the right idea. This morning it's 4°F outside, and it dropped to -1°F last night, breaking the all-time record for lowest temperature on this date in Maryland, which had been 7°F in 1959. I hear Boston's had a few weather problems as well.
Pro Kills It at Table Tennis With a Samsung Phone for a Paddle
Here's the video (3:16) of Matt Hetherington taking on challenges!
Ping Pong Trick Shots 2
Here's the new video (5:56) from Dude Perfect, as well as Trick Shots 2 Bonus Video (1:47). In case you missed it, here's Trick Shots 1 (6:04), as well as Behind the Scenes Ping Pong Trick Shots (2:56).
World's Best Blocker
Send us your own coaching news!
Ping-Ping Diplomacy by Nicholas Griffin - Review
This book should be of great interest to table tennis buffs, history buffs, and Chinese buffs - lots of great stuff! It's subtitled "Ivor Montagu and the Astonishing Story Behind the Game That Changed the World." It's 275 pages, plus another 61 pages - so 336 total - of various end notes, acknowledgements, index, etc. It has 51 chapters, divided into four parts. There's also a very nice photo section in the middle.
Part 1 is titled "The West." Here we learn about Ivor Montagu, the founder of the ITTF, the person most responsible for table tennis becoming an international sport due to his tireless efforts - when he wasn't spying for the Soviets. Yep, our sport was pretty much founded by a communist spy! But we learn how he was instrumental in helping spread the sport to China as well as a little bit of Soviet history, where we even meet Trotsky.
Part 2 is titled "The East." To me, this was the most fascinating part. We learn not only about the rise of table tennis in China and Japan (much of it due to Ichiro Ogimura), but also much of the history of China as the Chairman Mao and the communists took over, and the rather horrible events that took place during the Cultural Revolution. Due to the elite nature of players on the Chinese national team, they were persecuted during this time, with many of them falsely accused of crimes, humiliated, and even tortured, with three members committing suicide. The inside story of much of the Cultural Revolution and how it affected table tennis (and others) is vivid. I was especially hit hard by the story of Rong Guotuan, China's first table tennis World Champion, who won Men's Singles in 1959, coached the Chinese Women's Team to their first world championship in 1965 - and after false accusations of spying, humiliation, and torture, hung himself in 1968 at the age of 30. You also learn about the ups and downs of other Chinese players, such as three-time world champion Zhuang Zedong (1961, 63, 65), who bounced back and forth from political favor to humiliation, from diplomat and champion to street cleaner and back.
Part 3 is titled "East Meets West." This is basically the lead up and actual events that took place during the 1971-72's Ping-Pong Diplomacy, where the USA team went to China, and then the Chinese team visited the U.S. Much of this I already knew about from Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume V (which covers the Ping-Pong Diplomacy Years), but there were a lot of new details. The story jumps back and forth between the backgrounds and meet-up of the two main table tennis protagonists here, Zhuang Zedong and the hippy Glenn Cowan, as well as the rest of the contingent, including idealist and possible communist sympathizer John Tannehill, George Brathwaite, Errol & Jairie Resek, Dick Miles, Judy Bochenski Hoarfrost, Connie Sweeris, Olga Soltesz, Rufford Harrison, Jack Howard, George & Madeleine Bubin, Tim Boggan, Ping Neuberger, and USTTA president Glenn Steenhoven. There's also lots of coverage of the major political protagonists, in particular ping-pong lovers Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and many others.
Part 4 is titled "Aftermath." This covers the events that took place afterwards. Probably most interesting here is the tragic aftermath of Cowan as he sinks lower and lower as he attempts to cash in on his fame, and finally dies in 2004 at age 51, homeless and nearly forgotten. In contrast, Zhuang Zedong, upon hearing of Cowan's death and how he had been forgotten, says, "When I die, everyone in China will know." (And when he dies in 2013 at age 71, he is right.) We also learn of the many implications of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, both for table tennis and the world in general.
The book is available at Amazon in paperback, hardcover, and Kindle. Here's are reviews of the book by The Washington Post and The New York Times. (Tomorrow I review Ping Pong for Fighters by Tahl Leibovitz.)
Happy Chinese New Year!
(But you still have to play ping-pong tonight.)
Five Worst Temper Tantrums I've Ever Seen in Table Tennis
NONE of these incidents happened at the Maryland Table Tennis Center!
- After blowing a 20-18 match point lead, a junior player (age 14) went into the bathroom, and did the following: pulled the toilet, toilet walls, sink, hand dryer, and overhead light all off the wall & ceiling. We heard the crashes, but he'd locked the door. Before we could get the door open, water was pouring under the door - the place was flooded from pipes pulled out of the wall. The junior's parents had to spend thousands of dollars in repairs.
- Same junior as above, a few months before: Up 20-12 match point in the third (best of three) on a player rated about 500 points lower in a league match, he lost three in a row (20-15). In disgust, he slammed his paddle down, breaking the handle. He continued playing with the racket, holding it by the blade, and lost the next three points (20-18). He then borrowed a paddle from someone else, and lost four points in a row and the match. He then took the borrowed paddle - which the other player needed for his league match - and broke it over his knee, and stormed out of the room.
- After blowing a 20-15 match point lead in the final of Under 18 at a tournament, a top junior tore his towel to shreds. He then tore his shirt off and ripped it to shreds. Then, in just his playing shorts and shoes, he stormed outside (temperature: 3 degree F and breezy). When he didn't return after 15 minutes or so, I went outside, and found him shivering on a corner two blocks away.
- After losing a practice match, a player grabbed a notebook, and systematically pulled the sheets of paper out, one by one, and chewed and ate them, the whole time glaring at everyone. After eating at least ten pages, he then began chewing on his racket handle, and managed to take a chunk out, which he chewed and swallowed.
- After losing a practice match, a player started smacking his head on the table. There were two others of us there, so we stepped out for a few minutes. When we came back, the player was gone, but every barrier (about 40) had been kicked over.
Reverse Pendulum Serve
Here's the new coaching video (4:21) by Coach Brett Clarke.
Why is My Training Level Better Than Match Level
Here's the coaching article by Matt Hetherington.
Ask the Coach
Episode #79 (17:35) - Can Ovtcharov win in Qatar
- Yesterday's #PQOTD - 1:02: Without the Chinese players at the Qatar Open, can Ovtcharov win?
- #PQOTD - 1:50: What are the critical factors for running a successful club?
- Question 1 - 3:08: Andre: I’ve been think about this for a while now, why don't people hide their strokes, like their serves back in the day? I know it would be hard to master but adding side spin slightly to a topspin ball can really make the difference.
- Question 2 - 6:10: Martinand: When we play slowly it's easy to know if I play with forehand or backand but when the play is quicker it's difficult to know where the ball arrive for the forehand we have to arm the arm before the ball arrives. Any suggestions?
- Question 3 - 9:46: DK: Do you have any idea how to practise footwork and connect it with the stroke?
- Question 4 - 13:17: Jake: In other sports, I've benefited from cross training (such as adding some swimming while training for track and field). Are there non-table tennis activities you recommend as part of a table tennis training program?
- Question 5 - 15:00: Brock: Do you know a great table tennis exercise that is very effective?
- Question 6 - 16:25: Brock: How is it going with your cube Alois?
Qualification is First Hurdle for Kanak Jha and Joe Seyfried
Here's the ITTF article on the USA and French junior stars.
Ping-Pong a Hit Among Many Celebrities
Plastic Balls - Your Questions Answered
Here's the question and answers by Table Tennis England.
Diane Jiang Seeks Redemption at National Team Trials
Here's the article by Barbara Wei.
ITTF Racket Control
Here's the video (10:35). It'll either fascinate you or bore you to death.
Waldner and Appelgren Exhibition
Around the Net Receive by 12-year-old
Here's the video (29 sec, including slow motion replay) - I've never seen one like this before!
Adam Bobrow Coaching Jorgen Persson
Here's the video (40 sec) as the two discuss higher tactics between games.
Sean O'Neill vs. Pat O'Neill, Mini-table, 1973
Chariots of Fail
Here's the video (2:50) - "Everything looks better in slow motion, especially kids playing ping pong and failing big time."
Send us your own coaching news!
Team League Sign-Up Time
Here's a call-out to players in the Capital Area, New York, and Los Angeles areas - time to join a team!!! Below are the team leagues in these regions. Deadlines are coming up fast, so enter now! (Deadline for the Capital Area Super League is this Friday.)
As I noted in my Feb. 2 blog, leagues such as these are the first step toward changing the culture of table tennis in the United States. As I wrote then: "…developing these team leagues won't be easy, and that's because of the culture of table tennis here, where few have ever played regularly on a table tennis team. They don't know what it's like to compete regularly on a team where your teammates and friends are cheering you on, even as you cheer them on - you know, like most of you were cheering on a football team at the Super Bowl last night! Except - you get to be Tom Brady or Russell Wilson."
It's going to be a long process, but eventually, if we can have the type of "team" culture they have overseas, we can have the same table tennis success as they do. Helping set up the Capital Area League and watching how it and others develop is a learning process as we learn how to create this type of team culture. Currently we have to almost connive players into entering, since it's something new and unfamiliar to them - unlike overseas, where this is the norm and why players come out to play. Gradually this will change.
And yet there are many who only look at the way things are now and can't imagine it can possibly change, just like many no doubt did, say, in Germany, back when they too were a backwards table tennis country without 600,000 members and 11,000 clubs. They didn't magically start that way, nor did they start team leagues because they had so many players; it was the team leagues that led to all those players, as it did all over Europe. This is also how most sports in the U.S. become popular, such as tennis (700,000 members, including me a few years ago when I played on a team), bowling (over two million members), and the many youth team leagues.
To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, we have to stop looking at the way things are, and dream of the way they should be, and ask "Why not?" (This is also a good way to look at your table tennis game - stop looking at where it is now, and instead dream of where it should be, and ask yourself, "Why not?")
- Capital Area Super League (For players in the Maryland, Virginia, and DC area)
Home Page and Info Flyer.
Deadline: February 20 - this Friday!
The league is for all levels, with numerous players already signed up from 1200 to 2000, and all the way up to 2500. Here is a listing of the 54 players on eleven teams currently signed up.
- New York League
Promotional Video and Blog.
Deadline: March 8.
From League Director Maurico Vergara: The Club league will start in March, we will play in the biggest clubs in the region, so far Lily Yip TTC and NYISC are confirmed as center of matches, still waiting for NJTTC in Westfield, and other. Teams need to submit roster of players and fee before March 8th. The matches will be played in many division, and we will play only once a month from March to November. All players are welcome to most multicultural league in the most multicultural city in the world.
- Los Angeles League
Deadline: March 1.
New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina
Here's the video (56 sec), demonstrated by Felix Gao and Coach Maggie Tian at the Zhou Xin TT Academy.
How to Feed Multiball to Multiple Players
Here's video (31 sec) one of many ways.
Ask the Coach
Episode #78 (19:15) - Coaching Players during Matches
- Yesterday's #PQOTD - 1:03: What are the critical factors that make the Chinese better?
- #PQOTD - 3:56: Without the Chinese players at the Qatar Open, can Ovtcharov win?
- Question 1 - 5:10: Abdul: What did you parents say about playing Table Tennis?
- Question 2 - 5:53: Brock: How was your feeling after your first loss in a tournament? Did you became more nervous for other matches or did it get better?
- Question 3 - 8:30: Anthony: When receiving serve, my opponent says that I can not move to step around or anything until the ball has left the racket. Is this true? Thanks.
- Question 4 - 10:19: Malke: It was 10:9 for my opponent and he served the ball. He pretended to serve backspin service so I tried to push it back. The problem was the ball was so wet that it immediately fell down. Can I make the ball wet to manipulate the surface?
- Question 5 - 13:02: Marcus: It was my turn to take the U13 team to their match. The doubles was 2:0 start but the boys just did not realise how the opponents corrected their game and adjusted. They lost the following 3 sets. I did not take any timeouts. Should I have?
- Question 6 - 15:26: Andre: When playing forehand topspin, do you have the same angle for the bat when you focus on both spin and power? or when playing power close the bat and go more horizontal with my arm and forehand and spin more open and have a vertical stroke?
- Question 7 - 18:06: Brock: This question is to Alois: Do you think your 1990's hairstyle can comeback again? ; )
Expert in a Year
Here's the video from January (5 min) - it's going viral with 576,182 views as of right now!
Bill Hodge Memoriam
Here's the USATT Obituary. (No relation to me.) He co-founded the USA Nationals.
Exhibition Match in Augusta
Here's the article about the exhibition by Derek & Pete May and Peng Xin.
Around the Net Rolling Shot
Justin Bieber Dominates at Table Tennis
Here's the article on the lefty - yes, he actually has at least one positive attribute!
Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.
Fire Alarm in Kuwait = Lobby Table Tennis
Here's the video (24 sec) of Adam Bobrow's impromptu pong play on a lobby desk. (Why do I post so many Adam Bobrow videos? You'd be in here too if you were posting videos of hotel lobby desk table tennis is Kuwait!)
Here's a funny video (1:36) that's mostly non-table tennis, featuring various special effects, such as a kid dressed as Spider-Man turning into a Spider-Man poster. At 48 seconds in, two kids are playing table tennis and the ball changes into an egg and goes splat.
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Tip of the Week
We had about five inches last night, so schools are closed here in Montgomery Country, Maryland (and pretty much everywhere else in the region). No afterschool program or coaching today, so I'll either catch up on work, reading, or sleep. Lots of coaching articles and feature videos today!
Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class
On Sunday night my new Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class began. We have 16 signed up, though four had to miss the first session due to a combination of Presidents Day/Chinese New Year/Bad Weather. The class will meet at MDTTC for ten weeks, Sundays from 6:30-8:00 PM. (You can still sign up.) On the first day we covered the grip, ready stance ("Like covering someone in basketball, a soccer goalie, or a shortstop in baseball or softball"), forehand drive, and spin serves. (I brought out the soccer-colored balls for that.) Afterwards I let everyone stay for about half an hour, and hit with the players. Assisting in the camp are Raghu Nadmichettu and Josh Tran. This is about the 20th time I've taught this class.
The class is for adults (though we allow players as young as 13), from complete beginners up to about 1500. This is one of the best ways to bring in new members for your clubs. Think about it - your average first-time player comes in, is told to call winners on a table, he gets killed, and unless he's insane in some way, we never see him again. So we lose most potential players, and the ones we get are the insane ones. This explains a lot, doesn't it? But when I say "insane," I'm talking about people who are already so crazy about table tennis that getting killed the first time they play a real club doesn't turn them off. The first time I showed up at a club was back in 1976 when I was 16 - and I lost to Herb Horton (rated just over 2000), 21-1, 21-0, 21-2. (He was getting tired in that third game.)
Such classes introduce new players to the game, teaches them the basics so their ready for real club play, and creates their own peer group, i.e. the other members of the class. If you're a coach or experienced player, why not set up such a class at your club? Here's a rough draft of the topics covered each week in my class, though I vary it depending on the players.
- Week 1: Intro; Grip; Stance; Forehand drive; Spin serves
- Week 2: Backhand drive; Down the Line practice; Deception on serves
- Week 3: Forehand and Backhand practice; Footwork; Pushing
- Week 4: FH, BH, and Pushing practice; Footwork drills; Forehand Loop vs Backspin
- Week 5: FH and BH practice; Backhand Loop and Drive, and Blocking
- Week 6: Smash; Smash & Block drills; Loop and Smash combo; Receive
- Week 7: Footwork drills; Loop against Block; Serve practice (serving low, fast serves)
- Week 8: Blocking; Serve & Attack Drills; Random drills; Equipment
- Week 9: Drills (countering, footwork, smash); Serve practice; Tactics Against Different Styles; Doubles
- Week 10: Drills; USATT, MDTTC, tournaments, leagues, books; Smashing lobs; Player's choice
Smash Table Tennis Demonstration, Exhibition, and Clinic
On Friday afternoon I joined Mike Levene at Smash Table Tennis in Sterling, Virginia, for a two-hour visit from 29 local fifth graders. We did a demo, an exhibition, a clinic, and then (after a pizza break), played games. Here's a 34-sec video of during clinic (ball bouncing), and here are pictures. And here's a video (2:26) where I take on Josiah and demonstrate the various spins and now to react to them - and he gets to make me look silly.
Waiting for USATT Committee Appointee Approvals
One of the hardest things in dealing with USATT issues is the constant waiting. Right now I'm working out various plans, but I can't move on many of them until we appoint and approve the new committee chairs and members. Most of that will likely take place over the next one to two months, and then I can work directly with these committees on the various issues they oversee. While I will be working relatively independently on some issues, I do need to consult with the specific committees assigned to the topics. For example, before I do anything regarding a USATT Coaching Academy I need to go over the plans and work with the USATT Coaching Committee. There's also the problem of burning out some people if I keep bringing up new issues. Apparently the human mind can only handle a certain number of issues at a time before it explodes!!!
Sometimes to Win the War You've Got to Lose a Battle
How to Approach the Service Game
Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao. It includes a link to a match between Dmitrij Ovtcharov and Marcos Freitas with an analysis of the service tactics.
Golf Table Tennis Tutorial - Like a Boss!
Here's the new video (64 sec) from Brett Clarke, one of the most entertaining (and informative) coaches around. "This golf club trick is a training lesson to teach you how to perfect your forehand topspin for table tennis. Learn you how to use your waist, wrist and forearm correctly so you can get the best combination of spin and power."
Ask the Coach (Werner Schlager Academy Version)
What's the difference between Europe and China? (1:45; in German with English subtitles).
Ask the Coach (PingSkills Version)
Here are two more episodes - and note that the title for each episode is only one of a number of topics covered in that episode.
Nathan Hsu Interview
Here's the interview from the recent North American Grand Tour Final.
Ask a Pro Anything: Ma Long
Here's the video (2:01) by Adam Bobrow, with three questions for the Chinese superstar, who speaks pretty good English. I loved the first response the question of whether he was human: "No, I am not human. I am a robot."
2015 U.S. World and Pan Am Trials Promo Video
Here's the video (1:24) by Jimmy Butler.
2014 U.S. Nationals Highlights Video
The Table Tennis Collector
$3 Million ITTF Pro Tour Continues in Qatar
DHS Top 10 Best Rallies - 2015 World Team Cup
Here's the new video (4:16).
Tennis Star Ana Ivanovic Plays Table Tennis
Twirling No-Look Forehand Smash
Here's the video (5 sec).
Hardcore Table Tennis from NoobTownMonkeys
Here's the hilarious new video (69 sec) with lots of wild special effects!
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What, did you think I was going to blog while everyone else is taking the day off? Heck no!!! It's President's Day, and I'm an amateur presidential historian. (During long car trips to tournaments I drive people crazy by reciting all the presidents in order, including their terms of office and other trivia. It's how I punish bad-behaving juniors.) So in honor of our presidents - especially the ones who play table tennis (Obama, Bush Jr., Clinton, Bush Sr., Reagan, Nixon), I'm off today. I'll have lots to write about tomorrow, and plenty of time to do it since I'll likely be snowed in here in Maryland (5-8 inches expected).
Where Do Top Players Come From?
Nearly all top players start out as juniors training at training centers with top coaches. And so if we want more top players, what do we need? More training centers with top coaches. Sometimes I'm amazed at how many people don't see this as obvious.
Back in the pre-TCPUAOTC days (that's Training Centers Popping Up All Over The Country), i.e. before roughly 2007, there were only 8-10 such training centers in the country, and no more than a few dozen kids at most in the whole country doing serious training, while countries all over the world had many thousands. So we obviously needed more junior programs. That meant more training centers. Others argued that all we had to do was take some of the few current kids, and train them well, and they’d catch up to other kids who were years ahead of them – despite the fact that there were many thousands of these kids who were years ahead of them and getting training we could rarely match.
But now we are in the TCPUAOTC days (with nearly 80 full-time clubs), and guess what? More training centers => more junior training => the current explosion of talent. It used to be we’d have perhaps one or two good players in each age group, if we were lucky. Now we have players in the 11-14 age range that are downright scary, and great depth to back them up. We have kids who don't make the quarterfinals of their age group who would have dominated their age group eight years ago. Many of the top cadets of the past wouldn't make it past the early rounds in today's weighty draws.
But 80 full-time training centers barely scratches the surface. I once estimated that the country could support over 500, and that's probably a conservative figure - we probably could have twice that many. (You don't need active players to open and run a full-time training center. As I've blogged numerous times, the whole idea of a full-time training center is you develop your own membership by turning non-players into players via promotion, coaching programs, and leagues for all levels. Any relatively populated area can support one or more.)
Here are some stats, comparing 2006 (end of the year) to 2015, about eight years later. There are non-citizens mixed in these results, just as in 2006, but the bulk are USA citizens. The only one in 2015 that is really affected here is Under 16 Boys. If you went with citizens only, then the top 15 in 2015 ranges from 2562 to 2370, and the #1 from 2006 would be #12. (I did a similar comparison back on Jan. 4, 2012, but here are updated numbers.)
Under 16 Boys:
- In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2087.
- In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2661 to 2433.
- The 2418 that was #1 in 2006 would be #17 in 2015.
- The 2087 that was #15 in 2006 would be #75 in 2015.
Under 14 Boys:
- In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2323 to 1870.
- In 2015 it ranged from 2562 to 2187.
- The 2323 that was #1 in 2006 would be #9 in 2015.
- The 1870 that was #15 in 2006 would be #65 in 2015.
Under 12 Boys:
- In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 1440.
- In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2198 to 1859.
- The 2044 that was #1 in 2006 would be #5 in 2015.
- The 1440 that was #15 in 2006 would be #41 in 2015.
Under 16 Girls:
- In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2113 to 1620.
- In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2440 to 2025.
- The 2113 that was #1 in 2006 would be #9 in 2015.
- The 1620 that was #15 in 2006 would be #60 in 2015.
Under 14 Girls:
- In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 1432.
- In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2440 to 1891.
- The 2029 that was #1 in 2006 would be #6 in 2015.
- The 1432 that was #15 in 2006 would be #46 in 2015.
Under 12 Girls:
- In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 553.
- In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2181 to 1637.
- The 2029 that was #1 in 2006 would be #3 in 2015.
- The 553 that was #15 in 2006 would be #71 in 2015.
Here's another eye-opening stat. In 2006 there were 183 juniors (under 18) rated over 1500. Now there are 639.
If the goal is to win Olympic medals - and that is the goal of many - then instead of thinking short-term and failing (like we have since table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988, and before as well), we should be thinking a little more long-term - like 5-8 years from now. Because that's when this crop of superkids, mostly in the 11-14 age group, will be approaching their peaks. The only problem then, of course, is that many of them will stop playing seriously to go to college when they're around 18. (Did I just say going to college is a problem? Yikes!) I blogged about this on May 16, 2014.
With this group of superkids, I'd already be predicting medals for Team USA if not for the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room - yeah, the Chinese team. But if we play our cards right - and perhaps pull an inside straight - that eight-hundred pound gorilla might start sweating someday when they face one of these USA Superkids when they are no longer kids. At various times in the past Sweden and Hungary, with populations under ten million, have overtaken the Chinese. Why not a country of 320 million?
Demonstration and Exhibition
This morning I'm off for the Smash Table Tennis Center in Sterling, Virginia (about 50 minutes away), where from 11AM to 1PM I'll be doing demos, exhibitions, and running a mini-table tennis camp with Smash Coach Michael Levene for 30 local school kids. I'll report on it on Monday.
Happy Friday the Thirteenth and Valentine's Day!
The two go together, don't you think? In honor of Friday the Thirteenth, here's a ping-pong ball with a black cat on it. And while we're at it, here are some table tennis superstitions. But let's not forget Valentine's Day! (Yep, this is what you get when you Google "Table Tennis Valentines Pictures.")
Look. Listen. Feel. Learn to Somewhat Predict the Future
Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.
Royal Navy Table Tennis Coaching Manual
Here it is - 37 pages.
Percentage of Shakehanders vs. Penholders in ITTF World Tour
Here's the chart, with the info from the ITTF - apparently 95% of the men and 97% of the women were shakehanders, so only 5% and 3% were penholders. Wow.
Arnold Sports Festival
Here's the article by Barbara Wei about this 4-star tournament in Columbus, OH, March 6-8.
Fan Zhendong's Forehand Loop in Slow Motion
Here's the video (4:34) - if you don't spend some time studying this, then you must be a hardbat player. Oh, and hardbat players should study the footwork - as should the rest of us. Note how he starts with a short step with his left foot to move left, then after the stroke pushes off the left foot to get back into position. Most importance, note how he's always balanced.
Fan Zhendong - Ready or Not
Here's a tribute video (2:34) to Fan Zhendong, the Chinese 18-year-old ranked #3 in the world.
Training Compilation at Werner Schlager Academy
Here's the video (2:47).
University of NC at Chapel Hill - 2014-15 Highlights
Here's the music video (2:21).
ITTF President Thomas Weikert Resigns as President of German TTA
Here's the ITTF story. He'd hoped to continue as both ITTF and German TTA president, but decided he needed to focus on just one.
Here's the Butterfly North America News Page.
International Table Tennis
Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).
Here's the gif image - or are these dinosaurs?
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There's no question the Chinese dominate table tennis. It isn't even close. At the World Championships they've won Men's Teams seven straight times and nine of the last ten. In fact, other than that blip when Sweden won it three straight times from 1989-1993, and the two times they missed due to the Cultural Revolution (1967 & 1969), they've won it 19 out of 22 times. On the women's side they are even more dominant, winning 18 of the last 20 times. They've also won Men's Singles four straight times and six of the last seven times, and Women's Singles ten straight times and 18 of the last 19.
In the World Rankings, China has the top four men and top three women in the world, and dominate below that level as well. Only a few countries have an outside chance of occasionally defeating the Chinese in team competition - probably only the German and Japanese men, and the Singapore and Japanese women.
I wrote an article about Chinese domination in Sports Illustrated in June, 1999, and since then the domination has only gotten greater. This leads to a lack of suspense in many major tournaments. As long-time Chinese star Ma Lin said in an article I linked to yesterday, "Before every World Cup (football), no one can confidently say which team will win the championship title because they are just popular. But that is not the case in table tennis because there is no suspense." He also wrote, "The decrease of the competency level of other countries in the world has resulted to the lack of eye-catching competitions and confrontation."
The key part here is where he refers to the "The decrease of the competency level of other countries in the world." While I'm not so sure it's a decrease on their part so much as an increase in the Chinese level and depth, the root of the problem is that these other countries have fallen farther behind the Chinese. There was a time, at least on the men's side, that there almost always was at least one other country battling with them. At various times it was the Japanese, the Swedes, or the Hungarians. In recent times Germany has become slightly competitive with Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #6) and Timo Boll (world #9), but unfortunately for them Ovtcharov came along only after Boll (former #1) was past his peak. On the women's side, the Koreans have occasionally competed with them, and Singapore pulled off a huge upset to win Women's Teams in 2010, but it's mostly been non-stop Chinese domination on the women's side.
It is in China's interest that they remain the dominant power, but not so dominant that it becomes repetitive and boring. So how can the rest of the world become more competitive, and what should China do?
Actually, I would argue China is already doing its part. All over the world former Chinese stars are now coaching and acting as practice partners. By letting these players move to other countries and teach and practice with up-and-coming players, China's doing about all it can to level the playing field, short of requiring its players to dump matches or handicap itself. (Maybe they should use hardbat?) To be the best, you have to compete with the best. Which is what USA players did all year in the North American Tour, and in the NA Tour Final this past weekend. As expected, it was dominated by Chinese players, with 11 of the 16 finalists Chinese immigrants (non-citizens), with five USA citizens battling with them and gaining experience. In fact, at the club yesterday one of our players who competed there was working on a new serve he'd seen one of the Chinese players use, something he probably wouldn't otherwise have been developing. U.S. players can learn by how these players dominate with serve, receive, looping and other strokes, and footwork. It forces competitors to aim higher. So I'd like to see even more top Chinese players and coaches in the U.S., all working to develop the next generation of USA players.
We do need a balance, where we have events for USA citizens (so they can win prize money and be full-time players), but the ultimate goal is for them to learn to compete and beat these Chinese players - who, as good as they are, are considerably weaker than the actual members of the Chinese National Team, the ones we'd like to someday battle with.
And how can players reach the level where they can beat these Chinese players? By competing with them in tournaments, and by training and receiving coaching from then in training centers. Full-time training centers are popping up all over the U.S., and the bulk of them have Chinese coaches training U.S. players. (There are many highly successful coaches who are not Chinese, but the Chinese make up the bulk of them.) Even at my club I'm just one of eight full-time coaches - and the other seven are all Chinese immigrants, two of them former members of the Chinese National Team. And guess what? As successful as the Chinese are in playing table tennis, they are just as successful at coaching it, and that's why I see a promising future for table tennis in the U.S.
Here's the new USATT Insider and the second one ever. It comes out every Wednesday morning. If you are a USATT member you should have received it via email yesterday; if not, email USATT to make sure they have your email address.
Eight Simple Steps to Hit Peak Form for Major Events
Here's a great new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.
Neuropsychologist Serves Up Pongpong to Promote Brain Fitness in Virginia Beach
Ask the Coach
Episode #75 (20:21) - Portugal's Future
- Yesterdays #PQOTD - 1:02: Where will Portugal be ranked at the end of 2015?
- #PQOTD - 4:10: Have you played in a tournament? If so what were your experiences at your first tournament?
- Question 1 - 4:45: How do you do the spiniest serve so people cant return the ball on the table? Abdul
- Question 2 - 6:14: How can I block a low heavy backspin, would a backhand push be good or have you any other ideas? Brock
- Question 3 - 7:02: Which table tennis brand do you think is the best?
- Question 4 - 8:10: How do you practice to not miss shots in sessions an how to lower your fear when playing in tournaments and how to play backhands like the pros? Abdul
- Question 5 - 10:34: Tam: Hi Alois, I'm left handed and I'm having trouble with hitting wide shots is there a way I could improve this?
- Question 6 - 12:26: Ilia: I use the pendulum and the reverse pendulum services in my play. I'm also a very forehand oriented player. My rivals often return my services with backspin to my backhand to force me to pivot. How can I "enforce" the service return to my forehand?
- Question 7 - 14:19: Abdullah: Is there a certain technique to multiball? My brother and I have tried it, but it ends up making a very awkward arc could you help us?
- Question 8 - 16:01: Dakota: I have been thinking of looking for more control in my game. Should I simply drop my thickness from MAX down to maybe 1.8 and keep using Vega Pro or try a different slower rubber that has better control, but use MAX to retain spin?
- Question 9 - 17:43: How can i improve my table tennis reflexes?
North American Tour Grand Finals
Asian Power at Werner Schlager Academy
Here's video (4:37) of Tamolwan Khetkuen (Thailand) and Shiho Ono (Japan) practicing together. Ono (green shirt) is a pips-out penholder, a rarity these days.
International Table Tennis Thailand
The Next World Champion
Here's 17 seconds of him (age three?) shadow practicing his big forehand.
Adam Bobrow on Vietnam TV
Here's the video (12:36).
Is This You?
Is this how you see yourself when you play? It's how I see myself!!!
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Contenders for Greatest Of All Time (Men)
There have always been debates about who is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). Most end up with a ranking. But a ranking for GOAT is not the same thing as listing the actual contenders. There are players who are arguably among the best of all time, perhaps even top five, who don't really have a good argument for being the actual GOAT. And there are others who might have an argument for being the GOAT who might not make the top five or even top ten list for others.
Also note that "Greatest" is not the same as "Best." Every generation is usually better than the previous one (better techniques, training methods, and equipment), and any modern sponge champion would easily defeat the hardbat champions of the past, as well as the early sponge players. But "Greatest" is a relative term, and so we are looking at how they did relative to their peers. I do take into consideration how strong the competition was. For example, in the very early days of table tennis there simply were not many serious players, and so the level was not very high, and I don't see them as being as "Great" as a more modern player where there are many thousands of players training full-time all over the world. You have to find a balance here, though ultimately it's a judgment call.
So here is my listing for those who at least have a solid argument as being the GOAT. I'm not going to rank them; my goal is to list all those who are the real contenders, and let others then choose among them and perhaps rank them. For today I'm going to only cover the men; I'll likely do women later. For reference, here are listings for World Champions (singles and doubles), World Champions (teams), Olympic Champions, and World Cup Champions. Note that table tennis didn't get into the Olympics until 1988, and the first World Cup was in 1980, so players before those years didn't have those opportunities. On the other hand, the World Championships were held annually until 1957, but has been bi-annual since, so modern players have only half as many opportunities to win the Worlds.
From this period there are two possible contenders. Viktor Barna (Hungarian and then emigrated to England) won Men's Singles at the Worlds five times, including four in a row (1932-35, as well as 1930). He also was 8-time World Men's Doubles Champion (with three different partners), 2-time World Mixed Doubles Champion, and 7-time World Men's Team Champion. That's 22 titles at the Worlds, the most ever. He is an obvious choice.
Richard Bergmann of Austria (and later England) is the other possible contender from the hardbat era. At first glance, his credentials don't match up against Barna's. He won Men's Singles at the Worlds "only" four times (1937, 1939, 1948, 1950), and only three other titles - Men's Doubles only once (with Barna) and Men's Teams twice. However, his career was disrupted twice, first by World War II (no World Championships between 1939 and 1947, what were probably his peak years), and then in 1952 with the coming up sponge. He also is regarded as the best defensive player from the hardbat era. However, to be the GOAT you have to have the credentials, and while he might have been "cheated" out of some, he ended up with only seven titles at the Worlds to Barna's 22, and one less World Men's Singles Title.
Bohumil Vana of Czechoslovakia won Men's Singles twice, in 1938 and 1947, with World War II sandwiched in between. He won Men's Doubles and Mixed Doubles three times each, and Men's Teams five times, a total of 13 titles. Like Bergmann, his best years were lost to World War II. But also like Bergmann, his credentials just don't match up to Barna's. Another possible contender is Johnny Leach of England, who won Men's Singles twice (1949 and 1951), Men's Teams once (1953), and no doubles titles. Good, but not comparable to Barna.
So with great misgiving I remove Bergmann, Vana, and Leach from the list of possible contenders of GOAT, leaving Barna as clearly the GOATFTHBE - Greatest Of All Time From The Hard Bat Era.
EARLY SPONGE ERA
This would be from 1952 (when Hiroji Satoh of Japan introduces sponge) to the coming of the looping era, which roughly started with Hasegawa in 1967. Some would argue Satoh's impact on the game with his sponge racket makes him a contender, but he only won one title at the Worlds, Men's Singles in 1952. So he's not a GOAT contender. But there are three possible contenders.
Ichiro Ogimura of Japan won Men's Singles twice (1954 and 1956), and also won Men's and Mixed Doubles twice each, and Men's Teams six times. However, his biggest impact on the game was his development of stroking techniques and advanced training. He was the primary reason for Japan's rise to power in the 1950s, and indirectly to China's, whose coaches and players studied films of him, including instructional ones he created. He spent much of his later life teaching and popularizing the game, and is arguably the most influential player ever.
Ogimura's Teammate, Toshiaki Tanaka, also won the Worlds Twice (1955 and 1957), Men's Teams five times, but no doubles titles. He's an all-time great, but doesn't match up with Ogimura.
Zhuang Zedong of China was the dominant player in the early 1960s, winning Men's Singles three straight times (1961, 1963, 1965), Men's Teams four times, but only one doubles title, Men's Doubles in 1965. For many years he was considered by many the GOAT. However, many Chinese players from that era have since said that his opponent in all three Men's Singles Finals, Li Furong, was ordered to dump each time. This wasn't Zhuang's fault, but does somewhat tarnish these titles. Zhuang might have won more titles but the Chinese Cultural Revolution interrupted, and China did not take part in the 1967 and 1969 World Championships, and in the 1971 Worlds Zhuang defaulted rather than play against a Cambodian player in the early rounds who Zhuang said (likely under pressure from the Chinese government), that he refused to play against "…players who represent governments [that are] enemies of the Cambodian and the Vietnamese people," and then explaining that the squads representing those countries were "puppets of US imperialism." (From "Ping-Pong Diplomacy," by Nicholas Griffin, page 187).
So I'll put down Ogimura and Zhuang as the two contenders for the GOAT from the Early Sponge Era.
MIDDLE SPONGE ERA
I'll put this down as from 1967 to 1987, roughly the start of the looping era and ending when the European two-winged looping style (later adopted by China) would begin to completely dominate the game, as well as the sport's debut at the Olympics. Ironically, though looping was introduced here, many of the titles during this time were won by pips-out penholders - but their games were developed around defeating the looping game. From 1967 to 1979 there were seven Worlds, and seven different players won Men's Singles, and none would win a second.
Guo Yuehua of China won Men's Singles two times in a row (1981 and 1983), as well as making the finals the two previous Worlds, so he was in the final four times in a row (1977-1983). He also won Men's Doubles in 1983, and Men's Teams three times. He won the World Cup in 1980 and 1982. For many years when players argued who was the GOAT, he and Zhuang were the two modern (at the time) contenders. Like Zhuang, this is partly tarnished by the rumors of dumping. Ironically, many believe that Guo was ordered to dump to the Japanese in the Finals in 1977 and 1979 (since the Chinese in those days were focused on winning the Teams), while his opponent and teammate in the 1981 and 1983 finals (Cai Zhenhua) was ordered to dump to him. But there's no question Guo is a contender for GOAT.
Another possible is Jiang Jialiang of China, who won Men's Singles twice (1985 and 1987), and Men's Teams three times. He also won the World Cup in 1984. He's an all-time great, but doesn't quite match up to Guo.
So from the Middle Sponge Era there is one contender: Guo Yuehua.
MODERN SPONGE ERA
This is from 1988 to the present (2015). Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden is the first obvious choice. He won Men's Singles twice (1989 and 1997, winning the latter without losing a game, the only person in history to do that), as well as making the Final two other times (1987 and 1991), and the semifinals two other times. He never won a doubles title at the Worlds, but he led Sweden to victory in Men's Teams four times, showing that the Europeans could compete with the Chinese, and forcing the Chinese mostly disregard their traditional close-to-table pips-out playing styles and conventional penhold game and copy the European two-winged inverted looping game. Waldner also won the World Cup in 1990. He won Men's Singles Gold at the Olympics in 1992 and the Silver in 2000. In most online discussions (in English), he is considered by most the GOAT, though that might be somewhat unfair as the discussions are dominated by non-Chinese, and the Chinese contenders often split their vote. Also, players from the past (such as Barna) are often forgotten in these discussions.
Two other players in the modern era won Men's Singles at the Worlds at least twice. Wang Liqin of China won three times (2001, 2005, 2007), won Men's Doubles and Mixed Doubles twice each, and won Men's Teams four times (according to Wikipedia, though I believe he has been part of the team that has won it seven straight times since 2001). He didn't win singles at the Olympics, getting the Bronze in 2004 and 2008, though he won gold medals for Men's Doubles in 2000 and Men's Teams in 2008. He never won the World Cup, though he was in the final once and won the bronze four times. His performance at the Worlds makes him a contender for the GOAT, but his performance at the Olympics and World Cup weakens his record. His forehand loop was often called the shot that dominated a decade, and is considered by many the greatest forehand of all time. He dominated the world rankings for most of 2001-2007 with a #1 ranking 52 different months, the most since 2001 - and he was #1 at the start of 2001, so likely had more months as #1.
The other possible modern contender is Zhang Jike of China, who has won Men's Singles twice (2011 and 2013). He also won Men's Teams three times, but no doubles titles (though he was in the Mixed Doubles final once, and Men's Doubles semifinals twice). He won the Gold Medal for Men's Singles and Teams at the 2012 Olympics. He won the World Cup in 2011 and 2014, as well as making the final in 2010. However, while he's won a lot of titles in the few years he's competed, it's still too early for him to judge. Despite all these titles, he's only been ranked #1 in the world for seven months of his career, all back in 2012, because he doesn't do very well in events such as the ITTF World Tour. If he were to retire right now, he'd be an all-time great, but he doesn't quite match up with Waldner and Wang Liqin. But he's really, really close - one more big title and he's in.
There are other players from the Modern Era who would ranked very high in all-time listings, in particular Jorgen Persson of Sweden (1991 Men's Singles Champion, 1989 Finalist, 4-time World Team Champion, 1991 World Cup Champion); Kong Linghui of China (1995 Men's Singles Champion, 3-time Men's Doubles Champion, 4-time Team Champion, 2000 Olympic Men's Singles Gold Medalist and Men's Doubles Silver Medalist, 1996 Olympic Men's Doubles Gold Medalist, 1995 World Cup Champion and 1997 and 2002 Finalist); and Liu Guoliang of China (1999 World Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Men's Doubles Champion, one-time Mixed Doubles Champion, 3-time World Team Champion, 1996 Olympic Men's Singles and Doubles Gold Medalist, 2000 Olympic Men's Singles Bronze Medalist and Men's Doubles Silver Medalist, and 1996 World Cup Champion). It's difficult to put them aside, but they are marginally behind Waldner and Wang Liqin. Leaving out Kong and Liu as contenders for GOAT were two of the toughest decisions here - but while both are arguably near the very top, I don't think either is arguably the GOAT.
So from the Modern Sponge Era there are two contenders: Jan-Ove Waldner and Wang Liqin.
And so we are left with six contenders for the Greatest of All Time - not necessarily the six greatest of all time, but the six that, in my opinion, have an argument for being the Greatest Of All Time. Take your pick.
- Viktor Barna
- Ichiro Ogimura
- Zhuang Zedong
- Guo Yuehua
- Jan-Ove Waldner
- Wang Liqin
North American Grand Final - Final
Here's the video (19:58, with time between points removed except when there's commentating, and some slow motion replay) between Eugene Wang and Bob Chen, with Jim Butler commentating. There's a lot to learn by watching this - study how Eugene controls the points, and the great attacking strokes of Bob Chen.
Ask the Coach
Episode #74 (22:35) - Importance of Backhands
- Yesterday's #PQOTD - 1:28: Has the backhand become more important over the last 10 years?
- Question 1 - 3:38: How does Ma Long get so much power from his backhand? Abdul
- Question 2 - 4:44: How do you do the fastest legal serve? Abdul
- #PQOTD - 6:28: Where will Portugal be ranked at the end of 2015? 1 CHINA 2 GERMANY 3 JAPAN 4 KOREA REPUBLIC 5 PORTUGAL 6 CHINESE TAIPEI 7 HONG KONG 8 AUSTRIA 9 FRANCE 10 SWEDEN
- Question 3 - 7:20: What's up PingSkills! My strokes improves very much every time I practise now :) i played with the tall guy yesterday and he won, he beat me easily. But I did win 5 points against him, he won 21- 5. I'm Proud :)))))) Just so you know ;)
- Question 4 - 8:03: Recently I watched a live match. Do professional players really play better when they are cheered for? I doubt it... Several times it looked to me like Timo was standing at the table waiting for the spectators to calm down before he made his serve. Thomas
- Question 5 - 12:43: If I practise a topspin everyone says that I should make the stroke relaxed. But when I relax and make the loop freely, it ends in the net or I miss the ball. Do you have any idea where is the mistake? DK
- Question 6 - 15:45: I find that when I try to smash high returns from my opponent I frequently badly hit those with heavy backspin. I'm ready for hitting a winner, and instead it dives into the net. I feel suckered. What should I do if I see that type of shot? Richard
- Question 7 - 18:18: Who is the better one out of Alois and Jeff? Abdul
- Question 8 - 18:35: Do you think Jan Ove Waldner would play one more match before he retires? Brock
- Question 9 - 19:08: I felt that my backhand push became spinnier and more consistent after I employed my backhand serve more and more in my game. Is it just my feeling or is it true that player can improve his/her backhand push through practicing backhand serve? Erriza
- Question 10 - 21:35: How old were you guys when you first compete in a tournament? Brock
Waldner - Persson Point
Here's video (22 sec) of a rally ending with a trademark Persson backhand smash.
USA Table Tennis and PepPod to Partner to Power Pong in the U.S.
Theory into Practice: Coaches Supervise Ecuador Para Training Camp
Here's the ITTF article. Here's a related ITTF article, Idyllic Horizon but Dawn Breaks with New Hopes for Bermuda.
"Table Tennis Has No Suspense"
Here's the article from TableTennista where Ma Lin says this about Chinese domination.
Here's the article about a luxury table tennis resort on the Italian island Sardinia.
The Perfect Match: Kit and Marisol - a Ping Pong Couple
Forrest Gump #16 in Movie Characters with Olympic Potential
Here's the list! But some of these don't make sense. How can Forrest be behind Lincoln Hawk (#13, played by Sylvester Stallone), an arm wrestler, which isn't even an Olympic sport? Or Lamar Latrell's illegal javelin (#12)? And don't get me started on #8, Thornton Melon's diving. I'll accept Legolas and his archery, though that should be #1.
Ping Pong Ball Extinguisher Trick Shot
Here's the video (48 sec, including slow motion replay and different angles) of a player putting out a candle.
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Tip of the Week
North American Grand Tour Final
I spent the weekend watching and coaching at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in New York, where 16 players from around North American gathered to battle for $10,150. (1st $3500; 2nd $1750; 3-4: $850; 5-8: $400; 9-16: $200.) Here's the USATT article by Bill McGimpsey and Ben Nisbet, featuring Eugene Wang (rated 2799), who (as most predicted) won the final in a 4-3 battle over Bob Chen (2730). Here's the USATT page for this five-star event, with results and video. Here are photos from Warren Rosenberg Photography and from JOOLA. Here's the event program booklet.
The North American Tour was started in 2013 by Bruce Liu, and has grown to 25 tournaments from coast to coast. Players earn points based on their results, and the top 16 were invited to the final. Two players couldn't attend, and so two promising players were invited in their place (Nathan Hsu and Crystal Wang). The stated goal of the Tour is to "raise the level of table tennis in the United States by encouraging the best American players to compete in tournaments more often and by attracting top foreign players to the U.S. for Americans to compete against."
I thought the tournament was well run, with great playing conditions. The only down side was the lack of spectators, with about 140 for the Final (I did a very quick, rough count), which included the players and officials. Great thanks goes out to the ones who put this together: Organizers Bruce Liu and Will Shortz; Referee Roman Tinyszin and umpires Igor Knelev, Leon Libin, and Asif ud-Doula; Directors Robert Roberts and Rawle Alleyne; Operations Director Neville Roberts; Communications Director Gail Kendall; Publicity Directors Irene Silbert and Richard Finn; Program Book by Bharati Bhalla; Banners and T-Shirts by Wayne Wolf of Blue Cup Design; Photographer Warren Rosenberg; Live Streaming Video by David Del Vecchio; Commentators Bill McGimpsey, Steve Burka, Ben Nisbet, Wally Green, and Jim Butler; and the many from the Westchester Club and others who helped out, and with apologies to any missed. (I'll add them as I get them.)
Things started off on Friday night with a party at the playing hall. After dinner was served (your choice of deli sandwiches, baked chicken, or chili), a "handicap" tournament was held, where spectators were paired against Tour players, with the latter handicapped in various ways - balancing a racket on their head, using a pan as a racket, using a mini-racket, having to keep one hand on the table, or wearing a mask that covered one eye. The audience would then vote on how many points one would have to spot the other. The last match was me versus the randomly selected Crystal Wang, which was somewhat ironic since I'd be coaching her in the tournament. I proposed that rather than her being handicapped, I'd use a clipboard as a racket, but the audience would decide how many points she'd spot me. Alas, they decided to make things hard for me, and had us play even. I'm pretty good with a clipboard, but Crystal's rated about 2450, and she eked out an 11-8 win.
I spent much of my time watching the three players from my club, MDTTC - Ruichao "Alex" Chen, Nathan Hsu, and Crystal Wang. Alex coached Nathan's matches; Nathan's mom (Wen Hsu) coached Alex's matches; and I coached Crystal. Alex made the quarterfinals before going down to Eugene Wang. Nathan and Crystal didn't make the Final Eight, but each pulled off a great win in the four-person round robins. Nathan upset Rui Wang (2637), at -7,9,9,5, and gave Jishan Liang a very tough 10,9,9, match. Crystal upset Zhao Zi Rui (2661), at -5,9,-4,12,6. In game four she was down 5-9, and then had to fight off I think four match points before winning. By rating these were the only two upsets (by rating) in the 31 matches in the tournament (24 preliminary matches and seven matches in the main draw). See article on Crystal below.
There were some interesting contrasts in styles of play. Xiang Jing Zhang appeared to have some of the trickiest serves, where it was often difficult to pick up his contact as his racket changed directions very quickly as it approached the ball, with various serving motions. Yet it was Eugene Wang who seemed best able to control points with his serves, though much of that might be from his overall great ball control. He and Jim Butler were the two best "control" players, able to get almost everything back and unafraid to rally, while each had a big putaway shot they'd use whenever possible - Eugene's forehand loop kill and Jim's backhand smash. Both used their serve and receive to effectively control play. Others were simply relentless with their two-winged attacks, such as Bob Chen and Xiang Jing Zhang. The latter often looked like a tennis player as he raced about attacking from both wins. Alex had the most relentless all-out third-ball attack off his serves, but when he couldn't win there often ran into trouble. Yonghui Liang, a 2691-rated lefty and looking about 5'4", also had a relentless attack, but also showed many great lobbing points. Kai Zhang probably hit more backhand loop kills than anyone.
I believe players lose more points against Eugene from pressing too much than they do from his actually putting the ball away. Relative to his level and to many of the other players there, his backhand isn't a penetrating shot, and he doesn't force the forehand from the backhand side as often as others. And yet many players seemed to play over-aggressive, allowing Eugene to maneuver them around and force mistakes, rather than play more steady by pinning him down on the backhand and pick their shots. Of course, it's easier to say this than to execute it!
Some interesting notes:
- One of the top seeds drank Cokes between games. Another was seen smoking outside. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!
- Before his quarterfinal match with Eugene Wang, Ruichao tore the sponge on his racket. For that match he had to borrow one from Jishan Liang, who uses a different racket and sponge. However, Eugene was just too good, and it probably didn't make a difference in the result, though the scores might have been closer.
- Of the 16 players, five were USA citizens, who got great training and experience playing against the foreign stars, all of whom now live and compete in North America. (They were Jim Butler, Jack Wang, Gal Alguetti, Nathan Hsu, and Crystal Wang.)
- While watching matches simultaneously live and on the video screens used by the commentators, I verified something many have said many times. The play on the screen looked significantly slower than the live play, even though they were showing the same thing. It's likely due to the size of the screens, but it really stands out when you can see both at the same time, side by side.
- I was asked to commentate, but was too busy watching matches, and if I commentated, I'd have to focus on just one table - which would often mean not watching the players from my club. Or perhaps I just chickened out.
- During the final between Eugene Wang and Bob Chen, whoever started on the near side of the table (closest to front door and control desk) won the first six games, with Eugene winning the last game where they changed sides halfway through.
- Several times the new JOOLA 40+ plastic balls broke while in play. The rule on this is that play may be interrupted (i.e. a let), "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." Referee Roman said that this meant that anytime the ball broke while in play the rally is a let. I've actually seen this interpreted differently, where referees and umpires have said that if the ball breaks, say, while a player is making an unreturnable smash, it's not a let because the ball's breaking didn't affect the outcome of the rally. However, that's a tough judgment call, as an opponent could claim he'd make an acrobatic return of some sort. So I'll accept Roman's interpretation, which I believe is the standard one.
- Another issue that almost came up is when Nathan returned a ball around the net so that the ball basically rolled on the other side, and the opponent scooped it off the table and almost returned it. The ruling, according to Roman, is that even if the ball appears to be rolling on the table, it's actually bouncing with at least microscopic bounces, and so the point is over if it appears to be rolling on the table. In theory, if a ball truly rolls on the table, then it doesn't bounce, and so theoretically the player could wait until it rolls off the table and then return it - or as Nathan pointed out, it might even roll into the net and stop, and the rally would "continue" forever. But alas, that's not the ruling.
Once again I verified the fact that watching and coaching are far more tiring than playing. At least, that's how it appears to this very tired spectating coach!
Learning Good Mechanics: Modern Topspin Strokes
Here's the new coaching article from Han Xiao. It includes links to videos of Jun Mizutani, Timo Boll, Adrien Mattenet, and Marcos Freitas, as well as an historical one of Istvan Jonyer and Gabor Gergeley showing strokes in the past.
mini-steps for HUGE IMPROVEMENT
Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina (with a link to a short video on footwork).
Training Secrets Revealed
Here's a Listing of Drills from PingSkills.
Nutrition for Table Tennis
Here's the article by Dr. Chandra Madhosingh
Ping Pong for Fighters Review
Here's the article, which is actually a transcribed discussion between former USA Men's Singles Champion Michael Landers and the author, Tahl Leibovitz.
Ask the Coach
Episode #73 (18:26) - How Do You Learn?
- Previous #PQOTD - 1:00: How do you learn best? 1. Watching, 2. Hearing about it, 3. Doing and feeling or by 4. Getting lots of facts and figures.
- #PQOTD - 4:02: Has Backhand become more important over the last 10 years?
- Question 1 - 4:38: Can you give me tips how to join England team? Abdul
- Question 2 - 7:23: Hey PingSkills! I had a competition for 1 hour ago but I couldn't compete because I have bad knees. A doctor has also looked at my knees. But how can I strengthen my knee as it hurts? Can I stretch it out or what else can I do? Please help me :) Brock
- Question 3 - 9:00: While my FH topspins, BH and footwork improved quite a bit I still struggle with consistent, powerful counter hitting after moving from BH to FH side. My coach insists on this stroke as a follow up after a pivot FH topspin or BH topspin. Matthias
- Question 4 - 10:56: I was wondering if it's a good method to use 2 bats, 1 for training (slower bat) and the other (faster bat) for spare time? Because I'm a very offensive player. Benjamin
- Question 5 - 12:31: Do you think that it is good to have a motivation in order to win? Everyone is continuously telling me that I have to be motivated and believe in myself on order to be good. But they also constantly condemning my defensive style. DK
- Question 6 - 14:31: When someone sidespins the ball, I must move my bat to the side but I do that but it just goes over the table, what am i doing wrong? Brock
- Question 7 - 15:31: I have a problem with returning no spin serves with my long pips backhand. I can do anything I want but the ball is always high and the opponent just smashes it. I am also trying to twiddle, but the result is always the same. Do you have any advice? DK
Rising Table Tennis Star Crystal Wang Earns Spotlight at Grand Final
Here's the USATT article. (I'm quoted several times.)
2015 World Cadet Program Qualification Process (Hopes Program)
What Are the Benefits of Playing Table Tennis to Lose Weight?
LAUSD and Pongstarz Hit Dodger Stadium
11 Questions with USATT Member Mike Sturtevant
2014 USA Nationals Highlights Video - Part 1
Here's the video (11:30) by Jimmy Butler.
Rules of Table Tennis - Match Set Styles
New Sandpaper Rankings
Here they are! USA Men's Singles Champion (sponge) Jim Butler has taken over the #1 spot here as well. The website has lots of other sandpaper info.
Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - January 2015
Here's the video (12:14).
Dan Seemiller's Still Got It!
Here's video (6 sec) of him looping forehands as his son (Dan Jr.) feeds multiball.
How a Child Reflects on a Parent
Here's a good take on this.
Making USATT Decisions
Often USATT people are forced to choose the best option from multiple non-perfect choices. It's often a can't-win situation, as demonstrated by this (non-TT) cartoon!
Tricks on Sticky Sponge
Here's the video (11 sec) as Poom Yanapong demonstrates.
Here's the video (10 sec) - warning, bad language, high-pitched screams, and threat of extreme violence.
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