Blogs

Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). 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 eight books and over 1500 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!
Also out - Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013 and 2014-2016, with 150 Tips in each! Or, for a combination of Tales of our sport and Technique articles, try Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
If you are in the mood for inspirational fiction, The Spirit of Pong is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

February 16, 2011

Teaching table tennis to a tennis player

I've always found it interesting, even fascinating, to coach table tennis to a tennis player. I've had many tennis players as students over the years. I also play tennis at a 4.0 level (that's like 1800 in table tennis), but with an extremely lopsided forehand-oriented game. But that's true of most table tennis players - the first time we play tennis, we have nice forehands, but find the backhand somewhat awkward.

Yesterday I coached a 6'5" former 5.5 (that's like 2100-2200) tennis player. He'd never had lessons before, and had only been a "basement" player. He very quickly picked up the forehand, and after five minutes, was pounding forehands. He also quickly picked up on the backhand, but did so in a very backhand stance (like tennis), and basically played an aggressive blocking backhand from a bit off the table. Near the end of the session we did a drill where I looped my forehand rather aggressively to his backhand, and though it was the first time he'd ever done this, he was able to block them back very consistently, though he took the ball a couple steps off the table rather than off the bounce, as you are "supposed" to do when blocking. But the blocks were surprisingly effective, as he kept them rather low. (It did leave him open on the wide forehand, and I don't think he has a counterloop yet!)

Because of his tennis skills, he quickly picked up just about every aspect, could even loop backspin after a few tries. He had great difficulty in reading my serves, but without any coaching, quickly figured out how to push my backspin serve back, i.e. did a tennis "slice." He also learned to serve with backspin pretty quickly, though he wasn't able to get a good sidespin. A few times when I went to his forehand, he did a highly professional-looking running forehand.

In general, tennis players do have trouble learning table tennis backhands, though sometimes they can pick up the backhand loop pretty well. They have good forehands and can rally and move well, can clobber anything that's high, and handle backspin (slice to them) rather well.

Penhold, anyone?

Someone asked on the forum about Japanese penhold play, in particular inside-out looping and reverse penhold backhands. I posted these on the forum - they aren't exactly Japanese penhold, but they are some good penhold play! Even shakehanders should watch these, since you have to play (and beat!) penholders.

  • Here's a video that shows a number of inside-out penhold loops, including ones at .12, .35 (two in a row), .43 (several in that rally), 1:02, and so on.
  • Here's a videothat shows reverse penhold backhand in slow motion.
  • Here's a video that shows both reverse penhold backhands and loops against block.
  • Here's a video that shows reverse penhold backhands and loops, against both backspin and blocks.

Interesting thought on penhold play. At the beginning/intermediate level, penholders are usually weak on the backhand, and often the best strategy is to play to their backhands. At some point at the intermediate/advanced level, they often develop better backhands (whether it be conventional jab-blocks or reverse penhold), as well as nice forehands from the backhand side. At that point, the best strategy at is often to play the (usually stronger) forehand, and then come back to the backhand (which both takes out the forehand and makes them move or reach to hit the backhand). The difficulty here, of course, is that you have to be able to handle that first forehand. If you watch many of the top players in the U.S. against David Zhuang (6-time U.S. Champion), and you'll constantly see them go to his forehand side first, then come back to his backhand. (For example, Cheng Yinghua routinely serves long to David's forehand, over and over.) At what level (rating-wise, in U.S. ratings) do you think it becomes better to usually go to the forehand first against a penholder?

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February 15, 2011

How many hits in a minute?

Can you do 173? If a 12-year-old from Japan can, why can't you? You really should watch this video - great counter-hitting, and a real example of concentration. (There's a short commercial at the start - sorry.)

I'm toying with trying this, but going backhand-to-backhand right off the bounce, perhaps with one of our local juniors, who have natural machinegun-like backhands. If you want to see how many you can do, here's a key hint: don't think as you hit, don't try to control the shots, just blank out the mind, just watch the ball, and let the strokes happen. After about 20 seconds, you'll start sweating--mentally, if not physically. After 40 seconds, your eyes will glaze over.

Arrested at a Table Tennis Camp?

Here's an article about a fugitive who was caught because of his table tennis addiction. They picked him up when he went to a table tennis camp in Delhi! Inspired by this, the Maryland Table Tennis Center (my club) will now operate as a sting for the police, attracting table tennis criminals from all over the world. (Note to the criminal table tennis underground: I'm just kidding, feel free to come to our camps. We will teach you to kill. Maybe even loop kill.)

So . . . how bad did you play?

[This is from an article I wrote a while back.]
"How’d you play?"
"Bad!"
"How bad?"
"So bad that--"

  • The umpire started coaching me.
  • The crowd rose to its feet when I returned a serve.
  • My opponent bought me an instructional book.
  • I saved $5 on a haircut from all those balls whizzing by.
  • My coach hid in the bathroom.
  • It had to be my equipment.
  • The computer that does the ratings had to be reprogrammed for negative numbers.
  • Butterfly offered me a long-term contract to use Stiga products.
  • George H.W. Bush named me one of his thousand points of darkness.
    (You have to be a certain age to get this one, from twenty years ago.)
  • My kid sister beat me.
  • My kid sister offered to spot me points.
  • My kid sister spotted me points and beat me.
  • My kid sister's best friend, who's never played, spotted me points and beat me.
  • My kid sister's best friend's little brother's pet turtle beat me.
  • Every time I play, all the dogs in the neighborhood howl until I stop.
  • Rodney Dangerfield asked me to be his sidekick.
  • Wayne Gretzy outscored me, and he was playing hockey.
  • I distinctly heard the ball laughing at me.
  • I remember every point I scored. It was an edge ball.

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February 14, 2011

Ma Long and MDTTC Juniors

Let's start with the big news. Many of you know of China's Ma Long, currently world #4 but #1 in the world for nine months last year? Well, Ma Long was at the Maryland Table Tennis Center last night, as a guest of Cheng Yinghua. I played a challenge match - and beat him, 3-0! We're not talking hardbat or sandpaper - we played with regular rackets.

Okay, it was Ma Long's 9-year-old namesake, a student of Cheng's. But it was fun to beat him!

I also played two matches this past week with 8-year-old Crystal Wang, another MDTTC player. She's rated 1833, and is #2 in the U.S. in Girls' Under 10. Now, for the record, I've played 35 years, and I've never, Never, NEVER lost even a game to an 8-year-old, not even when I was a beginner. Well, in the first match, she went absolutely crazy with her shots, and before I could wake up, I'd lost the first game and was down 9-10 in the second in this best of five. Anything with topspin she killed, forehand and backhand. When I looped, she smashed. When I pushed, she'd spin loop from either wing, and follow with a smash unless I did something drastic. Somehow, she was returning my best serves with ease, sometimes backhand smacking them in. She even hit my lobs pretty well, and I felt guilty about lobbing, so I stayed away from that. Anyway, I managed to serve and loop a winner to get to deuce, then caught her completely off guard the next two points by chopping. I then all-out looped the next two games to win somewhat easily. In the second match, I was ready - I wasn't going to get caught like that again, and I had my "A" game ready. I won the first two games easily. Then a strange thing happened - she began smashing everything again! Down 4-8 that game, I decided enough was enough - and switched to chopping. I use fast inverted on both sides, but chop almost as well as my regular topspin game. I tied it at 9-all, and then pulled off two big serve & follows. Seriously, sometimes she misses too much, but when she gets on a roll, she's scary. Let's see where she is in a couple years. Unfortunately, I'm about to turn 51, and every year she (and other juniors) get better, and I get . . . stiffer.

With another of our other juniors, I came up with three table tennis quotes while we played. He was a captive audience who couldn't leave; you are not. You have advance warning.

  • "In my first match, I'm never warmed up, and in my second match, I'm too tired, but in between I'm really good."
  • "My loop has been called the most powerful loop in the world. I don't care what anyone says, I'm going to keep calling it that."
  • "Nobody can get my shots back, not until they start hitting."

Hints for those who play against up-and-coming kids.

They are usually weak against heavy backspin, have trouble with hard, angled shots, and varying spin (on serves or rallies) drives them nuts. Lob when necessary, but don't overdo it. And whatever you do, don't take them on backhand to backhand!!!

Backhand Footwork Drills

How come players do so many forehand footwork drills, but almost nobody does backhand footwork drills? Sure, most players cover less ground with the backhand, and you can actually get away with reaching for the ball more on the backhand - but you don't want to reach, and you should be able to cover more table with the backhand when necessary - such as when you've been pulled off to the forehand side. Just as players do side-to-side forehand footwork drills, you should do this with the backhand. When Eric Owens upset Cheng Yinghua to win Men's Singles at the 2001 USA Nationals, he credited to all the backhand footwork drills he'd been doing. (Eric was a big forehand looper, but against Cheng, his backhand was almost as good.)

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February 11, 2011

Practice everything, but focus on strengths and weaknesses

One thing I found important when practicing or coaching became almost a mantra for me. The mantra was, "Practice everything, but focus on strengths and weaknesses." The idea was to develop overpowering strengths that you can dominate with, while getting rid of any weaknesses.

Some players tend to focus on their weaknesses, often getting so overly critical that it's all they think about. They forget that matches are usually won by a player dominating on something. You can't do that unless you develop something to dominate with, and then develop your game around it. In particular, focus on developing both that strength and the shots that set it up, especially serve & receive.

At the other extreme are players who get into the habit of doing the same drills all the time, session after session, and so they get good at the things they are used to practicing, but never get around to fixing the problems in their games. I once saw a player with a great forehand counterloop lose a match because he couldn't block on his backhand side. Later he had to play the same player again. How did he warm up for the match? Rather than have someone loop to his backhand, he spent about fifteen minutes forehand counterlooping with someone, then went out and lost again because he again kept missing backhand loops. Then, at practice the next day, he spent half the session counterlooping again, and never got around to working on that backhand block.

How To Block Out Distractions While Playing Dirty Dozen At Spin New York

Some of you may remember Tiger Woods back when he dominated golf, and his legendary focus. Nothing seemed to distract him. When asked about this, Tiger explained that when he was a kid, his dad would sometimes stand next to him and just yell at him while he practiced so he could practice tuning out the distraction and just focus. Similarly, Dora Kurimay writes in her blog about tuning out the distractions while playing in the "Dirty Dozen" at Spin New York. Are you able to focus like this when you play tournaments? Try out the techniques she writes about.

Kevin Spacey vs. Rafael Nadal

The legendary actor versus the legendary and #1 tennis player in the world. Spacey's advanced basement shots (look at that backhand grip and stance - though he does adjust when he smashes the forehand), versus Nadal's more classic but way-too-soft and arcing drives. Who do you think is better? It takes place at the 2011 Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 7, where Nadal was named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year. Spacey (presumably the host) says, "You should be nervous because I'm about to beat you in a game that demands the physical stamina of a boxer, the agility of a gymnast, the tactical acumen of a chess player. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to take on and challenge the glorious sportsman of the year on a game of ping-pong." Then, while they play, he suddenly yells out, "Look, it's Federer!"

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February 10, 2011

Some Penhold Fun Today

First we have the serve of China's Wang Hao's serve in slow motion. He was #1 in the world most of 2008-2009, and is currently #2. Notice the last-second sudden motion, where he can contact the ball with the racket going either way? This is no different than how a shakehander would do this serve. Also note a few back-of-the-racket serves.

Now we move back in time to China's Zhang Xielin aka Chang Shih-lin aka "The Magic Chopper" vs Hiroshi Takahashi of Japan in the 1965 World Men's Team Final in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia. This is not something you see every day - a world-class penhold chopper! I've been told he devastated the Europeans, but lost to the Asians, who were more used to choppers and better able to adjust to his sometimes-sidespin chops. (Takahashi won this match, but China wins the final, 5-2.)

Have You Practiced Your Serves or Shadow-Practiced Your Strokes and Footwork Today?

If not, why not?

USATT Club Committee

I've been asked to join the USATT Club Committee, which is chaired by Attila Malek, 1979 U.S. Men's Champion, and now a full-time coach in Huntington Beach, CA. (I'm currently on the USATT Editorial Board, and chaired the USATT Club Committee in the early 1990s.) I accepted. In my email to Attila, I did voice some leeriness, writing that, "Seventeen months ago, at the USATT Strategic Meeting, there was all sorts of talk about the great things they were going to do. Seventeen months later, they are still talking about the great things they are going to do. And I expect that in seventeen months they will still be talking about the great things they will do. The problem is they never seem to get around to actually doing these great things." I really, Really, REALLY hope they can prove me wrong. Perhaps, as a member of the club committee, I can help out.

I also wrote:

"Whether it's USATT or the Club Committee, three things must happen to get anything done: 1) Set specific goals; 2) Create plans to meet those goals; 3) Implement those plans."

"Three things I'd like to see are the 1) recruitment and training of professional coaches and junior coaches for clubs, 2) the creation of a club-based nationwide league, and 3) regional associations."

"Regarding regional associations, we started to do this in the early 1990s with state club directors for 47 states ("Club Catalyst & Creation Program"), and saw clubs increase from 226 to 301, and membership from 5500 to 7500. Then a new administration came in and cancelled those programs. A regional association would run regional leagues (part of the nationwide league), which is where we'd get large membership increases. The clubs or regional association would collect the membership fees and keep a percentage, as is done in much of Europe. (Clubs spring up as the league spreads.) This seems to fit into your plans as well."

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February 9, 2011

Table Tennis is Good for the Brain

So says Dr. Wendy Suzuki on this news segment from ABC News. Includes play at the NY Spin Club, short interviews with actress Susan Sarandon and NY cadet Alex Lipan (U.S. #6 under 12, #1 in NY), and cameos by top player Tahl Leibovitz and NY Times puzzlemaster Will Shortz. As noted in a previous blog, this keeps popping up.

Justin Bieber Playing Table Tennis

Yes . . . we have video of Justin Bieber playing table tennis, care of Table Tennis Nation!!! Now all is well and the world can continue about its business. Anyone know how to get a plain photo out of the video that I can add to the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, other than using a camera to take a picture of the video on my computer screen? (NOTE - Greg Masculiano took care of this for me. Thanks Greg!)

Here's the direct link on Youtube, care of Aaron Avery.

Favorite Playing Shirt

Do you have a favorite playing shirt? Like Big Nate and his lucky socks? Actually, I don't. However, I do have favorite colors. When I want to loop a lot, I wear a red shirt. When I want to hit a lot, I wear a green shirt. When I want to play all-around, I wear a blue shirt. I know this is pretty advanced stuff, but with hard work and a good selection of colored shirts, you too can execute high-level table tennis shots.

World Championships of Ping Pong, I mean International Classic of Ping Pong

The $100,000 renamed International Classic of Ping Pong (Las Vegas, Feb. 7-8, sandpaper rackets!) is over, and there are still no results on their web page. Alas. Here are the final results I've pieced together. In the final, playing for $41,000 versus $7000, Maxim Shmyrev of Russia defeated Ernesto Ebuen of the Philippines (though he actually coaches and plays in NYC), 3-1. In the playoff for 3-4, Michael Martinez of France defeated Tahl Leibovitz (listed as representing Israel, but also coaching and playing in NYC), 3-1. Here are the results that I have.

1: $41,000: Maxim Shmyrev (RUS)
2: $7000: Ernesto Ebuen
3: $6000: Michael Martinez (FRA)
4: $4000: Tahl Leibovitz
5-16: $2625: A bunch of players that include notables such as Michael Appelgren, Stefan Feth, and Kazuyuki Yokoyama

Non-Table Tennis except that it wasted over two hours of my time, and I'm a table tennis coach & player

Yesterday I went to the MVA to renew my driver's license, as required every five years. I was given the number B-60, and told to wait until it was called. It took 45 minutes, but finally it happened! I happily went to the indicated booth - only to hear them call B-61 as I approached! They said I'd taken too long, and so had put my number back to the end of the queue and called the next one. I argued, to no avail. So I had to sit down and wait another 45 minutes. I went to drink from the water fountain across the (large) room, and then I heard them call my number again. I again went to the indicated booth. As I approached, they called my number again. Right as I reached the booth, perhaps five seconds after calling B-60 the second time, they called B-61 again! They said I'd taken too long again, and again put my number at the end of the queue! Again I argued, and again it was to no avail. I had to wait another 45 minutes, this time pacing back and forth and glaring at the two operators who had done this. Finally I was called again, and this time I did not walk, I did not run, I sprinted to the booth. Once there, it took about two minutes to take the eye test, get a new picture taken, and another five minutes and my new driver's license was ready - though for the next five years anyone seeing it will wonder why I'm glaring.

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February 8, 2011

What Is Your Game?

I've always said that coaching is a partnership, and that the top expert on a player's game shouldn't be the coach; it should be the player himself. One of the jobs of a coach is to encourage the player to become such an expert. If a player can't write a book about his game, it means either he doesn't know his game, or he doesn't have a game. A beginner doesn't yet have a game, but once you've reached the intermediate stage, you do. So . . . what's your game? (Just a summary of the "book.")

Me? I'm an all-around player with a strong and varied serve & attack with forehand loops and smashes, but little backhand attack. Once past the serve & attack stage, I'm primarily a steady player who mostly blocks and counters on the backhand, and blocks, counters, loops, or smashes on the forehand. When in trouble, I chop or lob.  On the receive, I tend to topspin most serves back with flips off short balls, and forehand loops and backhand drives off deep serves. My strongest shots are my serve, forehand smash, steady forehand loop off backspin, steady backhand counter, and (surprisingly) forehand block against loops. My weakest shots are my backhand attack, tendency to play too soft in rallies, and (in recent years) my forehand counterloop, alas.

What's the Fastest Growing Sport in America?

Sandpaper Table Tennis??? There are now FOUR (4!!!) sandpaper table tennis associations in the U.S.:

  • ICPP: International Classic Ping Pong
  • USSTTA: United States Sandpaper Table Tennis Association
  • FASTT: Federal Association of Sandpaper Table Tennis
  • TTN: Table Tennis Nation

The ICPP is currently running a $100,000 tournament in Las Vegas, Feb. 7-8. The prize money, cut & pasted from their website, is:

  • 1: $41,000
  • 2: $7000
  • 3: $6000
  • 4: $4000
  • 5-16: $2625

Results are sketchy; for such a tournament, why don't they have results on their webpage??? From various forums, I've pieced together these results:

Final

  • Will be played today at 12:45 PM (3:45 PM Eastern Time)

Semifinals

  • Ernesto Ebuen d. Tahl Leibovitz, 3-1;
  • Maxim Shmyrev (RUS) d.  Michel Martinez (FRA).

Quarterfinals

  • Michel Martinez (FRA) d. Kazuyuki Yokoyama, 2-0;
  • Maxim Shmyrev (RUS) d. Gustavo Tsuboi (BRA), 2-0;
  • Ernesto Ebuen d. Stefan Feth;
  • Tah Leibovitz d. William Henzell (AUS)

Earlier rounds

  • Kaz d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE);
  • Maxim Shmyrev (RUS) d. Trevor Runyan (USA), deuce in the third;
  • Ernesto Ebuen d. Paul Drinkhall;
  • Tahl Leibovitz d. Marcos Madrid, 2-1.

New Content

Here are three new articles in the Articles section. (All three were taken from blog entries.)

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February 7, 2011

Have Things Speeded Up?

We switched the site to a new plan, and the site should be faster now. Is it?

Table Tennis in the Superbowl!

Yes, it was - did you see the 30-second Xfinity ipad ad? It ran twice, with the short table tennis sequence at the start as an example of things you could watch on the ipad. Was this the single largest "showing" of table tennis in history?

World Championships of Ping Pong, I mean International Classic Ping Pong Championship

The "World Championships of Ping Pong," which are today and tomorrow (Feb. 7-8) in Las Vegas, was the original name. However, the ITTF objected to their using the term "World Championships," since they run the World Table Tennis Championships. President Adham Sharara wrote a letter threatening action if they didn't change it, and saying that players who competed in it "will not be allowed to take part in any ITTF events indefinitely." The organizers hastily renamed it the "International Classic Ping Pong Championship. Sharara wrote a second letter saying, essentially, that all was well. (Both letters are in the same link given here twice.)

Did I mention it's an all-sandpaper event, with $100,000 in prize money!!!

Ode to the Backhand

I've been thinking about the most memorable backhand play I've seen. This is not a listing of the "best" backhands, but the ones that really stick out in my memory.

First, can anyone who saw it ever forget Jan-Ove Waldner's lesson on backhand play in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 1987 World Championships, where he absolutely devastated Chen Longcan and Teng Yi of China? Going into the event, Waldner's relatively flat backhand was considered his weakness, but after he cracked about a zillion winners, that thinking might have changed.

Also around that time, the Russian Mazunov brothers (Andrei and Dmitij) seemed on the verge of revolutionizing the game with their backhand looping play. You often see players step around their backhands to loop forehands, rotating their body clockwise as they do so. The Mazunov's often did the opposite, stepping around the forehand to loop backhands, rotating their body counter-clockwise. It was reminiscent of an earlier age, when Victor Barna won five World Men's Singles titles in the hardbat age, often covering the entire table with his backhand as he too would step around the forehand to play backhand, also rotating his body around. (Here's a clip of Victor Barna ding this against Marty Reisman.)

One of the most memorable games ever at the USA Nationals was the big backhand battle between Gao Jun and Jasna Reed. I'm a little hazy on the details, but if I remember correctly it was in the Women's Singles Final, best of five to 21, and Gao had easily won the first two games. Early in the third game, the two started playing straight backhand to backhand, where both are at their strongest. Normally they'd be moving the ball around, but instead both seemed to reach an unwritten agreement to duel it out, backhand to backhand, and settle who had the better backhand, once and for all. And so the scene was set for some of the most vicious backhand rallies ever seen. Jasna's backhand, both looping and hitting, is an unstoppable force; Gao's pips-out penhold blocking backhand is an immoveable object. All I can say is Wow! While I think some of the rallies are still going on, it finally ended, as it should be, at deuce, with Gao winning, I believe 22-20.

The single greatest shot I've ever seen was made by the English Cadet Champion, circa 1987. He was visiting the U.S., and was training with the U.S. Junior Team at the Resident Training Program at Colorado Springs. I was watching as he played a practice match with Chi-Ming Chui, a pips-out penholder. The English kid was only 14 or 15, but he pulled off the shot of the century. He popped up a ball that went high and short, and Chi-Ming went to the side of the table, right by the net, and absolutely creamed the ball. The English kid saw this, and turned his back to the table, as if to avoid getting hit. Then he jumped up, and without looking, did a wild over-the-head backhand swing - and counter-smashed Chi-Ming's smash on the rise! The English kid didn't even see the shot, and was just going through the somewhat-joking motion of a wild swing. He didn't even know his shot had hit until we told him. If only we had that on video....

We'll end with three memorable Cheng Yinghua moments. The first was at the 1985 U.S. Open, when Cheng was still on the Chinese National Team. After Wen Chia Wu of Taiwan upset Cheng's partner, World Champion Jiang Jialiang, it was up to Cheng to take charge, and take charge he did. He devastated the field with his two-winged looping and blocking. However, it was his sudden backhand loops down the line that were most memorable. Over and over, often while returning serves, Cheng would suddenly just rip a backhand loop down the line to the forehand, and over and over we'd see the opponent absolutely frozen, not even moving as the ball went for an ace. Cheng won both singles and doubles.

Three years later, in 1988, Cheng was hired by USA Table Tennis as a practice partner/coach for its Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. (I was there from 1985-1989, at various times as manager, director, and assistant coach.) The first time he played Canada's Johnny Huang (another former Chinese team member and about #10 in the world) was eye-opening. Huang was a shakehand hitter with short pips on both sides, and seemed able to hit anything. Against Cheng, Huang seemingly could smash everything, mostly into the backhand. Didn't matter; no matter how hard and how often he smashed, Cheng just backed up a bit and looped everything back. Most memorable were how he took Huang's best smashes and just backhand looped them back from about ten feet back, like it was just another drill. Cheng won easily.

And then there was that rally. Only a few saw it, I was one of the privileged few. It was at the 2000 North American Teams in Baltimore, when Cheng was already into his 40s and past his peak. He played Fan Yiyong, another former Chinese team member now living in the U.S.  Like Cheng, Fan's best shot was his backhand loop. And the two went at it. However, Fan was much younger, and often Cheng was forced to block. And then came The Backhand Rally. One of them backhand looped crosscourt. The other backhand counterlooped off the bounce. The did the same. What ensued was a series of off-the-bounced backhand counterlooping the world (or at least me) had never seen before. It was probably about ten shots in all, with each shot a highlight reel shot. It showed that Cheng could still do it, and of course Fan could as well. It was sort of a changing of the guard, with Fan just eking out the match, 12, -26, 20.

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February 4, 2011

The Myth of Nets & Edges Evening Out

I was thinking about this myth recently after losing *another* match on a series of nets and edges. To be specific, in the fifth game of a practice match, I was up 3-1, and my opponent got two edges in a row, and shortly after followed with another edge and two nets. I got zero nets or edges that game.

Many coaches and players say "it all events out," but it really doesn't. Certain styles get more nets and edges than others. Hitters and blockers (especially those with dead surfaces) tend to hit with a lower trajectory, and so they get more nets. They also tend to hit deeper on the table, since they don't have topspin pulling the ball down, and so get more back edges. Blockers who block at wide angles get more side edges. On the other hand, loopers hit with a higher trajectory, and their topspin tends to pull the ball down shorter, and so they get fewer nets and back edges. Steady, precise players also tend to get fewer nets and edges. So yeah, style matters. It doesn't even out.

Some would argue that the styles that get more nets & edges do so because they are playing more aggressively, i.e. hitting lower to the net and deeper, and going for wider angles. Well, of course. But then say that, and don't fill the air with the fictitious "it all evens out" mantra that many of us know simply isn't true.

Also, the "aggressive" argument isn't always true. For example, long-pipped blockers get hordes of net balls, and they don't do so from playing aggressively. I don't think anyone chooses a style because it'll give them more nets & edges.

World Rankings

Someone pointed out that I should point out that Timo Boll of Germany (photo above care of ITTF) became World #1 in the ITTF Men's Rankings about a month ago. It's been a while since that spot was taken by a non-Chinese player. China still holds spots #2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 11. The only other European in the top 14 is #5 Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus, with Boll's teammate Dimitrij Ovtcharov taking the #15 spot.

The last European man to reach the #1 spot was . . . Timo Boll, back in 2003. (He turns 30 on March 8.) Samsonov reached #2 in 2001. (He turns 35 on April 17.) I think the last European to be #1 besides Boll was Waldner back in the 1990s.

Boll's basically the only European player who can play the top Chinese even up. He can win major titles. Can he win the World Championships, coming up May 8-15 in Rotterdam, NED? The main things against him are 1) he'll be battling 4-7 players from China who are about his level, and 2) they are practicing against a Chinese practice partner whose entire job is to mimic Boll's game, so the top Chinese can practice against it. (Yes, the Chinese do that. They have such a wealth of players that they hire some to essentially become the main Chinese rivals, so the rest of the team can train against that player. There is a Chinese Boll, a Chinese Samsonov, and a mess of Korean mimics. For example, USA's Cheng Yinghua spent much of his career as a Chinese practice partner, first as "Klampar," and then as "Waldner.")

I'd love to see a China vs. the World men's team match. That'd be pretty competitive, though China's still favored.

On the women's side, of course, it's nearly all China, which has the #1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 spots. Singapore's Feng Tianwei has the #3 spot. The top European woman? Li Jiao of the Netherlands. The top European who's not from Asia? After we get past Shen Yanfei (Spain), Li Jie (Netherlands), and Li Qian (Poland), we finally get to Viktoria Pavlovich (Belarus) and Daniela Dodean (Romania), ranked #31 and 32, respectively.


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February 3, 2011

Site Fast Enough?

Sometimes the site seems slow to me. Let me know if you are having trouble with this. The last thing I want are a world full of table tennis players and coaches staring at a screen in impatient disgust. Impatient disgust should only be employed when you miss an easy shot to lose a match at the Nationals, and realize it'll be another year before you are national champion.

The American Youth Table Tennis Organization (New York)

Here's their Winter Report. They have a feature on Middle School Table Tennis at North Star Academy. They're also looking for volunteers and donations. Lots of great stuff is going on there! If only more regions had groups like this. Some of the stuff they are doing:

  • Organized League Matches
  • Saturday Academy Expert Instruction
  • Tournaments
  • Scrimmage Matches
  • Instructional Clinics

2011 Pan Am/National Team Trials & Qualifying Tournament

Deadline to enter is Feb. 7, this Monday. Or you might just want to make plans to go watch. It's in San Jose, at the Topspin Club, Feb. 25-27. Here is the Prospectus (which explains everything), the Entry form, and (if you really need them) the Pan Am Code of Conduct, and the National Team Code of Conduct.

Coaching Stories

I've got a long list of what I call "unique" coaching stories, where a simple but unexpected tactic paid off. Probably my favorite was at the Junior Olympics a number of years ago. In the Under 16 Boys' Final, the player I was coaching, Andy, had pulled off an upset in the semifinals to reach the final. He was about 2150, short pips on the backhand, with a strong forehand loop and good backhand, but slow feet. He had a good forehand pendulum serve, but it always went long. His opponent in the final was a 2350 looper who played shakehands, with his index finger almost down the middle of the blade (like 1967 World Men's Singles Champion Hasegawa), and who, quite frankly, was just better. In the first game, Andy lost badly, with the opponent looping his serve over and over and putting Andy on the defensive. (The match was best two of three to 21.) Between games I asked Andy if could serve backhand. He said he'd never served backhand in his life. I said, "Tough. I want you to serve backhand." He argued, but I convinced him to just backhand tap the ball over the net, short to his opponent's forehand. It worked! Andy won the next two games comfortably. What I'd noticed was that the opponent, with his index finger down the middle of the paddle, couldn't bend his wrist back, and so couldn't receive a short serve down the line with his forehand. So all his returns were to Andy's forehand, which he looped for winners. The moral of this story? Have a wide variety of serves and strokes, i.e. a well-balanced game. You never know when you'll find something useful.

Here's a picture of me and a cat.

No, we're not twins! I think. (Picture of me is about 15 years old. I'm much more distinguished looking now. Really.)

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