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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I did an experiment tonight at the club, one which I've done a number of times before, always with roughly the same result. After practice, I played matches, and kept track of nets and edges. Final score: Opponents 33, me 17. Alas.

I can certainly agree with the nets and edges percentages favoring certain styles. As a long pips player, I get a ton of nets per match from blocking. As you stated, because we block with such a low trajectory this is bound to happen. We also receive quite a few edges when chopping as balls just seem to float to the back of the table for a nice little edge. Somehow I manage to get nets in my favor from my forehand loops and smashes too. Just look at it this way, you are a much better player since you don't need "luck" to win xD. Then again, I'd rather be lucky than good...

Hi Larry, I think it's great that you started this site, thanks a lot!  I agree about nets and edges not evening out between two players, but what about net/edge winners v.s. losers for a single player?  A player with low trajectory shots will for sure hit the net more often than one with a higher trajectory but many of those shots will be lost points because of the net.  Similarly players who hit the ball deeper will get more edges but will also miss long more often.  So things may even out this way (or not, I don't know!).  One thing is for sure though: that if your opponent gets upset over nets/edges you will always have an advantage regardless of the relative frequency.

Hi Dave,

This is how I see it. Players don't aim for nets or edges, so when they get them, they have mishit the ball - and yet they probably win the point, i.e. they are lucky. When they instead put the ball into the net (instead of a net ball) or off the end (instead of an edge), then they have simply mishit even worse, and so should lose the point.

Hi Larry,

Apart from Timo Boll, Werner Schlager had also reached the #1 spot briefly (maybe just for a month) during 2003 after his WC win.

In reply to by deepakmg

Apart from Timo Boll, Werner Schlager had also reached the #1 spot briefly (maybe just for a month) during 2003 after his WC win.

You're right, Deepakmg - in June of 2003. I actually looked his rankings up, but somehow missed the skinny little 1, and only saw the two #2's. Note to self - get more sleep.