December 12, 2012

Don't Bother Me!!! (Temporarily)

Anyone bothering me for anything time- or mind-consuming between now and Saturday, all I can say is HAH!!! I'm involved in a top-secret coaching operation that will take up all my time the next few days.

Backspin Serves

I was asked the following question on the forum, and decided to respond here. "Slim Dragon" wrote:

Dear Coach,

I have read several of your tips on how to generate heavy spin on underspin serves. I prefer to open up against pushes, so really want to develop this arsenal. Having watched several pro serve videos and teaching guides from pingskills to tabletennis masters to dynamic tabletennis, what I remain uncertain about is the ideal form, as all pros seem to have an individual form when executing various serves.

Having watched Waldner's serves recently, I notice that he makes contact with the ball with his forearm usually horizontal to his right breast, which seems to give his forearm a horizontal axes with the wrist snapping at the end of the motion. His racket tip normally ends up just under his right breast. In the past, my racket tip has ended up in the middle of my stomach, meaning my forearm is more diagonal than horizontal.

My first question is, what forearm placement is likely to result in the best grazing effect?

Secondly, is it imperative to contact the ball as close to the bottom as possible to maximize underspin?

Lastly, how can you properly assess whether you are generating good underspin? In the past, I thought it was necessary to make the ball rotate back towards the net as an indication of a good underspin serve, but I note in another forum question that that is mainly a trick serve.

Thanks for your consideration.

The examples I refer to can be seen from about 0.15 to 0.35 in this video link.

Great questions, and great video of Waldner's serves. Waldner was perhaps the greatest server of all time, and this video shows much of how he did it. One catch - hidden serves were legal during most of his career, so you'll see how he keeps his arm and shoulder out to hide contact. However, the basic techniques are the same. Let's go over the three questions.

My first question is, what forearm placement is likely to result in the best grazing effect?

Secondly, is it imperative to contact the ball as close to the bottom as possible to maximize underspin?

I'm going to answer these two questions together, since the direction of the forearm movement leads to the contact point. If you swing more downward (i.e. with a diagonal movement toward your stomach), contact is toward the back of the ball. If you swing more horizontal, contact is more under the ball. And you want the forearm and racket moving mostly horizontally at contact so you can contact the ball as much underneath as possible.

Technically, you can graze the ball just as finely regardless of the direction the forearm and paddle are moving - you can graze the ball at any point. However, if you graze the back of the ball very finely, the ball will go down, and so will bounce up high. To serve the ball low with lots of backspin (i.e. maximum grazing), contact the ball as much underneath as possible. Even if you are serving a sidespin, you should fake this type of contact, and then, after just missing the bottom of the ball, contact the ball on the side with sidespin. This way the opponent has to pick up where the contact point was to read whether it was backspin, sidespin, or some combination.

Lastly, how can you properly assess whether you are generating good underspin?

One way is to simply graze it so finely, with so little forward motion, that the ball hits the far side of the table and bounces backwards within a bounce or two. (If you serve it high, you can make the ball bounce back over the net on one bounce - a trick serve that experienced players will see coming, giving them time to go to the side of the table to smash the ball as it goes back over the net.) But this means the serve will be very short, and while this is a good variation (especially against short player and in combination with long serves), it's also easier to return for most players than a deeper backspin serve where the second bounce is near the opponent's endline.

The problem with serving a deeper backspin serve is that you don't get direct feedback on the amount of backspin since the ball doesn't bounce backwards. However, with experience, you can read this yourself by your own contact. If your racket is moving very fast (with great acceleration), and you graze the bottom of the ball, you should be able to tell that you've got lots of backspin. But perhaps a better gauge is how opponents return it. Do they go into the net? Do they have to open their racket a lot to push it back or attack it? Or just ask your playing partner how spinny it is.

I often assign two exercises to develop backspin serves. Bounce a ball up and down on the forehand side of your racket. Now graze the ball near the bottom, a little toward the front. You should be able to generate good spin this way and hit the ball straight up, then you catch it and repeat. Practice this until you are proficient at it.

Next, do the "come back" serve mentioned above, where you again contact the ball near the bottom, a little in front as in the exercise above. Go for maximum spin, but intentionally serve high. Learn to control this until you can serve and make the ball come back into the net, or even bounce back over it. (When I demonstrate this for beginners, their eyes go wide.) When you can do this, then you have great backspin. Then you simply adjust your contact point - still under the ball, but slightly toward the back - and you can serve this same heavy backspin and keep it low.

If you have difficulty with this, it might be helpful to get a coach or top player to help out. With practice, it's not that difficult to learn - but it does take practice! And once you have that heavy backspin serve, you can next learn to serve side-backspin, sidespin, side-topspin, and "heavy no-spin" (where you fake spin, usually backspin, and serve no-spin).

USA Juniors Finish Seventh

Team USA, led by an 8-1 Lily Zhang, finished seventh at the World Junior Championships (Hyderabad, India, Dec. 9-16). Here's the World Junior Championships Home Page (results, articles, photos), and here's a compilation of results, articles, and videos of USA players, compiled by USATT. All events were for Under 18, so Crystal Wang, 10, on the USA Girls' Team, was the youngest player there. She's from my club, MDTTC. (Here's an ITTF article that features and pictures her that came out this morning.) Addendum - due to a typo on a match slip, the ITTF reported, and I repeated here earlier, that Lily had gone undefeated, but she actually lost one of her two matches against Korea, deuce in the fourth.)

Emerging Countries in Table Tennis

Here's an article on the top ten emerging countries in table tennis - and guess which country is #1? With full-time training centers and junior programs popping up all over the U.S. in the last six years, we're on the verge of becoming a real power.

Tybie Sommer-Thall

USA's 1948 World Mixed Doubles Champion (with Dick Miles) - still active!

Great Doubles Point

Here's a great point from the Women's Doubles Final at the German Open this year.

Instant Ping Pong

Here's a commercial (2:52) for "Instant Ping Pong," which consists of a portable net that extends up to six feet and clamps on the side of a table, plus two hardbat rackets and two cheap ping-pong balls, all in a convenient carrying case. It allows you to set up on just about anything that's table-like and play - the video shows players using it on all sorts of furniture-type items. By a strange coincidence, I bought this at Target yesterday (spur of the moment) and then happened to see a link to this commercial on Facebook last night. I may bring it to the Nationals to play at the airport. (What, you've never played airport pong?) Or maybe I'll set it up to play during the USATT Board Meeting.

12:12:12 on 12-12-12

Set your alarms for 12:12:12 PM this afternoon of 12-12-12. Why? Because the next time three numbers will align in this way will be on Jan. 1, 2101, at 01:01:01 AM and PM. (We already had 12:12:12 AM this morning - or is that last night - and I was up for it.) Actually, this will be the last time ever, since the world ends on Dec. 21, nine days from now, right?

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