February 19, 2013

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13 - DONE!!!

Yes, I'm finally cleared of TB, as Tim Boggan drove home late last night after we finished everything yesterday afternoon. He was at my house about nine hours short of two weeks while we put together the 29 chapters and 448 pages. I did the page layouts and photo work (fixing up, placing, and captioning 918 graphics) while he sat next to me directing the action. ("No, you fool, the Seemiller photo goes there!!!") I FTPed the PDFs to the printer last night, and copies should be available within a month.

USATT's Default Policy in Team Trials

USATT has what I consider a silly default policy in their Team Trials. From the USA National Team Trials Prospectus (bolding is mine):

"In the event any player is unable to finish all matches in the RR stage, all of his or her matches shall be vacated and not taken into account for final results, and the individual deemed disqualified from the event. However the match results shall count for ratings. In the event of such withdrawal, the player must submit within seven (7) days from the close of competition, a written notice from a certified medical doctor stating the nature of illness or injury that prevented the player from completing the event. In the event the withdrawal from event was without justified basis such as illness or injury, or the athlete fails to provide the High Performance Director with a doctor’s note stating so, then that athlete shall become ineligible from the 2014 USA National Team without any further notice."

The key here is that even in the last round, a player can withdraw, and suddenly none of his matches count. In the case of the USA Men's and Women's Team Trials, where there's a final round robin of 12 players, that means that a player could play ten matches, default the last one (due to a real or faked injury), and none of his matches count - which could dramatically and retroactively affect the results. After ten rounds (out of eleven), players might already have "clinched" a spot on the team - only to have it "unclinched" simply because a player they beat doesn't play their last match, making all ten of that person's matches not count.

The argument for this is that whoever gets the default in the last match has an unfair advantage. But that doesn't make sense - we're talking one match versus ten! The problem is that in the last round, this system could put in the hands of a player already out of contention the power to dramatically affect the results simply by not playing due to injury (real or faked). Imagine "clinching" your spot on the team, only to lose your spot because some other player who's not in contention cannot or decides not to continue!

I'm told that overseas the norm is that if a player plays defaults after playing over half his matches, then all his matches count. If he defaults before playing over half his matches, then none of his results count. This makes sense to me.

Here's an example using the recently held USA Men's Trials. I don't have the actual order of scheduling, but we'll assume they used the official order of play from chapter seven the USATT Tournament Guide. Based on that, Peter Li would have been 7-3 going into the final round, while Jim Butler and Mark Hazinski were both 6-4. Assuming Butler wins his last match against the #12 seed (he would, against Kanak Jha), he'd be 7-4, and even if Li loses his last match to Yahao Zhang (he did), he'd also be 7-4, but with a head-to-head win against Butler - and so he'd advance in a two-way tie. If Hazinski wins his last match against #1 seed Timothy Wang (he wouldn't), then he'd also be 7-4, but in any three-way tie between Li, Butler, and Hazinski, Li would win because he lost 3-4 to Hazinski while beating Butler 4-1, and so he'd be 7-5, to Hazinski's 5-5 and Butler's 5-7. (If Butler were to lose to Jha, then Hazinski would win in a two-way tie with Li.) In the end, Li and Butler did finish 7-4, with Li coming in 4th (the last spot that makes the team), while Butler 5th (also 7-4, but losing to Li head-to-head), while Hazinski finished 6th at 6-5.

But there's a wild card here - Razvan Cretu. Cretu beat Butler, but lost to Li. Going into the final round he was 2-8, and out of contention. (He'd win his last match to finish 3-8.) Suppose, after playing ten rounds, he didn't play the last round, due to injury (real or faked)? Then his ten previous matches wouldn't count, and suddenly Butler is 4th, while Li is 5th. So Cretu was in a position to change the entire Trials by simply not playing, thereby retroactively canceling out his previous ten matches. (No, he didn't do this, and likely never considered it.)

(ADDENDUM added two hours later - In the case here, the fourth spot was an unfunded spot (only top three are funded), and Peter Li turned it down. So Jim Butler took the spot.)

This isn't the first time this has happened - I've pointed out past scenarios like this. There was a Trials about ten years ago where a player had injury problems and ended up losing deuce in the fifth in the next-to-last round. If he had pulled out that match, he wouldn't have been in contention to make the team - but if he had won that deuce-in-the-fifth  match, and then defaulted his last match due to injury, his previous ten matches wouldn't have counted, which would have dramatically and retroactively changed the order of finish, including knocking one player - who had already "clinched" his spot - off the team, and (if I remember correctly) another would have gone from a funded to a non-funded position.

I'm sure there are many other examples. We've been lucky so far. Imagine an unscrupulous player who is out of contention but in a position to dramatically affect the results in this way! If I were trying out for the National Team, I'd find these scenarios rather scary.

There are no truly fair ways to run a Trials - there are even mathematical proofs that show this - but there are ways of running them to improve the fairness. This would be one of those ways.

USATT's Giving Campaign

If USATT can raise $35,000, then USOC will match it. Here's the letter on the USATT page on this from USATT Executive Director Mike Cavanaugh.

USATT Budget

Here is USATT Budget info:

Kong Linghui on Chinese Women's Team

Here's an article on Kong Linghui's assessment of the Chinese Women's Team for the 2016 Olympics. (Kong, the former all-time great, is the Chinese Women's Coach.)

Timo Boll Training with Headcam

Here's a video (1:04) of Timo Boll of Germany (world #5, former #1) training with a headcam, so you can hear what goes on as he trains. It sounds pretty intense!

Kuwait Open

Here's a video of the Final between Zhang Jike and Ma Long (10:38), with time between points removed so it's non-stop action.

Grammy Table Tennis

Here are pictures from what apparently started out as an interview with Grammy winners, but a ping-pong game erupted, as it always does.

President's Day

In honor of President's Day (yesterday), here are pictures of Presidents playing table tennis. (Here are other pictures of world leaders playing table tennis, as well as other celebrities on the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page.)

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