May 14, 2014

Scouting Report on You and Me

It's important to know your game. I've often said that if you can't write a book on your game, either you don't know your game or you don't have a game. (Here's a short Tip on that.)

It's good to look at your game from the point of view of your opponent. What would you say to an opponent if you were coaching him to play you? Now you probably don't want to make this public, but you should be aware of what a good coach would say to an opponent playing you, and from that you'll know what you need to work on. Why not write it out, and see what it tells you?

I'm retired from tournament play (except for some hardbat events - I normally use sponge), so I have less to lose on this - but I do play a lot of practice matches with students and in match sessions, so we'll see how many are reading this! So here is what I would say if I were coaching an opponent against me - except this is too long; you should limit coaching advice to two or three things at most. So normally I'd pick the two or three most important items below if I were coaching against myself. But here's the whole coaching report if you have to play me. I encourage you to memorize it for when you play me, since trying to remember all this will paralyze you when you play, and that'll make it easier for me to win. (Actually, if you have an extensive scouting report on someone you really want to beat, you can absorb more than just two or three items as long as you take them two or three at a time.)

So, you want to beat me? Here's what you do. Keep in mind that I'm 54 and not as fast as I used to be. The book on my game back then would be similar, except I was extremely good at covering the wide forehand - players went there at their own peril. But these days this strength has become a weakness. I also used to attack a lot more with the forehand from the backhand side, looking for every chance to do so in rallies, but not so much anymore. I also used to block much better, but now have trouble covering attacks to the wide corners. (This is my second consecutive blog that's basically auto-biographical. Hmmm...)

How to Beat Larry Hodges

He has trouble with long backhand sidespin-type serves. His forehand loop against them is awkward, and his backhand returns are steady but soft. Mix your serves up a lot or he'll get used to them, but keep coming back to these deep backhand sidespin-type serves. He forehand loops deep pendulum serves very well, so use them sparingly, and only when you can get him to receive them with his backhand. Don't make the mistake of serving short over and over as he's very good against short serves, with short and long pushes and flips, and lots of last-second changes of direction. Don't serve short to the forehand too often as he has a good forehand flip to all parts of the table.

When he serves, beware his short side-top serves, which look like backspin. He'll also serve a lot of fast no-spin serves at your middle, and deep breaking serves to the wide backhand - you have to steady attack these, ideally with good topspin. If he serves short to the forehand, which he'll do with both pendulum and reverse pendulum serves, take it down the line to his backhand - he's waiting for a crosscourt return. When he serves short to the middle or backhand, he's usually looking to forehand attack from the backhand side, so take it quick to his wide forehand where he's often wide open.  If he serves short no-spin, attack it to the corners or drop it short as he's looking to follow with a big forehand loop. If your receives are predictable, he'll be all over them.

His backhand is soft but steady. Don't try to outlast him there. Instead, expect steady returns to your wide backhand that can be attacked with the goal to set up a chance to end the point with your presumably more powerful forehand. Since he doesn't attack well with the backhand, you don't have to guard your wide forehand much, so you can look to use your forehand from your backhand side every chance. Make sure your attacks are very wide or to the middle - he usually only has two of those covered and leaves the other a bit open. If you go to his middle forehand or middle backhand he's a wall, and can counter-attack on the forehand side very well. He's also vulnerable to deep, spinny loops to the backhand. If you can backhand loop close to the table, he hates that. If you attack his wide forehand and then his wide backhand, he'll often be forced off the table, fishing and lobbing. If he does, attack his middle or wide backhand until you see a short ball that can be creamed to either wide corner.

In rallies, he tends to be weak on the forehand side early in the match, but it gets stronger as the match continues and he adjusts to you. If you handle his serves well and attack his forehand, that's often enough to win the first game. If he starts playing his forehand well in rallies - looping or smashing, he does both - focus on moving the ball around, to the wide corners and middle. Sometimes he just rallies everything crosscourt with his backhand, using it to cover his middle as well, and waits for you to change directions with your backhand to his wide forehand, where he's waiting. Don't fall for that trap - instead, keep attacking his wide backhand and middle, and realize that his middle in these types of rallies is actually a bit over to his forehand side. Look for chances to end the point off his weaker backhand shots, especially with your forehand. When his rally shots go short, he expects attacks to his forehand and covers it well - but often leaves the backhand side open. Quick, aggressive backhand shots that go outside his backhand corner give him fits.

If he starts attacking with his forehand, go after his wide forehand, and he'll struggle to cover it, and will likely stop playing so aggressively. His loops aren't as spinny as they look. He has a lot of motion, but not as much snap on them as they seem, so don't be afraid to counter-attack when he loops. He's an instinctive forehand attacker, but not as fast as he used to be, so he's often caught out of position when he forehand attacks, and so will end up fishing and lobbing. When you do go to his wide forehand, he likes to set up like he's going crosscourt, then at the last second rotate his shoulders back to loop a winner down the line. If you anticipate this or see it coming and make a simple block to his backhand, he'll usually start fishing. 

If you take a lead late in a game, be ready if he starts chopping. If he does, go for consistent attacks to his middle.

Finally, be flexible in your tactics. Larry will start out most matches trying to win on serves and serve & attack, and on steady rallying on your serve, where he likes to force backhand-to-backhand rallies. If this doesn't work, he'll start testing you for weaknesses. When he does this, focus on steady and well-placed attacks, and realize you are already halfway to winning as you've taken away his "A" game. If you hear him mutter something like, "I used to be able to get to that ball," or "That shot used to be so easy," that's pretty much an invitation to keep challenging him on that shot!

Fan Zhendong: Youngest World Champion in History

Here's the article

North Korea's Behavior at the 1979 Ping Pong Championships Really Says It All

Here's the article. Apparently the entire Korean crowd walked out after the North Korean star lost the women's final, leaving a nearly vacant stadium for the men's final.

Prizes at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Trials in Wales

Here's the picture. Look closely at the picture in the lower right - yep, the prizes were copies of my book, Table Tennis Tales & Techniques! (EDIT - I've since been told that actual picture where they are holding up my books was taken at the ICC club in California, where the books were given out as prizes.)

The Ultimate Table Tennis Footwork Guide

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

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