Tip of the Week
2014 U.S. Open
I was at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids from June 30 to July 6. As usual, it was an exhausting and exhilarating time. Once again Grand Rapids and USATT put on a great show - they are getting good at running Opens and Nationals. It was mostly on time (falling behind only when specific matches held things up), organized, and they even did the little things. For example, every morning we'd find all the trash had been picked up, and the barriers and chairs around all the courts all lined up nice and neatly. When you consider the size of the playing hall, that's a big job! Results were regularly updated on the results walls. So a great thanks goes out to the organizers and workers at this event.
Here's the USATT home page for the U.S. Open, which includes links to results, articles, pictures, and video.
The showcase events started at 3:45PM on Saturday with the women's semifinals. The schedule was for a new match to start every 45 minutes, with the two women's semifinals, the two men's semifinals, the women's final, and then the men's final, which would presumably start at 7:30 PM. But they ran into a problem right from the start - the first women's semifinal was between two very defensive choppers, Riyo Nemoto of Japan, and Li Xue of France (but presumably from China). The two pushed and Pushed and PUSHED all through the first game, with Nemoto essentially never attacking and Xue only occasionally attacking. I think it was 8-4 in the first when ten minutes had passed and expedite was called. From there on they alternated serves, with the receiver winning the point if she returned 13 shots in a row. Xue had a decidedly better attack, and after losing the first, won the next four games easily under expedite.
But the match took forever, and put things well behind. Could they catch up in the next match, between two attackers? The points were faster, but it took another eon before Yuko Fujii won, 11-9 in the seventh. She would go on to win the final, 4-1 over the chopper Xue, who had no answer to her relentless light topspins to the backhand long pips and sudden loop kills and smashes to the middle or wide angles. Fujii used the Asian style of playing choppers to perfection. (Here's my Tip of the Week on Playing Choppers, which explains this.)
Going into the tournament, most players were picking Japan's Jin Ueda to win. After all, he defeated world #7 Chuan Chih-Yuan in last week's Japan Open. But it was another Japanese player who took out top seed and defending champion Eugene Wang of Canada, as Hidetoshi Oya took him out 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The two Japanese met in the semifinals, but this time Oya had no magic as Ueda won 4-1. Meanwhile, China's Tao Wenzhang - the player considered by most as the least likely of the four semifinalists to win - took out two-time U.S. Open Men's Champion Thomas Keinath, also 4-1. Most picked Ueda to win the final, but it was not to be as the under-estimated Tao won the final with another 4-1 win.
Here's an interesting tactical thing about that match. For years I've encouraged players to serve not just to the short forehand, but to the middle forehand. Some players do have trouble if you serve short to the forehand, but others take advantage of the extreme angle you give them to your forehand (assuming two righties), the extra table means they can flip more aggressively. If the server tries to cover this wide angle, the receiver can just take it down the line. But if you instead serve short to the middle forehand, the following happens. 1) the extreme angle to the forehand is mostly cut off; 2) the extra table when flipping to the wide forehand his shortened, so aggressive flips are more difficult; 3) the receiver, who usually favors backhand against short serves to the middle, has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand; and 4) the receiver is either drawn well over the table if he receives backhand (leaving his backhand side open and taking his forehand mostly out of play on the next shot if the server goes to the backhand), or has a somewhat awkward forehand shot to play over the table. So what did Tao do in both the semifinals and final? He serve short to the middle forehand probably half the time, a primary reason he dominated the points.
The USATT Coach of the Year Awards were given out between games in the Women's Semifinals. The four winners were Lily Yip (Coach of the Year); Stefan Feth (Developmental Coach of the Year); Angie Bengtsson (Paralympic Coach of the Year) and me (Doc Counsilman Science Award, for my coaching blog, tips, and books.) However, when they started to give them out I was on the other side of the arena, with my back turned as I was explaining the expedite rule to some spectators. When they called my name I was caught off guard, and couldn't get to the award stand in time. They gave it to me after the next game. The actual plaques are nice, but were left behind at USATT Headquarters, and will be mailed to us. So they improvised with certificates. I'll post a picture of the actual plaque when it comes in.
There are always problems with any large tournament, and this was no exception. There were many top Chinese players at the tournament without ratings or world rankings, and so they were mostly stuck in randomly, causing havoc in some parts of the draws. Perhaps more effort should go into contacting these players or their associations to better get an idea of their level. After all, if a player travels all the way from China to play Men's Singles, he's likely at least 2400 or better! For example, two cadet players came to my club for about ten days of training before the U.S. Open. They were both 2450-2500 players. But at the Open they were unrated and unseeded. One result was that second-seeded Kunal Chodri, rated 2480, had to play one of them in his first match in Cadet Boys' Singles, and lost 3-0. Those two shouldn't have been playing until the later rounds.
There's also the problem of old ratings. For example, I coached a 12-year-old in Under 1500. In the round robin stage he had to play a girl from Canada rated 1427. The problem was that the rating was a year old, from last year's U.S. Open, and she was now at least 1800. The kid I was coaching was a "ringer," under-rated by a couple hundred points, but not nearly as under-rated as this girl, who would not only win the RR group, but would go on to win Under 1500 and Under 1650 (which at the Open is like winning Under 1800 and Under 1950), while beating players in other events over 1800. It wasn't a one-time thing with her; she got an initial rating of 892 at a U.S. tournament in June of 2012. Her next tournament was the 2013 U.S. Open, where she was way under-rated, and shot up to 1427. Now she'll likely jump to 1800+. Next year she'll likely show up with that rating, but perhaps 2000 level. Perhaps junior players with ratings over six months old should have 100 points added to their ratings for eligibility purposes?
Here are the two best shots of the tournament that I saw. First, a Chinese player at least three times pulled off a "push flip." What is that? He reached in for a short ball to the forehand as if pushing off the bounce, but intentionally missed the ball - then pulled his racket back quickly and flipped the ball at the top of the bounce! I've seen this shot before, but not in years. The other best shot? I was warming up one of my players and accidentally mishit the ball off the racket edge so it shot very hard at my face, ricocheting extremely fast off my glasses and back to the other side! My player didn't hesitate to counter-hit it, and the rally continued. Oh, and I'm sure the top players made a few good loops as well.
It's never over until it's over, as one of my players learned. Down 0-2 in games and 1-6 in the third, I called a time-out. I gave him my vintage speech for players down 0-2. ("How bad do you want this?...") Since he was New York Giants football fan, I asked him, "What would Eli Manning do?" He was all psyched up, went back to the table - and the other player got a net winner, then smacked in a winner, and now my player is down 1-8. But with me yelling, "C'mon, Eli, you can do it!", he scored eight in a row, and won that game in deuce - and went on to win the match, deuce in the fifth.
It doesn't always end that way. A nine-year-old kid I coached made the quarterfinals of Under 1500. There he faced an older kid who, in up-to-date ratings, was actually 1576. My player won the first two games, but lost the next two. In the fifth it was 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all, 15-all. Both players had multiple match points. At 15-all the other player mis-hit his serve off to the side, and it was another match point for my player - or was it? The other kid thought his serve hit the edge, and while I was certain it wasn't close, we had to play a let. My player won the next point (and seemingly might have won the match at that point, since he'd won two in a row from 15-all), but wasn't able to convert that match point, and ended up losing 18-16 in the fifth.
Because of ringers, the draws were often rather haphazard. I mentioned the 12-year-old I coached above who had to play the ringer girl from Canada. Actually, all three players in his preliminary group were ringers, way under-rated, as was he himself. On the other hand, the nine-year-old above (yes, another ringer, since he was rated under 1200 but about 1500 level) went up against "normal" players. I'm fairly sure the three players he played in his round robin and in the first two rounds of single elimination wouldn't have won a match in the other player's preliminary RR.
I started to write about some of my favorite coaching moments, especially the tactics used by Nathan Hsu, 18 and about 2350 (though he's been over 2400) in upsetting a 2648 player. But alas, I can't write about them publicly - they are trade secrets we need for the next time the two play. Suffice to say he executed them perfectly - in particular his serve and receive tactics - and mostly shut down the opponent's big forehand. (You can ask me about them privately.)
Players from my club, MDTTC, did very well. Here's a short listing of their best results:
- Crystal Wang, 12, won Cadet Girls Singles (15 & Under), made the semifinals of 18 & Under Girls, and the quarterfinals of Under 21 Women.
- Derek Nie, 13, won 13 & Under Boys' Singles.
- Charlene Liu, 61, pulled off a triple sweep - or was it a quadruple sweep? She won Over 40, Over 50, and Over 60 Women's Singles, made the final of Over 30 Women's Singles, and won Over 60 Women's Doubles with Barbara Kaminsky.
- Dave Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Men's Singles, and won four doubles events - Over 50 and Over 60 Doubles with Dan Seemiller, Over 65 Men's Doubles with Dell Sweeris, and Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Donna Sakai. (Am I the only one who noticed that all four of these players have initials DS?)
- Donna Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Women's Singles, Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Dave Sakai, and made the final of Over 60 Women's Doubles with Connie Sweeris.
- Ruichao Alex Chen, 16, made the final of 18 & Under Boys' Singles, upsetting U.S. #1 Under 18 player Kai Zhang, rated 2704, in the round of 16. He made the semifinals of Under 2600. He made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
- Chen Bo Wen, 16, made the quarterfinals of 18 & Under Boys' Singles and the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
- Nathan Hsu, 18, made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams, and in 18 & Under Boys' Singles upset Chen Keda, rated 2648 and the U.S. #1 Under 17 player.
- Wang Qing "Leon" Liang, 19, made the semifinals of Under 2600.
- Ryan Dabbs, 11, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Boys' Singles.
- Tiffany Ke, 10, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Girls' Singles.
- Daniel Sofer, 9, made the quarterfinals of Under 1500.
- Larry Hodges, way too old, won Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jeff Johnston.
1970s Table Tennis Revisited
In my blog on June 23 I likened the equipment used in 1971 by Stellan Bengtsson (and by extension, other sponge rackets of that era) as "toy" rackets. Stellan wasn't happy with my assessment. He was using Mark V sponge, which isn't exactly a "toy" sponge though essentially no top players use these types of sponges anymore in this age of tensor and high-tension sponges. (But they are still an appropriate surface for beginning/intermediate players.) I'd actually thought the Mark V used then was slower than the Mark V now, but I've been told that it's about the same now as it was then. (I'm talking about the original version, not all the new types.) The point I was making (and overstated by likening it to "toy" sponge) was that much of the reason the game was slower back then, as seen in the tape, was that the inverted sponges were slower than what are used these days by top players, especially when looping, where modern sponges practically slingshot the ball out. (I've added an edit to the original statement.)
Plastic Ball Implementation at ITTF Events
USATT Athletes of the Month
Here's the article on Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha.
Ariel Hsing Aims to Learn & Win in the Super League
Here's the article on the USA Women's Champion in China.
Road to Nanjing
Here's the article, on Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari, who will be representing the United States in the 2nd Summer Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China on August 16-28.
Ovtcharov Confident to Win an Olympic Gold Medal
About.com is Back - Sort of
I checked on it, and there are no plans to bring back the table tennis forum. But they are putting up table tennis articles. Here's a listing of new ones.
- Four Players to Watch in 2014
- How to Hit Harder
- A Brilliant Irregular Switching Drill
- Attacking the Middle
- Alternative Footwork Training with Omar Assar and Jorgen Persson
"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin
Here's the review of the book. "The real history of table tennis is a bizarre tale of espionage, aggravation, and reconciliation, of murder, revenge, and exquisite diplomacy, says a new book. It's the story of how Ivor Montagu molded the game, and how the Chinese came to embrace it and then shaped it into a subtle instrument of foreign policy."
My Way to Olympia
Here's an article and video (1:38) on this PBS documentary on the Paralympics, which covers four athletes, including a table tennis player with one hand.
100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. (Since I've been away for a week at the U.S. Open we have an accumulation of them today.) Forty-five down, 55 to go!
- Day 56: Glenn Tepper Explains the ITTF’s Continental Affiliation Option
- Day 57: Countdown Hijacked! (by Adham Sharara)
- Day 58: Peter Karlsson Is a True “Champion for Peace”
- Day 59: Patrick Gillmann: A Passionate Advocate for Juniors
- Day 60: Richard Scruton Reflects on the 2012 Olympics
- Day 61: Catching up with Raul Calin, who’s on the Road Again
- Day 62: ITTF’s Matt Pound Promotes Table Tennis 24/7
- Day 63: The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part II (here's Part 1)
Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler
Here's the article and trailer (2:10) for the upcoming documentary.
Angel Table Tennis
Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Mike Mezyan.
One Energy Commercial
Here's the video (30 sec) of this neon Tron-like commercial featuring Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen!
No One Knew Kanak Jha Was That Fast!
Here's the picture! Poor Adam Hugh is up against eight Kanaks. (Adam defeated Kanak in the preliminaries at the North American Cup, but lost to him in the final. Or to one of them.)
Top Players in Cartoons
Here are cartoon images of the world's top players.
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