September 4, 2015

Let's Revisit the "91-Shot Lobbing Point"

I posted the video a few days ago, and it's all over the Internet. Sure, it's spectacular, the lobbing point of the century. But there's one obvious thing most are missing – why Adrien Mattenet was lobbing in the first place. The video is 2:27 long, and you can watch it over and over, but we're only going to concern ourselves with the first two seconds.

Par Gerell, the lefty on the far side, is serving. He tosses the ball up and slightly sideways and backwards. The rule is the ball must be tossed "near vertical," which isn't well defined. By tossing the ball somewhat high, Gerell can throw the ball a little sideways and backwards while keeping the serve "near vertical."

At first the ball is easily visible, and Gerell actually moves his head backwards, away from the ball. But watch how the ball moves sideways, and Gerell moves his head forward, thrusting it in front of the ball just before contact! Yep, an illegal hidden serve. And that's how Gerell got the easy ball to loop kill that forced Mattenet to lob in the first place.

Here's a five photo sequence showing this. (The white "G" logo on the floor conveniently shows the relative positions of the ball and Gerell's head throughout the serve.)

  1. Photo 1: Gerell throws the ball up.
  2. Photo 2: The ball moves toward Gerell even as he leans away from it.
  3. Photo 3: Gerell moves his head forward as the ball moves towards him. Right about here he begins to pull his non-playing arm away, which draws the umpires' attention away from his head.
  4. Photo 4: The ball starts to disappear behind his head – see arrow. 
  5. Photo 5: Gerell thrusts his head forward (to our right), and the ball continues moving sideways (to our left), and so contact is hidden behind the head. Compare position of his head in this picture to where the ball was in previous picture (and still moving left) and you can see how well hidden it is!

You can see how Mattenet moves way, way over to his right, receiving the serve with his backhand from the wide forehand. Is he doing that because his backhand receive is better, or because he's trying (unsuccessfully) to see the serve? Probably both. Imagine receiving this serve in a normal receiving stance – you wouldn't come close to seeing contact. (Even a lefty wouldn't be seeing contact, not unless he stood around where the right-hand umpire sits.) End result – Mattenet pops up the illegal hidden serve, Gerell creams it, and just like that – 90 shots later – he's won the point.

From the umpires' point of view, it's difficult to see if the ball is visible, but based on that alone they should call a warning or fault, since the rules state:

"If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

However, as we know, most umpires are hesitant to call a hidden serve unless they are pretty sure it is actually hidden. So what's needed is a rule where if a player tried to hide the ball from a receiver, it would be clearly illegal. 

I've recommended changing the rule so that during the serve the ball cannot be hidden from the entire net or net post, or its upward extension. (Here's my blog on that.) Under that rule, either umpire could clearly see that the ball is hidden from the left-hand net post (the one to Gerell's right), and would likely have faulted him. If Gerell were to change his motion to make it at least possible he wasn't hiding the ball from that net post, there's no way he could still hide the ball from Mattenet.

And then we wouldn't have had the lobbing point of the century! (Oh wait, we've already had it, so now we can change to a saner rule.)

To be fair to Gerell, most top players these days are hiding the ball when serving – cheating is rampant since the rules aren't being enforced, and so they do so to compete. (Here's Mattenet on the far side serving 31 seconds into this video, where he does the same illegal hidden serve as Gerell, with contact hidden by his head. A lot of "smart" players are using their heads these days!) To me, whoever hides their serve first is the one in the wrong; after that, if the umpire doesn't enforce the rule, the other player has little choice but to do the same if he wants to compete on an equal basis. My beef is with players who hide their serves even against opponents who aren't doing it to them – as well as with umpires who don't enforce the rules and officials who don't take action to fix the problem.

Capital Area Team League

Enter now - Deadline is Monday! (This is for players in the Maryland/Virginia/Washington DC region.)

North American Championships

Here's the web page, with results, articles, and video (including live streaming. They are this weekend at the Westchester club in New York. 

Getting More Spin on Your Serves

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao, with links to video.

Multiball Training

Here's the video (1:58) - see if you can identify each drill- and do them yourself. Player is Philipp Floritz, 6-time member of German National Team.

Just a Typical Serving Practice Session

Here's the video (1:14). 

Interview with Kevin Korb: "I Bought a Club"

Here's the podcast (30:42) from Expert Table Tennis. Kevin's the 19-year-old who is the new owner of The TopSpin, a full-time, 16-table club in the Bay Area.

Olympic Coach Magazine

Here's the new issue, with links to past issues.

Westchester TTC to Host North American Championships This Weekend

Here's the article.

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage). Butterfly also has a great news page.

Switch Hands Off-the-Bounce Counterloop

Here's the video (9 sec). 

"I Can't Play Ping-Pong by Myself"

Here's another Beetle Bailey comic strip that has table tennis, sent to me by Marv Anderson, who points out that Beetle could use a robot. I blogged about Beetle Bailey table tennis comics on May 11, 2015, where I compiled links to 13 of them, all dated. I can't find the date for this one – it's marked "2-2," but I can't make out the year. Can anyone out there figure out the date for this one?

Cat Rallying!

Here's the video (34 sec) – yes, this cat can really rally! (It's been a while since I've posted a cat rally, so this is overdue.)

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