Fan and Peter-Paul Serves at the North American Championships
I though the most interesting thing to watch at the North American Championships were the top players' serves, especially USA's Fan Yiyong and Canada's Pradeeban Peter-Paul.
Fan has an extremely heavy and low backspin serve, which are far spinier than it looks. However, he was having trouble controlling his forehand pendulum serve. The second bounce, given the chance, is supposed to be near the endline, making it hard to loop or drop short. It seemed to be going too long, allowing opponents to loop. In many of his matches he switched to a backhand serve, often short to the forehand, with either backspin or no-spin. The no-spin serve especially seemed to give opponents trouble as they kept putting it slightly up or long, and Fan would jump all over them.
In one match against Peter-Paul in the semifinals of Men's Singles, Fan led 2-1 in games and was up 10-5. Serving at 10-9, Fan called a timeout and spoke with USA coach Yang "Alex" Shigang. Then he served the simple backhand serve short to Peter-Paul's forehand, the return went up slightly, and Fan ripped the winner. Fan turned to Alex and gave him a thumbs up.
Peter-Paul struck back. Down 2-3 in games and down 8-10 double match point, he served fast and spinny down the line, and Fan missed the loop. Down 9-10, Peter-Paul served deep again, this time to the backhand. Fan missed a backhand loop. Up 11-10, Peter-Paul served long to the backhand again, and Fan missed again. Game to Peter-Paul, match is tied up 3-3, and Peter-Paul won the seventh to complete the comeback. (Fan had defeated him earlier in the Men's Team final, the only USA win in their 3-1 loss.) I sometimes think that international players like these two miss off deep serves more than many lower-rated players because they know that if they don't really attack the serve hard, the opponent is going to counterloop a winner. And so under pressure to loop the serve very hard, Fan missed.
Later I asked him about the serves, and mentioned that I was coaching a top cadet who didn't mix his serves up that much. Peter-Paul stressed that mixing the serves up is key - but that should be obvious, right? Not to a lot of players who don't always approach serving with the idea that it's a weapon that can score points directly, either from misses or easy pop-ups. You should develop serves that consistently allow you to attack, but also develop serves that can win points outright. Then mix them in, and watch the opponent flounder.
Another interesting serve many should watch was the forehand reverse pendulum serve of Ariel Hsing. It looks like a regular forehand serve until the last second, and then she snaps the racket the opposite way, and often drops the ball short to the forehand, breaking away from the receiver with tremendous sidespin. Players had fits with it, and over and over set her up for third-ball attacks, both forehand and backhand.
One serve-related item: against short backspin serves, it seems most of the top players are mixing up short receive and quick, angled pushes. Not as many were flipping off short backspin serves. When they did flip these serves, opponents seemed very good at looping them back, putting the flipper on the defensive. When players did flip, they either did so very aggressively to the forehand, or quick, deceptive ones to the backhand. So most flips were done not against short backspin serves, but against short receives against their own backspin serves. (Against sidespin serves, flipping was more the norm, since you generally don't want to push them.)
Choe! Vs. Caw!
At the North American Championships, in the cadet (under 15) events, most of the USA players yelled "Choe!" when they won points. The Canadian's mostly yelled "Caw!" I have no idea where either of these come from, though I vaguely recall it was the Koreans who first introduced "Choe!" When the Canadians scored, they sounded like crows. Why do they make these screams? It's psychological in that it keeps them pumped up, as well as perhaps wearing down an opponent mentally.
Tampa Bay players play table tennis
Here's a video of the Tampa Bay Rays playing table tennis, featuring Andy Sonnanstine, David Price, and B.J. Upton. Several Rays players said that the hand-eye coordination needed to play table tennis was a perfect way to sharpen the skilled needed for the big leagues. (The bad news for them: it didn't pay off as the Rays started getting swept 3-0 by the Orioles - my team!) Here's an article about the Rays playing table tennis at the St. Pete Beach Community Center (a chapter of the Sunrise Table Tennis Club), playing table tennis champions like Ty Hoff, shown in the video on the left near the end.
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