May 16, 2018

How the Game Has Changed! A Look Back to 1994
I was doing some research on something recently and came across an article I wrote in the Sept/Oct 1994 issue of USA Table Tennis Magazine. The article was my diary as the USA head coach at the King Car International Youth City Championships in Taipei, Taiwan, Aug. 22-30, 1994. We had two boys' teams and two girls' teams, with 14 players. Many of the best junior teams from all over the world attended, including teams from all over Europe, Asia, and a few from South America and Africa. The notable missing team was China, since we were in Taiwan.

Before the tournament we had a five-day joint training camp with the Taiwan and South Korean Teams. I noticed that their players had incredible footwork and forehand loops, but their backhand loops were rather weak. So I called our team together and told them our focus during the tournament was simple - get your backhand loops into play as they weren't used to facing them. The strategy worked - USA #1 (Dave Fernandez, Barney J. Reed, Richard Lee) came out of nowhere to get third place in Boys' Teams, beating some of the best teams from Taiwan, South Korea, and Sweden - with each match played in front of 20,000 screaming fans!!!

What jumped out from reading the article was how the game is changed. Here are three excerpts.

"A new style is developing in the Far East. We met up with a number of junior players who played penhold, but used both sides of their rackets on the backhand. At least one player had such a good backhand loop with the back (inverted) side of his racket that you couldn't push or serve long to him at all. Liu Guoliang of China made the finals of the 1994 U.S. Open playing this way, but he didn't use the technique nearly as often as some of the top junior players we saw here." [NOTE - Liu Guoliang was a rising start but still a relative unknown at the time. He'd become famous the following year when he made the final of Men's Singles at the 1995 Worlds, and then win gold in Men's Singles at the 1996 Olympics, and then win Men's Singles at the 1999 Worlds.)

"There were few shakehand players with inverted on both sides. There were many penholders, both pips in and inverted, and many shakehand players with combination rackets. Nearly all the top shakehanders, however, seemed to be either long-pipped choppers, or have pips-out on one side. Interestingly, more players had pips on their forehands than on the backhand."

"Our backhand techniques, especially as used by Dave Fernandez, Barney J. Reed, and Shashin Shodhan, seemed superior to most of the Asia players, and in meetings afterwards, coach after coach complimented us on it. They were especially impressed by Dave's quick, over-the-table topspinning backhand (basically, an off-the-bounce backhand loop). All of our opponents had great difficulty against these quick topspins." [NOTE - what was a novelty back then, these off-the-bounce backhand loops, is now the norm.]

Other highlights from the article:

  • In tournament party, all the junior teams were expected to give a 3-minute skit or sing a song. Team USA sang "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" and then "Row Row Row Your Boat." They then dragged me up front to demonstrate my ball-blowing trick, where I balance the ball - to the side - in the air by blowing on it, spinning the ball so it doesn't fall.
  • At the tournament party, Team USA won the "Fetching Contest." The rules were simple - the winner was the first team that could gather 10 watches, 5 necklaces, and 5 belts won. We were the Champions.
  • I wrote a long paragraph about the Taipei traffic, where huge numbers of motorcycles and a smaller number of cars weaved in and out like crazy, just missing each other by inches, and nearly every car had dents on them. We lived in daily fear of our daily commute to the playing hall!

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