December 29, 2021

Tips of the Week

2021 US Open . . . a Fiasco
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this year's US Open, held in Las Vegas, Dec. 17-22, was a fiasco, wrapped in disaster, inside a calamity. It was the third consecutive poorly run US Open or Nationals since USATT CEO Virginia Sung took over as tournament director at the 2019 US Open, which ran many hours behind, though not as much as this year's. After a break in 2020 due to Covid, it was followed by the 2021 US Nationals in July, the worst-run Nationals in USATT history. And now we have the worst-run US Open in history. (More on that below, and why it was worse than the infamous 1990 US Open.)

Plus, with the total lack of mask enforcement, it's turned into a "super-spreader," just as I predicted on Facebook on the first day. As of now, there are 34 confirmed positive tests, including US Open Women's Singles Champion Lily Zhang. (There obviously are many more - most don't announce on Facebook or even get tested.) See the segment below on this, where I list the positive tests so far. 

One piece of breaking news - last night this went up: USATT Announces Formation of Five-Star Tournament Task Force. More on this in the following segment. Also note that this morning I sent an email to Virginia with four questions. She responded that she was driving, and "Will not get back until late afternoon." When/if she does, I may put in an Update.

Before we go further, here are complete results. (I'm not sure why the Men's and Women's Singles are listed as "Prelim Rounds," but if you click on them, you get the full results.) There were 745 players in the tournament, with 83 events played on 78 tables. (Many past Opens and Nationals had far more players and events.) Since I spent most of the tournament waiting for, playing, or coaching matches, I didn't see any of the top matches, so no coverage of those.

Here are other USATT news items on the Open:

Throughout the tournament people would come up to me to exchange complaints about it, and each time it would involve a long litany of problems. I finally began to simply call it a fiasco to save time. At one point, someone came over and asked me what I thought of the tournament, and I responded the same way, "It's a fiasco." Then I looked over and saw it was Craig Krum, the hard-working but completely gob-smacked Operations Director, who admitted he was running the Open as "the largest 2-star tournament in history." Well, perhaps I wouldn't have been so blunt if I'd known it was him first, but bluntness is what was needed in such a case. Buttering it up doesn't get the message across of just how bad the tournament was. There are certain minimal expectations for a tournament such as this, and they were not met. I'm sure the USATT board will look into these problems - but only one of the nine board members was present at the tournament. As to Craig, he was highly apologetic, admitting he simply hadn't realized what he was getting into when he went from running four-star tournaments (with perhaps 200 players on maybe 20-25 tables) to five-star ones (745 players on 78) - the complexity goes up exponentially. He said he would be writing a letter of apology - see below from the U.S. Open Tournament Committee.

Writing about this tournament is among the most difficult things I've ever had to write - it makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. Trying to find the balance between politeness and saying it like it is isn't easy. It would be a lot easier to do what many do, and just smile and say all's well. But all is not well. And I'm not the only one writing about it. Here are two threads on Facebook (there are many more) where lots of people chimed in on their experiences - and they are pretty scathing, including notes from numerous professional coaches, top players, and hall of famers.

USATT posted two news items on the problems with the tournament:

The latter states, "active efforts to enforce the mandatory mask rules of Clark County, Nevada." I strongly disagree with this statement. See the Covid section below.

Personally, I was at the tournament to coach and play in two events - Hardbat Singles (where I got second for the third time - I've won it twice) and Hardbat Doubles (which I won for the 14th time at the Open or Nationals, this time with Estee Ackerman). I'm normally a sponge player but play hardbat on the side. Alas, I and my players had to play most of our matches "cold" since they fell so far behind that we never knew when we'd play. I didn't even get to see the men's or women's finals or semifinals - I was at the desk both times, waiting for matches.

There will always be some problems at tournaments. However, it is the responsibility of the tournament director to have a checklist to go through to make sure everything has been taken care of and done properly before the tournament begins. This is tournament 101, and it didn't happen. On the other hand, I'll give Virginia and Craig credit - they literally lived at the control desk most of the tournament, with Craig at the computer and Virginia often looking over his shoulder as they tried to keep the tournament running in some fashion. The tournament staff also did an incredible job in a nearly impossible situation.

Below is a rundown of what we faced as participants in the tournament. I was pretty nice in my writeups for the last two major tournaments USATT ran (2019 Open and 2021 Nationals, both poorly run), and each got progressively worse. So this time I'm putting together a literal checklist of problems, both for USATT and for participants. I debated which aspect to start with but will start with Covid.

=>Covid. The rules were very clear - everyone must wear a mask unless they were playing, eating, or drinking. But there was no enforcement. Nor was there any social distancing. When I walked in on the first day, I saw all the unmasked people. I did a quick count of the first table area - only 6 of 22 were wearing masks. I checked the arena - only 13 of 29 wore masks. None of the four coaches coaching on the two tables wore masks. Here is a picture of the Men's Final, taken from USATT's own news item on day four. I've circled 22 people in the stands who are not wearing masks or have the masks pulled down. Here is another USATT news item - note the two people prominently not wearing masks. On the second day I did another count of people in the arena at around 6PM. Of those not playing, eating, or drinking, 18 of 43 were not wearing masks.

I checked about this at the registration desk, control desk, and officials area, and all said that mask enforcement was up to the tournament director, which was Virginia. I asked her who was in charge of enforcing the rule, but she wouldn't answer, only saying, over and over, "Everyone must wear a mask." So, there was no enforcement of the rule. After the fact, there have been claims by USATT that there was enforcement, but that's simply not true. (One umpire did take it upon herself to try to enforce the rule and managed to get most of those in the first table area to put on their masks. But she had other duties and stopped after a short time.) Simple reality - if you say everyone must wear a mask but do not enforce it then the mask rule is not being enforced.

There was no serious social distancing. For much of the tournament there was a "mob" at the control desk as huge numbers of players tried to find out about their matches as the tournament fell many hours behind. The people at the control desk were also close together with no social distancing.

USATT did provide free Covid testing onsite, which was a good thing. I took the test and was negative. But it's likely that only a small minority of the huge number of people at the Open took the free test.

I wrote a Facebook posting about this the very first night, which starts off, "I'm worried that the US Open Table Tennis Championships here in Las Vegas is going to turn into a super-spreader event for Covid." I was right to be concerned. I know of at least 13 15 21 24 26 27 29 30 31 34 people so far who have tested positive. The number is obviously much higher, as these are just the ones who posted on Facebook or otherwise let others know, plus most people didn't get tested. Each of them exposed large numbers of others to Covid, further spreading the disease. This is the definition of a "superspreader." Here are the ones I know of (so far) who have tested positive.

  • The Spartan TTC in San Jose, CA, posted, "At least three of our students have tested COVID-19 positive after the US Open." (They also had to cancel their training camp.)
  • Matt Hetherington from Maryland.
  • Max Nasab from Washington state.
  • Alireza Hejazi posted that a friend who attended the US Open with him tested positive.
  • Two adults who wish to remain anonymous.
  • Two junior players who must stay anonymous.
  • I was told "several" from the Houston International TT Academy have tested positive. So at least three.
  • Bahram Panahi and his wife tested positive.
  • Vicky Na informs me that at least six people at the Open from North Carolina and three from Atlanta tested positive.
  • At least one junior player from Boston tested positive. 
  • US Open Women's Singles Champion Lily Zhang has tested positive!!! 
  • Paul David tested positive.
  • I'm told two more people from Atlanta tested positive. 
  • A junior from the Lily Yip club tested positive
  • Another from Atlanta tested positive
  • Three from a CA club, but they don't want to be named

=>Scheduling. Just as with the Nationals in July and the last US Open in 2019, they fell way, Way, WAY behind. Each day (especially the first three) quickly became a madhouse as players were forced to wait around the control desk often for 3-4 hours, waiting for their matches. There were no schedules in the player packets; they were not given out until the morning the tournament began - and then it turned out the match slips hadn't even been printed out! So there were delays right from the start, and they only got worse.

I had a relatively slow first day, didn't have to coach until 5:30 PM. I warmed up my player, and we went to the control desk at 5:30 PM to check in for his round robin event, little knowing what we were in for - over and Over and OVER throughout the tournament. As of 5:30 PM, they were just sending out 2:30 PM matches, so they were three hours behind. Worse, they had no idea when the 5:30 PM matches would go out, and so told us to just "wait around." They were now calling matches one by one over the loudspeaker system, as if it were a two-star tournament. (Many of us, including me, had great difficulty making out what was being said.) Lots of tables were open, but there didn't seem a way for the desk to keep track or to get match slips ready in a reasonable time. The match I coached was finally called at 8:15PM, but of course my player was now stiff as a rock. I had planned on coaching his 5:30 RR and then having a leisurely dinner. We didn't get out until after 10PM. It would be the first of three straight nights where I wouldn't get dinner until after 10PM. Little did we know that day two would be worse, and day three worse still. (Day three started out well, then everything fell apart in the early afternoon.) The following days they also fell behind, but it wasn't quite as bad - I think they had more matches scheduled the first three days.

Imagine warming up for your matches, over and over, and each time you are forced to wait at the control desk for 3-4 hours - and then, when you are suddenly and out of the blue called, you have to play cold, other than the two-minute warmup. This simply doesn't meet even minimally minimal standards. But I wasn't alone in this - the mobs at the control desk were all in the same situation. I could write books about this. Suffice to say this Open was more behind than any US Open or Nationals since or before the infamous 1990 US Open.

One interesting note - I had an argument with Virginia over the software used. I pointed out that there was nothing currently in Omnipong, or any procedure at the control desk, to deal with the cascading effect in large tournaments, where if one event falls behind, it cascades into other events, leading to the entire tournament falling further and further behind - exactly what happened here each day. When I first mentioned this, I got blank stares from Virginia (and later, by others at the control desk) - they didn't know anything about this. Then Virginia insisted they did have a system for this. We argued, and it finally came out that she was referring to conflict resolution, i.e. when a player has two matches at the same time and one has to be rescheduled. That is how you deal with individual conflicts, but not the cascading effect. Alas, at this point in time, the ones running our tournaments were basically oblivious to this problem. For the twenty years before they took over the Opens and Nationals ran on time because NATT, the ones running it (as well as others before them) knew about this problem and how to deal with it - and so, even if one event fell behind, it wouldn't drag the rest of the tournament with it. Omnipong is great for most tournaments - I've run many dozens on it - but for larger ones like the US Open, it might need some upgrading.

I don't know the specifics of how past directors stopped the cascading effect, but I believe the concept is simple. (I was involved in the scheduling of two past US Opens, but it was long ago, plus I've run over 200 USATT sanctioned tournaments.) When an event falls behind, they do two things. First, when there's a conflict, they favor playing the events that are still on time, so other events don't also fall behind, which causes the cascading effect. Second, they quickly reschedule the matches in the specific event that's falling behind, often on tables set aside for this. (This is subtly different from normal conflict resolution, where they reschedule individual matches, as opposed to rescheduling the entire event.) Without this, players can spend hours at the desk waiting for their match to be rescheduled (as at the 2021 US Nationals and US Open) never knowing when they'll be called. With this method, the match might not be played right away, but they are given a specific time when it will be played, and so they know when to warm up and be ready to play. Result - other events do not fall behind, and in the event that does falls behind, matches are quickly rescheduled, and everyone's happy. Note that players accept that an event can fall behind and their matches rescheduled. What they can't accept is an entire tournament falling behind, and having to wait around for hours not knowing when they'll play.

=>Loss of Experienced Volunteers. One of the reasons they had such difficulty once they fell behind was the inexperience of many of the volunteers. This was the first time in decades where I didn't recognize most of the volunteers, and most of the volunteers didn't recognize me. Normally it's an experienced crew, but this time Virginia decided that there would be no hotel or flight reimbursements for volunteers. Because of this, several regular volunteers told me they decided not to volunteer this year. I told Virginia this, and she exploded, saying that all volunteers got hotel and flight reimbursements, and anyone who said otherwise is lying - and she wanted to know who was saying this. The problem is the Volunteer Form says exactly what the missing volunteers said - "There is No Hotel or Flight Reimbursement."

However, when problems arise, sometimes a hero emerges. In this case, it was experienced volunteer Marguerite Cheung at the control desk. Many of the volunteers at the control desk were inexperienced, and when things fell behind, they weren't sure what to do. Marguerite is an experienced tournament director, and when things fell behind, she was the one who basically started getting matches out, calling them individually on the loudspeaker. I watched, and she was doing the work of about five others. I told her that, if not for her, instead of four hours behind it would have been eight! (This is not to disparage others, who also worked hard, including some experienced ones. But Marguerite was like Wonder Woman this tournament.)

=>CEO/Director Illegally Overrules Referee on Rules Question. This should be a no-brainer - the referee of a tournament is the FINAL authority on rules questions. From the USATT Tournament Guide, 4.4.5a, the referee "Is the final authority on interpretation of the rules and regulations as they apply to the tournament." The ITTF Handbook concurs, saying, "The referee shall be responsible for: deciding any question of interpretation of Laws or Regulations, including the acceptability of clothing, playing equipment and playing conditions."

In my 46 years in the sport, I've disagreed with referees, but never thought I could overrule them - and, until now, I've never seen one illegally overruled! I was told about this by a number of witnesses, most of them umpires, and spoke to tournament referee Joe Yick, who verified what happened, as did several umpires and other witnesses.

He had ruled that a junior player was using an illegal surface. (There were equipment booths where the player could get a legal replacement, though not of the same surface.) CEO/Tournament Director Virginia overruled him, saying the player could use that surface. When the player went out to play, the umpire said the racket was illegal. So the Virginia ordered that there would be no umpires for this player's matches for the rest of the tournament. The player made the final of an event - and again, no umpire was allowed! (The player's mom actually became the scorekeeper for the match. I don't even know who the player is - I intentionally didn't want to know.) I'm sure Virginia (and perhaps the player or her parents) could argue for why they thought the surface should be allowed, though I can't think of an argument for it. But that's a side issue - the issue is that Virginia believed that she, as CEO/Tournament Director, could overrule the referee on a rules question. This is blatantly wrong. The referee said he will be filing a report to the chair of the Umpires & Referees committee. I hope they will make this report public.

=>Top Seeds Mistakenly Taken Out of Rating Events. Incredibly, about 24 of the top seeds in rating events were defaulted out of their events by mistake!!! For rating events, there are two ratings used: a "qualification" rating (as of Oct. 17) and a "seeding" rating (as of Dec. 1). The qualification rating determines if one is eligible for the event; the seeding rating is used to seed the player in the event, even if the new rating is over the cutoff. This is so players know in advance which events they are eligible for. They used to use just one cutoff, but it always ran into problems, and so years ago they switched to this system, which has worked fine - until now. So, what happened? The tournament director ordered that those over the cutoff in the seeding list were to be defaulted, even though this contradicts the actual rules on the entry form, and how it's been done for the last decade or more. Why have a "qualification" rating if the "seeding" rating is going to be used for qualification? It makes no sense. And so 24 players, all among the top seeds in their rating events, were mistakenly defaulted out of their primary rating event. Lots of very unhappy players. Oops!!!

=>Men's Quarterfinals (and others?). When I went out to play the semifinals of Hardbat Doubles on table 45, we noticed that Men's #2 seed Eugene Wang (rated 2735) of Canada was playing #7 seed Ju Mingwei (rated 2665) on the adjacent table 44. It was the Men's Quarterfinal - and there was no umpire, no scorekeeper, played on a back table with about five people watching! Wow. There were plenty of open tables, so we moved to another one so as not to interfere. How can a match like that not be highlighted and played on a feature table with an umpire and scorekeeper??? I never did find out about the other quarterfinal matches for men or women, but presumably some or all of them were similarly played - but I don't really know. So unprofessional. Email me if you know anything about this. Is it any wonder we no longer get top international players? Anyone in the top 20 in the men's world rankings could have come here and gotten an "easy" $8000, and yet they don't.
UPDATE 1: I'm told the two players decided to play this match on their own, on an empty table they found, rather than continue waiting to be called. By the end, about 20 people had found out about it and were watching. 
UPDATE 2: I was just shown the schedule for #5 seed Nikhil Kumar. He was scheduled to play the Men's Quarterfinals on table 37!!! They later changed it to table 1, where he won to make the semifinals. 

=>Wrong Times on Draw Sheets. The tournament software, Omnipong, automatically put in time scheduling on the draw sheets. However, this didn't always match up with the actual schedule. For example, I was scheduled to play the semifinals and finals of Hardbat Doubles at 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM on Sunday night, Dec. 19. We waited around for hours, and finally was able to play the semifinals at 9:45 PM. We won, and got back to the desk at 10:15 PM, only to find that they still hadn't sent out the other 6:30 PM semifinal, and that they had just told those two teams that they would play the semifinal the next day, at 8:30 AM on Monday. The players hadn't left yet, so we argued to play their semifinal and then the final that night, while we were all available and warmed up.

Tournament Director Virginia, who had made the decision to continue the next day, came out and told me that I had the schedule wrong, that the semifinals and final were scheduled for 10:30 and 11:30 AM the following day, and the final at Noon - and showed me the Hardbat Doubles Draw from Omnipong. Note how it shows my semifinal match on table 5 at 11:30 AM on 12/20/2021, and the other semifinal on table 3 at 10:30 AM on 12/20/2021? But here's my schedule, showing my semifinal on table 17 at 6:30 PM on 12/19/2021! The draw shows the final on table 1 at 12:00 on 12/20/2021, while my schedule shows it on table 4 at 7:30 PM on 12/19-2021!

I had to explain to her that that the table numbers, times, and days on the draw sheet weren't the actual schedule, and we had to show her our schedules to show that the semis and final had actually been scheduled for that night, at 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM. Alas, she still wanted to play them the next day, since it was getting late. But think about it - if the tournament director is misreading the schedule, imagine the 745 players trying to figure things out!!!

When the doubles teams arrived the next day and warmed up, they found out one of them had a conflict - and instead of playing the doubles semifinal at 8:30 AM as they'd been told, they sent one of the players out to play singles. (Another amateur mistake - when there's a conflict, you almost always play doubles, both so you inconvenience fewer people, and since it's much harder to later get four players together than two.) The team that had come in at 7:45 AM to warm up and was ready to play at 8:30 AM had to wait several more hours before they got to play - they weren't happy. We finally played our 7:30 PM Sunday final at about 2PM on Monday. (From down match point, we won!!!)

=>Water. This was an athletic event with 745 players, plus about an equal number of family members, coaches, officials, staff, and so on. And NO WATER??? Before Covid, there would have been water fountains or equivalent. Covid, of course, makes that problematic. And the food court, a quarter mile away (so a half mile round-trip journey), obviously would prefer no water be provided so people would have to trek over to them to buy overpriced water at $4.95/bottle. (Multiply that by about eight per day for an active player over six days.) USATT should have insisted that they be allowed to supply water in the venue, and then simply brought in many cases, and sold the water at perhaps $1/bottle, or more if necessary. Let people know in advance it's cash only to keep it simple. As it was, kids were refilling their water bottles in the bathrooms - not sure how safe that is.

=>Chair Shortage. I complained (and blogged) about the chair shortage at the US Nationals, but once again they had only about half as many as needed. People were forced to stand up or battle for the few available chairs. I spent half my tournament at the control desk waiting for matches, and half roving around the playing hall looking for chairs. Perhaps the worst part was there weren't chairs by the control desk to sit in during the hours waiting for our matches.

=>Missing Medals. There were 22 doubles events and 6 team events. Amazingly, they only ordered one medal for each team!!! I won Hardbat Doubles, but there was only one medal for my team. I let Estee take it. When we came in to pick up our awards, they took our addresses and will send us the medals later. (It took me 52 minutes to go through this line and get my other medal, second in hardbat singles.)

=>Loudspeaker. Because the tournament ran so far behind and they had no real backup plan to catch up, the control desk resorted to calling individual matches on the loudspeaker system. (They had little choice at that point.) Two problems. First, many, including me, had difficulty making out their names when called on the loudspeaker system. Second, it was very loud and often almost nonstop, and so was a constant interference with matches, where in the middle of points there'd suddenly be these loud calls for players to come to the desk.  

=>Event Finishing Day. The entry form says, "Events are not guaranteed to be completed on the same day that they begin." The problem is that if a player enters only events on, say, the first day, does that mean he/she has to stay the entire six days of the tournament? Many past Opens and Nationals had a note that events would finish within two days of the starting day, with exceptions sometimes made for major events such as Men's and Women's Singles.

=>Tournament Balls. Nittaku was the tournament ball, but they were not sold by any of the vendors, and the control desk couldn't lend them out since they weren't sure if they had enough. So players often had to warm up with a different ball. 

=>Links on US Open Home Page. Here is the US Open Home page, with six major links. You would think that this would be an important page to maintain, but three of the links are bad - the Results page (!), FAQ page, and Event Format page. All simply take you back to the US Open home page. Unless one just happens to know to go to Omnipong, viewers will get pretty frustrated trying to find those results!

=>Erratically Sized Courts. There were 78 total courts. Of these, 14 were 35' (too short, six on cement), 41 were 42', and 23 were 56'. Why in the world are there 56-foot courts? That's way too long - even international courts are about 40 feet. It meant long walks to pick up the ball after nearly every point. With a little geometry, perhaps they could have shortened the 56-foot courts, and had rubberized flooring for the six cement courts.

=>Erratic Table Numbers. Normally, if you have rows of tables at a major tournament, you number them in order. That seems obvious. But not here! They decided to "alternate" the numbers between the rows, leading to confusion. So, for example, one row had table 31, then the adjacent row was 32 and 33, then back to the first row for 34 and 35, then back to the other one. The result is a row that was not in obvious order, where the table numbers were, for example, 31, 34, 35, 38, 39, 42, and so on. Here's the table map that was taped to one of the posterboards where they had results.

=>Table Numbers Only on One Side. It's standard, especially when there are a lot of tables, to label them on both sides since people approach from different sides. But they only had the numbers on one side. This, combined with the erratic table numbering (see above) led to headaches as players tried to find their table.

=>The Mysterious Tables 77-78. On the first day I had to coach on table 77. I found table 76 on the far side of the hall from the control desk, but the row ended there! Where was table 77? We couldn't find it. There was no table map anywhere we could find. (I think that went up on the second day, and it was just a small piece of paper buried in among all the draws.) We finally had to go all the way back to the control desk to ask where it was. It turned out tables 77 and 78 were across the hall from table 76, so another long walk. (Tables 76, 77, and the control desk roughly were the three vertexes of a very large triangle.) There should have been a note on the wall next to table 76 saying where tables 77-78 were. (Better still, number them in actual sequence - tables 77-78 should have been tables 55-56, with the row ending with tables 77-78.) At some point in the tournament, the small table map was added to one of the posterboards where they put up the draws, but few noticed it. Normally this would be much larger and more prominent, or in the player packets.

=>Draws on Posterboards. The draws and results were posted on a number of posterboards near the control desk. But they were posted out of order. If you went to the area for rating events, rather than progressing from high to low, or low to high, they were just posted in the order they were played, leaving players to search all over to find specific draws - tricky to do when there are crowds of other people also looking through the draws. There's a simple way to keep it professional looking and user-friendly. In advance, space out where each draw should be, from high to low. For example, for rating events, start with 2600, then 2400, and so on. Put the RR draw on top, the SE group below (or to the side if more space is needed).

=>USATT Assembly. It was scheduled for 7:30 PM on Sunday night, day three. This is where USATT leaders and officials meet with members as required by the USATT bylaws, giving reports and answering questions. I'm sure many would have many questions about the poor running of the tournament. However, there was no notice about this in the player packets, as was the case in the past. There was no notice about this until a few hours before. Few knew about the meeting. I asked the lone member of the USATT board of directors who was present about it, and he didn't know about it - he had to ask Virginia about it. I had to coach a 6:30 PM match and would then be able to attend. Of course the match was delayed - it went out at 10:15PM. So I spent an hour before the meeting, the two hours of the meeting, and 45 minutes after the meeting at the control desk with my player, waiting for his match. If I'd known this, could have attended the meeting and easily gotten back in time to coach the match. Instead, I have no idea what happened at the meeting. If people had been able to attend, I'm guessing there would have been a lot of unhappy ones with pointed questions, both about the tournament and other USATT issues.

=>Equipment Vendors Facing Wrong Way. The equipment vendors told me they had been told that there would be a walkway that players would have to walk past to get to the playing hall, and to face their booths in that direction. However, it turned out the entrance opened into the playing area, and so players did not have to walk by the booths. This meant that the booths were facing the wrong way! The booths were rather elaborate and difficult to take down and put up again, so they just kept it that way. Here is what we saw from the playing area of the Butterfly and JOOLA booths! Imagine how many more sales they would have made if they were open to where the players were.

=>USATT Tournament Committee. They represent a huge amount of tournament experience - that's why they were appointed to this committee, right? But one of them contacted me during the tournament, saying they had never been consulted about the tournament. Imagine how many problems might have been avoided if the relatively inexperienced ones running the Open had consulted with them.

=>Seemingly Large Number of Controversial Defaults. There were so many problems this tournament, and I was so busy trying to figure out when my next match would be (as player or coach) that I never got to investigate this. But over and over players complained about seemingly unfair defaults. I'd go more into this but I didn't take notes.

=>US Open Shirts. There's some confusion on this, and I'm still not sure what's going on. I didn't see any, and others said there were none. One person told me there were US Open shirts. Volunteers were told they would all get free US Open shirts if they worked five shifts or more, but several told me that there were no shirts available. Email me if you know anything about this.
UPDATE: I'm told there were no US Open shirts, and that the volunteers who were promised them never got them. This would be the first time we've had a US Open or Nationals since I started in 1976 that didn't have a tournament shirt. 

=>Slanted Surfaces. On the first day I noticed that several tables were slanted, with a "hill" in the middle - if you put a ball on it, it quickly rolled to the end-line. I pointed this out to the officials, who were pretty busy at the time. But eventually they sent someone out to fix it. Things like this should be checked in advance.

=>Refund Policy. About two months before the entry deadline I entered three events - Hardbat Singles, Hardbat Doubles, and Sandpaper Singles. Cost was $80 each, so $240. About two hours after entering I realized that I probably couldn't play Sandpaper Singles due to coaching obligations. So I withdrew from the event the very day I entered it - again, two months before the deadline. But USATT has a policy of no refunds, and so they refused to refund the $80. I'm sure others faced the same problem.

* * * * *

So, there you have it, my "checklist" of problems at this US Open. While the 1990 US Open fell behind two days (!), they didn't have all these other problems, plus they were running the Open in conjunction with the World Veterans Championships, and so had about 2000 entries. This year's US Open had so many problems that I think I can safely say it was the worst-run US Open in history.

The frustrating thing is some will think, "All we have to do is address these specific problems, and all will be great!" And the answer to that is - NO!!! If I were hired as a car mechanic and made twenty mistakes because I'm not an experienced car mechanic, the answer wouldn't be to correct those twenty mistakes - it would be to bring in an experienced car mechanic. USATT badly needs to bring in someone with the type of big-tournament experience so that the problems of this Open, and the many similar and different problems from the Nationals, can be resolved, rather than a constant learn-on-the-job while the participants suffer. (Note that they have partially addressed this, with the "Five-Star Tournament Task Force" - see below.)

Will there be accountability and repercussions for what happened at this tournament? Or will USATT "circle the wagons"? We'll see. But whether they mostly stick with the same people running these tournaments or bring in new people, they need to completely revamp how these tournaments are run. 

I'll have more to write about next week. I had three (yes, three) confrontations with Virginia, both on the problems with the US Open and other issues. There was also a controversial election for chair of the USATT board, which I'll also write about.

USATT Announces Formation of Five-Star Tournament Task Force
Here's the news item. Finally, some good news! Well, sort of.

But - and I'm writing this through gritted teeth - why did it take three tournament fiascos in a row before they realized they needed help? At this point, it's happening because the outcry is too loud for the USATT board of directors to ignore. Of course, the simplest solution would be to simply bring back the ones who ran it successfully for 20 years - NATT - but I'm guessing that's not even on the table - and that itself is a serious problem. Contacting them and seeing if a deal can be made should have been the first thing they did.

I'm suspicious about the effectiveness of a committee made up of 14 people. (See below.) Also, can the USATT CEO give up control to these others? From what I've seen, that's iffy. (Personally, I'd prefer a CEO that stayed out of most issues and focused on the big picture and on raising money.)

Rather than a humongously large committee, perhaps it would be better to bring in an experienced person to oversee things. Committees are great for fairness issues, not so great at getting things done. For that, you need a qualified, energized person with vision. A committee will likely come up with a checklist of things to fix - much like I've already done. That's the easy part.

There does seem to be a possible math problem with the news item on this. (Math-phobes, look away now.) The news item lists eight members by name, plus an unnamed USATT staff person. That's nine members before you get to the athlete reps. USOPC requires 33% athlete representation on all committees, and I believe that includes task forces. (Otherwise, we could just call all our committees "task forces" to get around the rule.) The news item says, "A minimum of three Ten-Year and/or Ten-Plus Year Athletes will also be appointed to the Task Force." If you add three athlete reps, then you end up with a committee of twelve, with only 3/12 = 25% athlete reps. If you add four athlete reps, then you end up with a committee of thirteen, with only 4/13 = 30.8% athlete representation. So you'll need to add five athlete reps to get to a committee of fourteen, with 5/14 = 35.7% athlete representation. So that "minimum of three athlete reps" should be a minimum of five. (They also list Will Shortz as one of the "At-Large Directors," but he's actually the Club Representative.)

USA at the ITTF Hopes in Jordan: Three in Top Eight!
Here's the USATT news item I wrote. I was one of the three USA coaches there in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 8-14 for the ITTF Hopes Camp and Tournament, along with Wei Qi and Thilina Piyadasa, and players Ryan Lin, Mandy Yu, and Tashiya Piyadasa. (Here are some video and photos on Facebook.) It was part of a rather harried schedule for me - I flew to Jordan on Dec. 6, returned on Dec. 15, flew to Las Vegas for the US Open on Dec. 16, flew to San Francisco for Christmas with family on Dec. 22, and flew home to Maryland on Dec. 26, arriving home at 2AM on Dec. 27.

Ryan Lin wrote an article about his experience at the Dead Sea, with pictures. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) I brought home a hunk of salt and Dead Sea water in a bottle!

More USATT News

December News
Since I've been away a month, rather than link to every news item while I was gone, here are links to the news pages of major sites.

Stop Losing Doubles after This Guide
Here's the video (15:05) from Coach Lin.

Film. Analyze. Win!
Here's the video (73 sec) from Betterplay ai. "You can use our AI service to automatically edit your Table Tennis Videos."

Bob Chen Table Tennis
Here's his new video site - lots of coaching videos. He's been rated as high as 2768.

Here's the latest newsletter from PingPongGives.

Unparallel Forehand - The Chinese Are Crazy Again! Xu Xin, Fan Zhendong, Wang Chuqin, Fang Bo
Here's the video (8:10).

Footwork Drill on Cutoff Table
Here's the video (15 sec)!

Table Tennis Trio Aims to Bring Ping-Pong to Every Neighborhood
Here's the article from Spectrum News NY1, featuring Ernesto Ebuen, David Silberman, and Max Kogler from PingPod.

China Dominates Table Tennis Titles, Earns Points on Diplomacy
Here's the article from China Daily. "The Chinese team dominated the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships, which concluded on Monday in Houston, Texas, but the event is just as likely to be remembered for China and the United States' gesture of unity."

Lily Zhang - Richard Bergmann Fair Play Trophy
Here's the video (31 sec) of the presentation at the Worlds.

Houston Table Tennis is Aiming for the National Spotlight After Hosting the Historic World Championships
Here's the article from Title Press.

Jimmy Butler's Remarkable Table Tennis Return
Here's the video (3:37) from KHOU 11. "He's one of America's greatest table tennis players and he calls Houston home. How he got here is part of his incredible story."

Christmas Table Tennis
Here's what you get when you Google these and click on Images! Here's a new one - Ninja Santa! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)  

Shark vs. Mermaid
Here's the video - I have no idea what's going on!!! It seems to be in Hindi. Link should take you to 10:28, where the TT starts.

Ping Pong Battle
Here's the video (9 sec)! Warning: Strong language.

New from Pongfinity

Science Fiction Sales and Publications
On Dec. 19, I sold a science fiction story to Stupefying Stories, "The Annual Times Square Paint Dry," which should be coming out soon. Meanwhile, my fantasy story "Love Drops" just came out in New Myths Magazine. I have eight other SF and fantasy stories coming out early next year, along with a feature interview of me coming in January. As you can see, I'm always juggling my TT and SF lives!

Send us your own coaching news!