January 10, 2022

Tip of the Week
Take the Weird Styles Pledge.

Serving Tactics
One of the things you learn as you play more - assuming you are a student of the game - is to get a feel for what serves work at what times. Someone asked me about this, and I used as an example two serves at a key moment in an international match I recently coached at the America's Hopes in Cuenca, Ecuador. I was coaching Ryan Lin, who was the top-rated 11-year-old in the country at the time. (He's 2176 and recently turned 12.) I will call the other player "Doe." Doe was also the best of his age from his country and was rated/seeded higher. At 8-8 in the fifth, with Ryan serving, I called a timeout, both so Ryan could relax and clear his mind, and to discuss what two serves to use. (I initially wrote this calling Ryan as "John," but he and his father said I could go ahead and use his name.) 

Doe had been a bit passive on his backhand receive, and Ryan and I both agreed we should start out with a slightly long dead ball to the backhand. If Doe pushed or spun it soft, as we expected, Ryan would jump on it. The problem was, what to do for the second serve? If you go long again, Doe would likely jump on it, and he'd been dropping Ryan's short serves back effectively. What to do? Since there weren't any other great options, we decided the second serve would be short no-spin to the middle. This cuts off the angles, and by going no-spin, it's a bit trickier to drop short than backspin. And yet, I wasn't too comfortable with the call - I was pretty sure Doe would drop it short, and Ryan would lose the serve advantage. (The key problem here was Doe's return of serve was very good.)

Ryan goes back and does the deep dead ball - and Doe softly spins it off. Ryan now leads 9-8 - and alarms go off in my head. Years of experience tell me that Doe is playing cautious, lifting the ball softly. What does this mean? It means that if we give him another long serve, he'll likely lift it as well. That means no backspin serves. And he'd likely adjust if we give him another slightly long dead ball. But if we serve side-top slightly long, his natural instinct might be to lift it off - except at this point, he's seen all of Ryan's normal serves, and would likely adjust. And then a flashbulb goes off in my head - it's time for Ryan to bring out his not-that-good-yet backhand serve! (It's since improved.) He was just starting to work on it, and didn't have much variation - it was mostly a slightly long side-top. But the two key things were 1) it was side-top, and 2) Doe hadn't seen it. What did the latter mean? It meant that, while the serve itself might not fool him, the very fact that it was new would likely get him to fall into his natural tendency, which at this point was to lift the ball. And if he did that, he'd likely go off.

If Ryan were on my side of the table, he'd have probably served the short no-spin serve, and Doe likely would have dropped it short. But he was on the far side, facing me, with Doe's back to me. So I waved my arm to get his attention, and did a backhand serve motion. Ryan saw it, stared for a second, then nodded. He did his backhand for the first time in the match - and sure enough, Doe softly spun it off! (I was incredibly nervous as Ryan served - imagine if Doe had looped that serve in!) Even if the ball had hit, it was a soft return and Ryan was ready to rip it. Up 10-8, Ryan won the next point to win 11-8 in the fifth.

A key thing here is that we didn't call timeout until 8-all in the fifth. Why? Because Ryan, even though only eleven, was already an experienced veteran, and with coaches regularly talking to him about serve selection and tactics, he pretty much knew what serves and tactics to use throughout, though we did discuss them between games. (It's always a threshold moment when an up-and-coming junior begins to really understand these things and learns to play consistently smart - and can even discuss the tactics afterwards.)

Weekend Coaching
After a few weeks' break, we started up the new training season this past weekend. For me, it was an extremely multiball-heavy weekend as I fed balls to seemingly every player in the club. Since some had been off for a few weeks, I focused on fundamental skills, especially with the lower-rated players. One focus - I kept harping with several players about having "active feet" - too often they just stood there, and only moved if they had to. The key is to always move - even if it's an inch. Even if you don't have to move at all, you should start to move (with a light flexing of the knees), as it's much quicker to start to move and then see where to move, than to wait to see if you have to move, and then start the process late. I also worked with a chopper, with various topspin feeds to work on his fundamental chopping skills.

Sports Mask
A few days ago I ordered a special "sports mask," designed for sports in this age of Covid. It was supposed to make breathing easier. The problem was - it did so by having essentially giving no Covid protection! It was basically a thin mesh, one layer, with holes noticeably large enough to see, and easy to breath through. From a few feet away, it looked like a normal mask for use against Covid, but as protection against spreading Covid, it was useless. I'm not going to provide the link as there might be some tempted to order them just for show!

USATT Five-Star Tournament Task Force
As noted previously blog, here's the USATT news item on this. They met this past week on Tues and Wed nights. I keep thinking I dodged a bullet here. Since I'm pretty experienced in these matters - I've run 203 USATT tournaments and did operations/scheduling for two US Opens with Donna Sakai - I'm a bit surprised I wasn't asked to serve on the task force. Not only would I have good input for them, but it would have been smart on USATT's part. I've criticized them a lot for what happened at the US Open - and what better way to both silence me and perhaps improve the Open then by putting me on the task force? But since I'm not on it, I'll stay out of it, and just wait and see if they fix the problems when the Nationals come up in July. Why did I dodge a bullet? Because this is the type of thing where, if I'd been asked initially, I'd have felt obligated to join in, since I'd written so much about the problems. And if I had been on the task force, I would have been all in, and would have put in a LOT of time and effort on it. Instead, I can put all that time and effort into other things. So I did dodge a bullet. (No, I'm not interested in being added now - that time has passed.)

USATT Announces Coaching Staff

Stanley Hsu's Forehand & Footwork
Here's the video (19 sec). Note the crossover step to cover the wide forehand, and the fast recovery. (Stanley is #1 in the US in 13 and Under. He started out in my beginning class, and (along with other coaches) I still work with him sometimes in group sessions and at tournaments. But I don't beat him anymore!)

Serve Tips No One Tells You
Here's the video (15:10) from Seth Pech. This is a must see!

Basic Shakehand and Traditional Penhold Grip
Here's the video (4:04) from Matt Hetherington. They've also launched a new app: "The JOOLA Infinity App has launched, and in these coming weeks I will be uploading some of the basics series of videos from the platform that I created."

New from Samson Dubina

New Butterfly Training Videos, Commentaries by Brian Pace

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich

New from the Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis

Two Easy But Effective Drills
Here's the video (9:31) from Coach Jon.

Ask the Coach
Here's the latest questions for PingSkills.

WTTC Interviews Timo Boll
Here's the interview with the world #10 (formerly world #1) from Germany.

WTTC Interviews Adriana Diaz
Here's the interview with the world #17 from Puerto Rico.

US Table-Tennis Player Recounts Pairing with Chinese Team
Here's the article and video (2:48) from the China Daily (in English).

USA Ping Pong Diplomacy USA-China Pairs Practice Match for Worlds
Here's the video (10:41). At the start, that's Lily Zhang and Lin Gaoyuan on the left facing Kanak Jha and Wang Manyu.

Don't FORGET--NCTTA Eligibility
Here's the article from the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association. "Anyone who intends on playing in Regionals must be on this form and have been listed on a roster for the teams that they will play for."

New from Steve Hopkins

2021 US Open
Here's the article by Steve Moreno of Puerto Rico.


New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here.

Four Saves and a Rip
Here's the video (14 sec)!

Table Table Tennis?
Here's the video (25 sec)!

Toddler Pong
Here's the video (13 sec) - imagine how good this kid's going to be when he's tall enough to play on a regular table!

Spider-Man vs. Spider-Man
Here's the video (3:59)! Here's an entire page of Spider-Man Table Tennis.

Beetle Bailey - "Are You Ready to Get Clobbered?"
Here's the Beetle Bailey comic from yesterday (Sunday, Jan. 9)! It joins a long line of other Beetle Bailey table tennis comics, which includes an explanation for why there are so many.

Science Fiction and Table Tennis - Interview with Odyssey Graduate Larry Hodges and Other SF Matters
Here's the interview, Part 1, about my science fiction writing. (Part 2 comes out next Monday.) Odyssey is the six-week science fiction & fantasy writing workshop I attended in 2006. I also attend the annual nine-day writing workshops for graduates every July - I've been to twelve of them, including the last nine in a row. I've actually been interviewed in the science fiction world more often than in the table tennis world - see the interview links after my bio.

On my science fiction page, I blogged about my science fiction writing year in review. It includes a listing at the end of my table tennis travels in 2021.

On a related note, I have a rather long science fiction story that was making the rounds, "First Galactic Table Tennis Championships." It's literally the story of just that, as the best table tennis players from around the galaxy all compete at these championships, held in Beijing about 200 years from now. It's full of intrigue and betrayals, and lots of crazy aliens. It's 10,000 words, about 40 pages double-spaced. I think I just sold the story - the editor of a SF magazine I submitted it to just wrote me, "We definitely are interested in this story. As long as it is, I will have to decide which issue it can fit into. I'll be back in touch with you most likely long before the end of October. Thank you for sending it to us!"

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