July 10, 2023

Tip of the Week
Forehand Back Foot Placement.

US Nationals
They were held July 3-7 in Fort Worth, Texas, with 810 players, 108 tables, and 105 events. (There were 112 but the seven Parkinson’s events were canceled due to lack of entries.) Here are complete results, care of Omnipong. I was there primarily as one of the five MDTTC coaches, with 13 junior players. On Sunday, after arriving sometime before lunch, we had a three-hour practice session where I hit with our players, rotating around. Then, for the next five days, I was up early with 8:30 AM matches each morning. It was a busy six days! I’ve complained a lot about how many of the recent Nationals and Opens were poorly run, but this one was run better and on time except for conflicts. (But I think I am going to have a talk with somebody about common sense table numbering – those who were there know what I mean!)

Here are a number of articles and livestreaming:

The flights were also eventful. Due to a lot of last-minute issues, I was up pretty much all night before leaving for the airport at 5:15AM on Sunday, so I planned to sleep on the flight. I was in the center seat. (I strongly prefer window, but not this time.) The woman in the window seat boarded with a coffee and a water bottle and kept drinking. Result? Three times on the three-hour flight she had to use the restroom, twice waking me up to do so. The flight back six days later wasn’t so bad, but the interesting thing was the person sitting to my left spent much of the trip playing a modern version of Pong on his phone.

Here are some things I said to my players during the tournament.

  • “Remember the best match you ever played. Play with the same mentality.”
  • “Put a big X on his elbow and aim at it every time until a corner opens up.”
  • “Never smash or loop to his forehand when he’s off the table. He’s rip it back and it’s an unforced error if he misses. Smash or loop to his middle and wide backhand.”
  • “This is the last tournament where you get to serve and push. After this, you have to serve and loop!” (I also assigned practice matches where the player had to serve backspin, opponent pushes long anywhere, and the player loops.)
  • “Stop serving long to the forehand!”
  • “After the tournament is over, I’ll show you how to do a really big breaking sidespin serve.” (On Friday, I spent 30 minutes working with this player on his serves.)
  • “Don’t let him get away with serving long – loop them. Make him serve short so you can rush him with short and long pushes, flips, and wide angles.”
  • “He’s changing the spin on his chops. When he takes a big swing, he’s faking it, it’s no-spin. When he has a small swing, it’s heavy backspin from his wrist.”
  • “Now you have good variation on your receive. Before everyone knew you were going to return long with either a flip or long push.”
  • “Under pressure, your serves will probably go longer, so if you want to go short, serve shorter than usual.”

Due to my coaching duties, I didn’t get to see many of the big men’s and women’s singles matches. I did see the men’s final between Nikhil Kumar and Jishan Liang. It was the first all-lefty men’s final since the first Nationals in 1976. The only other lefties to win men’s singles have been Ilija Lupulesku (four times) and Dan Seemiller (five times), with lefty Sol Schiff winning the special US Closed event at the 1936 US Open. There were two famous all-lefty US Open men’s finals, between Mikael Appelgren (SWE) and Zoran Kosanovic (YUG/CAN), with Appelgren winning 21-17 in the fifth in 1980, and Kosanovic winning 21-19 in the fifth in 1982. There may have been other before that, but I’ll let someone else research that.

However, this final wasn’t close: 6,7,3,3 as Nikhil won for the second year in a row. Jishan had been playing spectacularly until the final, but there he hit a triumvirate of problems. First, Nikhil simply played a level better than anyone else in the tournament. Here are the scores of all his matches, in order: 3,5,4,3,2,5,3,8,8,7,-8,6,4,0,4,7,5,5,5,4,5,10,8,9,4,5,6,7,3,3. That’s a 29-1 game record. The opponents’ ratings, also in order: 1097, 2125, 2152, 2351, 2465, 2576, 2626, 2646. The only one to get a game was Keenan Zhou (2351). Second, Nikhil completely tactically dominated the start of each rally with his serve and receive. With these two, Nikhil was a lock to win. But it also seemed as if Jishan didn’t seem comfortable playing another lefty, while Nikhil had no such problem, making the match even more one-sided.

Nikhil also won Mixed Doubles with Amy Wang. Most would agree that Nikhil is the best male doubles player in the US. He and Amy are #25 in the world in Mixed Doubles. In Mixed Doubles Individuals, Nikhil is #56 in the world. And yet, in my last blog, I wrote that Daniel Tran “...is arguably the dominant male doubles player in the US.” Why did I write that? Two reasons – First, Daniel won four of five doubles events he played at the 2022 Nationals (Men’s Doubles, Under 19 Men’s Doubles, Under 19 Mixed Doubles, and Under 15 Boys’ Doubles), and second, I was looking at the Nationals, and Nikhil only played Men’s Singles last year – you have to play doubles to dominate in it. However, he and Amy won Mixed Doubles at the US Open in December, while making it to the semifinals of Men’s Doubles with Jinbao Ma. Meanwhile, at this year’s Nationals, Nikhil and Amy won Mixed Doubles again. Daniel also did pretty well in doubles – he won Under 19 Boy’s Doubles again (with Nandan Naresh); he and Lucy Chen got second in Under 19 Mixed Doubles; and he and his brother, Michael Tran, made the semifinals of Men’s Doubles (after winning it last year). Daniel also finished second in Under 19 Boys’ Singles, losing 11-9 in the fifth to Nandan.

This year the righty/righty team of Jinxin Wang/Krishnateja Avvari won Men’s Doubles over righty/lefty Nandan Naresh/Jishan Liang. Nikhil curiously played Men’s Doubles with Bosman Botha, rated 2067, and lost in the second round to the eventual winners, Wang/Avvari – and, despite an average team rating of 2369 to the opponent’s 2568, somehow almost beat them, losing at 11,5,-10,-4,8!

Overall, perhaps I was premature in calling Daniel “arguably” the dominant male doubles player in the US. As Cory Eider pointed out to me at the Nationals, while Daniel is the best junior doubles player, and among the very best overall, Nikhil is still the best overall men’s doubles player. (On a side note, Jishan Liang, another lefty, is another top doubles player who’s won a lot of doubles titles.)

Lily Yip almost certainly set a record, winning NINE (9) Golds! They were: Over 40, Over 50, and Over 60 Singles; Over 50 and Over 60 Women’s Doubles (both with Patty Martinez-Wasserman); Over 40 and Over 50 Mixed Doubles (with Guo Hui Lu and Martin Gohr); Women’s Hardbat; and Women’s Over 40 Hardbat. She also got a bronze in Over 40 Women’s Doubles with Patty. Wow! If not for the limit of ten events, she might also have won Over 60 Mixed Doubles.

On Wednesday night I attended the US Table Tennis Hall of Fame Dinner, where Ashu Jain, Willy Leparulo, Dennis Davis, and Ken Brooks were inducted. Congrats to the new inductees – it’s always fun teaching the Ways of the Pong (i.e. the secret handshake) to the newbies! Here’s the program booklet I did for the event, with profiles of the inductees. Had a lot of discussions with my fellow Hall of Famers, both new and old! Hope to see some of you there next year.

I had an interesting discussion with a top player in both sponge and hardbat. He wasn’t getting as much spin on his hardbat serves as one of his rivals. I pointed out the reason. With grippy inverted, the ball sticks, and so you can go into the ball with full acceleration and velocity. With pips-out sponge, the ball sinks into the sponge, so it also grabs the ball. But with hardbat, there’s no give, and so if you go into it too fast, the ball just slides across the surface. You have to go into it slower, and smoothly accelerate through the serve, essentially rolling the ball across the surface and keeping it on the paddle as long as possible.

I also played in one event, Over 60 hardbat. (I normally use sponge.)

  • Good News: Back on May 8, I weighed 210 pounds, and decided enough was enough – and so I’d been dieting since, getting down to 196 for this tournament.
  • Bad News: Unfortunately, I’d hurt my shoulder badly four months before, and even a week before leaving, I didn’t think I’d be able to play.
  • Good News: I tested it out at the tournament, and it seemed to have improved a lot the last week. It didn’t greatly affect my play, though it still limited my reach going to the wide forehand.
  • Bad News: My left knee started hurting during the preliminaries.
  • Good News: A knee brace solved that problem.
  • More Good News: I made it to the semifinals and played George Guo.
  • Still More Good News: I played great almost to the end and had a zillion match points in the third (best of three to 21).
  • Bad News: At the end, my legs were so dead from racing around to attack with my forehand that I could barely move, while George was still moving me side to side without missing.
  • Really Bad News: I lost, deuce in the third. (George would go on to win the event, sweeping the Over 60 events – Over 60 Hardbat, and Over 50 Men’s Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles.) As to me, I really, Really, REALLY don’t want to talk or write about that match. I’ve won enough sponge and hardbat titles that I can afford to have one get away...

WTT Star Contender Ljubljana 2023
Here’s the home page for the event held July 3-9 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Major League Table Tennis - First 4 Team Names and Cities Revealed
Here’s their page! Here is their upcoming schedule:

  • July 10: First 4 Team Names and Cities Revealed
  • July 17: Second 4 Team Names and Cities Revealed
  • August 9: MLTT Lottery to Determine Draft Order
  • August 12-13: MLTT Combine East
  • August 19-20: MLTT Combine West
  • September: MLTT Season Begins

Hardbat, Sandpaper, and Wood, Oh My! Three Huge All-Classic Tournaments Coming Soon
Here’s the article I wrote about them. I will be at all three, both competing and doing coverage at the Nationals and World’s. (There are also lots of hardbat and sandpaper events at the regular US Nationals in July.)

The Battle of Backhands: Exploring Chinese vs. European Techniques
Here’s the video (7:14) from Rational Table Tennis Analysis.

New from Pingispågarna

The Many Advantages Gained From a Strong Table Tennis Serve
Here’s the article by Subham Kundu.

New from Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis

New Chopping Drills from Angela Guan at PongSpace

News from All Over
Since I haven't blogged since June 26 due to the Nationals, rather than try to list every interesting article, here are links to some of the main news and coaching pages, and you can pick and choose.

Félix and Alexis Lebrun: The teenage French brothers ready to conquer the table tennis world, 500 days out from Paris 2024
Here’s the article from Olympic.com. “At only 16 and 19 years old, Félix and Alexis Lebrun are already world top 50 players.”

36 Counterloops in Around-the-Table
Here’s the video (33 sec)!

Unreturnable Shot
Here’s the video (15 sec, including slo-mo replay) of Stanley Hsu’s serve and unreturnable loop against Ahmed Adeleye at the MDTTC June Open! The ball hit the net, rolled over, hit the clamp on the far side, then rolled onto the table! (I was there and saw it in person.)

If You Wanted a Soft Serve You Should Have Gone For Ice Cream
Here’s where you can buy the shirt!

World's Best Battle
Here’s the video (18:50) from Adam Bobrow! “The HIGHLY-anticipated World Championships COULD BE the LAST for the G.O.A.T!”

90° Table Challenge
Here’s the video (8:05) from Pongfinity!

Send us your own coaching news!