Liu Guoliang

January 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Forcing an Opponent Out of Position.

Changing tactics

I had an interesting practice match this weekend - a best four out of seven. My opponent was an extremely steady blocker without a strong attack, rated about 2100. When I say "extremely steady blocker," I mean she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. So how to play her?

I started out well, winning the first game easily on third ball loops, attacking her forehand, and steady countering, taking advantage of the fact that in any rally I could suddenly attack hard, while she mostly just blocked side to side. She often served deep, and I was often able to loop those. 

However, three things began to happen. First, she began wear me down to the point that I felt like I'd just run a marathon - and we were only into the second game. Second, her forehand, which has only missed twice since the Reagan Administration, wasn't missing. Third, she was pinning me down to my backhand, and while I can hit a hundred backhands in a row when needed, she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. Like Romney, what I was hoping would be a quick run to victory instead turned into a war of attrition. And she wasn't attritioning.

And so I found myself down 2-3 in games. At this point I simply was too tired to continuously attack forehands when needed or to run around and loop her serves (I don't have a strong backhand loop, alas), and my 1% backhand miss rate was way too high against a backhand with a 0% miss rate. So I began to look for chances to chop to get out of these backhand rallies. I chopped her deep topspin serves back (so I didn't have to run around to forehand loop them, and because I get more spin when looping backspin), and if we got into a fast rally, after a few shots I'd find a ball to chop on the backhand. She'd push, and I'd get to loop, usually to her forehand or middle, about 2/3 of the time going for slow, spinny and deep loops, about 1/3 of the time going for rips, usually to the forehand side. 

And lo and behold, it through off her rhythm, and I started getting balls to smash or loop kill when she blocked my loops! I won game six. I started game seven with a barrage of attacks that put me in a 1-4 hole. So I went back to mixing in chopping and looping, and finally won, 11-8 in the seventh. If I'd stuck with my normal steady backhand countering game in rallies, and continued to attack the deep serve (as I'm always coaching players to do, since 90% of the time it's the right strategy), I'd have lost. 

This strategy was reminiscent of how Dan Seemiller won the men's singles at the USA Nationals one year over Eric Boggan.

Beginners learning forehand and backhand

Recently I've coached a lot of beginners, especially new kids. I've noticed an interesting dynamic. In nearly every case, by the end of the first session they had picked up either the forehand or backhand pretty well, but struggled on the other side. None had trouble on both; none were good on both. In each case, they so mastered the proper technique on one side that by the end of the session I was able to challenge them to see how many they could hit in a row - something I never do until I'm confident they'll do so with good technique. But on the other side we never got to that stage. In most cases they got it down in the second or third session, but even then it was obvious they were more comfortable on the other side. I wonder if this is something that'll be true the rest of their table tennis playing days?

Twelve Tips to Table Tennis Perfection

Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina. They are all great items; I find #1 (goals) and #10 (visualizing) the two that players most overlook. Until you set specific goals (and then work out what you need to do to achieve those goals), it's hard to improve. It's like going on a journey without a destination. As to visualizing, it's the most underused way to improve.

Returning the forehand pendulum serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:53) that shows how to return a forehand pendulum serve into the backhand.

2012 Hungarian Men's Singles Final

This was a great match from this past weekend, where shakehand attacker Ma Long of China (#1 in the world) barely defeats South Korea's chopper/looper Joo Se Hyuk (2003 World Men's Singles Finalist), -7,4,-4,4,-7,7,8, in the final of the Hungarian Open. Time between points is taken out so you can see the entire match in about ten minutes. Joo upset current World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (also of China) in the quarterfinals by the unlikely scores of 5,7,7,4. (Here's that match on youtube, but it's shown continuously, so takes about 30 minutes.) Here are articles, pictures, and results.

Liu Guoliang teaching his one-year-old daughter table tennis!

Yes, former World and Olympic Champion and current Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang is already teaching the next generation the family business (1:09).

The bearded Liv Tyler paddle

Here's actress Liv Tyler with her bearded paddle! And the sixth picture down shows her playing with the paddle. She's promoting her upcoming movie "Robot and Frank," but is probably best known for her roles in Lord of the Rings (she's Arwen!), Armageddon, and The Incredible Hulk.

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December 27, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance is a Habit.

Back from break

I've mostly been away the last two weeks, coaching at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach and at Christmas with family in Santa Barbara, CA. I'm pretty much setting a policy that when I'm out of town, I take a vacation from blogging. But now I'm back, and so expect new blogs to go up every morning, Mon-Fri, normally by 9 or 10 AM. It won't be easy this week - I'm coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center Christmas Camp, and so have to get it all done before I leave each morning. (It's our 21st consecutive Christmas Camp - every year starting in 1991 - and roughly our 150th five-day camp overall.)

Coaching Seminar at the USA Nationals

At the recent USA Nationals Stefan Feth and Richard McAfee held a coaching seminar on behalf of the USATT coaching committee. I attended as did about twenty others. USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth went first, with a presentation on "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game." Unfortunately, you had to be there to see the demos to really understand these techniques, but I'll cover them briefly.

Serve:

  • Ways to serve forehand backspin but fake topspin with an upward elbow follow-through.
  • Importance of focusing on one or two service motions.
  • Nine spots to serve to - short, half-long, and long to the forehand, middle, and backhand.
  • Inside-out hook serves

Receive - Banana and Strawberry flips. I'm not making this up!

  • Banana flips are becoming somewhat standard for top players. It is done with the backhand against a short ball (usually a serve, often against backspin) where you wrist the ball back with topspin and sidespin, with the sidespin coming from a right-to-left motion. Here's a video from PingSkills (4:09) where they teach the shot, though they call it a backhand sidespin flick.
  • The Strawberry flip (more commonly called a Reverse Banana Flip) is the rarer version where you create a backhand sidespin drive with a left-to-right motion. Many players can sort of do this as a simple sidespin receive, which can be effective as a change-up, but a Strawberry flip is an actual aggressive drive that jumps at you with lots of topspin and especially sidespin - with the ball jumping away from you if it goes to your forehand. Sorry, no video! (This shot was a specialty of Feth's when he was on the German team - not sure how many others use this shot regularly.)

Richard McAfee's presentation was on Half-Pattern Drills - I'll cover that in a later blog, perhaps tomorrow.

2012 US Olympic Table Tennis Trials

Here's a 31-second video promoting the U.S. and North American Olympic Table Tennis Trials. (I'll be there coaching.)

Barack Obama and David Cameron playing table tennis

A while back I posted pictures of Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron playing table tennis - see the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. Now we have video!!! (I don't think I posted this 2:10 video before.)

2011 Best of Table Tennis

Here's a collection of some of the best rallies of 2011 (7:38).

Liu Guoliang versus Ma Long - on the mini-table

Yes, these two are going at it like champions for 42 seconds! Ma is the current world #1, while Liu is the current Chinese Men's Coach and former World, Olympic, and World Cup Men's Singles Champion.

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December 8, 2011

Backup plans

On Monday I blogged about always having a backup attack plan if your main tactic doesn't work. In my case, I wrote about switching from forehand looping to forehand hitting because my opponent was blocking too quick and fast for me to keep looping aggressively. Someone asked me what I would have done if my forehand smash was missing - good question! But there are always options, though not all options work. (In fact, most do not, and the goal is to find the ones that do.) Here were my main rallying options against this quick-hitting penholder, roughly in order of preference.

  1. Aggressive forehand looping, steady backhand countering
  2. Aggressive forehand hitting, steady backhand countering
  3. Steady forehand looping and backhand countering
  4. Steady forehand and backhand counter-hitting
  5. Steady forehand counter-hitting and an aggressive backhand
  6. Quick-blocking and hitting from both sides with varied pace
  7. Chopping, fishing, lobbing, and pick-hitting

Spinny serves

So you want spinny serves? Then focus on two things: an extremely fast acceleration of the racket into the ball and an extremely fine grazing motion. After the arm gets the racket moving, the wrist should snap the racket into the ball like the tip of a whip. The grazing motion should be so fine, barely touching the rubber (and not sinking into the sponge) that you struggle to get the ball over the net. Focus on these two things, practice until you can control it (height, depth, direction), learn to vary the spin by contacting the ball at different parts of the swing (and so on different parts of the ball as the racket goes through a semi-circular motion), and you'll have good serves. (I just went through all this with a relatively new student yesterday, and while he paid for it, you all get this for free. But he got a live demonstration!)

Liu Guoliang's concerns for the "Fab Five"

Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang gives his concerns for the Chinese men at the 2012 Olympics. Here's an excerpt from near the end, when Liu talks about their rivals.

"In the team events, the German and Korean teams are still star studded. They also have some rising stars. So, Liu Guoliang still considers them as their main rivals for the Olympics. As for the Singles, the sudden emergence of rookies from France and Russia obviously gave a certain level of concern for the Chinese team. However, Liu Guoliang thinks that Jun Mizutani, Joo Se Hyuk and their old rivals are still the threatening players."

Zachary Levi and Kaley Cuoco play table tennis

They did this on stage at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards (2:28).

North American Teams Championships Final

In case you missed it, here are the four matches in the Team Final:

Turtles playing table tennis

From the cover of the 1979 record "Pablo Cruise: Part of the Game." Here's the front (two turtles playing), and here's the back (a very crestfallen turtle - click to see why!).

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May 30, 2011

Every point is a match.

That's the piece of advice I've been giving players in tournaments a lot this year. Most competitive matches are won by just a few points. Give away two points a game, and half the games you would have won in a competitive match are lost. Give away even one point a game, and you lose all those deuce games you won, and half those 11-9 games you won. So treasure every point. Stop before serving and receiving and make sure you really are ready. If serving, think tactically about what's the best serve to use. If receiving, consider how you can mess up the opponent with your receive. If you play like every point is a match, you'll win a lot of matches.

Easterns

From a purely won-loss perspective, it wasn't the most successful tournament I've coached at. Players I coached this past weekend at the Eastern Open in New Jersey developed a nasty tendency to not play well, and for some reason there's a correlation between not playing well and not winning. Three times players I coached were at 9-all in the fifth, and all three times they lost 11-9. (That's the stuff that makes nightmares.) But many Marylanders did well.

Nine-year-old Crystal Wang, rated 2009, upset players rated 2321, 2182, 2145, and 2038, winning Under 22 Women and making the semifinals of Under 2250. Ten-year-old Derek Nie, rated 1866, upset players rated 2202, 2083, and 2022, making the semifinals of Under 16 Boys (as did his brother, George, with both losing in the opposite sides in the semis). Xiyao "Pamela" Song won Under 18 Girls and was second in Under 22 Women. And let's not forget Jeff Smart, the Over 50 winner! (He attended the recent ITTF Coaching Seminar I ran at MDTTC - see how much he learned?) And of course Xun "Jeffrey" Zeng won the Open! So Maryland brought home a few titles.

Derek Nie was fun to coach. Against the 2202 player he upset, the key was mixing up serves (especially his "tomahawk" serve, though he needs to toss it up more), and a mixture of aggressive attacks and dead blocks to the forehand. In the fifth game, the scores tell a story: he led 6-1, 6-4 (I called a timeout at 6-3), 9-4, 9-8, 11-8.

I spent much of my time coaching 13-year-old Tong Tong Gong (2298, on USA National Cadet Team). He didn't have a good tournament, mostly because his normally extremely good backhand wasn't extremely good. (Lack of confidence in that led to a lack of confidence in other shots. It's a nasty cycle many go through.) We pretty much know the cause of his backhand problems - he's in the transitional stage from mostly hitting backhands in topspin rallies to backhand looping out of the rally (not just against underspin, where he has an excellent backhand loop). He still mostly hits the backhand, but he's doing so much backhand looping against block practice that it's starting to mess up his regular dominant backhand. Before major tournaments, we may have to focus on backhand hitting the last few days. Long-term? We'll see which way he'll eventually go.

Open Singles Winner Xun "Jeffrey" Zeng, 23, joined the MDTTC coaching staff in December, but he's still competing at about a 2600-2650 level. While he has a nice backhand loop, overall he doesn't really dominate with any one shot against his peers, who often look more dominating with their attacks. How does he win? He dominates with his return of serve. Watch and you'll see how uncomfortable he makes his opponents on their own serve, and how often he ends up in a dominant position. (Because I was coaching mostly junior players, I didn't get to see many of the Open matches, alas.) 

Here are complete results of the Easterns. (Make sure to set tournament to "Eastern Open" in box at top.) Isn't it great now North American Table Tennis has created software so we can see the result of every match literally immediately after the results are returned to the desk and typed into the computer?

Liu Guoliang Serving Low

Here's a video (1:38) of former World and Olympic Champion Liu Guoliang of China demonstrating low serves. (Also shown serving are Wang Liqin, Ma Long, and Zhang Chao.) This is something I'm always harping on - most players serve too high, and don't realize it. It's not that opponents will rip these serves - only much stronger players can do that - but that they handle the serve much more effectively. Keep the serve very low, and opponents have to lift up on the ball, causing more mistakes and defensive returns. The dialogue is in Chinese, but you can see what he's doing, serving low under a racket held about two inches over the net. Translated (according to a comment below it), Liu is saying that anyone on the national team can serve that low regularly but when they are asked to doso, their mentalities changes. The pressure causes irregularities in your mind so you aren't able to perform regularly. The point is to just play with a normal mind set.

Memorial Day

Have a Happy Memorial Day - take a moment to think about what the day really means. But if you are a true die-hard Table Tennis Aficionado, you'll then head out to the table for some serve practice, knowing that your rivals are taking the day off. This is your chance to get ahead!

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