Tip of the Week
2014 U.S. Open
I was at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids from June 30 to July 6. As usual, it was an exhausting and exhilarating time. Once again Grand Rapids and USATT put on a great show - they are getting good at running Opens and Nationals. It was mostly on time (falling behind only when specific matches held things up), organized, and they even did the little things. For example, every morning we'd find all the trash had been picked up, and the barriers and chairs around all the courts all lined up nice and neatly. When you consider the size of the playing hall, that's a big job! Results were regularly updated on the results walls. So a great thanks goes out to the organizers and workers at this event.
Here's the USATT home page for the U.S. Open, which includes links to results, articles, pictures, and video.
The showcase events started at 3:45PM on Saturday with the women's semifinals. The schedule was for a new match to start every 45 minutes, with the two women's semifinals, the two men's semifinals, the women's final, and then the men's final, which would presumably start at 7:30 PM. But they ran into a problem right from the start - the first women's semifinal was between two very defensive choppers, Riyo Nemoto of Japan, and Li Xue of France (but presumably from China). The two pushed and Pushed and PUSHED all through the first game, with Nemoto essentially never attacking and Xue only occasionally attacking. I think it was 8-4 in the first when ten minutes had passed and expedite was called. From there on they alternated serves, with the receiver winning the point if she returned 13 shots in a row. Xue had a decidedly better attack, and after losing the first, won the next four games easily under expedite.
But the match took forever, and put things well behind. Could they catch up in the next match, between two attackers? The points were faster, but it took another eon before Yuko Fujii won, 11-9 in the seventh. She would go on to win the final, 4-1 over the chopper Xue, who had no answer to her relentless light topspins to the backhand long pips and sudden loop kills and smashes to the middle or wide angles. Fujii used the Asian style of playing choppers to perfection. (Here's my Tip of the Week on Playing Choppers, which explains this.)
Going into the tournament, most players were picking Japan's Jin Ueda to win. After all, he defeated world #7 Chuan Chih-Yuan in last week's Japan Open. But it was another Japanese player who took out top seed and defending champion Eugene Wang of Canada, as Hidetoshi Oya took him out 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The two Japanese met in the semifinals, but this time Oya had no magic as Ueda won 4-1. Meanwhile, China's Tao Wenzhang - the player considered by most as the least likely of the four semifinalists to win - took out two-time U.S. Open Men's Champion Thomas Keinath, also 4-1. Most picked Ueda to win the final, but it was not to be as the under-estimated Tao won the final with another 4-1 win.
Here's an interesting tactical thing about that match. For years I've encouraged players to serve not just to the short forehand, but to the middle forehand. Some players do have trouble if you serve short to the forehand, but others take advantage of the extreme angle you give them to your forehand (assuming two righties), the extra table means they can flip more aggressively. If the server tries to cover this wide angle, the receiver can just take it down the line. But if you instead serve short to the middle forehand, the following happens. 1) the extreme angle to the forehand is mostly cut off; 2) the extra table when flipping to the wide forehand his shortened, so aggressive flips are more difficult; 3) the receiver, who usually favors backhand against short serves to the middle, has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand; and 4) the receiver is either drawn well over the table if he receives backhand (leaving his backhand side open and taking his forehand mostly out of play on the next shot if the server goes to the backhand), or has a somewhat awkward forehand shot to play over the table. So what did Tao do in both the semifinals and final? He serve short to the middle forehand probably half the time, a primary reason he dominated the points.
The USATT Coach of the Year Awards were given out between games in the Women's Semifinals. The four winners were Lily Yip (Coach of the Year); Stefan Feth (Developmental Coach of the Year); Angie Bengtsson (Paralympic Coach of the Year) and me (Doc Counsilman Science Award, for my coaching blog, tips, and books.) However, when they started to give them out I was on the other side of the arena, with my back turned as I was explaining the expedite rule to some spectators. When they called my name I was caught off guard, and couldn't get to the award stand in time. They gave it to me after the next game. The actual plaques are nice, but were left behind at USATT Headquarters, and will be mailed to us. So they improvised with certificates. I'll post a picture of the actual plaque when it comes in.
There are always problems with any large tournament, and this was no exception. There were many top Chinese players at the tournament without ratings or world rankings, and so they were mostly stuck in randomly, causing havoc in some parts of the draws. Perhaps more effort should go into contacting these players or their associations to better get an idea of their level. After all, if a player travels all the way from China to play Men's Singles, he's likely at least 2400 or better! For example, two cadet players came to my club for about ten days of training before the U.S. Open. They were both 2450-2500 players. But at the Open they were unrated and unseeded. One result was that second-seeded Kunal Chodri, rated 2480, had to play one of them in his first match in Cadet Boys' Singles, and lost 3-0. Those two shouldn't have been playing until the later rounds.
There's also the problem of old ratings. For example, I coached a 12-year-old in Under 1500. In the round robin stage he had to play a girl from Canada rated 1427. The problem was that the rating was a year old, from last year's U.S. Open, and she was now at least 1800. The kid I was coaching was a "ringer," under-rated by a couple hundred points, but not nearly as under-rated as this girl, who would not only win the RR group, but would go on to win Under 1500 and Under 1650 (which at the Open is like winning Under 1800 and Under 1950), while beating players in other events over 1800. It wasn't a one-time thing with her; she got an initial rating of 892 at a U.S. tournament in June of 2012. Her next tournament was the 2013 U.S. Open, where she was way under-rated, and shot up to 1427. Now she'll likely jump to 1800+. Next year she'll likely show up with that rating, but perhaps 2000 level. Perhaps junior players with ratings over six months old should have 100 points added to their ratings for eligibility purposes?
Here are the two best shots of the tournament that I saw. First, a Chinese player at least three times pulled off a "push flip." What is that? He reached in for a short ball to the forehand as if pushing off the bounce, but intentionally missed the ball - then pulled his racket back quickly and flipped the ball at the top of the bounce! I've seen this shot before, but not in years. The other best shot? I was warming up one of my players and accidentally mishit the ball off the racket edge so it shot very hard at my face, ricocheting extremely fast off my glasses and back to the other side! My player didn't hesitate to counter-hit it, and the rally continued. Oh, and I'm sure the top players made a few good loops as well.
It's never over until it's over, as one of my players learned. Down 0-2 in games and 1-6 in the third, I called a time-out. I gave him my vintage speech for players down 0-2. ("How bad do you want this?...") Since he was New York Giants football fan, I asked him, "What would Eli Manning do?" He was all psyched up, went back to the table - and the other player got a net winner, then smacked in a winner, and now my player is down 1-8. But with me yelling, "C'mon, Eli, you can do it!", he scored eight in a row, and won that game in deuce - and went on to win the match, deuce in the fifth.
It doesn't always end that way. A nine-year-old kid I coached made the quarterfinals of Under 1500. There he faced an older kid who, in up-to-date ratings, was actually 1576. My player won the first two games, but lost the next two. In the fifth it was 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all, 15-all. Both players had multiple match points. At 15-all the other player mis-hit his serve off to the side, and it was another match point for my player - or was it? The other kid thought his serve hit the edge, and while I was certain it wasn't close, we had to play a let. My player won the next point (and seemingly might have won the match at that point, since he'd won two in a row from 15-all), but wasn't able to convert that match point, and ended up losing 18-16 in the fifth.
Because of ringers, the draws were often rather haphazard. I mentioned the 12-year-old I coached above who had to play the ringer girl from Canada. Actually, all three players in his preliminary group were ringers, way under-rated, as was he himself. On the other hand, the nine-year-old above (yes, another ringer, since he was rated under 1200 but about 1500 level) went up against "normal" players. I'm fairly sure the three players he played in his round robin and in the first two rounds of single elimination wouldn't have won a match in the other player's preliminary RR.
I started to write about some of my favorite coaching moments, especially the tactics used by Nathan Hsu, 18 and about 2350 (though he's been over 2400) in upsetting a 2648 player. But alas, I can't write about them publicly - they are trade secrets we need for the next time the two play. Suffice to say he executed them perfectly - in particular his serve and receive tactics - and mostly shut down the opponent's big forehand. (You can ask me about them privately.)
Players from my club, MDTTC, did very well. Here's a short listing of their best results:
1970s Table Tennis Revisited
In my blog on June 23 I likened the equipment used in 1971 by Stellan Bengtsson (and by extension, other sponge rackets of that era) as "toy" rackets. Stellan wasn't happy with my assessment. He was using Mark V sponge, which isn't exactly a "toy" sponge though essentially no top players use these types of sponges anymore in this age of tensor and high-tension sponges. (But they are still an appropriate surface for beginning/intermediate players.) I'd actually thought the Mark V used then was slower than the Mark V now, but I've been told that it's about the same now as it was then. (I'm talking about the original version, not all the new types.) The point I was making (and overstated by likening it to "toy" sponge) was that much of the reason the game was slower back then, as seen in the tape, was that the inverted sponges were slower than what are used these days by top players, especially when looping, where modern sponges practically slingshot the ball out. (I've added an edit to the original statement.)
Plastic Ball Implementation at ITTF Events
USATT Athletes of the Month
Here's the article on Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha.
Ariel Hsing Aims to Learn & Win in the Super League
Here's the article on the USA Women's Champion in China.
Road to Nanjing
Here's the article, on Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari, who will be representing the United States in the 2nd Summer Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China on August 16-28.
Ovtcharov Confident to Win an Olympic Gold Medal
About.com is Back - Sort of
I checked on it, and there are no plans to bring back the table tennis forum. But they are putting up table tennis articles. Here's a listing of new ones.
"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin
Here's the review of the book. "The real history of table tennis is a bizarre tale of espionage, aggravation, and reconciliation, of murder, revenge, and exquisite diplomacy, says a new book. It's the story of how Ivor Montagu molded the game, and how the Chinese came to embrace it and then shaped it into a subtle instrument of foreign policy."
My Way to Olympia
Here's an article and video (1:38) on this PBS documentary on the Paralympics, which covers four athletes, including a table tennis player with one hand.
100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. (Since I've been away for a week at the U.S. Open we have an accumulation of them today.) Forty-five down, 55 to go!
Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler
Here's the article and trailer (2:10) for the upcoming documentary.
Angel Table Tennis
Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Mike Mezyan.
One Energy Commercial
Here's the video (30 sec) of this neon Tron-like commercial featuring Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen!
No One Knew Kanak Jha Was That Fast!
Here's the picture! Poor Adam Hugh is up against eight Kanaks. (Adam defeated Kanak in the preliminaries at the North American Cup, but lost to him in the final. Or to one of them.)
Top Players in Cartoons
Here are cartoon images of the world's top players.
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Tip of the Week
Practicing Serves the Productive Way. (This is an article I did for USATT Magazine a few years ago. I'd like to get a few of these old ones up as Tips.)
It's been an eventful weekend of coaching, as always. Here are highlights.
Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14
We should finish it today. I'm crossing my fingers. We've actually finished all the pages but one, but that page has complications. The main job today is inputting corrections, and Tim has a lot, ranging from fixing or changing captions to fixing up photos to anything else he finds. The book is 465 pages with 962 photos, a new record for him. Here's info on all of these books, which will soon be updated when Volume 14 becomes available in a couple weeks. It's been an exhausting two weeks - we started on Monday, Jan. 13, and have been putting in looooong hours. This past weekend I kept driving back and forth between home and the club as I alternated coaching and working with Tim.
USA's Ariel Hsing Featured at ITTF Page
Review of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World" by Nicholas Griffin
Guo Yue Dismissed from Chinese National Team
Here's the article. Guo, 25, was the 2007 World Women's Singles Champion and was ranked #1 in the world in 2008. She's also two-time World Mixed Doubles Champion with Wang Liqin. Her current ranking is #11 in the world.
Will Shortz on Table Tennis and How the US Can Become a Power
Here's the video (2:04) from Business Insider.
Coach Willy - an ITTF Documentary
Here's the video (3:42).
Cape Fear Open XI Highlights
Here's the video (7:33).
Angle Table Tennis
Here's the video (7:42) - this is what happens when you slant one side of the table sideways! A little over two minutes in they angle the other side as well for some really crazy ping-pong.
Here's a picture of little Asian kids dressed as pandas playing table tennis with a picture of a penholder panda bear. I don't know what's going on, and perhaps it's best we just don't. (While we're on the subject of pandas, here's a panda ping-pong shirt!)
Send us your own coaching news!
Most Memorable Practice Sessions
I've had some memorable ones. Here are a few.
At the 1981 U.S. Open in Princeton, NJ, I was practicing with others from my club (13-year-old Sean O'Neill, Dave Sakai, and Ron Lilly) when the Chinese team came in. (I'm pretty sure this was the first time they had ever attended a U.S. Open.) They practiced for an hour or so on nearby tables. Then they came over and offered to pair up with U.S. players, as part of their "Friendship First" policy. I was paired up with one of their women, but I had no idea who she was at the time. We hit forehands and backhands, and I didn't realize at first that she had long pips on the backhand, and that she'd flipped her racket to put the inverted side there to hit backhands with me. Then she began chopping. I sort of smiled, as I'm better against choppers than any other style, and so I gave her (hopefully!) a pretty good practice session (about an hour), where I both looped and smashed pretty consistently against her chops. Afterwards I found out who she was. TONG LING!!! The reigning World Women's Singles Champion and #1 woman in the world! A few days later she'd win the U.S. Open Women's Singles.
At some large tournament in the late 1980s, out of the blue Zoran Kosanovic asked if I'd warm him up. He knew me from a camp he'd run in Canada in 1980 that I'd attended. However, he was the #1 player in North America, rated about 2750 (to my roughly 2250 at the time), and had recently been ranked in the top 20 in the world. I expected he'd want to do some standard drills, but that's now what he wanted to do - he wanted to do "free play," where whoever got the ball just served topspin and we just rallied anywhere on the court. This might have worked for him, but he spent the entire session - about an hour - dominating the rallies, using me as target practice as he'd fake one way and go the other, with a non-stop barrage of inside-out and hooking loops that I could only flail at. Afterwards I could barely play, and I had one of my worst tournaments ever. He also had a so-so tournament, losing to Eric Boggan, and getting in trouble with the umpire and referee after losing one point when he picked up his side of the table and slammed it down in anger.
Many years ago, when I was around 1900, I was a good hitter, and was developing my loop, but for some reason my blocking against spinny loops wasn't that consistent. At the Eastern Open a top player was preparing for a match, and couldn't find anyone to hit with. So he asked me, figuring that at 1900 I could at least block. Then he walked out to the first table for our warm-up, in front of hundreds of people. Well, I could barely keep the ball on the table, both because my blocking was still poor, and because I was nervous about all these people seeing me miss block after block against this player. The top player should have just thanked me, and looked for someone else. Instead, he finally walked over, and in a very loud and exasperated voice said, "You can't keep the ball on the table. I need to find someone better." Then he walked off. I was pretty embarrassed, but also pretty angry. I was somewhat happy when he was upset in his next match. I get some of the credit for that, right?
I was coaching at a training session in the summer of 1987 at the Butterfly Center in Wilson, NC, when I was 27. Several junior players were complaining about having to do too much footwork in the 90 degree heat. I said I could do side to side footwork for fifteen minutes, so why couldn't they do it for half that? When one said there was no way I could do it for fifteen minutes in the heat, I upped the ante and said I could do it for 30 minutes continuously if someone fed me multiball (so there'd be no breaks even if someone missed) - but if I did, everyone had to 1) promise never to complain about training again that week, and 2) go outside and run a mile. They agreed. I not only did the 30 minutes, with two of the juniors taking turns feeding the balls, but I went the entire 30 minutes without missing a shot! (What they didn't know was that I'd spent two years in North Carolina, 1979-81, in that very gym, practicing every day even in 100 degree heat. Heat never bothered me until I was much older. Also I was a miler in high school, and had once run a marathon. Plus, I did so many side-to-side footwork drills when I was developing that I could do them endlessly without missing.)
Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - ON SALE!!!
I was a bit confused about this. The book is supposed to retail for $17.95, and that was the price I set when I began selling it on Amazon.com, and that's what it was selling for. Yesterday I discovered it was selling on Amazon for $11.45! I was about to send them an irritated email trying to figure out why that was happening, but decided to check the online royalty statement first. Despite the lower price, I'm getting paid the exact same royalties for the books as when it was going for $17.95. So Amazon is apparently making up the difference.
I sent an email to CreateSpace (the subsidiary of Amazon that actually prints the book) about this last night, and here is their response this morning:
Amazon.com, as well as other retailers, sets the selling price of items on its website. In some cases, the selling price will be above the list price; in other cases, the selling price will be discounted to a price below the list price. Keep in mind that you set and control the list price of your work, while the selling price and any discounts are set at the discretion of the retailer and are subject to change.
Only you can alter the list price you set in your CreateSpace account. The royalties you earn from Amazon.com retail sales, as well as sales by other retailers, will be based on the list price, not the selling price. Neither you nor CreateSpace has the ability to change the selling price of your work on Amazon.com.
So for now, you can buy it for $11.45. Buy now or you may regret it later!!!
Make Your Serves More Effective
Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on making your serves more effective.
Update - History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13
We did three more chapters today, bringing totals to 23 chapters and 365 pages. I've now cleaned up, placed, and captioned 724 graphics. The book is now projected to be 29 chapters and 460 pages, with 906 graphics. Chapter 23 ended with the Nissen Open, where Danny Seemiller won Men's Singles over Chartchai "Hank" Teekaveerakit, and Connie Sweeris won Women's Singles over Takako Trenholme.
A Truth About Ping-Pong Diplomacy
Tim Boggan continues to be a might irritated that, in accounts of Zhuang Zedong's death, it's said that Glenn Cowen accidentally boarded the private Chinese bus where Zhuang would give him a gift. Tim said, "I was a confidante of Glenn's on this Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip and he told me, in the absence of any available transportation from his practice hall, he was invited onto the Chinese bus by someone other than Zhuang. This authoritative gesture was of enormous seminal importance for China-U.S. relationships. For when that bus came to rest and Glenn emerged to reporters, China-U.S. relationships would never be the same. I suspect there's a political reason to continue this myth of an accidental boarding."
U.S. National Team
I heard yesterday that Peter Li turned down the non-funded fourth spot on the USA National Team. Only the first three spots are funded. (Presumably he turned it down because of the cost, not because it interferes with college since if he couldn't go because of college, why would he be trying out?) This means that Jim Butler, who finished fifth, was next - and he accepted the spot, and will pay his way. (Actually, he hopes his sponsors will help him out.) One ramification of this - while we now have an all-junior Women's Team, our Men's team now has Jim (42) and Khoa Nguyen (46). The aging vets are taking over!
Jun Mizutani Returns to World Tour
Here's the story. He'd been boycotting it in protest of illegal boosters.
Zhang Jike in Training
Here are three pictures of Zhang Jike doing physical training.
Table Tennis Valentines
There's lots more stuff like this, and some rather interesting pictures, if you put "table tennis valentine pictures" into a Google search. This is what you get!
Send us your own coaching news!
I'm off for the Eastern Open this afternoon, where I'll primarily be coaching Derek Nie, one of the top 11 and under players in the U.S. with a rating of 2136. If you are there, stop by and say hello!
Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats by Fred Danner
Review by Larry Hodges
If you're a history buff, and enjoy reading the behind-the-scenes happenings in Ping-Pong Diplomacy; war (Chinese Civil War, Korean War, Vietnam War); China, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.; table tennis in the U.S., and even the aerospace industry during the Apollo era, then you'll find this book fascinating. The book is really four short books in one.
Chapters 1-3 (pages 1-86) covers the history that led up to, and the actual events of, the 1971 Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip to China. The three chapters are titled "Setting the Stage for Ping-Pong Diplomacy," "The 1971 World Team's China Trip," and "Who Won the Nobel Peace Prize for Ping-Pong Diplomacy?" These chapters include fascinating background on the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and all the political infighting taking place in these countries, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. The three wars were related in numerous ways, and all led to the eventual Ping-Pong Diplomacy of 1971-72. We also learn how it could have happened in 1961, but the U.S. blew it. The answer to the question posed in the last chapter is nobody won the Novel Peace Prize for any of this, but it goes over the possible recipients and explains why nobody ever did win for it. And here's a hilarious quote from Chairman Mao: "Regard a ping-pong ball as the head of your capitalist enemy. Hit it with your socialist bat, and you have won the point for the fatherland."
Chapters 4 and 6 (pages 89-125 and 162-170, "The Growth of Long Island Table Tennis" and "Table Tennis Becomes a Family Affair") cover the growth of Long Island Table Tennis, as well as how it became a family affair for the Danners. Slowly but inexorably Fred found himself running more and bigger events in Long Island (clubs, leagues, and tournaments) and for USTTA (now USATT), until it led to the U.S. Open (he was Operations Director) and the Long Island stop for Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1972. He also begins to travel to tournaments with his son Carl, now a prominent player and coach in the bay area in California. Did you know that the 1972 U.S. Open in Long Island, forty years ago, had 725 entries? (A few years later these numbers would break a thousand in Houston and Oklahoma City.) For perspective, last year's U.S. Open in Milwaukee had 607. Fred also shows how the world has changed since those days, explaining how USTTA kept records in those non-computer days: "Each membership application required writing or typing the player's name and address nine times."
Chapter 5 (pages 126-161, "Life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry") is about life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry in the '60s, where Fred worked during the many years he was also working with Long Island Table Tennis. In some ways this seemed a bit off-topic, but it was related in various ways to Fred's continuing table tennis endeavors, in particular since all the corporate infighting both interfered with and somewhat mirrored what was going on in the world of table tennis, both in Long Island and the political intrigues in the background of Ping-Pong Diplomacy in the various wars and countries involved. Much of the chapter was about infighting and politics at Grumman Aviation, including their fights with GE and other companies as they bid for various aspects of the Apollo 11 trip to the moon. We also learn about the theft of atom bomb designs by the Soviets, how we could have avoided the Korean War, and how we outwitted the Soviets by helping to bring table tennis and China into the Olympics.
Chapter 7 (pages 171-204, "LITTA's Big Year: The U.S.-China Matches") is about the Chinese National Team's U.S. trip, covering primarily their stop in Long Island, and how that came to be, rather than it being in the New York City's Madison Square Garden, as New York City Mayor John Lindsey wanted. (He doesn't come off very well in the book.)
Now who is Fred Danner? He's not only one of the 134 members of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame (inducted as a contributor in 1993), but he's also one of the 14 recipients of the Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). Fred has a long career promoting table tennis both in Long Island and with USATT. He was instrumental in getting table tennis in the Olympics. He was president of the Long Island Table Tennis Association, founded the National Junior Table Tennis Foundation, wrote the National School Table Tennis Guide, and was at various times USTTA's Junior Development Chair, Membership Chair, Treasurer, Corresponding Secretary, and Vice President. He also got USTTA its tax exempt status.
You'll note this is Volume 1. Volume 2 will cover what Fred calls "$7,000,000 worth of favorable publicity" as a result of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the various contrasting ideas on how USTTA should proceed, and the resulting successes and failures. (A third volume is also planned.)
The book has a catchy cover, with USA's D-J Lee (6-time U.S. Men's Champion) serving to a Chinese opponent against a background made up of the U.S. and Chinese flags and the earth as seen from space. It is available at amazon.com for $29.59 (hardcover), $13.22 (soft cover), and $3.99 (ebook).
This is the third book I know of in English that covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy, at least from the table tennis angle. The other two are "History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 5," by Tim Boggan, $40, which covers the Ping-Pong Diplomacy Years, 1971-72, available at timboggantabletennis.com (along with his other eleven books on U.S. Table Tennis History); and "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement" by Shigeo Itoh (1969 World Men's Champion from Japan), available at amazon.com for $90 or $65 used.
Here's a new video from Coach Brian Pace from Dynamic Table Tennis on Setting up the Backhand Loop in Competition (8:38).
New Coaching Video from PingSkills
Returning a Drop Shot (1:41)
Celebrating 40 Years of U.S.-China Exchanges
Here's a video that highlights 40 years of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" (2:36).
Erica Wu in LA Times
Here's an article in yesterday's LA Times on U.S. Table Tennis Olympian Erica Wu.
Spelling Bee Ping-Pong Champion
Table Tennis Nation explains why Nicholas Rushlow, ping-pong player, will win the National Spelling Bee. (He didn't.)
Non-Table Tennis - How to Kill a Dragon
My fantasy story "In the Belly of the Beast" (6600 words) went up on Electric Spec yesterday. A sorcerer with a unique method for slaying dragons is swallowed by his dragon prey. While in the dragon's stomach, he uses a force field to protect himself, his daughter, and others, all of whom have also been swallowed. He abandoned his daughter when she was a child to go to sorcery school, and she doesn't recognize him. To her, there is the inept sorcerer in the dragon's stomach; the father who abandoned her; and the famous dragonslayer on the way to rescue them. She doesn't know that all three are the same. Most of the story takes place in the stomach of the dragon, which features the only battle between a wizard and a warrior in the belly of a dragon in history.
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No Blog on Friday - Cary Cup
No blog tomorrow (Friday) - I leave for the Cary Cup Championships this morning, right after I post this. I'll be defending my hardbat titles from the last two years, but it's a very tough draw this year. The rest of the tournament I'll be coaching junior stars George and Derek Nie. I'm going down and rooming with Tim Boggan. I've been having arm problems, but they seem to be over. I was toying with playing primarily as a chopper, but if the arm is okay I'll probably play my usual all-out forehand attack game combined with some backhand chopping. I'll write about the tournament in my blog next week.
A few notes on serve & forehand looping
When I'm at my best, I'm an all-out forehand attacker on my serve. (This is for both my normal sponge game as well as my hardbat game.) The key to this is good serves and good footwork. Regarding footwork, while fast feet are extremely helpful, good footwork technique is just as important for the first shot of a rally. I'm 52 and don't train anymore, and am by no means that fast, but I can attack nearly any deep ball at the start of a rally (deep serves or serve returns) because of good footwork technique and by quickly reading the opponent's shot. (It's the second or third shot that often takes footwork speed, alas.)
If you want to serve and follow with your forehand, here are your main serving possibilities. (They are mostly written as if both players are righties, but the same ideas apply to lefties with minor adjustments.)
Susan Sarandon and ping-pong on TV
Susan Sarandon stopped by the TV show GMA to discuss her new movie and ping-pong, and to challenge hosts Josh and Sam to a game (6:09). The table tennis discussion begins at 4:25.
Why a Ponger Left Goldman-Sachs
It's all over the news - Greg Smith isn't just leaving Goldman-Sachs, he wrote a feature article in the New York Times on the toxic and destructive atmosphere there.
But of course the real story is that Smith was also a very good table tennis player. As he wrote in the article, he won "a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics." But there's more! It looks like he has played USATT tournaments, three of them in 1997-98. Here are his rating results, with his final rating at 1983. (He even defeated Tim Boggan at the 1998 Nationals!)
Our friends at Table Tennis Nation have researched the story even more, and here's what they have to say.
Nixon, Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the University of Oregon
Here's an article on an event at the University of Oregon that celebrates Ping-Pong Diplomacy.
Microwaving ping-pong balls
Yesterday we lit them on fire. Today we're microwaving ping-pong balls! Video is 5:09 long, but the fireworks beginning at 2:13.
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Falling backwards when forehand looping against backspin
This is a common problem with a rather easy fix. Many players go off balance and fall backwards when looping against backspin with their forehand. Why? It's almost always because they are standing too far from the table. And so they have to reach forward to contact the ball. This throws their weight slightly forward; to compensate, you have to lean backwards. You lose control, power, and are off-balance for the next shot.
How do you fix this? Stand closer to the table, and rotate more sideways when you loop. The contact point should be the same as before, but relative to your body, it's farther back in your hitting zone, often in front of the back leg. This allows you to rotate in a circle as you loop, creating torque and maintaining your balance even during your most powerful loops.
Yesterday, during the Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, I found at least five players who were doing this. (I also had another chocolate candy "giveaway" - hit the bottle on the table, and get a delicious truffle! I gave out about 50 of them. I think we're the most popular table tennis camp in American right now.)
Table Tennis Training Stage IV: Putting It All Together
Here's a short video from CCTV of the recent U.S.-China 40th Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy festivities in China, featuring Jimmy Carter, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, and numerous U.S. and Chinese players (2:05).
Crazy Like Table Tennis
Here's your daily table tennis fix - just over four minutes of great points, with an acoustic version of Gnarls Barkley - Crazy in the background.
Classic Table Tennis
Here's your Classic Table Tennis fix - table tennis from the 1947 World Table Tennis Championships, with hardbat.
Table tennis scandal in Singapore!
Michael Maze kicks table 95 times
Someone took a video of Denmark star Michael Maze (former European Top Twelve Champion, World Men's Singles Semifinalist) kicking the table, looped it over and over, and put it to music ("Red Red Wine"). Here's the video - interesting for five seconds, skip the last 1:22.
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Tip of the Week
The USA Nationals, Christmas Vacation, and a Sabbatical
After today, I'm taking a short sabbatical from blogging. My next blog will be next Monday, Dec. 19 (right after I return from the USA Nationals), and my next one after that will be when I resume blogging regularly (Mon-Fri) on Dec. 27.
I'm leaving for the USA Nationals this morning, returning next Saturday. Then on Monday I leave for Santa Barbara, CA, for Christmas with family, returning on a red-eye flight on Christmas night that lands back in Maryland about 8AM on Dec. 26, in time for the MDTTC Christmas camp I coach at that starts that afternoon.
Yes, I know, the Nationals is exactly the time I should have lots to blog about, but I'm going to be extremely busy there, coaching, playing, and attending meetings, and expect to be leaving for the playing site early each morning and returning late.
I'm primarily going to the Nationals to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Hardbat Singles (which I've won twice at the Open or Nationals), Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion) and Hardbat Doubles (I'm 11-time and current champion, and playing with Ty Hoff - we've won it seven times).
I've spent way too much time in recent weeks working on my new table tennis book, watching videos of players that students of mine might be playing, and other sedentary projects at my computer, and now my back has stiffened up again, alas. Hopefully it'll loosen up when I play. However, as is the norm for me (since stiff muscles and coaching regularly don't mix well), I'm continually in a state of various injuries. Currently there's something in the back of my left knee that's hobbling me; my left Achilles tendon feels strained; and there's a strain in my right side. And why is my left big toe hurting? (I think I stepped on something sharp.) Par for me.
Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide
I finished editing it this weekend. The "final" version is 81,066 words, with 21 chapters. In Courier New, double spaced, it prints out at 352 pages. I have a few people who are reading/critiquing it, and I'll probably do one more proofing. I have a publisher interested, though I'm toying with self-publishing. I'll look into the options in January.
Upcoming ITTF Coaching Seminars in the USA
Thirtieth Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy in China
Here's an article on the personal side of China's world #1.
Ma Lin's unbelievable (but illegal) serve
Here's a 19-second video of an unbelievable serve by China's Ma Lin. The ball curves so much not because of sidespin, but because of corkscrewspin, with the axis of rotation aimed away from Ma toward the server. (With sidespin, the axis would be up and down.) You can only get this much corkscrewspin with a high-toss serve, such as this one - see how high he tosses the ball. Some other world-class players probably have similar serves, you just don't see several bounces like this because the receiver normally hits the ball after the first bounce - and in this case, Ma has completely fooled the receiver, world champion Zhang Jike, who didn't see the sudden break coming, and thought the serve would go long.
Fantastic serve, but how many people noticed that he illegally hid contact with his arm? Freeze the video at contact and you'll see - you may have to make several attempts to get it. Or just see the image I took from the video. The arrows show the ball and his hand and arm. The rules say:
"From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall ... not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."
"As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."
"It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws."
It's possible that the receiver, Zhang, can barely see contact, but it's close - Ma's arm is rapidly moving out of the way, and the split second before this picture, the arm was completely in the way. It's the server's responsibility to serve so the umpire is satisfied that he is serving legally, and no umpire could possibly say that he is satisfied that this serve was not hidden. But we don't even have to go that far - the serve is blatantly illegal since he has left his free arm and hand between the ball and the net.
Table tennis going to the dogs
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Tip of the Week
Rushing the quicker player
It's tough playing a quicker player who bangs every shot before while you're still following through on your previous shot. But a lot of players don't understand that on the first shot of the rally, especially on your serve, you can rush the quicker player. It just comes down to setting yourself up for a shot you can attack quickly, before the quick opponent can get into a quick rally. If you place your first quick attack well, the quicker player will have great difficulty and won't be able to rush you - and you'll get a second shot to attack.
For example, I like to serve fast no-spin at the receiver's elbow. This often forces a weaker topspin return - but more importantly, it draws the receiver out of position, especially if he returns it backhand. (For that reason, I tend to serve it slightly to the backhand side, though a forehand also draws the player out of position.) Once the player is drawn out of position, it's just a matter of you attacking that ball quickly to an open corner.
Another way is to serve short side-top to the forehand. Many players have trouble attacking this ball, and so you tend to get a softer return you can attack quickly - and while the opponent is drawn over the table reaching for that short ball to the forehand. Or serve a breaking sidespin serve deep to the backhand - many players will take this ball late and essentially roll it back, allowing you to go for the first quick, aggressive shot.
Of course, the best way to overcome a quicker player is to keep the ball deep, attack his elbow and wide corners, and focus on making consistent, strong shots.
Trials and Tribulations
After a month of playing great (due to extra practice, weight training, and stretching), over the last week I've been feeling progressively stiffer, especially in the upper back. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, it just happens. Exercising and stretching only help it marginally. Unfortunately, this is causing havoc to my forehand attacking game in practice matches. After a month of feeling like I had the speed of a meteor, now I'm feeling a bit more like a meteorite. Dan Seemiller told me this used to happen to him as well as he got older, that there were times he just couldn't play, and who am I to disagree with him? Anyway, I'm not playing terrible, just not nearly as well as before. I can still pretty much go through "lower players," but I'm not challenging stronger, faster players (i.e. our top juniors) so much anymore. Hopefully it'll come back. I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams next weekend (Fri-Sun), and fortunately the players have to do the playing; I don't.
I'm off this morning for another two-hour video coaching session. We're not only watching the player I'm coaching, but other possible opponents as well. Top players, if you feel a cold tingle going down your spine, we're watching you.
USA Interviews at the World Junior Championships
Modern Ping-Pong Diplomacy
Why a simple game holds the key to world peace. (From the English newspaper The Independent.)
How to Practice Without a Serious Practice Partner
Non-Table Tennis - "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination" anthology
I recently submitted three stories to "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination," a science fiction and fantasy anthology put out by the famous editor Warren Lapine. They are literally the highest paying SF/fantasy anthology, and received well over 1000 submissions. All three of my stories made the final 40! (They expect to pick only about 20.) Here's what Warren wrote about my stories: "Larry, your stories were passed up to me by three different first readers in one night. I think that's a record." One of the assistant editors wrote, "Larry, I spent the last section of this evening wishing I had been first reader on one of your stories! Even if you don't make it into Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, know that you impressed a multitude of readers, writers, and editors, with myriad tastes." Okay, I'm ready to write some more stories! (Meanwhile, they plan to announce the final selections by Wednesday.) (Don't worry, I won't quit my day job, I mean my mostly night job, which is table tennis.)
Here's Liam Pitchford (English #1 player in men's and juniors) hitting a behind-the-back winner at the World Junior Championships last week. Notice how nonchalant he is about it? This reminds me of the best shot I ever saw in table tennis, also from an English junior. In the late 1980s, an English junior star trained for a week or so with the top USA juniors at the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While playing a match with Chi-Ming Chui (Chi-Sun's older brother), he mis-hit a serve almost straight up. Chi-Ming pulverized the shot. The English junior, seeing he was about to be creamed with the ball, turned his back, and without looking, jumped into the air and made a backhand, over-the-head, no-look counter-smash as the ball was rising from the table! He was as surprised as anyone watching - he had no idea he'd actually make the shot.
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Ratings - Love 'em or Love 'em
Way too many players are obsessed with ratings. Ratings are fun when they go up, but players (and coaches and parents) shouldn't worry too much about them. They are a good measure of level and improvement, and while you shouldn't worry too much about what your current ratings is, they are a good shorthand for various levels of play. Since goals are generally about winning a specific event (which includes making a team), or about reaching a specific level of play, ratings can be useful for the latter. They are also useful as a stepping stone toward winning a specific event - you aren't going to win a state title, for example, if the best players are 2100, and you are only 1500. Just to be a contender you need to approach that 2100 level, and rating level is useful in keeping track of that.
Here's my article about Juniors and Ratings. (It was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter.) But most of it applies to all ages.
Peter Li and Michael Landers in China
Both are training and competing in China. (At age 18 and 17, they are the best in the U.S. for their age.) I'm kind of proud of them - Peter was from my club from when he started until about age 14 or so and I used to practice with him and coach him in camps, and Michael came to a number of our summer camps when he was about 11 to 13, where I did a lot of multiball coaching with him.
Weight Training Update
During my second session of my new weight training regimen I added four new exercises to the list: fly & rear delts, calf extension, and back extension. The calf extension was especially obvious - guess which muscle is used when short-stepping around the table? And the fly delts seem to build up muscles used when forehand looping. I'm basically an amateur when it comes to weight training, and yet I'm gradually beginning to remember that I was somewhat knowledgeable about table tennis weight training routines back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've forgotten a lot, but it's starting to come back. Here is my updated regimen, three times a week, doing three sets of ten for each, usually after a table tennis session:
Also, I made the interesting discussion that one of the people I rent the downstairs of my townhouse to works at Fitness First. (I live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors to a father and 23-year-old son; the latter is the one who works at Fitness First.) We discussed my routine, and he thought (as did a commenter here) that I should eventually go to free weights, so as to build up the stabilizing muscles. But he thought my plan of using the machines until I'm a bit stronger and more experienced seemed reasonable. I did discover they have free weights at the back of the Planet Fitness I'm working out at.
Werner Schlager exhibition shots
Here's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria playing an exhibition point (0:51) against Oh Sang Eun of Korea.
Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book
Yes, "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement," by Mayumi Itoh, 266 pages, is out! But $72???
Another option for those interested is to read Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 5, which covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy. (Presumably the Itoh book covers things a big differently; Tim covers it in a very personal way, since he was on the trip to China, and part of the U.S. tour.) You can buy the eleven volumes in this series (individually or all of them) at TimBogganTableTennis.com, or you can read it online:
Inspirational Music for Table Tennis
I may have posted this once before, but the subject of inspirational music for table tennis came up recently, so here's a good listing. I don't actually train with music, but many do, and many find listening to such music before playing revs them up. (These are mostly from movies.) What are yours?
A Cat and Beverly Hills Cop
And since we're on the subject of table tennis music, here's a cat, table tennis, and the theme music to Beverly Hills Cop (starring Eddie Murphy at his peak). (3:42)
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At the higher levels (i.e. 2600 and up), most players hide their serve because most umpires simply are not enforcing the rules. The main rule in question is, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." Many players have learned to just barely hide contact from their opponent, but they do it so quickly and subtly that umpires, sitting off to the side, aren't sure if they have hidden the serve - and instead of warning and then faulting the player for not fulfilling the rule quoted here, they let it go. And so those who cheat are rewarded.
There are always exceptions, such as world #6 Vladimir Samsonov, who never hides his serve. How good would he be if he did so? But he plays against hidden serves regularly, and developed his game before hidden serves were illegal, and so can return them effectively.
Before, illegal hidden serves was mostly a problem at the highest levels. Now it's spreading to the cadet levels. It's survival of the fittest, and the "fittest" are those who win, and more and more these are the ones who hide their serves.
The problem is you cannot learn to return hidden serves unless you practice against them on a regular basis for a long time. (It's not easy learning to read spin from the way the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, and to do so quickly enough to react properly.) And you can't do this unless your practice partners use them. So the only real way to teach players to return hidden serves is to teach them to all to hide their serves. Plus, even if you learn to return hidden serves, you have to use them yourself if you want to compete evenly.
The problem is that this is cheating. But unless they illegally hide their serves, players cannot compete with their peers who hide their serves. I've watched far too many matches where two players seemed evenly matched, but one player gets clobbered because his serve returns go all over the place - in the net, off the side, straight up or off the end - because they simply can't return hidden serves since they haven't practiced regularly against these illegal serves.
It's frustrating to coaches who train up-and-coming juniors. What do we tell them? To cheat? Or to accept that all their training is wasted as far as competing with their peers who are willing to use these illegal serves?
The ITTF is aware of the problem, and is looking into solutions. I wish they'd hurry. (One proposal talked about is to require the serve to be visible to both umpires, or to where the umpire would sit if there was an umpire. This would make it almost impossible to hide the serve from the opponent.)
Suggested rubber and blade combinations for beginning and intermediate players
At the request from the forum, this morning I wrote an extensive article on this for my blog. Then I realized it really should be a Tip of the Week. So look to see it next Monday morning. Instead, I wrote above about hidden serves. (I had Tips written for the next two weeks, but I'll bump each a week. So you can also look forward to "Five Steps to a Great Spin Serve," and "The Myth of Thinking Too Much.")
History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 11
You can now begin reading Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 11, which covers 1981-82. Chapter One went up yesterday; a new chapter will go up each week for the next 35 weeks - yes, there's 35 chapters. Better still, visit TimBogganTableTennis.com and buy a volume or eleven! Here's the dedication page and acknowledgement page, where Tim thanks those who helped out. (I'm in both, in particular the dedication page, for doing the page layouts and photo work.)
George Hendry, RIP, one more time
U.S. Teams Dominate in Canadian Junior and Cadet Open
U.S. Paralympic Team Shines in Rio
Ping Pong Albums
Here's a 1997 album called Momus Ping Pong, which features a table tennis oriented cover, including a large gorilla with a ping-pong paddle. Here's a video of the album (4:33). Here's a 1979 Pablo Cruise album called Part of the Game, with turtles playing ping-pong on the front cover. Here's a larger picture of the cover. Here's a video of the album (3:47). Anybody want to review these "table tennis" albums?
In China, no more Ping-Pong Diplomacy
At least that was the headline of a story in Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section!
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