June 26, 2013

Injured Back and MDTTC Camp

As to the MDTTC camp, yesterday's focus was on the backhand, and that was my only lecture for the day. As usual, I went over the basics, and pointed out the various types of backhands - tip down or more up, flatter or more topspinny, etc. My demo partner was 8-year-old Tiffany Ke, way under-rated at 1430. I also made the discovery after the daily trek to 7-11 after lunch that a strawberry-lemon Slurpee is the single best thing ever invented by mankind. All other things are bland by comparison.

Unfortunately, yesterday morning I also injured my upper right back just below the shoulder blade while feeding multiball. I was feeding rapid-fire loops to an intermediate player so he could work on his blocking when I felt a gradual tightness that slowly became inflamed. It didn't seem too bad at first, but minutes later it as pretty painful, and now I can't loop or even hit forehands, or lift any serious weight with my right arm. I spent the afternoon awkwardly picking up balls lefthanded with our ball nets. 

This is not good.

During the MDTTC camps (Mon-Fri, 10AM-1PM, 3-6PM) I mostly feed multiball or supervise activities. However, I have a one-hour private coaching session each day from 2-3PM. Yesterday I did only half the private session, playing only backhand and multiball, and then brought in Coach Leon (Wang Qing Liang) to do the final 30 minutes. I'm probably going to have to get a substitute for the rest of the week for the 2-3PM sessions, as well as a bunch of coaching sessions Wed-Sun.

Let me repeat: This is not good.

I leave for the U.S. Open on Monday morning. My primary focus there is coaching (mostly Derek Nie, Nathan Hsu, and Sameer Shaikh), but I'm also playing in four hardbat and one sandpaper events. (I can go from coaching to hardbat/sandpaper rather easily, but it's more difficult going to sponge, since I can't loop without a lot of warm up. I'm pretty much retired from playing in sponge tournaments, where I focus on coaching.) I'm currently listed as the top seed in Over 40 Hardbat and Over 50 Hardbat Doubles; second seed in Hardbat Doubles and Open Sandpaper; and fourth seed in Open Hardbat.

I normally play with sponge, but my serve & receive, footwork, and especially my forehand work well with hardbat, especially after some extensive practice with it back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. At the Open or Nationals, I've won Hardbat Singles twice; Over 40 Hardbat four times; and Hardbat Doubles thirteen times, nine times with Ty Hoff and four times with Steve Berger. This year I'm playing for the first time with Jay Turberville, in both Hardbat Doubles and Over 50 Hardbat Doubles, the first time I've played this event. (Jay, if you're reading this, I'm going to make every attempt to play, injury or not!) However, as usual, I haven't played any hardbat since the Nationals in December. But it's all there in muscle memory. Or, to be more accurate right now, in injured muscle memory.

One more time: This is not good.

Orioles JJ Hardy and Table Tennis

Here's an article featuring Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy and his table tennis. Alas, see the last line. Ever since J.J. and Brady Anderson visited and took lessons from me at MDTTC from me on May 14 he's been on a hot streak.

National Collegiate Table Tennis Association June Newsletter

Here it is.

Kitten Table Tennis

This might be the funniest 23 seconds ever of a kitten trying to play table tennis.

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September 6, 2012

Baltimore or Columbus?

This Thanksgiving a number of table tennis players will face a conundrum: Baltimore or Columbus?

The North American Teams in Baltimore (now in its 15th year) is a 4-star tournament that last year had 767 players playing 6557 matches, dwarfing the other two big U.S. tournaments that year, the 5-star U.S. Open (548 players, 2989 matches) and 5-star USA Nationals (502 players, 2934 matches). (The Open and Nationals stats don't include doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper matches, which might increase their numbers 10% or so.) They usually get about 200 teams, with 150 tables in a 150,000 square foot playing area at the Baltimore Convention Center, and give out over $20,000 in prize money. It's the biggest table tennis tournament in North America. One of my favorite activities each year is to watch newbies walk into the hall for the first time. The look on their faces when they see the endless rows of tables and equipment booths is priceless.

However, some players were unhappy with the prices and awards given out at the NA Teams last year. And so an alternative was born this year - the Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus, OH. Though technically only a 2-star tournament, they promise players will have just as much competition in the same format for the three days of the tournament (both are run Nov. 23-25, starting the day after Thanksgiving), with better awards, though only $3000 in total prize money.

So what'll it be, Tradition or Upstart? Personally, I'm going to coach at whichever one my students go to, and I'll let them go wherever they choose. (My club is only an hour from Baltimore, while Columbus is seven hours away - but my club and many of its top players are sponsored by Butterfly. Quite the conundrum.)

Here's a quick comparison:

North American Teams in Baltimore

Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus

Hardbat at the Nationals

Alas, I won't be playing hardbat events at this year's Nationals. Hardbat Doubles starts on the first day, Tuesday at 2:15, but with Under 22 Men at noon and the Junior Teams at 4PM, there's just too much conflict since I'll be coaching players in both events. Hardbat Singles and Over 40 Hardbat start on Wednesday and Friday, right in the middle of numerous events I'll be coaching.

It's the end (for now) of a "dynasty." I've won Hardbat Doubles at the Open or Nationals 13 times (9 times with Ty Hoff, 4 times with Steve Berger), and am the defending champion at both the Open and Nationals (both with Ty). I've also won Over 40 Hardbat four times and Hardbat Singles twice. (I normally use sponge, but play with hardbat as a sideline.)

Liu Guoliang: "I Am a Passionate Coach"

That's the title of this article on the Chinese National Coach and former superstar player.

Jim Butler on the Women's Game

Olympian and Three-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler wrote a pair of insightful postings about the women's game recently on the about.com forum (responses #23 and 24), in response to questions. (After reading the second, I must sheepishly admit that I play my backhand like a woman - but I do it pretty well!!!) Here they are:

Question: Wouldn't THE best thing at this stage be for them [the top U.S. junior girls] to compete in international events against WOMEN?

Jim Butler: Yes in a perfect world with unlimited resources, that would be ideal. However, there is no USATT budget to do that. I have always felt that the U.S. Women's game has the best chance to reach success internationally. They have high enough level competition in this country to reach that goal.

To simulate that competition though, they must move over to the men's side. The women can compete year around in this country against men, and get the level and regularity of competition it takes to be successful internationally.

If you are a 2700 level man in this country, there are very few athletes higher than that, so competing internationally becomes a must to raise your game further to the likes of the Chinese, Germans, etc. The best women in the world are not better than 2700.

The U.S. Women's Team members are also in school, so competing in the United States also makes it possible to do both.

Question: Also, although the ratings suggest an equal level, playing against a 2600 man is a different experience from playing against a 2600 woman, and they need to face their peers and develop strategies against those styles

Jim Butler: It's not as different as one might think. The men's game clearly has more speed and power, but the women tend to be more consistent. I think most men can learn a lot by watching the women's game more, and appreciating the level of consistency they tend to play at.

If you watch a 2500 women beat a 2500 level man, they do it with consistency, and they make fewer unforced errors. The men can wow everyone with incredible power and speed on their shots. The highest level women force you to make a high quality shot nearly every point in order to beat them. They smother people with consistency.

Another very important aspect of the game the women tend to be better at than the men, is their ability to stay within their limits and game. Because men have the ability to hit the ball so hard, they tend to over play shots in their matches. If you watch most men play (especially at lower levels), you will see them lose many points a match because they tried to hit the ball out of the gym, instead of backing off and putting it on the table.

Younger male players really tend to do this, and so many points are wasted by trying to hit the ball too hard. Women will rarely hit the ball harder than they need to. 

Non-Table Tennis: "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles"

My humorous poem (a takeoff on "You are Old, Father William") is featured on Orioles Hangout, the main online forum for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. It's the seventh time they've featured my work. I wrote the poem on Tuesday night, the night that the Orioles tied the Yankees for first place in the American League East. (They had been trailing by ten games just a month ago.) Here's the first of the eight stanzas:

"You're no good, Baltimore Orioles," the sportswriter said,
"And your play all year long has been trite;
And yet you keep winning when you should be dead?
Do you think, since you're bad, it is right?"

Disastrous Table Tennis Slide

This video (17 seconds) shows why you should never jump on your ping-pong table when it is covered with ice.


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March 19, 2012

Tip of the Week

Fixing the Biggest Weakness in Your Game.

Cary Cup

Unfortunately I barely saw any of the big matches since I was coaching throughout the tournament. So I have little to report on that. In fact, I'm trying to find the results online, and haven't been able to find much of anything.

Here are some tidbits.

  • I got to watch the Butlers, Scott and Jim, go at it backhand to backhand, when they were warming up. They can really hit those backhands. And yet it shows how the game has changed as modern top players would be topspinning those backhands while the Butlers were cracking in mostly flat backhands.
  • There was a rather small bag sitting on a chair next to a court I was about to coach at. I nonchalantly picked up the bag with my right (playing) arm so I could put it aside so I could use the chair. I strained the arm slightly when this rather small bag turned out to weight about 50 pounds. I have no idea what was in it - gold bars?
  • There were two water fountains next to each other near the front door. One was at a regular height for adults, the other a very shortened one for little kids. A very tall man, about 6'4", came in with his son, who looked about four years old. Without hesitation they walked to the fountains and the tall man leaned over the kids fountain while the little kid stood on tiptoes and barely was able to use the tall one. I don't think either noticed the humor of the situation. (Anyone remember the similar scene in the movie "The Lion King," when the small weasel-like Timon takes the big bed, forcing the large warthog Pumbaa to squeeze into the tiny one?)
  • After visiting my water fountain I returned to the playing hall to discover my playing bag was missing. I searched the area for five minutes before realizing I was in the wrong hall. (There were two large playing halls and two smaller ones.)

I played the hardbat event on Friday morning. I'd won the event the last two years, but alas this year it was not to be. There were two groups of about eight, with the top two advancing. I went 6-1, losing to Bin Hai Chu, the 2300 player I'd beaten in the final last year. (I didn't lose a game in the other matches.) In the final RR (with the Chu match carrying over), I lost to Ty Hoff while winning against Dmitri Moundous, and so finished third. Ty led both games against Chu, but lost at 19,20, so Chu won the event and $400. (Second was $300, third $100, and all four finalists received huge trophies.) Later in the tournament, using his regular pips-out sponge penhold racket, he'd have double match point on 2647-rated and defending champion Jeffrey Zeng Xun.

I was mostly coaching Derek Nie, who is probably the best pound-for-pound player in the U.S. with a rating of 2080 at 64 pounds. (He looks about 8 or 9, but actually just turned 11.) He looped his way past opponent after opponent, and ended up beating everyone below him while losing to everyone above him in 14 matches. He did give some scares. Against Gabriel Skolnick (2259), he won the first and was up 11-10 in the second when they had a great point, with Derek smacking in a series of backhands and then looping four forehands in a row. The third, to Gabriel's wide forehand, seemed to win the game, and I actually started to jump up to cheer, but Gabriel reached out and barely brought it back. Derek ripped another forehand to the wide backhand, and again Gabriel just got it back, and Derek finally missed. Against Tao Lin (2304) Derek won the first 11-7, and led much of the second game, but Tao came on strong to win that game and the match. Against Richard Doverman (2298) he led much of the first game before losing 11-9, and was up game point in the second before losing at deuce.

This is very promising for Derek, as you'll know if you've read my Tip of the Week on "Larry's Six-month Law."

Some of Derek's most successful tactics this tournament were to focus on really wide angles and attacking the middle; last-second change of direction on his receive; and lots of varied serves. He needs to work on depth control of his serves (too many went long under pressure, and were looped), and his backhand loop often fell apart when he was rushed.

North American Olympic Trials

You can buy tickets now for the U.S. versus Canada showdown at the North American Olympic Trials, April 20-22.

New ping-pong table to the White House

Here are two stories on it, both from England's The Telegraph:

Non-Table Tennis: Two more short stories published

I had two new fantasy stories published, one on Friday, and one this morning.

This morning my short-short story "The Kitchen Debate" was published on Quantum Muse. The 600-word story is a mystical debate between science and religion. Here's the opening:

The impossible object lay on the kitchen table. My life, my work, my very existence was dedicated to the fact that it did not, could not, exist. And yet there it was, in all its implausibility.

The Hand of God.

On Friday my 99-cent ebook "Willy and the Ten Trillion Chimpanzees" (4000 words, about 18 double spaced pages) was published at Musa Publishing. You can download it for 99 cents - so BUY IT NOW!!! Here's the opening:

The demon Willy Shakespeare returned home late one night from a showing of King Lear, and approached the door to his basement where he kept a full-sized replica of North America, populated by ten trillion chimpanzees, all randomly typing away.

With a glance, he turned off the enchanted timepiece that sped time up in the basement a trillion-fold. He'd been away since lunch, about ten hours, so ten trillion hours had gone by in the basement--about a billion years. He allowed himself a small grin. If they hadn’t created at least one masterpiece for him, there'd be serious pain for a lot of chimps.

Here is my science fiction & fantasy page, and here's where you can buy "Pings and Pongs," an anthology of my 30 best published stories ($14.95). BUY IT NOW!!!


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February 2, 2012

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

This month was a treasure trove, with 19 new celebrities - just look at some of the names below! There are now 1334 pictures of 788 celebrities at the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis Page! (I maintain the page, updating it around the 1st of each month.) New this month:


  • John Lennon, rock star
  • George Harrison, rock star
  • Ringo Starr, rock star
  • Paul McCartney, rock star
  • David Bowie, rock star
  • Bob Marley, musician (new picture)
  • Alice Cooper, rock star (new picture)
  • Keith Jarrett, Jazz Pianist
  • Ennio Morricone, Film Music Composer
  • Manfred Eicher, founder and producer of the Jazz record label ECM


  • Minnesota Fats, pool player
  • Vitali Klitschko, Ukrianian WBC World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, and leader of the UDAR of Vitaliy Klychko political party (2 pictures)
  • Wladimir Klitschko, Ukrainian WBA Super, IBF, IBO & Ring Magazine World Heavyweight Boxing Champion (3 new pictures)
  • Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers hockey player
  • Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers hockey player
  • Javier Zanetti, soccer player
  • Lionel Messi, soccer player

Actors & Actresses

  • Liv Tyler, actress (3 pictures)
  • Peggy Diggins, actress
  • Susan Peters, actress
  • Mary Brodel, actress
  • William Powell, actor

Politicians and Leaders

  • Gerhard Schröder, former German chancellor
  • John D. Negroponte, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State (2 pictures)
  • Norm Coleman, former Minnesota senator (new picture)


  • Santa Claus, toy giver (2 pictures)
  • Frank Caliendo, comedian (1 new picture)

Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day. As you know, on February 2 every year Pingpongatawney Phil comes out of his hole, and if he sees a ping-pong ball, everyone gains 100 rating points. (And for the love of ping-ping, please click on the Pingpongatawney Phil link - I spent a lot of time creating it! Feel free to distribute.) The ball on the ground is a Nittaku, which is the Official Ball for USA Table Tennis.

Hardbat Day

Today is Groundhogs Day, but yesterday was Hardbat Day. While coaching I had the sudden, inexplicable desire to play hardbat. So I pulled a hardbat racket from my bag and chopped with it, so students could practice their loops. Last night I finally figured what had caused this overwhelming urge - it was Marty Reisman's 84th birthday! (Strangely, according to his Wikipedia entry, he was born on Feb. 1, 1930, which would make him 82. But I'll go with the "official" version.)

Using the hardbat wasn't actually a lark. It really is good practice for students to loop over and over against chop, and I was able to really work on their loop strokes. In each case, we followed that with a serve & loop against push, then loop or hit against block drill (with me back to regular inverted). The key here is that against backspin, you drop the back shoulder and your power goes both forward and up. Against the block, the shoulder stays mostly up (completely up if hitting) with the stroke mostly forward. Beginning/intermediate players need to practice this a lot - its tricky making the adjustment between the two. Here's a short article I wrote on this, with the back shoulder the key.

I regularly use the hardbat racket for students to practice against. I also have one with long pips with sponge so students can practice against long pips chopping. Other rackets I keep around for students to practice against include long pips with no sponge, antispin, and pips-out sponge.

School interview

I was interviewed yesterday by someone from American University, who is doing some sort of graduate project in journalism on table tennis. I filled her with lots of info on table tennis. She also got to talk to Crystal Huang (the 9-year-old girl who last year achieved the highest rating ever for anyone under age 10, boys or girls) and her dad, and other club members.

ITTF's Youth Leadership Camp

Here's an article about the ITTF running a table tennis youth leadership camp in Qatar. There's also a video (4:23).

Behind the back shot

This is probably the best behind the back shot I've ever seen. (And they show it both live and in slow motion.) Because my shoulders have the flexibility of frozen neutronium, this is about the only table tennis trick shot I cannot do. So when I see people do these shots I get very envious.


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December 12, 2011

Tip of the Week

Depth control of serves.

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

There's a U.S. contingent touring China - and here are links to a number of articles on it. And here's another that features Dell & Connie Sweeris.

Ma Long

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

Let's watch 52 seconds of a Pekingese playing floor table tennis.


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July 4, 2011


2011 U.S.Open

I flew back to Maryland last night from the U.S. Open in Milwaukee - didn't have any coaching duties today. At the airport in Milwaukee there was a Killerspin table set up with sponge paddles and barriers! I watched for a while as parents played with kids, often "coaching" them in ways that made me squirm a bit. I debated whether to help out, but decided they were having fun, so who was I to tell them what to do?

Because I had a bunch of stuff to take back to Maryland, I had two bags to check in at Airtran, which would cost $45. The attendant told me that since first-class passengers get two free bags, I could upgrade to first class for $49, and get the two bags free. So for $4 I traveled first class. The only other time I did that was nearly 20 years ago when I traveled with Andre Scott - we had regular tickets, but when they saw he was in a wheelchair, they put him in first class (for free), and since they had an open seat next to him, they gave that to me.

Funniest part of the U.S. Open for me was watching opponents struggle with Sun Ting's ("The Sun King") serve. Whenever he serves, it's showtime as opponents miss shots all over the place. The problem isn't so much that they misread the type of spin as they misread the amount of spin. How he puts so much spin on the ball without seemingly doing so is a mystery that only Albert Einstein might have solved. Alas, Sun Ting lost 11-9 in the seventh (from up 3-1), 4,-2,-4,-11,9,8,9, in the quarters to Canada's Pradeeban Peter-Paul. Sun Ting has been at my club, MDTTC, for the past month, and will be here for another month. He defeated Ma Lin in a tournament a few years ago, and had a 2730 rating from the 1999 North American Teams, when he was 15.

The players I coached had up and down records; unfortunately, we were 0-5 in five-game matches this time around. Have to work on that. Because I was mostly coaching or playing hardbat, I didn't see many big matches, and so can't report on them.

My Hardbat Results at the Open - skip if not interested!

While I was there primarily to coach, I did enter three hardbat events. (I normally play with sponge.) I had to default out of Open Hardbat because it conflicted with the junior team competition. I've won that event twice at the Open and Nationals, and while I probably wouldn't have won it, I had a good chance to do pretty well, maybe make the semifinals, and after that, who knows?

I made the final of Over 40 Hardbat. (I've won this four times at the Open or Nationals, including the last Nationals.) In the preliminaries, I had to play Peter Cua, one of the top Philippine hardbat players. He had me 16-11 in the third (two out of three to 21 in hardbat), but I went on a hitting binge and won ten in a row. (I told myself to just take the shots and let the shots happen, and they happened.) I had another huge battle with Jeff Johnson in the semifinals, who as usual ran me all around the court in a battle of his steadiness versus my forehand hitting/backhand chopping, and despite a near comeback by him late in the second game I won two straight, 15 & 16. In the final I played Richard Gonzalez, but his forehand hitting and heavy & varied backhand chopping was just too much, and he won easily, 13 & 11. I think I may be able to take on his chopping in a rematch, since I'm good against that, but it had been a while since I'd played a hardbat chopper of that level - but if I had, he'd have just attacked more, and his attack was way too strong. The guy was a member of the Philippine National Team and I believe is their hardbat and sandpaper champion.

I also played hardbat doubles with Ty Hoff. I've won that event ten times, six times with Ty (including at the last Nationals), and we did pull off a nice win over Dan Seemiller Sr. and Jr. - I had to smash Dan Sr's loop from down 19-20 match point in the second to deuce it! - but we lost in the semifinals to Jeff Johnson and Scott Gordon. They in turn lost to the Philippines, Richard Gonzales and Joseph Cruz. Those two pretty much dominated all hardbat play.

Tip of the Week

This week's Tip is about Coaching Against Yourself. It's short and to the point. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a great example of the reverse pendulum serve, by 2010 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion Sharath Kamal of India. It's shown in both real and slow motion. (37 seconds long.)

Hidden Serves

Unfortunately, Sharath Kamal, like many others, doesn't always serve legally. Here's a video of him on Youtube from the 2010 Egypt Open - it's not easy finding videos that give the right angle so you can see if the serve is hidden. See his serve 29 seconds in. Here is a four-sequence screen shot of the serve, showing how it disappears behind his body. At the 2010 U.S. Open, he and many of his opponents served illegally, hiding the ball (and especially contact) as they served, but umpires rarely call this.

Notice how with the arm stuck out, it's easy to thrust out the shoulder and hide contact. If the player pulls the arm back, as the rules require, then the shoulder isn't naturally thrust out, and if the player does thrust the shoulder out while pulling the arm back, it becomes rather obvious. This is what happened at the U.S. Open a few days ago when, at the request of the players I was coaching, I twice had to call an umpire against the same opponent because he sometimes stuck his arm and shoulder out, thereby hiding the serve. (This led to a very unhappy parent; hopefully he and I can put aside our disagreement on this so as not to be a distraction to the kids. After all, if the serves are legal, then there shouldn't be any objection to having an umpire.) The opponent may not even have been aware he was doing it, but the umpire warned him immediately to pull his arm in - on the second serve after the umpire came to the table - and the rest of the way the serves were pretty much all visible.

It's important players know the service rules, so there are the pertinent ones regarding hidden serves. (Bolds are mine.)

Rule 2.06.04: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry." (Here are the service rules.)

Rule 2.06.05: "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."

Rule 2.06.06: "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, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

Rule "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

Many players push the service rule to the limit - which in itself is okay in most cases - but they serve with the ball so close to the body, with the arm or shoulder thrust out, that it's difficult to tell if the ball was actually hidden or not. Many forget that a "tie" goes to the receiver, i.e. if the serve is not clearly legal, then it's supposed to be a warning or a fault, even though many umpires don't call this.(See 2.06.06 and above.) So when a player serves with the ball so close to the body, or with the arm or shoulder stuck out, and the umpire can't tell if the serve was visible or not, then he's supposed to give a warning and then a fault. But many umpires do not. Some umpires enforce the rule about the arm being pulled out of the way, but then ignore it when the player continues to hide the ball with the shoulder, even when it's seemingly obvious.

On the other hand, illegally hiding the serve is so prevalent at the higher levels, since umpires usually don't call it, that many coaches believe you should just accept it, and learn to return such serves, while (at least publicly) saying you shouldn't do them yourself. The problem is that it doesn't take that long to learn (or teach) illegal hidden serves, but it's extremely difficult these days for a junior to learn to return hidden serves effectively because they are against the rules, and so if the junior trains in a junior program, he won't see hidden serves unless the other juniors are being trained to serve illegally. So he only sees them infrequently at tournaments. As he reaches higher levels, he sees them more and more, but by then he's already been trained to read the spin of legal serves, and now has to almost start over, when of course to really be able to return these serves at a high level he'd have to start training against them at an early age.

Of course a coach could spend his coaching time serving illegally to the student so he can learn to return hidden serves. But since most students only have limited hours of private coaching per week, you can't spend much of that time on that, and it takes a tremendous amount of time to learn to read and return such serves effectively.

So what's a coach to do? Call for an umpire every time an opponent serves illegally, thereby causing hassles while often just getting an umpire who will not call hidden serves, and so essentially giving their stamp of approval to the illegal serves? Teach illegal serves to all or most of their juniors so they can both practice against them and use them in tournaments as so many others do, and ignore the fact that it is illegal, and to be blunt, cheating? Or just serve legally, and accept the fact that they will always be at a large disadvantage when opponents do not? I've talked it over with some of our cadets and juniors, and most don't want the hassle, and lean toward just accepting that some opponents are going to serve illegally, and they'll just have to try to learn to return them, and accept that because they serve legally they are at a severe disadvantage. Is this fair?

There is currently a new service rule proposal being worked out that may solve the hidden serve problem. I'll post about that later, since I'm not sure if they want to go public yet.


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June 27, 2011

Gmail problem

This weekend I was hit with a virtual avalanche of spammers on both the Forum and Blog comments. They all came with varied (and apparently random) gmail addresses. I ended up spending many hours personally deleting several hundred postings and blocking (one by one) over one hundred gmail addresses. Finally, rather than put into place more stringent requirements for registration - something I may have to do later on - I simply blocked all gmail accounts.

If you have a gmail account, you probably can't post or comment right now, and probably can't register. If you have an alternate email, please use that. If you only have gmail, please email me and let me know; it would be helpful to know if many real people are affected by this. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Since I'm leaving for the U.S. Open on Wednesday, I'm probably going to have to leave gmail blocked until I return. Then I'll decide if I have to use more stringent registration procedures. (Which I haven't really researched yet.) The last thing I want to do is spend the U.S. Open deleting spam and blocking individual posters all day long.

Speaking of the U.S. Open...

I leave in (checks watch) exactly 46 hours and six minutes. It's in Milwaukee; here's the info page. I'm there primarily to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Open Hardbat (I'm two-time champion), Open Hardbat Doubles (I'm ten-time and defending champion from the Nationals), and Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion from the Nationals). (Note that when I list how many times I've won I'm including both the Open and Nationals.) If there's a conflict between playing hardbat and coaching an important match, I'll have to default and coach - that's my primary purpose there. (I'll mostly be coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the USA Cadet team from my club.) I'm normally a sponge player, but I've been playing hardbat on the side for a few decades. I also expect to attend a few USATT meetings.

Complex Versus Simple Tactics

This week's Tip of the Week is on [read headline, duh!].

The Dominating and Limiting Factors in Your Game?

What are the dominating and limiting factors in your game? Too often players only look at what they do well, and forget the latter, the things they don't do well, i.e. the things opponents go after. I remember watching a player with great footwork and a great loop lose a match because he couldn't effectively return the opponent's simply short backspin serve. Over the next week, the player practiced every day, focusing almost exclusively on his strengths, footwork and looping. He never addressed the problem of his weak return of a short backspin serve. 

A player's level is really based on three things. There are the things he does well (i.e. the things you dominate with); the things he doesn't do well (i.e. the limiting factors that hold you back), and everything else (things you don't dominate with but don't hold you back). I generally advise players to practice everything you do in a game, but focus on making the strengths overpowering while removing any weaknesses. At any given level you need to have at least one thing that scares the opponent while not having any glaring weaknesses the opponent can easily play into.

Great exhibition points

Here's a montage of great exhibition points (4:31), to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama." You can always turn off the sound.

Forehand Pendulum Serve

Here's an interesting two-minute video that shows ten different forehand pendulum serves, both in real time and in slow motion.


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