Backhand Footwork

November 6, 2013

Do Something Different

These days it seems like everyone's trying to be like everyone else. That's a pretty successful way of getting good, if you copy the top players. But many are missing the benefits of doing something different. Give your opponent a different look, at least on some shots, and guess what? He might begin to struggle. This doesn't mean changing your whole game to some unorthodox mess; it means developing certain "pet shots" that are different than the norm. They give you more variation on certain shots than if you only have "orthodox" shots. Some, of course, naturally do something different, by having a non-inverted surface, a different grip (Seemiller grip, or even penhold grip for some), an unorthodox stroke (not usually good unless it's just as a variation), or even something as simple as being left-handed. But for most players, you'll want to do something "different" while sticking to your normal righty shakehands inverted on both sides game. And there are lots of ways. Below are ten examples - and I do all of these on occasion, though less now than when I was an active tournament player and honed these variations by actually using them regularly. Pick out one or two, and give them a try! (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

  1. Serve from forehand side. Nearly everyone serves from the backhand corner these days, with a few tomahawk serves from the forehand. Throw in a few forehand pendulum or backhand serves from the forehand side. The surprise factor will often make up for your starting a bit out of position. (I do this all the time.)
  2. Serve short sidespin to the forehand. So many players serve over and Over and OVER to the middle and backhand it's almost silly, and when they do serve short to the forehand, it's a simple backspin ball. Instead, learn to do this with sidespin that pulls the ball toward your forehand, making it awkward for the opponent to return the ball down the line. You can do this with a backhand serve, a reverse pendulum serve, or a forehand tomahawk serve.
  3. Slow, spinny loop. Most people these days loop either hard or harder. Try letting the ball drop a bit more, and go for a slow, super-spinny one. If it goes deep, it'll drive blockers crazy. If it lands short, it'll drive counter-loopers crazy.
  4. Dead loop. Fake spin, and instead give a dead loop. You sell this by using an exaggerated follow-through right after contact, making it seem spinny.
  5. Dead push. Push without spin, but with an exaggerated follow through to fake spin.
  6. Sidespin push. Come across the ball as you push. This is especially easy on the backhand, with a right-to-left motion (for righties), with the ball breaking to the right. It's especially effective wide to the right, breaking into a righty's opponent's backhand.
  7. Ginzo push. Most players push to keep the ball in play. Thrown in a few super-ginzo (i.e. extremely heavy) pushes, and watch opponents struggle. It's easier if you take the ball a little later for this.  
  8. Dead block. Block it dead, chop block, sidespin block - these will frustrate many opponents and set you up for a conventional attack. They are especially effective and easy on the backhand side.
  9. Countering change-of-pace. Rather than bang every ball in a fast counter-hitting rally, sometimes hit one soft. Either keep it low and short to the net, or deep on the table.
  10. Flatter flip. Most players flip short balls with topspin. (It's called a flick in Europe.) Try a flatter one. Hit it a bit softer since you don't have topspin to pull it down, but not too soft. (Recently I've seen a number of top players at my club experimenting with this variation, with help from our coaches.)

ITTF Trick Shot Competition

Here's the ITTF press release on the competition, won by Josep Antón Velázquez. It's a somewhat controversial choice. The winner was to be decided by four criteria: Youtube views, Youtube likes, Facebook votes, and Expert Opinion. USA's Adam Hugh led in the first three criteria, but the "Expert Opinion" chose Velázquez. Here's Adam's announcement of the result on Facebook and ensuing discussion.

India's Level 2 Coaching Course

Here's an article from the ITTF on the first ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course in India, run by USA's Richard McAfee.

Darren O'Day at MDTTC

Here's the picture of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day at MDTTC recently - it's now USATT's Image of the Day. Note the video below it showing O'Day's unique submarine pitching style. Photo by Chris Zhang.

Samson Dubina's Website

Here it is - it has several coaching articles.

Backhand Footwork

Here's a good example of a backhand footwork drill (15 sec), demonstrated with multiball by Daniel Sabatino, current #15 in Italy, former #7.

Table Tennis - the Hardest Sport

Here's a new highlights video (8:36) that features both matches and training.

Great Point with Boll on Floor

Here's video (32 sec) of a great doubles point that includes Timo Boll falling to the floor, then getting up in time to continue the point. He's playing doubles with China's Ma Lin.

Fantasy Table Tennis Receipt with Harry Potter, Gandalf, Captain Kirk, and Oompa Loompa!

Here's Michael Mezyan's recent shopping receipt. It's legit, right? You decide. But I sure hope that Captain Kirk glue is legal! 

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July 17, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was on the backhand. I gave a talk on it, explaining both the technique and the variations, such as how dropping the tip gives more power (sort of a second forehand) but you lose quickness and have more trouble in the middle, while holding the tip higher does the reverse - though you can still hit it pretty hard. I also explained how the backhand has evolved, from the flatter backhands of the past to the more topspinny ones of the modern day. I also talked about the revolutionary change in penhold play, from conventional backhands to reverse penhold backhands.

For some reason many coaches do not have their students do backhand footwork. I too am sometimes guilty of getting lazy on that, focusing on forehand footwork. Often players only do backhand footwork in conjunction with forehands, such as alternating forehand and backhand shots (either alternating from the corners or alternating both shots from the backhand corner). How about backhand-backhand footwork, where the coach puts a ball to the wide backhand, and then a ball to the middle backhand (or even more to the middle), and the player moves side to side hitting backhands? This type of footwork is even more important for players who use good topspin their backhands, whether looping or just having a topspinny backhand, since these players have longer strokes, and so positioning is even more important to get it right. (Players with more of a blocking stroke should also move for each ball, but can often get away with more reaching.)

Later I completed my serving lecture, going over deception and fast serves. Then we had service practice. As usual, we finished with games. Many Brazilian teams were victorious, many cups were knocked off tables, and poor Froggy also got smacked around a bit.

I had a little fun demonstrating long-distance serves, where I'd serve on a table from 50 feet away, usually from the side, using sidespin to curve the ball onto both sides of the table.

Speaking of serves, several of our top juniors are fiddling around with some seriously funky trick serves. One used one at the recent U.S. Open over and over, and kept winning points with it, often about twice a game. I'll never understand why players don't develop their serves more. It's not a matter of trying to rely on trick serves; it's a matter of not throwing away points by an inability to throw variations at an opponent, including a few trick serves for free points. If you don't, you are giving away points and playing level. (Trick serves are generally serves that will win a few free points, but once an opponent gets used to them, they are ineffective. Players should mostly rely on serves that set up their game - usually their attack - while mixing in a few trick serves now and then. There's an overlap between the two types of serves.)  

New Non-Celluloid Ball

Here's a discussion of the new non-celluloid ball proposed for 2014. They say it's confirmed. Anyone want to do some investigative work on this?

I'm Going to Haunt You

Here's a video (5:39) of table tennis to the music of Sharleen Spieri's "I'm going to haunt you," which sounds like country music to me. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.)

New Balance Shoe Commercial

Here's a commercial from New Balance (16 sec) that features table tennis as they advertise that they employ 1300 U.S. workers while their competitors employ zero. I have no idea how the table tennis is relevant to the commercial. But it's table tennis!!!

Non-Table Tennis - Novel Sale

Yesterday I blogged about selling my novel, "The Giant Face in the Sky." The novel is about 90,000 words and 451 pages double spaced. It's a humorous fantasy retelling of the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon in the '60s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts - sort of Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. Here's the three-paragraph description in my cover letter when I submitted it. (Not mentioned here - at the start, all Neil wants to do is play ping-pong. He has to drop this "childish" desire to save the world.) 

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The powerful sorcerer John F. Kennedy has just won his third term as president of the United States. Neil (alias Neil Armstrong, though his last name is never mentioned) is 13 years old, and badly wants to be someone, do something. It's his mantra. Instead, he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world," and who (along with just about everyone else) constantly berates and humiliates Neil. Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends the text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text. It fixates on Neil, reacting wordlessly to whatever he and those around him say or do.

Realizing that anyone who gets to the Face can lob down spells and have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets, led by General Death, invade the U.S. over and over in an attempt to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. When a meteor assassin named Buzz fails to kill Neil, the talking, floating meteor becomes Neil's protector and companion--with the rather unfortunate problem that in exactly one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

Kennedy, with advice from the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, and with trusty sidekick Dogface (alias Lee Harvey Oswald), puts together a motley crew to go to the Face: Neil, Gus, Buzz, and the sorcerers Jackie Kennedy (weapons expert), Conrad (a hippy dragon whose hobby is swallowing celebrities), Wernhera (a sorcerer living in Conrad's stomach), Apollo (the Greek God and son of famed children's author Dr. Zeus), and Jim (a 2-D sorcerer from another universe). Can they make it to the Face before General Death, and before Buzz kills Neil?

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