Knee Problems

April 25, 2014

Fan Zhendong vs. Cho Eonrae

Here's a great video (14:32, with time between points removed) between China's Fan Zhendong (world #3) and South Korea's Cho Eonrae (world #20) in the 8ths of the Qatar Open on Feb. 18-23. Spoiler Alert! Cho wins deuce in the seventh, -12,10,7,7,-9,-8,10. Here is my analysis of the first five points. Fan is in red, Cho in black. Not all points are shown; for example, the second point shown is actually at 3-1. (FH = forehand, BH = backhand. Alas, the direct links to the start of the points make you go through the short ad at the start each time.)

POINT 1: Fan does reverse pendulum sidespin serve short to FH. Cho comes in with FH as if receiving down the line, freezing Fan (who has to cover for the down-the-line shot), and then drops it short the other way, to Fan's FH. Fan steps in, threatening to go very wide to Cho's FH, instead flips down the line to Cho's BH.  Since Fan is leading over table, Cho attacks very wide to Fan's BH. Fan has to move quickly, and does a safe backhand topspin to Cho's wide BH. Cho spins off bounce to Fan's wide BH. Both players are trying to avoid the other's FH, and since these aren't highly aggressive shots, they are going wide to the BH rather than the middle, where many attacks go. After his previous backhand loop, Fan is moving back to ready position and is caught slightly when Cho goes right back to the wide backhand. As Fan moves to do an awkward backhand loop, Cho steps around to counterloop with his FH, but Fan BH loops off. Point to Cho.

POINT 2: Cho does FH reverse pendulum serve to Fan's BH. Fan backhand banana flips, but his shot nicks the net and goes off. I can't read the spin from this angle (Cho's body is in the way), but while the obvious thought was the serve was backspin, I suspect it was no-spin from the angle of Fan's racket. His contact with the ball is almost directly behind it; if the ball was heavy backspin, he'd be going more around it with sidespin rather than go up against the backspin directly. (That's a secret of the banana flip.) Point to Cho.

POINT 3: Cho fakes a regular pendulum serve, but does another reverse pendulum serve. It's half-long to the FH, barely off the end, and Fan loops it rather weakly. But since Cho has to guard the wide FH angle, he's slow in stepping around, and so he takes the ball late and goes off the end. Point to Fan. I'm guessing Cho hasn't gotten his rhythm yet or he'd make that shot, even rushed.

POINT 4: Fan does a regular pendulum serve. The motion looks like he's going long to Cho's backhand - watch how Cho starts to step around. Instead, Fan serves short to Cho's FH, forcing Cho to change directions. See how off balanced he is as he receives? He manages to drop it short, but is still a bit off balance as he steps back, and so is slightly caught when Fan drops it back short. He does a weak backhand attack, which Fan easily backhand loops. Since Cho is leaning over the table with his backhand side a bit open, Fan goes to his wide backhand, forcing Cho to block. Fan now does a stronger backhand loop to Cho's middle, forcing a weaker block, and then Fan steps around and rips a FH to Cho's middle. The whole point was like a chess match, where a small advantage is gradually turned into a winning point. Point to Fan.

POINT 5: Here's where Fan apparently pulls a fast one. He does a pendulum serve, but it looks like he's hidden contact - but just barely. Here's an image just before the ball disappears behind his non-playing arm, and here's one just after, with the arm now hiding the ball. Can Cho see contact? Most likely contact is hidden, but becomes visible the split second afterwards. Here's one the split second after the arm gets out of the way, where you can see the ball against the racket. It happens so fast it's almost impossible to be sure, but it looks like he contacted it with a regular pendulum serve, heavy backspin, but hidden by the arm, and then, the split second after, as his arm moved out of the way, his racket moves slightly in the other direction as if doing a reverse pendulum serve with sidespin. That's what Cho likely saw, and so he backhands the ball right into the het. (This was the standard technique at the high levels before hidden serves became illegal - hide contact, but show the receiver a fake contact the split second afterwards to mislead them.) Point to Fan. 

Was this last serve legal? You decide. Here are the pertinent rules.

2.06.04: 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. 

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. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension. 

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 or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect. 


Back on October 10, 2013, I blogged about spending a day on the set of the HBO TV show Veep. Well, the episode, "Clovis," airs this Sunday, at 10:30 PM in my area (east coast). I was basically their table tennis advisor, and I brought in three top table tennis players who should appear in the episode: Khaleel Asgarali (2314), Qiming Chen (2221), and Toby Kutler (2154). See the blog entry for info on what we did. So you can recognize them, here's a picture of Khaleel Asgarali. Here's Qiming Chen (on right). And here's 14 seconds of Toby Kutler doing multiball training.

You won't see me in the episode, but there's a scene where the character Mike McLintock (played by Matt Walsh) discovers the snack bar at Clovis. You'll see him talking through a window with the Clovis employee who runs the snack bar, and who fixes him some sort of drink (I think a milk shake). While you can't see me, I'm sitting right behind the Clovis snack bar employee, on the left, hidden by the wall and enjoying the show. (They did this scene about a zillion times, with Matt playing a bit differently each time, so I'm curious which version they went with.)

Knee Problems - Again

Here we go again. Last night during a class I was teaching I demonstrated a forehand smash. I thought something felt funny in my right knee afterwards, but it wasn't until about ten minutes later that my knee started to act up again. And now I'm limping about, hoping I can coach. (I have a 90-minute session tonight, so it's not a busy night, but then the weekend is very busy.) This is not a good thing for an active coach. On the other hand, it's been a while since my knees/arm/shoulder/back acted up.

I've had problems with both knees. When it's my left, I can usually compensate better, but my right knee is my push-off leg for all my forehand shots, plus it's hard to move to the right when it's acting up. We'll see how it is when I coach tonight.

Chinese Table Tennis Association Sticks with Old Ball (for now)

Here's the article.

Zhang Jike Feels Pressure With His Responsibilities in Tokyo

Here's the article.

Team USA at the 2014 World Championships

Here's a video (3:06) honoring the U.S. National Team at the World Championships in Japan. That's me coaching Crystal at 0:54 and 0:56 - see big picture on right both times. (But just for the record, Jack Huang is her primary coach, though I often coach Crystal in tournaments when he's not around.)

USA Men's Team at the Worlds

Here's video (1:26) of the most intensively serious workout they've ever undergone, and some chitchat. And here they are relaxing and playing cards. Here they are on the subway returning to the hotel.

USA Table Tennis Champions of the Century, Part 1

Here's the video (6:38) by videomaster Jim Butler. This one covers Eric Boggan, Dan Seemiller, Jim Butler, Sean O'Neill, Hank Teekaveerakit, Attila Malek, and Lily Zhang.

How You Could Send Something High in the Atmosphere

Here's an article on the use of ping-pong balls to send things into the upper atmosphere for scientific experiments.

7000 Pingpong Balls Dropped for Legacy Week

Here's the article.

Office Prank - 100+ Ping Pong Balls

Here's the video (2:13)!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 26, 2013

The Downs and Ups of Knee Problems

Knee problems are somewhat common in table tennis, especially as we get older. Normally it takes time for them to heal. Okay, it always takes time for them to heal, but sometimes it's a mixture of physical and mental, and sometimes it takes time for the mental to catch up with the physical.

As I've blogged a number of times recently, I've been having knee problems for some time - both knees. When I'm out there I feel like I'm tottering about on stilts. My level of play dropped dramatically as even simple blocking became difficult as I'm used to stepping to the ball (good technique!), and now I found myself reaching (bad technique!). Since I had no confidence in the knees, deep down I was scared to even try bending them, so I mostly stood up straight and, as I said, tottered about on stilts.

I probably hit rock bottom this past weekend. On Saturday I was could barely move in my coaching sessions - fortunately it's my students who have to do most of the moving as I mostly block. When I did play points or games I struggled. On Saturday afternoon, after coaching all day, I felt like my feet were frozen to the ground. I normally end Saturdays as a playing partner in our 4:30-6:30 match session, where kids who train nearly full-time try to knock me off. I started out by barely beating a 2000-level kid, 11-8 in the fifth, where I mostly blocked and fished ball after ball back. Then I played an 1800 kid. I won the first, then I felt a slight tinge in the right knee early in the second - and from there on I played like a scared tree. I should have defaulted there just in case, but decided to try and finish. I lost that game 11-3, and it didn't get much better. I ended up losing 11-8 in the fifth, the only time I'd lost to someone of that level in roughly forever. I dropped out of the session after that. (What was really irritating is the kid was screaming every point, even though it was obvious I was tottering about instead of my normal forehand-oriented attack game.)

On Sunday, at the end of a 90-minute session with Sameer, about 1300 level, we played games were I'd spot five points, and after each game the spot goes up or down one point. Normally I can get it up to 6 or 7, but this time I was so frozen I could barely play, and he got it down to 2, and kept it at 2 or 3 for a while. (At least he wasn't choing every point!) Time to retire as a player, right?

Then on Monday I had a two-hour session with Sameer again. (He's taking extra sessions to prepare for the North American Teams this weekend.) I did a lot of stretching before the session, and some easy shadow-stroking, and strangely, the knees felt okay. I spent much of the session harping on staying low, since Sameer tends to stand up too straight. I kept demonstrating the lower, wider stance, and the knees kept feeling better and better, as if they were loosening up. I started to have confidence in them again, and was able to let myself go when we played points. At the end of the session we again played games, and this time I was back to normal, and got the spot up to 6 or 7 each game. He was playing well, but so was I, for the first time in I think months.

Afterwards I had a 30-minute session with Derek Nie, where we worked only on receive (25 minutes) and serve (five minutes at the end). (He'd already had a longer session with one of our 2500 training partners.) Mostly I just served and grabbed the next ball so he could get as much receive practice as possible, but toward the end we played out some points - and again, I was able to move around and play at my "normal" 2200 level or so.

So the knees seem mostly healed. The strange thing is they might have been okay the last week or so, but I was so used to having problems with them that I was afraid to really put weight on them or stay low or bend them much, and so couldn't play well until I inadvertently discovered they were mostly healed. We'll see how they are in my sessions today - I have three hours scheduled, but due to the heavy sleet predicted, they might all get canceled. (Today and tomorrow's weather here in Maryland are supposed to be pretty nasty.)

USATT Editors

As noted in yesterday's blog, the minutes of the USATT Board Meeting in October say that USATT is strongly considering moving the magazine to USATT headquarters. Here are motions #5 and #6:

MOVED that the USATT explore the possibility of producing its magazine in house as part of its budget cycle this year.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract provide for an editor’s salary that is a significant part of USATT’s marketing budget. Rather than having an independent magazine editor, USATT’s marketing staff can produce the magazine in house, integrating it with the USATT website, Internet and digital outlets.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

MOVED that the current USATT magazine editor’s contract not be renewed without the Board’s approval.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract either can be renewed this year or allowed to expire. The last 2013 issue of the magazine is almost completed. The first issue of 2014 may be completed soon. While there will be overlap between transferring of magazine publication to the marketing staff from the current editor, the editor’s contract should not be renewed without the Board’s express approval.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

A little history lesson: USATT tried this once before, and it was an utter disaster. They seem to think editing a magazine is just something anyone can do, so yeah, let's have some marketing person do the magazine. And while he's at it he can do the accounting, coach our national team, and do the occasional brain surgery, perhaps on those who truly don't see the problem here.

Here's a listing of USATT Magazine editors since 1970. Since 1989 we've had 17 editors (some had more than one tenure). I did 71 issues (in two tenures), and Steve & Marie Hopkins have done 39 since May/June 2007. The other 15 editors (all working out of USATT headquarters) did 41 issues, an average of 2.7 issues per editor before getting fired or resigning. Why were there so many editors? Those of us who remember those years remember the poor quality of the magazines because they were not being done by professionals; they were put together at USATT headquarters by marketing type people with little editorial and zero table tennis experience, who USATT hired to save money. The great in-house experiment was a failure over and over, and only continued through so many editors because the people in charge had spent so much time talking about the "huge" money savings by moving it to headquarters and having these inexperienced interns (translation: low salary) do it that they couldn't admit their mistake, and so we all paid for it.

And the huge irony of it was that not only did USATT end up with poorly-done magazine (which led to a lot of board members getting voted out of office), but they ended up losing a lot of money because the advertisers fled, not wanting to be associated with such a weak magazine, and knowing that people wouldn't read their ads if they don't read the magazine. When I was editor I broke every advertising record, and when these "marketing" people did the magazine, they lost a fortune for USATT. (When I was hired the first time as editor, the record for annual advertising was $14,000; I got it up to $33,000. When I was hired the second time, revenue had dropped back again below the $30,000 mark; this time I got it up to something like $80,000/year. I didn't do this by being a salesman, but by putting together a timely and classy product that advertisers liked and that people would read, so they'd see the ads.)

What are the chances that USATT will find someone with the editorial and table tennis experience necessary to do a competent magazine, who lives locally to Colorado Springs or is willing to relocate for such a low-paying job? We learned all about the odds the last 15 times we tried this.

The simple reality is that in this day and age, we have this thing called the "Internet," and it allows people from anywhere in the world to work on such things as a magazine as if they were in the next room. You don't need to restrict your candidates for the job to those who happen to live nearby. And you can't expect to find someone who's competent in one field by hiring someone from another field. How many times do we need to relearn this lesson?

Here we go again (maybe). Cliche alert: "People who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fan Zhendong?

Here's the article about the Chinese 16-year-old phenom.

"...The World's Best, Zhang Jike"

This is according to Fan Zhendong. Here's the article. (There are links to several videos.)

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Singapore

Here are photos of the recent ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course in Singapore, taught by USA's Richard McAfee. (Click on pictures to see next one.)

Breathtaking Table Tennis

Here's a highlights video (7:45) I don't think I've posted before. It's set to music, with much of it in slow motion.

Curvy Pong?

Here's the picture!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Three Reasons Players Miss Against Deep Sidespin and Topspin Serves.

Seamless Plastic Ball

I recently ordered three of the new Palio seamless plastic poly balls that the ITTF has ordained shall replace celluloid balls in July of 2014. I ordered them from, and they came in on Friday. I brought them to the club and about ten different players tried them out, mostly top players.

The consensus was pretty much the same as others have said. Hopefully the ITTF will work to fix these problems, even if it means delaying the change. Here's what we found out.

  1. Though I ordered them from Europe, they are made in China, and come in Chinese packaging.
  2. For unknown reasons, the balls are closer to 41mm than 40mm. Why didn't they keep them the same size? I can't measure them accurately but holding them side-by-side makes the size difference obvious. Because of this they also appear to be heavier.
  3. They are harder than celluloid balls. The contrast is obvious when you press your finger into one and then into a celluloid ball.
  4. They are faster than celluloid balls. We dropped them and a celluloid ball from about three feet up over and over, and every time the new balls bounced nearly an inch higher.
  5. They sound cracked when you hit with them.
  6. They are harder to spin. This might simply be due to the larger size and weight. One player thought this would favor hitters. I have a feeling it might simply favor bigger, stronger loopers, just as going from 38mm to 40mm did while pretty much killing the hitting game at the higher levels.
  7. Most players didn't like them, but enjoyed playing with something different. One 2300 player thought players would have no problem adjusting, but most didn't think they'd be accepted because of the cracking sound and the difficulty in spinning them - though that could be fixed by simply making them 40mm. I think players would adapt to the lower spin, but that cracked sound is not so good.
  8. According to John Olsen (who hit with earlier versions at a Stellan Bengtsson camp, they are better than the earlier versions.

Knees Problems

I've been having knee problems for several weeks. Right now they don't really hurt, but I feel like I'm playing on a slippery floor every time I try to move, even though I'm playing on grippy rubberized red flooring. I feel like I'm just tottering about. Even simple moves like stepping to the left or right to block or stepping in for a short serve to the forehand leave me slightly off balance. Trying to move to attack with my forehand (which is central to my game) is turning into a distant memory, and I mostly just wave at balls to my wide forehand. Again, it's as if I'm playing on a slippery floor. For the first time in decades (except when playing on slippery floors) I don't have that feeling that, no matter what's happening, I can turn it on at any time. I have no idea when or if the knees are going to get better. It's not too bad when I hit with beginning players or feel multiball, but when I hit with stronger players it's a serious problem.

I haven't seen a doctor, since I figure what's the point - they'll just say to rest them. Am I missing something?

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Sorcerers in Space

My novel "Sorcerers in Space" came out on Friday. It's a humorous fantasy that spoofs the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s - sort of Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. You can buy it directly from Class Act Books in four formats: Print, PDF, ePUB, or MobiPocket. (For some reason it's listed on the Class Act Books pages as "Sorcerers in Space PDF," which makes it appear that the only format they have is the PDF version. I've pointed this out to the publisher, but she didn't seem to know how to change this.)

It's also sold at Amazon in Kindle format, and a print version will be sold there sometime soon. (It was supposed to be up already, but I'm told it might be a few more days or longer.) It's my first novel, though I also have Pings and Pongs, an anthology of my best sold short stories, along with five books on table tennis.

Table tennis or ping-pong is mentioned in eleven different scenes. In the novel the hero, 13-year-old Neil, has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world. Here's a short description of the novel:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world.” Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.

Since whoever gets to the Face first can lob spells down and have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, the god Apollo, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets, and before Buzz kills Neil?

Receive Secrets from Japan - the Banana Flip

Here's the article: Service Receive Secrets From Japan. The key point is that you should be aware of the axis of rotation on a spin serve, and either contact the ball on the axis (so the spin doesn't take on your racket much) or use the spin. In Japan, they apparently call the banana flip the "Tikita" or "Chiquita" flip.

German Open Men's Final

Here's video (9:52, with time between points removed) China's 16-year-old whiz kid Fan Zhendong defeating Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the Men's Singles Final at the German Open this past weekend. Here's video (8:40) of Fan defeating Vladimir Samsonov in the semifinals. The week before at the Polish Open Fan became the youngest ever Men's Singles Champion at a Pro Tour event, so this week, one week older, he became the second youngest as well? Meanwhile, here's video of a great point in the semifinals (39 sec) between Ovtcharov and Timo Boll. Here's another nice point where Samsonov does an around-the-net return against Sweden's Kristian Karlsson in the round of 64.

Fan Zhendong Training

Here's a video (7:40) of a Chinese news show that features Fan in training. It's in Chinese, but it's still interesting to watch.  

Cape Fear 4-Table Open

Here's video (3:10) of Richard Perez capturing the first 4-table Open Championship with a comeback against Greg Robertshaw.

Monsters Playing Table Tennis

  • Phantomness of the Opera. Click on the picture and see four other interesting pictures. (Picture two: three balls in play. Older man with blue shirt in two pictures is Scott's father.)
  • Scream (video, 59 sec). I like his backhand counter-hitting.

Send us your own coaching news!

October 21, 2013

Tip of the Week

Should you Choose Serve, Receive, or Side at the Start of a Match?

Knee Problems

Yes, just a couple weeks after getting over about ten days of arm problems (where I had to cancel or get substitutes for a lot of coaching sessions), now it's my right knee that's acting up. I hurt it on Saturday at the very end of my last session, with John Olsen and Kevin Walton. We normally do nearly 90 minutes of multiball each session (they take turns), then do live drills or games the last 30 minutes or so. I was playing John a game, and he returned my serve to my wide backhand. I stepped around to loop a forehand, and as I put weight on my back (right) leg, I felt something go in the knee. I made the shot, and the rally continued, with me hobbling about fishing to keep the ball in play. Then he went to my wide forehand, and I tottered over for the shot, again putting weight on the knee and aggravating it. We stopped play after the shot.

I did a lot of group session on Sunday, where I limped about. I did one private coaching session where I staggered around in live drills, but fortunately did a lot of multiball so I wouldn't have to shamble around the court running down balls. (Okay, I think I've finally run out of acronyms for "hobble.")

I'm resting it today (my day off), and have only one session tomorrow (Tuesday). But then things get busy again on Wed and Thur. I'll sort of get Fri-Sun off, as I'll be coaching at the South Shore Open in Indiana where hopefully I won't leap to my feet to celebrate some victory and hurt the knee again. Because then I'd be forced to stumble about next week.

How I Taught Serves in Class Yesterday

On Sundays at 4:30 I have a 90-minute session with about 12 beginning kids, ages 7-11. I'd already taught them how to serve legally. Yesterday I introduced them to serving with spin. This is always a tricky subject to teach since they don't have the fine coordination yet needed to really graze the ball and make it spin. Worse, they get little feedback from their shot since they can't really see how much it's spinning. So as I always do, I brought out the ping-pong soccer balls.

First I showed them how to change their grip so as to get extra wrist on a forehand serve. Then I demoed a few serves, showing them backspin serves that bounced back into the net and sidespin serves that curved dramatically. This always gets their attention. Then I showed them a simple exercise to learn to create spin. Hold the racket in front, forehand side up. Then tilt the left side up a bit. (Lefties reverse.) Then toss a ball up, and spin the left bottom of the ball so it goes straight up with spin. Catch the ball, and repeat. After demoing this with a soccer ball, I gave one out to each of them. This way they could see how much spin they were creating as they hit the ball up, and they really like spinning the ball. After a few minutes practicing this, I showed them how to do this with a serve (forehand backspin and sidespin serves), and then sent them out on the tables to practice.

RGIII Response Video Postings

The RGIII Video Response went semi-viral, with over 10,000 views. I'm told it was shown on the NFL Network, but I haven't actually got an eye-witness to that. Anyone see that or have a video of it? Or know of any showings not listed below? Definite online showing are at:

2013 USA Nationals

The deadline for the USA Nationals was extended to Oct. 25, this Friday. Hope to see you there!

Interview with Xiao Zhan

Here's a video interview (4:51) of one of the Chinese National Team Coaches, about how he got started, coaching young players, and talent identification. In Chinese with English captions.

The Kenta Matsudaira Sidespin Block

Here's an article and video analysis of the Japanese star's sidespin block, a rare shot among the world's elite that mostly consists of looping or counterlooping everything.

Physics of Table Tennis

Here's an article explaining the Magnus Effect (how spin makes the ball curve), using Adam Hugh's ITTF Trick Shot Competition entry as an example.

Kreanga vs. Tokic

Here's a great point between these two (54 sec).

The Eight Stages of Every Player

Here's the funny but accurate appraisal! So where are you on this?

Fun with Ping-Pong Ball Eyes

Here are some pictures.

Send us your own coaching news!

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