Timo Boll

June 24, 2013

Tip of the Week

Feet and Grip.

Exhaustion Times a Thousand and MDTTC Camps

That's how tired I seem to be most of the time, with the sudden increase in coaching hours due to the MDTTC camps. I normally coach or act as practice partner about 20 hours/week. Add six hours/day, Mon-Fri on top of that, and suddenly my legs feel like dried out sticks. Meanwhile, I've got a zillion things on the side I have to do - prepare for the U.S. Open next week, prepare for the ITTF coaching seminar I'm attending in August and the one I'm teaching in October, prepare for the writer's workshop I'm attending in late July, work on the planned rewrite of my Table Tennis Steps to Success book (tentatively retitled Table Tennis Fundamentals), promote the MDTTC junior program, set up the planned Maryland Junior League for the fall, plus the usual daily blog and Tips of the Week. Anyone got some sleep or extra hours each week for sale? (I think the Steps to Success rewrite will probably be the first casualty; I'll probably postpone that until the fall.)

I actually went to bed early last night with a headache, and woke up with a headache at 6:45AM. I went to my computer, and the first thing I wrote was, "I went to bed with a headache and woke up with a headache, so no blog today." Then I reconsidered, and did the blog after all. The headache's still there, but more of a background thing.

On Friday we finished the first week of our ten weeks of summer camps, each of them Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. I gave short lectures on pushing and doubles. We did our usual Friday's "player's choice," where players chose what they wanted to work on in multiball, with the coaches ready with a suggestion if the player wasn't sure. In the afternoon we ran a practice tournament.

Over the weekend I coached about ten hours, which was less than during the camps, but still exhausting. In the Saturday group session, 4:30-6:30, where we play practice matches (I'm a practice partner for it), I was exhausted. So I played a very conservative blocking game, with a bunch of tricky serve and one-shot finals added in, and somehow won all my matches easily (mostly against 1900-2100 players). In the end, consistency is king. (That's true at all levels - it's just at the highest levels it's consistency in loop-killing winners that's king.)

This morning we start a new camp. As usual, I mostly run the morning sessions, with Cheng and Jack running the afternoon sessions. In the afternoon, I'll be working with the beginners. This week will be even more exhausting than last week. The camp hours are 10AM-1PM, 3-6PM, so there's a two-hour break in the middle where we eat lunch, I take the kids on the daily trek to 7-11 (five minute walk), and then rest. But this week I have a one-hour private coaching scheduled every day from 2-3PM.

I'm looking forward to the U.S. Open next week, where I'll finally get to "rest." After all, I'm only coaching three players, attending meetings, and playing in five events! (Only hardbat/sandpaper events - I may have to drop some if they conflict with coaching. I'm normally a sponge player.)

Japan Open

Who'd have thunk it? A chopper, a Japanese player ranked 188 in the world, wins Men's Singles at the Japan Open this weekend in Yokohama. Here's the ITTF home page for it, with articles, pictures, and results. Here's a video of the final (5:13, with time between points taken out), where Masato Shiono defeats China's Xu Chenahao 4-0. Here's more on the final from Table Tennis Daily. Here's a video (5:03) of the Top Ten Shots at the Japan Open. Here's video (50 sec) of a great doubles rally.

Ariel Hsing at Awards Ceremony

Here's video of Ariel at the Awards Ceremony after reaching the final of Under 18 Girls at the Egypt Junior and Cadet Open this past weekend. She was all gracious and professional despite losing a close final - she was up 10-9 match point in both the sixth and seventh games, and was up 6-0 in the seventh before losing to Doo Hoi Kem of Japan, 12-10 in the seventh. Here's the ITTF page for it, with articles, pictures, and results.

Timo Boll Defeats Zhang Jike

Here's the article, pictures, and video (3:55) of his great win at Chinese Super League just yesterday.

Behind-the-Back Shot of the Day

Here's the video (19 sec). And then he just nonchalantly walks away! It's the other guy who reacts.

Hermione Plays Table Tennis

Okay, it's really Emma Watson, who played Hermione in the Harry Potter Series. Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation. Here's what she tweeted: "I just got rid of my sofa and replaced it with a ping pong table. I think this is the best decision I have made in months.#gameon!"

Lady Antebellum at the Country Music Festival

Here's the article, pictures, and video links. That's Homer and Adam Brown playing two of the band members, with Michael Wetzel umpiring.

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May 14, 2013

J.J. Hardy and Brady Anderson at MDTTC

J.J. Hardy is the star shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. (He's the reigning gold glove winner with 52 homers the last two seasons and a former All-Star.) Brady Anderson was the Orioles star center fielder for 13 of his 15 major league seasons, where he was a 3-time all-star, and once hit 50 homers in a season. They are true baseball stars.

But they are also pretty good at table tennis! With the Orioles having a day off from playing, they spent four hours at the Maryland Table Tennis Center last night, 4-8PM. I gave them a private coaching session the first two hours, and then they hit with our local juniors. I knew in advance that JJ was the Orioles best TT player - they have a table in their clubhouse, and NOBODY beats JJ. Brady is their #2. But how good could they be, considering they hadn't had coaching? I was expecting "basement stars," perhaps 1200 level at most. Boy was I wrong! Both came with their own sponge rackets in racket cases.

JJ's around 1850. Strengths: fast rallying and good serves, and adjusts quickly to opponents. Weaknesses: return of serve and against spin in general. He's very fast and aggressive at the table, with nice forehand and backhand hitting and blocking. He tends to hold his racket tip up on the forehand, which costs him some power, but his bang-bang rallying and reflexes allow him to rally at a 1900+ level - even better if you counter with him instead of looping. He also tends to reach for the ball instead stepping, which allows him to block but means he doesn't end the point as well as he could. He can loop against backspin from both wings, and follow with quick hitting.

He has a surprisingly good forehand pendulum serve. He doesn't change his grip for the serve, and so loses a bit of spin since his wrist is locked up, but it's very deceptive. He does the serve from the forehand side, which seemed to make the serve more effective for him since most players do this serve from the backhand side. He has two main variations, side-backspin and side-topspin, and they both look similar. His depth varies (not sure if it's intentional, need to ask him), so some are long, some are short, and some are half-long, with second bounce right around or just past the end-line.

He played a practice match with Tony Li, 11, rated an even 1800. Tony won the first two as JJ had trouble with his serves, but JJ came back to win, deuce in the fifth! You could pretty much see his mind at work as he figured out how to get Tony's various spinny serves back, and how to block his constant forehand looping. I also played JJ, and while I won easily, 11-3, 11-4, the key was that I was experienced enough to recognize how good he was at rallying, and so rarely let him get into a rally - I serve and looped everything, and looped his long serves while pushing his short ones back heavy, and looping the next ball. I wasn't going to be nice and risk losing!!!

How did he get so good without coaching or playing at a club with top players? His dad was a tennis coach and good table tennis player, and he learned from him. He picks up things very fast, as I saw both in his lesson with me and his adjustments in his match against Tony.

Brady Anderson was a level or so weaker, about 1500. He's a lefty who likes to cover almost the whole table with his forehand - he returned almost all my serves with his forehand. He has very nice footwork and range. He has a pretty good forehand, and can almost match JJ in rallies except that he has great trouble with JJ's serve. He can do a soft loop against backspin with his forehand. Brady also serves almost always from the forehand side, with a tomahawk sidespin serve, which was pretty spinny but without a heavy backspin variation, and so was easier to read than JJ's pendulum serve variations. He's very mobile, and even if you return his serve to his wide backhand, he manages to step around from where he's serving from on the forehand side to play his forehand from the backhand side.

Brady tends to hit the forehand with his arm jammed in too much, raises his elbow as he hits the ball, and often tries to muscle the ball instead of relaxing the arm and shoulder and letting the body do the work. We worked on fixing these problems, and he was quick in making the adjustments in drills. At the start he had sort of a wristy backhand, but I quickly corrected it. While his backhand isn't as good as his forehand, it's technically sound once he made the change, though he'll need a lot of practice to ingrain the stroke. Brady has a deceptive forehand - he usually goes crosscourt, and then he'll suddenly change in mid-stroke and go inside out the other way, which was almost unreturnable, even for me.

The racket Brady was using was too slow, so I lent him my backup, which he liked. He ended up buying a racket from the club, with Coach Cheng Yinghua doing the sale and putting the racket and sponge together for him. (They were in awe of Cheng when they learned he'd been #1 in the U.S. for over ten years.)

Brady also played a practice game with the 1800 Tony Li. Tony was very nervous, and Brady led 10-8 game point, but Tony won in deuce. Later Brady played 8-year-old Tiffany Ke, the #2 ranked Under 9 girl in the U.S. with a rating of 1439. (She trains seven days a week!) Brady was using the new racket and wasn't quite used to it, and seemed mesmerized that this little girl, whose head barely stuck up over the table, was so good, and so lost 0-3. (See their picture below.) I also played Brady, and I won 11-3, 11-1 - but a lot of that was because he couldn't get my serve back, and couldn't handle my spinny loops off his serves. Most 1500 players wouldn't have high-level serves or be able to loop serves, and so they'd rally - and once he gets used to his new paddle, Brady will be in the 1500 range again.

It's tricky giving rating estimate for these two, due to their lack of experience against players with proper coaching. For example, while I estimated JJ at 1850, I'm taking into account how fast he adjusts and learns in each match - he'd probably often lose the first game and have to come back, and might even struggle at first with 1700 players.

Here are some pictures taken via someone's cell phone. (We have a group picture, but I haven't got it yet.)

They hit with many of our top junior players: Nathan Hsu (16, rated 2397), Derek Nie (12, 2215), Roy Ke (13, 2229), Princess Ke (11, 1954), Tiffany Ke (8, 1439, and Tony Li (11, 1800). They were great with the kids, and posed with pictures with all of them as well as signing autographs. I think JJ and Brady were as much in awe of the kids' skills as the kids were of them. By the end of their time at the club, they and the kids were having fun and talking like old friends. These were two very nice athletes; their stardom has not gone to their heads. They were as excited about playing table tennis as a kid playing baseball. Both were interested in coming more often for lessons and regular play, but JJ can't because of the team's schedule. But Brady can, and plans to come regularly. I'm looking forward to working with him - once we've made a few adjustments on his forehand, I can already see him running around looping forehands.

One interesting tidbit - when JJ was hitting with the 2400 Nathan Hsu, Nathan of course dominated with his two-winged looping. But when they played points, Nathan actually had trouble with JJ's serve. Part of this was because he was nervous, and wasn't expecting good serves. I told him to stop thinking about it and just react, and then he began looping them in. I also missed a few of JJ's serves at first, but then stopped missing them.

The Orioles have a table at their clubhouse. Besides JJ and Brady, the other regulars are Manny Machado, Steve Pearce, and Nick Markakis. Nick plays with a hardbat and chops! They've invited us to come in and play at their clubhouse, though we haven't set a date yet. They were also interested to learn that two-time USA Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong lives about 15 minutes from Orioles Park, and may invite him to come in and hit with them. (Tong Tong doesn't know this yet!)

I've been an Orioles fan since 1972, when I was 12, so it was an exhilarating experience hitting with these two. They were extremely nice, and very fast learners. When I made adjustments to their strokes, both picked them up fast, though they'll need more practice to ingrain the changes. You could see how their baseball skills transferred to table tennis with their fast reflexes and ability to learn new skills quickly. Both could react to my best smashes and loop kills. They didn't most back, but they got their rackets on them over and over, and JJ made some nice blocks. Some of you may remember Brady's range as a center fielder. Well, you could see both when he ranged around playing his all-forehand game, and when I taught him how to lob. He'd never done this, but he picked it up very quickly, and with me smashing at 80% speed to his forehand he was not only lobbing ball after ball, but he began counter-smashing, making the shot over half the time.

I gave them both autographed copies of three of my books: Table Tennis: Steps to Success, Table Tennis Tales and Techniques, and Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. They gave the kids autographed copies of baseball cards, and offered free tickets to games. We'll take them up on that sometime soon.

All in all, a great day at MDTTC. The kids have a great story to tell at the school, as well as lots of pictures.

World Championships

They started yesterday, in Paris, May 13-20. Here's the ITTF World Championships page, where you can follow all the action - results, articles, pictures, etc.

Team USA at Worlds

Here's the USA Team at the Worlds Page, which shows up-to-date results and video.

ITTF Sports Science Congress

Here's Donn Olsen's report on the Congress, with lots of stuff of interest to coaches and players.

Table Tennista

Table Tennista has lots of Worlds coverage.

Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov Training

Here's a video (1:47) of these two Germans training for the Worlds taken just yesterday. (Timo is the lefty.) They are ranked #5 and #7 in the world, the two highest Europeans in the rankings.

Rally of the Month

Here's a video (23 sec) of a great video between two kids in the last point of their match.

Pongcast Episode 26

Here's the video (3:45). In this episode: Killerspin promotes table tennis in high schools, Ariel Hsing plays with her friends Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, plus Zhang Jike and Liu Guoliang give us insight on their careers, relationship with each other, and hopes for the future.

The Four Elements of Match Basics

Here's the article - the elements are serve, receive, first attack, and first block.

Degree Deodorant

Here's a video (33 sec) of a new commercial for Degree Deodorant that features table tennis. It shows up 11 and 26 seconds in, both times for about 3 seconds.  

Kasumi Ishikawa Photo Shoot

Here's a rather funny video (23 sec) of Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan during a photo shoot taken just this morning at the Worlds. She's not used to doing these shots without a ball! Ishikawa finished fourth at the 2012 Olympics in Women's Singles (just one short of a medal!), but got the Silver Medal in Women's Teams. She is currently #8 in the world, but reached #5 for two months last year.

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February 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Learn to Play Defense.

Why the High-Toss Serve Isn't as Popular as Before

I saw an online discussion of why the high-toss serve isn't as popular as before, and thought it would be a good topic for my blog. I've been high-toss serving since the 1970s, and it's still a major part of my serving game. Here's an article I wrote on the high-toss serve.

The higher toss allows extra spin on the serve. However, you lose some control as well as some deception. Here are the two main reasons why the serve isn't as popular as before.

First was the rise of the half-long serve (also called a tweeny serve) as the dominant serve at the advanced levels. These are serves where the second bounce, given the chance, is right about the end-line. Any longer, and they are easy to loop; any shorter, and they are easy to drop short or flip at wide angles. These are probably the most difficult serves to return effectively, which is why essentially every world-class player (and most advanced ones) focus on these serves. The problem is that the difference between an effective half-long serve and a weak one is only a few inches. So control is extremely important - and more difficult to do with a high-toss serve, where the ball is traveling much faster at contact.

Second is that you lose some deception with a high-toss serve. With a shorter toss, the ball is dropping more slowly, and so the server can do more deceptive motions around the contact point, and so it's harder for the receiver to pick up on where contact was actually made. With a higher toss, the ball is dropping faster, and so there's little time for that deceptive motion.

High-toss serves are still effective, but take a lot more practice to develop well than other serves. Most players who high-toss serve can't really control the depth, and so the ball almost always goes long, meaning the receiver knows he's going to get to loop as soon as he sees the high toss. To counteract this, many players hold back on the spin when high-toss serving so they can control the depth - thereby taking away the primary advantage of a high-toss serve, the extra spin.

I find the high-toss serve most effective as a variation to my other serves. I use the same motion for the serve - a forehand pendulum serve - but focus on extreme spins and less deception. Usually I'll serve it short but with either straight backspin or "heavy no-spin" (i.e. I fake backspin but serve without spin). However, I will throw other long serve variations at opponents if I think they start anticipating it will go short.

Update - Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

We did the last three chapters on Friday, finishing with 29 chapters, 448 pages, and 916 graphics which I painstakingly cleaned up in Photoshop, placed on the page, and captioned. (I also had to scan a lot of them, though thankfully Mal Anderson did most of the scanning for the book in advance.) Tim spent the weekend (and much time before that) proofing everything, and today we input all the changes. Then I do all the pre-press work. It's going to be a looong day.

Sales Update - Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here are the first week of sales, Feb. 11-18. (With Tim leaving tomorrow, I'll finally be able to focus on publicizing it, in various forums and web pages, as well as the upcoming ad in USATT Magazine.)

Personal Sales (mostly at club): 9
Amazon Print Sales: 40
Amazon Kindle Sales: 36
Total Sales: 85

U.S. Open in Las Vegas

It's official from USATT - here's a news item on the U.S. Open and Nationals both being in Las Vegas this year, and why.

Timo Boll and China

Here's an article on how Timo aims to continue to be the strongest opponent for China. Includes a 44-second video of Timo speaking in German.

Table Tennis Instead of Wrestling?

Here's an article in the Canton Daily Ledger where someone argues that table tennis should be dropped from the Olympics instead of wrestling. He writes, "Unless you really believe the ping pong movie 'Balls of Fury,' then I think you would agree that there is just a 'tiny' more amount of effort put into wrestling than table tennis." Sure, wrestling is also at the high end in terms of "effort" needed, but few sports take up as much as table tennis at the highest levels. Obviously this guy has never seen real table tennis or seen the training they undergo. That's why he writes for the Canton Daily Ledger instead of [write in your own favorite high-level media outlet].

Behind the Back Shot

Here's a video (34 sec) of one of the best behind-the-back shots I've ever seen, by Quentin Robinot of France (world #173) against Kiryl Barabanov of Belarus (world #581) at the Kuwait Open this past weekend. See it in both real time and slow motion.

Kang Dong Soo vs Fang Bo

Here's a video (9:25) of chopper/looper Kang Dong Soo of Korea defeating Chinese team member Fang Bo (world #24) at the Kuwait Open. Kang plays very similarly to the current Korean #1, Joo Se Hyuk, currently world #12 (#5 as recently as last March) and 2003 World Men's Singles Finalist). The chopping style, when combined with looping, is alive and well!

Google Ping-Pong

Some of you may remember that Google has three times had a table tennis graphic as their daily Google logo, once each for the last three Olympics: 2004 ("Greeks" in Athens), 2008 (the "dragon" in Beijing), and 2012 (the "White-Haired Woman" in London). Here's former U.S. Junior Champion Barbara Wei at Google Headquarters in New York City, standing in front of a large picture of the 2012 Olympic Table Tennis Logo.

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February 7, 2013

Last Night's Coaching

After I finished working all day on Tim's book (see below), I went to the club to coach from 5-8PM. However, my 6PM student hurt his arm playing basketball and had to cancel. The 7PM came in early so I was able to do him from 6-7PM.

The 5PM student was Audrey Weisiger, the Olympic Figure Skating coach I blogged about on Jan. 17. She's coming along pretty well, can hit regular forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand pretty well. She still has a few bad habits on the forehand when she starts a session, but she gets over them quickly. She sometimes tends to rotate her body rigidly into the shot, and also often finds herself either jammed at the table or backing off, so I have to remind her to find that spot in between, about arm’s length from the table. Halfway through the session while doing multiball she suddenly caught fire and did side-to-side forehand footwork really well, hitting about 50 solid drives in a row.

I also introduced her to pushing, something she badly needed since she's been losing badly to a fellow figure skating coach who serves backspin, which she puts in the net over and over. (Now you know her incentive for taking coaching!) She's mastering backspin, both with her push (she learned quickly), and is getting some decent backspin on her serves now.

Here's the really interesting thing about this particular session. We started early, at about 10 minutes to 5PM, and went for 70 minutes. Now we weren't creaming the ball back and forth as she's still a beginner, but in the entire 70 minutes, excluding nets and edges - brace yourself - I didn't miss a shot!!! Not one. She'll verify this. (About 25 minutes of the session was multiball, the rest "live.") I also went ten minutes into my next session (where we were going at a faster pace) before finally missing.

The 6PM student was a 12-year-old who's beginning to master the loop. He still tends to use too much arm when looping (both forehand and backhand), but after a few minutes gets it right. His backhand loop in multiball is especially getting steady. One big breakthrough for him yesterday - he discovered that if he faked a smash to my forehand, then at the last second rotated his shoulders back and smashed to my middle or backhand, he could finally get the ball past me. (I'd told him about this before, but it didn't register until now.) Before all his smashes were predictable and easy to counter or fish back. This makes him a bit more dangerous!

After the two sessions, I showed another player how to use the robot, then left for home. Since I was done nearly an hour earlier than expected, I was able to put together the first draft for the upcoming ad in USATT Magazine for Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. I may also place the ad in other table tennis magazines. I also started work on the flyer for Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Volume 13.

Status: Table Tennis Coaching for Thinkers

I got word from Amazon that print copies will be on sale in "5-7 business days." But I got the same note about Pings and Pongs, and they were online in two days. I'll post when they are up. Meanwhile, I ordered 110 copies for myself - ten to arrive next week, and 100 more the following week (to save on shipping).

Status: Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13

We've done the covers and the first five chapters out of 29. This puts us to page 86. Tim's been going crazy with the pictures - I've placed 218 of them so far on only 90 pages (including the outside and inside covers), or about 2.4 per page!!! The last volume had a record 837, but we're on pace for about 1100. Nearly all need fixing up in Photoshop, and many practically need surgery before they can be used. It's a long tedious process. We're working roughly from 7AM to 5PM each day, but while he's then done for the day, I'm off to coach, plus I need to do the blog each night, plus about ten other things that seem to come up each day.

New Table Tennis App

Here's a new table tennis app from Google. Here's how they describe it: "This is an info tool and mainly for trained table tennis players to check ratings, sanctioned tournaments, clubs, umpires as well as some basic info from USA and ITTF world rankings and events. It can also be used as a scoreboard and a simple coaching pad." So who wants to be our beta tester?

Timo Boll  vs. Chuang Chih Yuan

Here's video (5:26) of their match in the Champions League.

Mini-Table Tennis?

Here's a picture. Is it a game or statues?

Office Table Tennis

Ready for your Monday morning meeting?

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January 30, 2013

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Update

I thought it was all done, finished, completo . . . but then I had to deal with the publisher (CreateSpace.com, which is a subsidiary of Amazon.com). They have online conversion processes for converting from Microsoft Word to two formats, one for Print on Demand (POD), the other for Kindle ebooks. Unfortunately, neither worked properly.

I'd tested this previously in converting "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" into both formats, and it had worked beautifully. However, that was mostly text, while the Tactics book has lots of pictures and (more problematically) captions and various formatting tricks. Over and over in both conversions the captions would move to some seemingly random spot on the page rather than stay under the photo where I put them. And when I did little formatting tricks, such as setting text at 99% (so as to pull up a line to line up the text on a page properly) it didn't always come out right. And let's not even talk about what it did with bulleting and tabs!!! One side result was that often text was now outside the margins due to the conversion.

Yesterday afternoon I emailed their tech support, explaining very specifically what the problems were. In response this morning I got a generic email explaining that text cannot go outside the margins, which was 100% unhelpful and didn't address the problem - that their conversion process was off, and that one of the side effects was it was putting text outside the margins. I am not happy with them.

One potential reason for the problem was that I was still using Word 2003. I've never needed to upgrade. However, I did have a lot of problems doing the layouts, in particular photo captions, which (just as with their conversion process) would often move away from where I put them over and over, causing all sorts of irritation as I kept redoing the same caption. At one point I spent three hours on one caption, not just to get it in place, but trying to figure out the pattern of what caused this to happen, but I never did figure it out. (I couldn't find anything helpful online either.)

So yesterday I bought Word 2010 ($115). I opened the file, and did some tests. Unfortunately, there was no change - captions still moved about on their own. However, I'd managed to get the captions where I wanted them, and hoping the base of the conversion process was my using Word 2003, I used the conversion process again. No change - the pages came out exactly as before. About here is when I started contemplating a universe without Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, a scary thought indeed.

Then, late last night, I had an epiphany. I was renaming a file, and realized that even though I had opened it in Word 2010, it was still saving it in Word 2003 format!!! I checked on the file for the Tactics book, and sure enough, it was still in Word 2003 format. So I converted it to Word 2010, and tested the captions - and they now seem to stay in place!!! However, I noted that in converting to Word 2010, some of the page layouts changed, so I'm going to need to go through it page by page fixing things up. I then went to bed, not wanting to stay up all night again, as I had the night before in "finalizing" the book.

So this morning, after I finish this blog, and have a stiff drink (Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice), I'm going to fix the pages, and then test the conversion process with the new Word 2010 format. I need every one of you to cross your fingers for me.

Message to Yourself as a Beginner

If you could go back in time to when you first started playing, what would you tell yourself? Comment below! Here's what I would tell myself if I could go back to when I started in 1976, when I was 16:

  1. Why did you wait until you were 16 to start playing??? Start earlier!!!
  2. Develop your backhand. You won't always have the foot speed to race around the court playing forehand, and even if you did, you need something more than a steady backhand in the modern game. You're probably too stiff to have a really good off-table backhand loop, so develop the backhand loop as a quicker, close-to-the-table shot, i.e. a "topspinny" backhand. (Here's a blog post where I wrote about flat, regular, and topspinny backhands. I play a somewhat flat backhand, but wish I had a topspinny one.)
  3. Stop rolling short serves back with that steady but somewhat flat backhand, and instead learn to put some spin on the dang ball when you receive (i.e. a banana flip).
  4. Don't enter the University of Maryland Arm Wrestling Tournament in 1983 (I won! - but tore up my arm and shoulder in the final, the one pictured here, and was out of table tennis for the next six months, and have never fully recovered), don't try to develop your backhand loop while recovering from these arm and shoulder injuries, don't show off your strength at the weight room in 1986, and make sure to stay away from that kid who thought it would be funny to twist your arm while recovering from that weight room injury. Each of these led to many months of recovery time, and is why my arm and shoulder are the mangled and stiff messes they are today. Also, try to go back to when I was 12 playing baseball and tell myself to stop "throwing like a girl," which is how I hurt the arm and shoulder in the first place. Better still, drop the baseball and start practicing table tennis now, rather than waiting four more years.
  5. In the late 1990s, in the match to make the "A" division at the Teams, after beating those two 2300 players, make sure to glue up before the ninth match against that old guy or your racket will go dead (again) and you'll lose (again).
  6. Prepare for 36 years of table tennis politics that make Democrat-Republican battles look like a pair of warm puppies. Uggh.

USATT Board of Directors Minutes

Here are the minutes of the December 2012 USATT Board meeting, and here's the Tournament Advisory Committee Report.

French Junior Program

Here’s a video (5:19) of a top junior program in France.

The Chinese Serve

Here's a highlights video (3:30) from 2010 that I've never posted. Even though it's titled "The Chinese Serve," and does show slow motion of Chinese team members serving, a lot of it is great rallying.

Bad Lux

Last week, in an email discussion with USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh, the subject of the minimum 1000 lux requirement needed for ITTF tournament play came up. Often-times potential playing sites for big tournaments do not have that minimum lighting. Then I had a brilliant idea. Here's what I wrote: "Wait a minute, 1000 lux (the ITTF standard) is about 93 foot-candles, the American equivalent of lux. Can't we just require all entrants to bring 46.5 candles to each match? And since they are playing a match, their opponent - the match - can light the candles. It's better to light 93 candles than to curse the bad luck in not having 1000 lux. (The plural of luck is lux, right?)"

Timo versus Adam Danceoff

Here is the first (60 sec) and second (37 sec) points of the confrontation last Friday at Spin LA between an unstoppable force (Timo Boll of Germany, current world #5 but #1 in the world several times – the only non-Chinese player to do so in nine years) and an undanceable object (Adam Bobrow, who does, in fact dance). Watch the first point to see Timo do his own short imitation of the Bobrow dance and Adam's own dancing response, and the second point where Adam does another over-exuberant shirt-tearing-off celebration.

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January 23, 2013

USNTTL and Leagues

Alas, it seems the U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League is no more. When you go to www.usnttl.com, you get a note saying, "This account is expired due to non renewal of services."

I was already a little irritated at them for another reason. Late last summer, after the entire thing was set up, I was invited to be a member of their Advisory Board. I agreed, and I took part in a one-hour phone conference with other newly appointed Advisory Board Members and the ones setting it up, and where I was told about the league. I gave a few recommendations (not sure if any were followed, since it was a bit too late for major changes since the league was already set up), and that was my entire involvement with it. Later, when the league was "postponed," I only found out about it by emailing them after the planned start-up date, after it had already been postponed. When nothing was happening, I asked to be taken off the Advisory Board. But I was told the person who did the web page was now in India and out of contact. So a number of months went by where there was no league going on, and the only names people saw there were the Advisory Board, none of whom had anything to do with the actual creation or running of the league. The names of the ones who set everything up never had their names on the web page.

So at least I'm no longer listed as an Advisory Board for a league that I never really was involved with.

Putting aside their apparent disappearance, and rumors that they kept the entry fees despite never running a league (anyone know if that's true?), it was a good try, but it was likely doomed from the start. The problem with trying to set up a nationwide league the way they did it is that there was little existing infrastructure to support it. To set up a nationwide league, several things have to happen.

First, someone, whether it's USATT or some other group, has to study successful leagues (both table tennis overseas and in the U.S., and other sports in the U.S.) and come up with a prototype of a league that can be run in the U.S.

Second, the country needs to have regional organizations. This is the big one. This means, at minimum, a State Association in every state, with some larger states, like California, having more than one. We started doing this in the early 1990s, but a new administration came in and went in a different direction, and all that work was lost. I blogged about this on Jan. 9.

Third, the leagues have to be organized and promoted at the regional or state level. This likely means starting in one region (perhaps with the existing leagues in the SF and Bay areas in California and the NYC area), and expanding both in their region and surrounding ones.

Fourth, with the leagues beginning to spread, the regional organizers need to focus on bringing in sponsors so the league can continue to grow. Sponsors bring in revenue that can be used to hire organizers and (at some point) as prize money for the Championship division.

When something like the above happens, a growing nationwide league will be possible, and serious table tennis participation - as well as USATT membership - will explode.

USATT League

I led an attempt to set up a nationwide league about ten years ago with the USATT League, but USATT wouldn't get behind it. (Robert Mayer did the software development and now runs it, though it's pretty much self-run.) It's the most active series of leagues in the U.S., but it's only a singles league - we never got to the all-important team leagues, which would have been the next step. To set up the team leagues, the plan was to appoint state league directors, but we never got to that step.

How active is the USATT League? In the past ten years, 16,703 players have competed in 364 different leagues in a total of 359,592 rated matches. In December, 2012, 5023 rated matches took place in 49 different leagues. In October, 2012, we had the all-time record for USATT League matches in a month with an even 6700 in 56 different leagues. So far this month there have been 4451 rated matches in 51 different leagues. (For perspective, other than the Nationals, there were only 4158 processed USATT tournament matches in December. In months where there are no U.S. Open, Nationals, or North American Teams, the USATT League sometimes has more rated matches than USATT tournament matches.) It's a good start if USATT ever wants to build on it - especially since they can email all of the league directors with the press of a button. 

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Update

Yesterday I finished the tedious line-by-line proofing of the book. Starting today I get to input the numerous edits, including some new paragraphs and sections I'm adding. Hopefully I'll finish this by Friday. Current version is 99,534 words long, but I expect it'll go over 100,000 before it's done. In the 9"x6" book format, it'll run a little over 240 pages. In 12-point Time-Roman, double spaced, regular 8.5x11 paper, it runs 482 pages.

LPGA Ping-Pong

Here's a picture of LPGA golfers Michelle Wie and Belen Mozo battling it out in ping-pong. No word on who won.

Waldner Scores in Soccer

Here's a video (14 sec) of Jan-Ove Waldner in his younger days scoring a goal in soccer (football for you overseas fans) with some fancy footwork.

Adam Bobrow vs. Timo Boll

Here's the point Adam won (37 seconds), and his reaction. The two played exhibitions points at the Spin LA event this past weekend.

***
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January 17, 2013

Coaching an Olympic Figure Skating Coach

Yesterday I had the honor of coaching for an hour Audrey Weisiger, the celebrated USA figure skating coach. (She was coach of the 1998 and 2002 USA Olympic Team, and coach of Michael Weiss, and has also coached Timothy Goebel, Lisa Kwon, Christine Lee, Parker Pennington, and Tommy Steenberg.) She plans on taking a series of lessons with me at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. She was referred to me by John Olsen, a player/coach at the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Center.

Audrey had been playing with an extreme backhand grip, trying to cover the whole table with her backhand. Hitting a forehand was a completely new experience for her. When we started out, she sort of slashed at the ball with an open racket, and the balls sailed off the end. (Part of the reason for this was she was used to playing with a hardbat, not the sponge racket she was now using.) She also tended to either use no body rotation, or rotate the entire body stiffly as if it were one solid object.

The first half of the session was all multiball. The key to fixing her stroke was to have her start with the racket slightly lower and slightly closed, and stroke slightly upwards. I also had her rotate her upper body backwards a bit during the backswing. When we did these things, she went off the end with an awkward stroke. She still wasn't used to how the sponge racket grabbed the ball, and so was instinctively aiming too much up. So I had her try to topspin the top of the ball into the net. This she had no trouble doing - and miraculously, it led to a good stroke, just not enough lift. Next I had her do the same stroke but try to lift the ball just over the net. Bingo! From there on her stroke was correct, and she proceeded to hit lots of nice forehands (with decent topspin) in a row. (She also had a tendency to close the racket during the forward stroke, and to back off the table too much, but we mostly fixed those problems.)

We did a lot of forehands to ingrain the stroke, and then did some side-to-side stroking drills, occasionally going back to one spot to make sure she didn't lose the stroke. Finally, when she looked pretty comfortable, we went forehand-to-forehand live. Within minutes she was able to hit up to 20 in a row. It still needs work as she still sometimes backed off the table too much and the stroke sometimes gets erratic if she has to move, but the foundation is now there.

We also worked on her backhand, where she was much more comfortable. We had to change her grip from the extreme backhand grip she had been using, but she picked it up quickly. (At first she was using a different grip for forehand and backhand, but we got away from that.)

We won't talk about her serve as we only had a few minutes at the end, where I learned she'd been using a "bounce" serve where she bounced the ball on her side of the table and hit it directly to the other side, rather than have it bounce on her side first. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!! But she was able to serve correctly before we finished, and promised to practice her serve for next time, along with shadow practicing the forehand and backhand strokes. She has to mix next week - out of town traveling - but will continue the next week.

It was interesting discussing the similarities in coaching between our sports. In both, there's a lot of training to develop muscle memory, and a lot of visualization.

Other celebrities I've coached at MDTTC include Jack Markell (governor of Delaware) and Judah Friedlander (standup comic and one of the stars of 30 Rock.)

Proofing

After I finish this blog and do some promised editing of a long table tennis article for someone, I either collapse into bed or start the final tedious line-by-line proofing of the pages of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. The book is 240 pages with 99,528 words. The bigger question is where do I do the proofing? Ledo's Pizza (pepperoni pizza)? Hong Kong Café (kung pau or sesame chicken)? Wendy's (chili with cheese and onion)? Or at MDTTC (no food, just lots of ping-pong on the side)? For some reason, I rarely do extensive paper proofing at home; I always like to go out somewhere for that, usually Ledo's.

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Two ITTF Coaching Seminars in the U.S. in 2013 are now scheduled, both in Austin, TX. There will be a Level 1 Course on June 10-14, and a Level 2 Course on Sept. 9-14. I took the Level 1 course in 2010, and in 2011 I taught one. There's a chance I may teach another one this year - not sure yet. I was going to take the Level 2 course last year but just didn't have the time or money for it. I really want to go, but to go I'd have to pay roughly $300 registration, $300 air fare, $300 hotel, and lose at least $500 in lost coaching fees, or $1400 total. I can't afford $1400. Anyone want to sponsor me?

USATT Annual Giving Campaign

It's time for the annual USATT Giving Campaign! USATT receives matching funds from the U.S. Olympic Committee for money donated.

Send Gary Schlager to the Maccabiah Games

Here's a nice page Gary's put together to raise funds for his trip. He's raised $5849 of the $10,000 needed. (Maybe I should put one of these together to solicit the money to send me to the ITTF Level 2 course? See segment above.)

$1,000,000 Sandpaper Tournament?

We've already had a couple of $100,000 World Ping Pong Championships, with sandpaper rackets only. Now promoter Barry Hearn is talking $ one million. "You're not going to get kids to pick up the game if it is not aspirational. So I need to get my tournament up to US$1 million prize money as quickly as possible. And then we will blow the whole table tennis world up with a bang." He described sandpaper table tennis this way: "It's rock 'n' roll. It's going to be high-fives, knocking balls into the crowd, interaction between the players and the crowd." And he aims to "catapult the game into the big league" and onto the international television stage, which he says has a potential audience of 700 million.

Timo Boll vs. the Chopper

Adam Bobrow's been posting daily videos on Facebook of Timo Boll, in anticipation of his visit to Spin LA this Saturday. Here's one showing a great point (47 sec) as Timo loops nearly 50 shots to win a point against chopper Ding Song.

Drinkhall's Multiball

Here's a video (7:37) and analysis of England's Paul Drinkhall doing a multiball training session, by Bar Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis.

Table Tennis Mural

They've put up a sports mural at the University of California at Berkeley at the Recreational Sports Facility - and it features a picture of Yau-Man Chan playing table tennis! Also shown are soccer and kayaking, and perhaps others not shown in the picture.

"Trust the Topspin"

I was teaching someone to loop yesterday and he kept looping into the net. I told him to sweep the ball upwards, and "trust the topspin" to pull the ball down. He looped the next ball way off the end. I said "Not that much!" Somehow this exchange struck me as hilarious at the time. Maybe you had to be there.

TT on TV

There were a pair of table tennis scenes on TV recently:

  • CSI NY, Jan. 4 episode, "Command + P," with a 50-second table tennis scene starting at 34:20.
  • Storage Wars New York, Jan. 15 episode, "I've Got a Bride to Sell You in Brooklyn," featuring table tennis player Will Horowitz. The table tennis starts at 16:45 and lasts about a minute as Will explains to two woman the value of their table tennis robot.

Chinese Women's Team Gangnam Dance

Here's the Chinese National Team doing a Gangnam Dance (1:22)!

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January 16, 2013

Rating Cutoffs at Nationals

There's been a lot of discussion recently about the ratings cutoffs at the USA Nationals. The problem is that at both the Nationals and the U.S. Open they use ratings from well before the tournament to determine eligibility, but up-to-date ratings from just before the tournament for seeding. There's a somewhat good reason for this. Players need to know in advance what events they are eligible for so they can schedule their travel and hotel. So they used to use these older ratings for both eligibility and seeding. But this led to players with very high ratings getting listed with much lower ratings, both for eligibility and seeding. So USATT decided to at least use the more recent ratings for seeding, even if it meant seeding a player with a rating that was over the cutoff. While this does make some sense, it leads to a lot of confusion and irritation when a player is listed with a rating that's over the cutoff.

How serious a problem is this? Below is a chart of the rating winners and runner-ups in rating events at the recent USA Nationals. (Here are the results.) Of the 15 Champions, 9 went in with ratings already over the cutoff. Of the 15 runner-ups, 4 went in with ratings over the cutoff.

Rating Event

Winner

Rating
Before

Eligible
with
Newer
Rating?

Runner-up

Rating
Before

Eligible
with
Newer
Rating?

U-2400 RR

Alto, Earl James

2365

Yes

Eider, Cory

2474

No

U-2300 RR

Cheng, Newman

2341

No

Chow, Brandon

2212

Yes

U-2200 RR

Seemiller Jr., Daniel R.

2258

No

Ruhlmann, Johannes

2059

Yes

U-2100 RR

Shen, Kevin

2018

Yes

Ruhlmann, Johannes

2059

Yes

U-2000 RR

Shen, Kevin

2018

No

Chan, Ming Yung

1930

Yes

U-1900 RR

Yang, Grace

1617

Yes

Kumar, Nikhil

1752

Yes

U-1800 RR

Wong, Jordan

1857

No

Kumar, Shivam

1845

No

U-1700 RR

Lam, Benjamin

1643

Yes

Ackerman, Estee

1578

Yes

U-1600 RR

Yung, Timothy

1348

Yes

Quant, Brandon

1736

No

U-1500 RR

Bai, William

1525

No

Yung, Timothy

1348

Yes

U-1400 RR

Bai, William

1525

No

Meredith, Aidan

1248

Yes

U-1300 RR

Bai, William

1525

No

Nagvekar, Sanam

816

Yes

U-1200 RR

Puri, Sahil

1107

Yes

Nagvekar, Sanam

816

Yes

U-1100 RR

Puri, Sahil

1107

No

Chandrashekaran, Shreyas

1072

Yes

U-1000 RR

Puri, Sahil

1107

No

Chandrashekaran, Shreyas

1072

No

How can they fix this problem? They could switch to using more recent ratings, but the problem with that (before) was there wasn't an easy way to notify players if they were no longer eligible for an event. But now USATT keeps player emails on their database, so they can easily notify players of changes. So they can email the player and ask if they want a refund or to play in the next higher event they hadn't entered in, and give them 24 hours to respond (after which they'd be automatically put in the next higher event). Or they could just put a checkbox on the entry form for players to check their preference. It shouldn't be that difficult to make such a change, other than the usual organizational inertia.

One suggestion I've heard is that players with ratings over the cutoff should simply be allowed to play, but not be allowed to advance out of their preliminary round robin group. But why would a player over the cutoff of a rating event want to play in the preliminary RR group if he can't advance?

One thing us older players have to accept is that rating events will tend to be dominated by junior players. Juniors both learn faster and are often training regularly with coaches. However, that doesn't mean they can't be beat - you just have to play well and play smart. (Remember the old saying - youth and skill can't beat age and treachery!) This might help - my article How to Play Wildly Attacking Junior Players.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

The covers are done, both back and front. (For the formatting I'm using, it's actually one big cover, connected in the middle with the rectangle that has the text on the binding.) The front cover features my fellow coach and former Chinese and USA national team member Cheng Yinghua serving, with the ball he's tossed up forming the "o" in the "for" in the title: "Table Tennis for Thinkers." Looking down over him is a head shot of Rodin's "The Thinker" looking down over him.

The back cover has three pictures of me coaching matches, including Todd Sweeris at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials (he made the team); coaching John and Nathan Hsu in doubles at the 2012 Junior Olympics; and coaching Derek Nie and Seyed Hesam Hamrahian in doubles at the 2012 USA Nationals. I didn't choose the latter two pictures because of the doubles, but because they were nice pictures. I was a little hesitant on the photo that included Seyed, since I don't normally coach him (he's from Ohio, the others pictured all are, or were, players from MDTTC), but he played the junior teams with Derek, and it was a nice picture. (There's still a chance I might change some of the pictures.) I'll post pictures later.

I have a few notes on some minor things to fix, mostly involving layouts. Then I print the whole thing out and do a very thorough line by line editing. If all goes well, it'll be on sale by the end of February, in "Print on Demand" (POP) and ebook formats.

After it goes on sale I'll get to work on getting my other books into POP and ebook formats, and then I'll do an advertising blitz everywhere, with a new web page devoted to selling those books.

Ask Timo Boll a Question

If you could ask Timo Boll one question, what would it be? You can submit it here, care of Adam Bobrow, and that question might get asked when Timo plays at Spin LA this Saturday from 6-10PM. Or you can "like" the questions already there that you like. The questions with the most "likes" will most likely be the ones asked. And since we're on the subject of Timo Boll, here's a video (10:00) of a great match of his against Ma Long at the 2009 Qatar Open.

Ma Long's Backhand Flip

Here's a video (3:25) that features the backhand flip of China's Ma Long, world #3, world #1 for all of 2010 and eight months of 2011. (Overseas they call this shot a flick instead of a flip, but it's a backhand attack of a short ball, usually against one with backspin.) It shows it in both regular and slow motion. There's also some commentary in Chinese. Ma Long was the primary player who revolutionized receive by favoring the backhand receive against short balls to the forehand instead of doing using a forehand flip, as most coaches would urge, arguing that it drew you into a backhand position. Ma often flips with his backhand against a short ball to his forehand, and covering the entire table on the next shot with his big forehand loop.

Swimming Pool Ping-Pong

It's raining outside, which inspired me to show you this picture of two players playing table tennis in a swimming pool. Then I realized that this means that somewhere, someone is actually selling these swimming pool ping-pong sets, and some of you might want to buy one. So I searched, and found you can get one for $49.99 ("was $99.99) at In the Swim. You can also get it at Amazon, but there the price is $76.47.

***
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November 19, 2012

Tip of the Week

Backhand and Forehand Playing Distance.

Malware and Spammers and Hall of Fame Program, Oh My!
(And update on "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers")

I was really hoping to finish the page layouts before Thanksgiving for my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers" (previously titled "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide.") However, I'm in an ongoing battle with false malware warnings and spammers, plus I'm doing the USATT Hall of Fame Program booklet for the upcoming inductions at the USA Nationals. Plus, of course, the usual coaching duties, this blog, and little things like eating and sleeping and seeing the dentist this afternoon. (Pause for dramatic cringing.) So it's probably not going to happen. There's still a small chance it'll be done in time so I'll have copies for the Nationals, but probably not. (It's looking like it'll be about 240 pages and right about 100,000 words.)

Regarding the malware problem, the site has been scanned over and Over and OVER, and no spam has been found. You can scan it yourself in seconds at Sucuri Securities, and it comes up clean. (It's the removal that takes time, not the scanning.) The problem, as noted previously, is that there seems to be ongoing vestigial remnants of past malware warnings from a malware problem from over a month ago. The problem comes from Google, and it mostly affects the 40% of viewers who use Google Chrome as their browser. Some Chrome users have said they aren't having problems, and there have been some reports of warnings from Firefox, but none from those using Explorer. You should be able to just ignore the warnings.

I've emailed with Sucuri, and they've assured me they can stop the malware warnings, but it's going to cost $189.99/year for their coverage, on top of a couple hundred I've already spent trying to solve this problem on this mostly volunteer site.

Regarding spammers, the problem there is the malware warnings have somehow effected email notifications to me of spam postings, and so recently I've had to hunt them down manually. Normally, with the email notifications, I can delete them, and block and report the spammers within seconds. If you happen to see a spam posting either as a comment to a blog entry or on the forum, let me know so I can send a nuclear device at whoever created it.

Brian Pace's Serve & Return Videos

Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis has produced two videos on serve and serve return. They are Serve and Server Return Training for Table Tennis, Part 1 (2hr 21min) and Part 2 (1hr 58min). Here's the promo video (1:19).

USATT Coaching Newsletter

The latest USATT Coaching Newsletter, Issue Number 6, just came out. (You can see the previous five here.) Here's the Table of Contents:

  • Last Call for "Coach of the Year Nominations"
  • USATT Holds First Ever ITTF Level 2 Course
  • First USATT Coaches Certified as ITTF Level 2 and Level 3 Course Conductors
  • USATT Coaching Reaches an Historic Milestone – 100 ITTF Coaches
  • USATT Coaching is Looking for Clubs to Host Regional ITTF Courses
  • Towards the Future!

Merit Badges for Table Tennis

Here's a proposal from Diego Schaaf and Wei Wang on Merit Badges for Achieving Playing Class (i.e. reaching specific ratings). I'll probably blog about this later on, but for now, what are your thoughts? It seems like a good idea. Similar suggestions have come up in the past, but three things always stopped it: 1) What should be awarded for these achievements - belts, like in martial arts? Pins? Badges? Certificates? etc.; 2) Few ever put together an actual proposal such as this eon, and 3) No one ever follows up on it.

Ray Chen

I am sad to report that Ray Chen, 79, a longtime Maryland player and lifetime member of USATT, passed away last Wednesday, on Nov. 14.

Athlete Isn't "Extraordinary" in Visa Bid

Here's an article in the New York Times about the U.S. turning down the visa bid for Afshin Noroozi, Iran's first table tennis Olympian and world #284.

TopSpin's Fourth Annual Ping-Pong tournament

Here's an article about this annual New York City event, which included guest appearances by present and former NBA players Gerald Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, and Allan Houston, as well as radio host Angie Martinez, the "Voice of New York." The tournament raises money for three charities, A Better Chance, Change For Kids, and Horizons.

For People Who Don't Really Know Table Tennis

Here's a great new highlights video that just went up yesterday (7:31), and one of the best I've ever seen. I'm nominating for point of the year the one between Germany's Timo Boll and Croatia's Andrej Gacina that starts at 1:25 and continues all the way to 1:51. Amazingly, as so often it seems to happen, the point was at 10-8 match point in the fifth, and this was no exhibition point.

Crazy Rabbit

If I ever find the creator of the malware that caused so many problems on this site, I will do to them what this bunny rabbit does to this ping-pong paddle (1:43).

***
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October 5, 2012

Value of the Backhand Loop

If I could go back 36 years and tell myself one thing as I was developing my game, I'd tell myself to develop my backhand loop.

Sponges weren't nearly as good back then as modern ones, and so it was much harder to backhand loop with great power without backing well off the table to give yourself time for a bigger swing. The thinking for many was that if you develop your footwork and forehand, you don't need as much of a backhand attack - i.e., "one gun is as good as two." And backhand loop? It was a nice shot, but not really necessary.

And so I didn't really develop a backhand loop until I'd played many years. The result is it's not natural or particularly strong, can be erratic, and is not a particularly instinctive part of my game.

With modern sponges you can loop just about anything, even balls that land short over the table (especially with the backhand, where you can wrist-loop it), and so players pick up the backhand loop early as a dangerous weapon. A good backhand loop gets you out of those pushing rallies (including pushing back deep serves to the backhand) that put you at the mercy of the opponent's loop. Meanwhile, I still struggle to get myself to backhand loop against deep serves (I can't step around and loop forehand every time), and against quick, angled pushes to my backhand, especially after a short serve to my forehand. You don't have to rip these backhand loops; consistency, depth, and spin are key. (You can often get away with a weak loop if it consistently goes deep.)

Just as difficult is backhand looping in a rally. These days many of our up-and-coming juniors backhand loop (often off the bounce) just about everything - or at least topspin their backhands to the point where, compared to backhands of yesteryear, they are backhand loops. This turns players like me into blockers, and not in a good way. 

Not everyone has the athleticism to backhand loop over and over, though most people can if they spend enough time both practicing and (just as important) doing physical training. But just about anyone trained properly can turn their backhand loop into a dangerous weapon against pushes, deep serves to the backhand, and against low but soft blocks. Yes, I mean you, the person reading these words.

So develop that shot, and don't make the mistake I made so many years ago.

More on Backhand Looping

And since we're on the topic of the backhand loop, here's a new video out, "Backhand Loop Training" (6:41) from Dynamic Table Tennis (that's Brian Pace). It shows Brian demonstrating and explaining the backhand loop. Note near the start how he's backhand looping against block almost off the bounce, something few players did when I was starting out (except perhaps for Hungarian great Tibor Klampar).

Here's a tutorial (4:02) on the backhand loop against topspin by ttEdge.

Here's a tutorial (4:12) on the backhand loop against backspin by PingSkills.

Here's a video (1:08) from a year ago of Chinese Coach Liu Guoliang feeding multiball to Ma Long, who is backhand looping against backspin. I don't recommend most of you try to loop with as much speed as Ma, but note that his loops aren't just speed - they have great topspin as well pulling that ball down.

Zhang Jike vs. Timo Boll

Here's a match from the 2012 World Team Championships between world #1 Zhang Jike of China versus the European #1 (and world #1 for three months last year) Timo Boll of Germany, with the time between points removed so it's nine minutes of non-stop action.

Behind the Back Save Against Saive

Here's a video (55 sec) of Marc Closset making a behind-the-back return to win a point at the 2012 Belgian Championships against Jean-Michel Saive. Make sure to watch the slow motion.

How to Win a Key Point

This player has taken his high-toss serve to a new level (0:20).

***

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