Serving to Backhand
I am always amazed at how many players do the same type of serve over and Over and OVER - a serve from the backhand side crosscourt to the receiver's backhand. Watching this it also becomes obvious that receivers are so used to this type of serve that they have little trouble returning it. Why don't servers challenge the receiver with more variations?
First, there are good reasons to serve from the backhand side to the receiver's backhand. Here are a few:
These are good reasons. However, they forget the most important goal of serving - to mess the opponent up. And you don't do that by giving him what he's used to over and over. Variation is key. You can serve crosscourt to the backhand with varying spin, but that's just one type of variation. Serving from and to different parts of the table are other ways of varying the serve to mess up an opponent.
Perhaps most important of all, most players have great difficulty returning short serves to the forehand effectively, and many have the same trouble with deep ones. Why not develop these serves and take advantage of this? Every opponent is different, so go in there armed with whatever might be needed.
I once played a player who could attack any of my serves with his backhand, and loop any deep serve with his forehand. When I served down the line short to the forehand, he reached over and flipped with his backhand. The solution? I stepped over to my forehand side and served nearly every ball from there the rest of the match, where I had an angle to his forehand side that forced him to use his weak forehand receive. I won.
This past weekend at the Teams I played a few matches, and struggled to move on the cement floors. So I adopted the tactic of simply throwing every serve I had at each opponent, with huge variations - what I call "cycling" my serves. It worked well, with opponents struggling to get any of my serves back. One opponent began backhand flipping in my short serves with his backhand. So like the example given above, I began serving half the time from the forehand side into his short forehand.
I once played a blocker where I varied my serves, and lost the first game. When I served to his backhand, he won most of the points. When I served to his forehand, whether long or short, I won most of the points. I threw conventional tactics and most variation out the window and served to his forehand exclusively the rest of the match and won easily.
I've played opponents that could loop any deep serve and flip any short sidespin or topspin serve. So I'd focus on short backspin and no-spin combinations. Amazingly, after a steady diet of those serves, sudden deep serves or short sidespin or topspin serves suddenly became effective.
Every opponent is different. When serving to different opponents, you should be different as well. (See also this week's Tip of the Week, Serving Short to Forehand and Long to Backhand, where I talk about making the receiver cover seven feet of diagonal table while turning him into a pretzel.)
Ian (and Mitch) Seidenfeld
Primorac vs. Maze Point
Here's a 59-second video of "Primorac's Greatest Point," where he's ripping ball after ball against a lobbing, fishing, and counterlooping Michael Maze.
Auburn University Campus Table Tennis
Kid vs. Cat - the Showdown!
Here's a 35-second video of a kid and a cat playing table tennis - really! Sort of.
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Developing Your Smash
So many players have this strange idea that the best way to develop a forehand or backhand smash is to, well, smash a lot. It seems to make sense, but isn't always the best way. I've seen this in student after student - they work on smashing by smashing a lot, and the balls spray all over the place as they ingrain the habit of spraying the ball all over the place. Smashing is, first and foremost, a precision shot, and if you practice smashing by spraying the ball all over the place, you are being counterproductive.
Instead, focus on driving the ball only at the pace that you can control, and develop the precision at that speed. As you get better, increase the speed. If you find yourself spraying the ball all over the place, take it down a notch. Precision comes from good technique and timing, and these are things you should work on at a pace you can control. Spraying the ball over the place is a great way to develop bad technique and poor timing. (I may expand this into a Tip of the Week.)
MDTTC Open - Last Chance
If you live within 100 miles of Gaithersburg, Maryland, then enter the MDTTC October Open this weekend or we will go online and steal rating points from you. Yes, we can do that. I'll take entries at least until 7PM tonight.
Here are the top seeds as of now:
Senior and Hardbat/Sandpaper Camps
The training camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center are open to all ages and levels, but because we have so many junior players, they tend to be dominated by junior players. Most camps have a few non-juniors, but not many. So essentially we run junior camps.
I've been thinking about doing specialized camps for other groups, such as senior camps. Back in the 1990s for a few years we had senior camps, where you had to be over age 40 (though we let some "youngsters" in if we believed they were "old at heart"). Most of the attendees were in their 60s. For some reason, after filling the camp several years in a row, one year we had a small turnout, and we stopped running them. Perhaps we should bring them back? There are some differences in running a camp for seniors, besides the obvious fact that people tend to prefer training with their own age group. With juniors, you run them to death with footwork drills, and with faster and faster rallying drills as you work to increase their speed to beyond human recognition. That's not going to work with most 60-year-olds. Instead, they'd do more steady drills, focusing on control and ball placement, as well as variation. There's also more combination rackets, with lots of long pips, so we focus more on both playing with and against such rackets. There are also more choppers and blockers, so we coach a lot on playing with those styles and against them. We don't teach too many 60-year-olds to race around the court looping everything.
Another camp I'm toying with running would be one for hardbat and sandpaper. There's been a strong hardbat movement in the U.S. since the late 1990s, and now sandpaper play is on the rise, to the great consternation of many, including the upcoming $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong. I'm a many-time national hardbat champion and pretty handy with sandpaper as well, and more importantly, I understand how you play with these rackets from a coaching point of view, so perhaps it's time to run a camp and teach these techniques? At the very least, it'll give a chance for hardbat and sandpaper aficionados to train together.
European Championships - Michael Maze vs. Stefan Fegerl
The European Championships are in Herning, Denmark this year, Oct. 17-21. Here's the home page (in English). Here's the Men's Singles Draw and the Women's Singles draw. And here's a video (8:19, with the time between points removed) of a nice first round match (in the main draw, after the preliminaries), where Stefan Fegerl of Austria (world #131, European #53) upsets Michael Maze of Denmark (the lefty, world #15, European #4), 5,7,7,-10,-10,8.
Table Tennis Nation Uncovers the Canadian Scandal
Eugene Zhen Wang, the top-ranked player in North America, had his Canadian citizenship rushed through for the Olympics, according to this article at Table Tennis Nation. Perhaps the U.S. should invite the Chinese team over, and hold them hostage while we rush through their U.S. citizenship.
Circular Table Tennis Triples
I'm not going to describe it. Just see the picture.
Non-Table Tennis - Buzzy Story
Today my story "Running with the Dead" went online at Buzzy Magazine, one of the highest paying science fiction & fantasy markets in the U.S. This is the story of a dead kid who wants to attend high school and run as a miler on the track team. He faces not only public pressure to quit - the country is mostly against letting dead people attend school - but also the captain of the track team and leader of the "Mile Mafia," the very person who murdered him one year before. Here's the first paragraph:
Ben closed his eyes as he jogged on the bike path through the forest, enjoying the cool misty early-morning breeze on his dead flesh. He could feel his dried-up heart loosely bouncing up and down inside his chest cavity in rhythm to his long strides. Toby, his pet mouse, squeaked in protest as he anchored himself deep inside his hole in Ben’s stomach, his claws dug firmly into the lining. It tickled.
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MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Three
Yesterday's focus was on the forehand loop. I gave my usual lecture and demo on the subject, with Nathan Hsu as my demo partner. To demonstrate the loop against backspin I alternately forehand looped and forehand chopped while Nathan blocked and pushed.
There were two new players in my multiball group who had just started out on Monday, so this was only their third day of playing. When the first one's turn came for multiball, a 9-year-old boy, right up until the last second I was thinking we should just focus on the basic forehand and backhand drives. Then, for some reason, I changed my mind and asked if he'd like to try looping. He said "Yes!" About two minutes later he'd picked it up and was doing it pretty consistently, still more of a roll, but with pretty good topspin! I was rather surprised.
So I did the same with the next beginner, a 12-year-old girl. Same result! (Many other beginners are not able to pick looping up this quickly.) As I told the two of them, either they are very talented or I'm a really good coach! (We jokingly argued over which it was all morning, with me taking the "very good coach" side.)
Looping and I have a long-term love-hate relationship. I was a late starter to table tennis, starting when I was 16, and right from the start I was a natural hitter. I found looping much more difficult, probably due to tight muscles (even then). However, I was determined to be a looper (just as many natural loopers were determined to be hitters before that style sort of died out at the higher levels), and practiced constantly. Eventually I developed a pretty efficient, if somewhat stiff forehand loop. When I play matches I loop and smash equally, but my hitting is definitely more natural - but I still focus on looping, because, gosh darn it, I wanna be a looper!!!
In the afternoon I introduced the Adjustable Height Device. I blogged about this back on July 20, 2011, when I first used it in camps last summer. It was created by a player I coach, John Olsen, and the kids love it. Here it is in its high and low settings. The challenge is to serve under the bar. The key is to ignore the bar and simply serve low. We also use it sometimes in regular rallies to see if the players can rally under the bar, which in rallies would be set a bit higher than for serves.
I also introduced Froggy (no pictures available, sorry), a large rubber frog, about the size of a soccer ball (but wider, not as tall). I put it on the table, divide players into two teams, and they take turns trying to hit it, two shots each. First team to hit it 20 times wins. I'll try to get a picture today.
Slurpee fever has stuck the camp. During lunch break each day I'm now taking two car trips to the local 7-11 where the kids load up on slurpees. (The kids were shocked to learn that both 7-11 and slurpees were around when I was their age 40 years ago, when I too used to get 7-11 slurpees, back when 7-11 opened at 7AM and closed at 11PM - hence the name. I just looked it up - 7-11 slurpees came out in 1967, when I was seven.) It's not like I'm not compensated for the taxi service; Allen Wang treats me to a Planters Peanut Bar each time. They are my favorite candy bar; if you want to be my friend, you will bring them to me.
Washington Post to MDTTC
The Washington Post will be at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on Friday at 11AM for a story on Derek Nie (U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Champion) and other MDTTC players. Locals, feel free to come in! Ironically, the player Derek defeated in the final, Gal Alguetti of New Jersey, is here this week for our training camp.
Wang Hao and a Short History of the Penhold Grip
Here's an interesting story on the ITTF web page about the modernization of the penhold grip, which at one point was dying out at the higher levels until the development of the reverse penhold backhand brought it back.
Kalinikos Kreanga vs. Michael Maze
Here are some great points from a video (2:53) of a match between these two from five years ago. Still great play - and notice how tactically they keep attacking the other's middle both to score points and to open up the wide angles?
The Way Table Tennis Should Be Played
Olympian Trick Shots
Lily Zhang and Erica Wu demonstrate their trick shots (1:19) - hilarious!
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Style and personality
Many years ago, while driving to a tournament with Dave Sakai (a top U.S. player for many decades) and Ron Lilly (one of the best pips-out penholders at the time), Dave pointed out that most players tend to develop playing styles that are opposite of their personalities. Dave likes to gamble (and in fact now has houses in both Maryland and Las Vegas, where he likes to spend much of his time), and can be pretty aggressive in arguments. And yet he plays a very safe pushing and blocking game. Ron is a very nice, non-confrontational type, and yet he plays an almost reckless all-out hitting game. And me? Most would say I'm the intellectual type, and yet in my early years, rather than developing some complicated tactical game, I worked hard to develop a pure all-out physical forehand attacking game. (However, as the years went by, my game evolved into a highly tactical game, though I still like all-out forehand attacking.)
Do aggressive people tend to develop passive styles, and vice versa? Do thinkers tend to develop non-thinking games, and vice versa? I think these observations apply to many players. I've found that the smartest people - scientists, doctors, computer programmers - often like to play table tennis mindlessly. I've also found that some of the best table tennis thinkers go home and watch reruns of "Two and a Half Men" or "American Idol." It's almost as if thinker types like to rest their brains and play mindless table tennis, while others who don't spend a lot of time thinking on the job do their thinking in table tennis.
I once coached a scientist who was one of the tops in his field. The guy was brilliant, and away from the table understood the game very well. But at the table he was about the most mindless player I've ever coached. He rarely noticed what worked or didn't work, and was oblivious to what his opponent was doing. He had no ability to adjust his game in a match, or even to follow advice giving between games. A typical 10-year-old would notice obvious things that this player was unable to see.
There is also the opposite - smart people who think tactically so much as they develop their game that they never develop high-level shots, since those shots were low percentage while being developed, and so were never developed. These players are good tacticians, but poor at long-term strategic thinking.
There are also hybrids, smart people who develop very physical attacking games (as opposed to a "tactical" style, usually more defensive), and apply their tactical thinking to developing that style. Often they play somewhat mindlessly while developing their games, and only start to really play a thinking game when they become advanced. Or they apply their thinking only to developing the style, and don't worry about tactics too much until later on. (If they do think about tactics too much early on, it often limits them.)
Among juniors, there are many really nice juniors with non-aggressive personalities who become offensive terrors at the table. Often the ones with more aggressive personalities become pushers and blockers at the table. On the other hand, there are many non-aggressive women, especially in Asia, who become passive choppers. It might be a cultural thing.
One other niche is what I'll call the Chinese penhold mystique style. The penhold grip allows easier maneuvering and variation over the table with pushes and blocks, which leads to tactical play, and my club has a number of older Chinese penholders who are both very smart and play smart tactics. I think it sort of goes with the penhold grip, while shakehanders often tend more toward physical rallying.
Many don't fit into these categories, of course. Where do you fit in?
Mind over Matter?
Here's an interesting article and video from CNN where former English champion Matthew Syed explains why an individual's ability is secondary to the level of coaching they receive and the facilities to which they have access. One thing that jumped out at me was this statement about how a small group of players became the best players in England: "We happened to have the best coach who gave us access to the only 24-hour club." This is similar to what is happening in the U.S., where a few clubs are developing most of the top cadets and juniors in the U.S. - because they are the ones that have full-time clubs and top-level coaches. This is why the level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so much stronger than in the past. (I blogged about this on January 4, 2012.)
Chinese Women's Team
Here's an interesting article on the Chinese Team getting preparing for the World Team Championships.
Kim Gilbert coming back
Here's an article in the Los Angeles Daily News on Kim Gilbert's table tennis comeback. She'll be at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12.
Michael Maze versus Timo Boll
The scooping backspin bounceback return
I teach this to all my students (0:30).
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Anticipating versus Reacting versus Responding
One of the things I've always taught is that, in most circumstances, you should react, not anticipate, in a rally. This is because way too often players do anticipate a certain return, and are caught off guard when they don't get that shot. For example, when they attack, many players anticipate a crosscourt return, and so are caught off guard if it is returned down the line. Or they serve short backspin and anticipate a long backspin return. There are times where you can anticipate, such as against a player who does return your attacks crosscourt over and over (as many do), or against an opponent who does push your short backspin serves back long over and over (as many do). In these cases, you can anticipate, but you still have to react if you don't get the ball you expect.
However, in the context I'm using, perhaps I should instead say a player should respond, not react. What's the difference? React may imply that you are simply doing something that you are forced to do, i.e. in reaction to what the opponent is doing. It almost implies that the opponent is in charge, forcing you to react to his actions. Respond implies that you are choosing your response, and that you are in control. It's still a reaction, but it's a more selective reaction.
For example, suppose an opponent attacks hard to your backhand. You could react and block it back crosscourt, the most natural and easy way to return it. Or you could respond by noting the opponent is waiting for that ball and is already edging over, and instead respond by blocking it down the line. Or suppose your opponent serves short backspin. You could react and simply push it back long, the most natural and easiest way to return it. Or you could respond by noting the opponent is waiting to loop that ball, and instead respond by pushing short or flipping.
Here are two links to similarly titled articles that discuss the difference between react and respond, courtesy of Sean O'Neill:
Friday the 13th
Yes, today is an unlucky day, at least for the 20 million or so Americans (and hundreds of millions of others) who suffer from varying degrees of friggatriskaidekaphobia. Yes, tonight when you play at the club, you will be unlucky and your opponent will gets lots and lots of nets and edges. And yes, when your opponent plays tonight he will also be unlucky and his opponent (that's you) will gets lots and lots of nets and edges. So today is the best day of the year for practicing against nets and edges, an annual net-edge extravaganza. When else will you get to practice systematically against these shots? So today is a blessing in disguise. Good luck!
Wang Liqin drill
Here's Wang Liqin doing a multiball drill (0:48) where he gets a short backspin ball to the forehand, then a random long backspin (about 2/3 to his backhand), where he has to loop the long backspin with his forehand. This is one of the best drills for forehand-oriented attackers, one I used to all the time. (Wang Liqin of China was the 2001, 2005 and 2007 World Men's Singles Champion.)
One of the standard ways to disarm a player with a strong forehand loop is to serve or push short to the forehand, bringing the player in over the table, and then go out to the backhand. While this will often work, if you develop good footwork you might be able to still use a forehand. For more mortal players whose footwork doesn't push lightspeed, you can do the same drill where you use a backhand loop for the deep ball to the backhand, though you might experiment to see if you can sometimes get around and loop a forehand. (The advantage of looping a forehand from the backhand isn't just that the forehand is often the stronger shot; it's also that it puts you in forehand position for the next shot.)
Michael Maze - Simply A'maze'ing
Here's a Michael Maze highlights reel (5:51), which especially shows his lobbing points against Chinese star Hao Shuai (the lefty he's playing at the start), where he came back from down 0-3 and three match points to win in seven in the quarterfinals of the World Championships in 2005. He's the #1 player from Denmark and has been ranked as high as #8 in the world.
Table tennis players use their heads
This is one of the funnier "table tennis" videos you'll see (0:39).
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Falling backwards when forehand looping against backspin
This is a common problem with a rather easy fix. Many players go off balance and fall backwards when looping against backspin with their forehand. Why? It's almost always because they are standing too far from the table. And so they have to reach forward to contact the ball. This throws their weight slightly forward; to compensate, you have to lean backwards. You lose control, power, and are off-balance for the next shot.
How do you fix this? Stand closer to the table, and rotate more sideways when you loop. The contact point should be the same as before, but relative to your body, it's farther back in your hitting zone, often in front of the back leg. This allows you to rotate in a circle as you loop, creating torque and maintaining your balance even during your most powerful loops.
Yesterday, during the Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, I found at least five players who were doing this. (I also had another chocolate candy "giveaway" - hit the bottle on the table, and get a delicious truffle! I gave out about 50 of them. I think we're the most popular table tennis camp in American right now.)
Table Tennis Training Stage IV: Putting It All Together
Here's a short video from CCTV of the recent U.S.-China 40th Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy festivities in China, featuring Jimmy Carter, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, and numerous U.S. and Chinese players (2:05).
Crazy Like Table Tennis
Here's your daily table tennis fix - just over four minutes of great points, with an acoustic version of Gnarls Barkley - Crazy in the background.
Classic Table Tennis
Here's your Classic Table Tennis fix - table tennis from the 1947 World Table Tennis Championships, with hardbat.
Table tennis scandal in Singapore!
Michael Maze kicks table 95 times
Someone took a video of Denmark star Michael Maze (former European Top Twelve Champion, World Men's Singles Semifinalist) kicking the table, looped it over and over, and put it to music ("Red Red Wine"). Here's the video - interesting for five seconds, skip the last 1:22.
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Steady or aggressive blocking?
There are generally two types of blockers, steady blockers ("walls") and aggressive blockers ("jab-blockers"). Which are you? You should do both, of course, but it's usually best to specialize in one or the other. For example, David Zhuang (six-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) is primarily a steady blocker. He can block forever, side to side, often changing the pace and even sidespin blocking. But when he sees the chance, he snaps out an often point-winning jab-block, which is made even more effective by the contrast with his usual steady but not-too-hard blocking.
A key to blocking is placement. Steady blockers mostly block side to side at wide angles, since a softer block to the middle can be hammered. Jab-blockers play the extreme corners and to the opponent's middle (playing elbow), rushing the opponent who has to decide between forehand and backhand, which often opens up a corner to jab-block a winner to. (This is because the opponent has to move to the middle of the table to hit a forehand or backhand, leaving one side open.) The nice thing about having a good block is you can get away with a lot of tactical things that others might not be comfortable doing, such as long serves or aggressive pushes. The opponent may have trouble with these, but if he does attack them, a blocker isn't worried since he's comfortable blocking.
Berkeley Open Results
Isn't it great how at the North American Table Tennis events, such as the Berkeley Open this past weekend (choose "Berkeley Open" from the dropdown menu), you can see not just the results (which most tournaments are slow to put up), but every single match played in each event?
The Amazing Michael Maze
Here's a profile of Denmark's Michael Maze, with the understanding that after this, we'll have a moratorium on the clichéd nickname "Amazing." He's probably the best lobber in the world. He was the 2005 World Championships Men's Singles Semifinalist, 2009 European Men's Singles Champion, 2004 European Top 12 Champion, 2004 Olympic Men's Doubles Bronze Medalist, and is currently world #21, was World #8 one year ago. Here's a tribute video to Maze (6:37).
If you want to relive Maze's greatest victory ever and see some of the greatest lobbing ever, his comeback against China's Hao Shuai in the all-lefty quarterfinals of the 2005 World Championships (he was down 3-0, won 4-3, lobbing over and over), here's the full match (52:11).
Maze defeated China's Wang Hao the round before, 4-1, perhaps an even bigger win. I can't find the video in one segment, but here are the five games. That's Liu Guoliang coaching Wang.
Men's Singles Finals, 2011 World Championships
In case you want something more recent than Maze's Amazing (there's that cliché again...) matches in 2005, here's Zhang Jike versus Wang Hao in the 2011 Men's Singles Final, with the entire match in just 12:11 (by cutting out the time between points). Yes, you can relive the entire thing (and study their techniques) in just twelve minutes!
World Cup Participants
The participants list for the 2011 LIEBHERR Men's World Cup (Paris, Nov. 11-13) are announced. Wang Hao of China will be defending his title.
Sports Coaching Brain
Here's an interesting sports webpage, the Sports Coaching Brain, that (to use their "About" text) calls itself the "ultimate source of ideas, innovations and inspiration for all sports, coaching, sports science and performance issues." Someone who read my blog yesterday about USA Table Tennis gave me the link to this article, Coach-Driven, Athlete-Focused, Administratively-Supported? Isn't it time we did something different? It does seem to fit our sport's situation.
Obama playing table tennis
We already have lots of pictures of Barrack Obama playing table tennis. Now we have the other Obama, Michelle Obama playing table tennis! (And for those who missed it before, here is Barrack Obama playing table tennis: photo1 photo2 photo3 (Photos 2 and 3 are from a picture on the wall at the White House); Obama and David Cameron, Prime Minister of England: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4 photo5 photo6 photo7 photo8 photo9
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