Zhang Jike

August 31, 2012

Neck Injury Update

I'm still wearing the neck brace most of the time, but the neck is getting better. Tomorrow I've got a few hours of coaching, mostly multiball, but I also plan to do some "live" play during one of the sessions. I may wear the neck brace for that as an injury preventive. We'll see how it goes.

Hardbatters of the Past, Present, and Future

How good were hardbatters from the past? There's no way of really knowing, but we can make some educated guesses. However, there are some subtleties that have to be addressed.

First off, it's not fair to compare the skill level of players from the hardbat era against the skill level of current players by judging how past players would fair against certain modern techniques that they never faced, such as looping and deceptive spinny serves, not to mention modern sponges. For example, the first sponge player, Hiroje Satoh of Japan, couldn't compete with the best players in Japan because they had gotten used to his "strange" surface, but when he went to the 1952 World Championships (and managed to avoid playing his Japanese teammates), he won - not so much because of his skill level, but because his opponents weren't used to his sponge. His innovation won him the world title, but he quickly fell back in the rankings, unable to compete with his more skilled adversaries once they adjusted to his sponge racket.

And Satoh wasn't using modern sponge techniques. If I could go back to 1952, I'd likely also win the Worlds as players back then had never seen the types of serves and loops that an average 2200 player can throw at them. But it wouldn't be a fair comparison, and things could change quickly after they adjusted to me, just as they did to Satoh.

Once point comes up is that for a time, the hardbat players had to face the finger-spin serves of Sol Schiff and others before those were made illegal. It's true that once they figured them out, they were able to handle them. But the key points here are 1) that it was only after they adjusted to them - probably not the first time out - that they were able to handle them; 2) they could take the serve late and chop it back, allowing them more time to read and react to the spin. In the modern game, few players can afford to do that, since chopping a deep, spinny serve back gives the opponent the chance to loop, and since they had never seen such a shot before, it is unlikely they could have won against a competent looper. And 3), a modern player with a good spinny serve could serve it short (which the finger-spinners didn't do), so the receiver couldn't take it late. (Note that it's not just the spin of the serve they have to react to - it's also the deception, since nobody had developed the tricky deceptive serves that are now common even at the intermediate level where the racket goes through a very rapid semi-circular motion, making it difficult to pick up the direction of the racket at contact. According to Dick Miles, who questioned me about these serves, nobody did that back then, and he found it hard to believe that modern players could do it.)

However, a better question is how would such hardbat players of the past do against a modern player once they had time to adjust? That's where things get foggy. After spending a career playing hardbat-to-hardbat, many or most wouldn't adjust well. The very best ones would, since half of table tennis is adjusting to your opponent. For example, as confident as I am that I could beat, say, Dick Miles or Marty Reisman in 1952 the first time out (where I'm using sponge and they are using their hardbats), I am equally non-confident about what would happen after they had gotten used to playing me.

The next question is how good would a modern sponge player be using a hardbat in the hardbat era against the hardbat greats? First time out, of course, they'd get clobbered; not only do they have to adjust to playing with a hardbat, they have to adjust to playing against hardbat.  It's a different game! I remember the one time I played hardbat with Cheng Yinghua back in the late 1990s. He'd never really tried hardbat, and the first half hour as we just hit around I was pretty confident against him. Then a little light seemed to go off in his head, and after that he was like a buzz saw, attacking everything with ease and seemingly never missing. I still consider him the best hardbat player I've ever played or seen live, and I've seen and played pretty much all of the best current hardbat players. Cheng played an aggressive yet consistent backhand that rarely missed, while all-out hitting with his forehand - and also seemingly never missed. He never backed off the table, and he attacked every serve. I was nearly 2200 with a hardbat in those days playing against sponge, and my chances against him after the first half hour were zilch, and he won every game we played after that with ease. (I doubt if most sponge players could adapt to hardbat as fast and as well as Cheng did.) 

If Cheng practiced hardbat regularly for, say, a year (and we'll assume he's back in his peak, not in his mid-50s as he is now), how would he do against the best from the past? Very tough to say. He has two big advantages. First, he has modern serving techniques with a hardbat, which by itself would win him many matches at the start, and would later probably still give him the initiative as opponents would often return them defensively. Second, he's been training for table tennis nearly full-time since the age of five. While the training was with sponge, it has ingrained in him reflexes and attacking strokes that few in the hardbat era could match. In a counter-hitting battle, he'd beat anyone from the hardbat era. So to beat him, they'd have to do a lot of chopping and pick-hitting, something most of them are quite comfortable doing. How would Cheng do against the best choppers of the hardbat era? Tough to say.  

The best hardbat chopper I've faced was Richard Gonzalez of the Philippines, who I lost to in the Over 40 Hardbat Final at the 2011 U.S. Open. How good was he? The best chopper in the U.S. for many years was Derek May, a 2500 chopper, but when I played him hardbat to hardbat, I won rather easily as he was more used to chopping against sponge players. I've also played Steve Berger, who is also very good, but Gonzalez was a level better. How would Cheng do against Gonzalez, who also has a great attacking game? It's a match I'd love to see. The first time out, I'm guessing it would be close. However, my guess is that if Cheng were to play hardbat for a year during his peak years, he'd easily win against Gonzalez.

Another question comes up. How good could a player be in the modern game using a hardbat? Currently, the best hardbatters have ratings that max out around 2300. But it's a small sample size, and the best of them are mostly players already in their 40s who switched to hardbat after decades of sponge play. So it's obvious to me that players can get well past the 2300 level with a hardbat if they started out as hardbatters as beginning juniors at a young age, and trained that way just as sponge players do. Again, I'll turn to Cheng to see how good a player can be with a hardbat. After hitting with his hardbat with me, Cheng later played some practice matches against one of his 2250 juniors, who used sponge - and he won easily. Yes, after at most an hour of hardbat play, Cheng easily beat a 2250 junior player using sponge, and what I have to emphasize here is he did it easily, no contest, just hitting and blocking everything with ease. His level against sponge was already at least 2400. (He was rated about 2700 with sponge at the time, had previously been much better.)

How good would Cheng have been if he'd been training full-time with a hardbat against sponge players since a young age? Much better. However, at the same time there is the law of diminishing returns, since there are limits to what you can do with a hardbat against a world-class sponge player. My educated guess is that the very best would reach about 2600, but that's probably the upper limit. (The best players in the world are 2900+.)

Lastly, remember that in nearly every sport with measurable results that can be compared against future athletes, each new generation is almost always better than the previous ones. In table tennis, this is true as well, as modern players train for more hours with systematic training methods than players in the past. It's likely that if sponge had never been introduced or had been outlawed, and the game had stayed with hardbat, the same thing would have happened, and we'd have thousands of hardbatters training under top coaches from the age of five on (as they do in China), and hardbat would have been taken to a new level. (Even the best choppers of the past, as good as they were, wouldn't be as good as the best choppers coming out of a massive number of modern players training full-time as a hardbat chopper/attackers from age five.)

But hardbat was never developed to the highest levels because of the introduction of sponge, and so the hardbat game never reached the levels that it might have reached. And so it's likely that we'll never know just how good a player could be with a hardbat. But I'll stick with my 2600 guesstimate.

Paralympics

Here's the home page for the Table Tennis Paralympics, which are in London, Aug. 29 - Sept. 9. 

Pong Planet

The newest full-time professional table tennis center is Pong Planet in San Carlos, CA. They open tomorrow, on Sept. 1, 2012, with coaches James Guo Xi, Dennis Davis, Tibor Bednar, and Donn Olsen.

When Serving Short Becomes Important

Here's an article from PingSkills about serving short.

Zhang Jike's Tips On Winning the Olympic Title

Here's an article where the Men's Singles World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalists gives tips for success.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy's 40th Anniversary

Here's an article at Table Tennis Nation about the 40th Anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy (this past Tuesday), with a link to a video of Henry Kissinger talking about it. Chairman Mao is quoted as saying, "The small ping-pong ball could be used to move the large ball of Earth." And here's a Chairman Mao/President Nixon Paddle.

Spanish Football Stars Play Table Tennis

Here's an article about and 13-second video of Spanish football stars (that's soccer to Americans) Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique playing table tennis. They're pretty good!

Waldner and Federer

Here's a 43-second video that shows Waldner and Federer both making almost identical moving, no-look cross-court miracle winning shots in their respective sports.

Wang Hao and Zhang Jike Exhibition

Here's a 33-second clip of Wang Hao and Zhang Jike doing an exhibition and playing with mini-rackets. At the end there's some sort of tug-of-war going on, but I have no idea who the participants are - it's all in Chinese. Anyone know? (I guess if I went over it carefully I might recognize if some of them are players, but I'll let others do that. Yes, you.)

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July 18, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Two

The schedule yesterday was similar to the day before, except that the morning's focus was on the backhand, and my lecture after the break was on return of serve.

I did a lot of coaching on serves, where the focus was on creating spin. One thing I introduced was a way to practice spin with just the racket and ball. You toss the ball into the air and try to sidespin it straight into the air, catch it, and repeat. It's a simple exercise any player can learn to do, and it's a great way to practice your spin contact as well as control (since you have to hit the ball straight up).

One serve especially has gained interest - the reverse forehand pendulum serve, especially short to the forehand. I've explained that this is probably the most effective serves against junior players (because of their shorter reach, making it hard both to handle the serve or to return it anywhere except crosscourt to a righty's forehand), and this seems to have sparked interest. Here's a video (1:22) that features Men's Singles World Champion Zhang Jike doing the serve, with slow motion. Normally I'd recommend the serve to go wider to the forehand, but at the advanced levels that gives the receiver a very wide angle into the forehand, so at that level it is often done more to the middle. Learn the serve and experiment on what works best in your matches against different opponents.

Things weren't all lovey-dovey in the camp; we had our first real fight of the season. One kid wanted to share a chair with another (both about 9), for some reason didn't want to use the open chair five feet away. I had to pull them apart. Amazing how such little things can escalate at that age level. (I previously blogged about a fight over paper cups, I think about who got to stack them for knocking down with ping-pong balls.) But an hour later they were happily taking turns on the robot together, and later were teammates in Brazilian Teams, cheering for each other. I wish my memory were that short.

In the ongoing clipboard challenge matches during break, I haven't yet lost to anyone rated under 2200, and am now 5-0 against players rated between 2000 and 2200. However, I believe players are now conspiring together by studying videos late into the night, comparing notes, consulting with coaches, and doing early morning training, all for the express purpose of beating me and my clipboard.

Fundraising for Topspin the Movie

To do the documentary on Michael Landers, Ariel Hsing, and Lily Zhang, they need to raise $75,000. As of this writing, 405 people have donated a total of $44,771. It's all or nothing - so they need you to donate! Here's the movie webpage, here's the fundraising site, and here's a link to the 48-hour Top Spinnathon they started Tuesday at 3:30 PM.

Ariel Hsing on CNN

Here's an article with a link to a two-minute video that ran on CNN yesterday. The person hitting with Ariel in the video is coach and practice partner Anol Kashyap.

Timothy Wang in the News

Here's an article on USA Olympian Timothy Wang.

What Vikash Learned at the U.S. Open

Vikash Sahu blogs about what he learned at the U.S. Open, in particular about attacking, playing different styles, and physical conditioning.

History of U.S. Table Tennis

Chapter 14 of Volume 12 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis was featured yesterday on the USATT web page. The heading: "1983: New USTTA Editor Tom Wintrich Replaces 50-Year-Old 'Table Tennis Topics' with 'SPIN.' 1983: Boggan's Fury at President Schiff's Public Explanation as to Why Tim was Fired as 'Topics' Editor. 1983: Boggan Immediately Begins Renegade 'Timmy’s North American World of Table Tennis.'  1983: Initial Responses to SPIN and 'Timmy's' from readers."

Why not buy a copy of this volume and/or the preceding eleven? Perhaps pick and choose the years you are most interested in. Here's Tim Boggan's table tennis page, where you can buy the books or just read about Tim. Here's his Hall of Fame profile.

Wheel of Fortune

Table tennis was on Wheel of Fortune yesterday, as related online by "jj4tt" at the about.com table tennis forum. As he narrates about "Round 2 - Same Letter" (and I presume Wheel of Fortune aficionados can make sense of this?):

Sarah instantly duds out w/ T while Karla goes BANKRUPT. Jed picks up that MDW with three N's. That's followed by $7,000 worth of L's, but he blows it with the C. Back to Sarah who finds the SL of four P's; that allows her to pick up a 1/2 KIA. She narrows the puzzle down to this...
P R O _ E S S I O N A L
P I N _ - P O N _
P L A _ E R
She solves PROFESSIONAL PING-PONG PLAYER for $2,500. Jed left a total of $8,300 on the table in this round.  ...

A Table at Spin NY

I think it's a drowning woman - the table top seems to be blocking her from surfacing. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be posting about Murder at Spin NY.

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June 28, 2012

Last Blog Until After U.S. Open

This will be my last blog until I return from the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids. I should start blogging again on Friday, July 6. I know it will be difficult, but there must be other stuff on the Internet to read. I've heard rumors.

I'm mostly coaching at the Open (primarily Derek and George Nie), though I am entered in one event, Hardbat Doubles with Ty Hoff. (I've won it twelve times at the Open or Nationals, eight times with Ty, four times with Steve Berger.) There's just too many time conflicts in trying to play multiple events while coaching multiple players, and I had to make a choice on whether I'm primarily a player or a coach. (Duh!) Normally I'd also coach Tong Tong Gong, but he's on the National Cadet Team, and so will be mostly coached by the U.S. National Cadet Coach, Keith Evans.

I'm driving up with the Nie family on Friday morning, leaving around 7AM, and should arrive by 5PM or so. I should arrive in time to attend both the ITTF Jury Meeting at 6PM (where they make the draws and go over rules, etc.) and the USATT Coaching Committee Meeting at 8PM (I'm on the committee). The Nie's are staying in Michigan after the Open for a few days of vacation, so I'm flying back on the fourth of July.

MDTTC Camp - Week Two, Day Three

The focus yesterday was on the forehand loop, though as usual we varied this depending on each player's level and playing style. I also gave a lecture and demo of various racket surfaces (pips-out sponge, hardbat, antispin, long pips with and without sponge), grips (penhold, both conventional and with reverse penhold backhand, as well as the Seemiller grip) and how to play choppers.

One 12-year-old beginner really liked the antispin, and asked to borrow it for the day. He's now using it on his backhand in all his drills and matches, dead-blocking with the backhand, attacking with the forehand. I've converted him to the dark side!!! If he stays with this style, most likely he'll eventually "graduate" to long pips (no sponge) on the backhand and become a pushblocker.

There is also a kid, about ten years old, who is developing a chopper/looper style. He spent a lot of time yesterday with Wang Qing Liang, our 17-year-old 2567-rated chopper/looper.

Today's focus will be the backhand attack, especially the backhand loop. Then we'll have the ever-popular "How many paper cups can I knock down in ten shots?" challenge, where we stack the cups in a pyramid and I feed them the balls multiball style.

China and the Timo Boll-Zhang Jike Rivalry

Here's an article that discusses these two players, with insight from Chinese Coach Liu Guoliang.

Top Table Tennis Points

Here's a video (14:12) of top table tennis points. Included in the video are players Adrien Mattenet, Chuang Chih Yuan, Kaii Yoshida, Ryu Seung Min, Jun Mizutani, Chen Chien-An, Fengtian Bai, Christian Suss, Zhang Jike, Ma Long, Alexey Smirnov, Michael Maze, Timo Boll, Jean Michel Saive, Robert Gardos, Christophe Legout, Chen Weixing, Tiago Apolonia, Taku Takakiwa, Patrick Baum, Seiya Kishikawa, Andrej Gacina, Vladimir Samsonov, Gao Ning, Feng Tianwei, Ding Ning, Zoran Primorac, Jan-Ove Waldner, Ding Song, Chen Qi, Lee Jung Woo, Roko Tosic, and Romain Lorentz.

Wanna see a ping-pong ball spin at 10,000 rpm?

Here it is (0:40), care of liquid nitrogen!

Adam Bobrow Reviews the New Plastic Ball

In this new video (0:31), Adam breaks through the window of silence and discovers the shattering truth about the new plastic ball.

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March 30, 2012

It's not fair! Another reason why top players dominate. 

I once complained to U.S. Olympian Todd Sweeris during a match, "It's not fair. You're not winning by playing 2600; you're winning by being 2600." I said the same thing last night to former Pan Am Team Member Scott Butler (who was in town for a couple days), who was seemingly winning "cheap" points in a practice match with local Raghu Nadmichettu. I told Raghu, "You never miss those shots against me."

The point was that it is often the very threat of high-level play that freezes opponents into immobility against shots they would have no trouble with against lower-level players.

There are two ways you can take advantage of this. First, you can become a very good player, and then your potential for high-level play will freeze many opponents into immobility. That's the hard way.

The easy way is to simply diversify your game by developing versatility and unpredictability. If you threaten opponents with lots of options on any given shot, many will also be frozen into immobility as they wait to see which of your many options you choose. For example, against a short serve, many players predictably push over and over, usually to the backhand. What if you instead moved the push around (changing directions at the last second), sometimes flipped, and perhaps even dropped the ball short sometimes? Or against a loop to the forehand most players can only block crosscourt. Learn to block your forehand down the line, and watch the havoc it causes. Or simply learn to vary the pace of your blocks and watch your opponents' timing all apart. Or vary the placement, pace, spin, and depth on your loops (or drives), with last-second changes of direction. There are so many options, and so few are developed by most players.

Another way of doing this is to simply vary your serves. This doesn't mean just varying a limited number of serves; it means developing more varied serves that you can throw at an opponent. And then, once you've established that threat, and your opponent is gibbering in fear of all the possibilities, you can then focus on using your most basic and dependable serves.

Most players spend years honing "their game," and stick to that game whenever possible, often leading to a relatively strong but one- or perhaps two-dimensional game. Why not go for a few extra dimensions?

How I spend my days

  • Coaching table tennis
  • Organizing table tennis
  • Writing about table tennis
  • Reading about table tennis
  • Actually playing table tennis
  • Catering to the whims of Sheeba, who loves bacon.
  • Writing science fiction & fantasy. (I've sold 58 short stories, and have 35 more plus 2 novels making the rounds. Keeping them in submission is practically a full-time job.)
  • Reading science fiction & fantasy, plus history, and (alas) politics and newspapers.
  • Studying calculus, since I'm regularly tutoring it and it's been a while since I last studied it. (I'm toying with starting a math & English tutoring service at my table tennis club.)
  • Watching NCIS, The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, The Walking Dead, and A Game of Thrones (back this Sunday!)
  • Rooting for the Baltimore Orioles (please pity me)
  • Planning how to spend my $540,000,000 when I win the Mega Millions lottery tonight
  • Planning what movie to see to console myself when I don't win the Mega Millions lottery tonight (either Wrath of the Titans or Mirror Mirror)
  • Trying to ignore the political mess our country is in.

World Team Championships
Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1, 2012

Robert Floras vs. Werner Schlager at the Worlds

Here's Poland's Robert Floras 3-1 upset win over Austria's 2003 World Men's Champion Werner Schlager, with the time between points removed so the whole match takes less than four minutes. Lots of great points. However, Austria defeated Poland to reach the quarterfinals of the World Team Championships. Here's the ITTF article.

Three photos from the Worlds

Here are three interesting photos of Chinese players at the World Championships:

Futurama table tennis

There are two table tennis segments here from Futurama (1:28). (In this episode, "Put Your Head on my Shoulder," Fry's head has been surgically implanted on Amy Wong's body.)

JC Penny commercial with ping-pong

There's about two seconds of "ping-pong" in this 31-second JC Penny commercial, starting at the 11-second mark.

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March 26, 2012

Tip of the Week

The Great Scourge of Table Tennis Footwork: Leaning.

Counterlooping and the Sunset Years

I'm not exactly into my sunset years at age 52, and yet every year my counterlooping skills take another small step backward. Even minor decreases in muscle flexibility and quickness affect this more than most other shots. I did a lot of counterlooping last fall with students who were developing their counterlooping skills, and recently I felt that my own counterlooping skills were getting back to their norm (i.e. the way I remember them from long ago). Yesterday I was counterlooping with a student and there were times where I was just staring at my racket, hoping I could blame all the misses on that. The reality is I was stiff and tired (okay, a few dozen loops beyond bone tired) after four hours of coaching and playing (and seven straight hours the day before), but skills like these should be ingrained and automatic. Instead, balls were jumping all over the place and sometimes I felt like I was just flailing at them. I even had a second wind, felt energized - but still kept missing. It probably wasn't as bad as I remember, since I probably remember all the misses instead of the ones that hit, but in practice most of them are supposed to hit. Alas. (Here's an article I wrote on counterlooping.) 

Speaking of counterlooping, during a recent group practice session I was playing matches with the beginning/intermediate kids, spotting most of them 6 points each. We also let adults join in as practice partners, and an elderly man in his 60s showed up. I didn't see him playing, and don't think I'd ever seen him play, so when Cheng asked me to play him a practice match I went in figuring he was another beginning/intermediate player, and took it easy on him. Down 2-7 in the first game, after watching him rip loop after loop from both wings, I realized my error. I tried blocking his non-stop barrage of loops, but to no avail - the guy may have been in his 60s, but his backhand loop was unreal! I finally went after his slightly-softer forehand, and since he seemed to go mostly crosscourt, I was able to get my counterlooping going. With my back to the wall, I came back to win that first game, lost the second (more backhand rips, plus he started smashing some of my loops), then won the next two very close games on my serves (he had great trouble with my forehand pendulum serve short to his forehand) and counterloops. It turns out he was a former top player from Ukraine. (Note to self: every unknown opponent is a possible top player from Ukraine, or China, or Timbuktu, so be ready!)

For the weekend (Fri-Sun), I coached an even ten hours, but also played about 20 practice matches, and went undefeated, including wins over one 2300+ player, one 2250 player, two wins over a 2100 player, and the rest against players from beginner to 1900.

World Team Championships

The World Team Championships started yesterday in Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1. You can follow all of the action online.

Zhang Jike Backhand Looping Multiball

Here's a short video (0:53) of world #1 Zhang Jike of China doing multiball backhand loop practice at the World Championships. He makes it look so easy.

Road to London

Here's a TV feature (4:22) on USA's Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

The Pongcast - Episode 12

The latest Pongcast (21:14) features the European Champions League.

Dog referee?

Just let the dog play! (0:45)

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March 7, 2012

Returning Serve

It's everyone's biggest weakness, or so it seems. But it shouldn't be that way. Let's review:

  1. If the ball is deep, return it aggressively, ideally with a loop.
  2. If the ball is short without backspin (i.e. sidespin, side-top, topspin, or no-spin), mostly return it aggressively with a flip.
  3. If the ball is short with backspin, either push it long (deep, low, good backspin, quick off the bounce, angled, and hide the direction until the last second), push it short (so that it is low and that, given the chance, would bounce twice on the opponent's side of the table), or flip it.
  4. Above all else, returning serve is about BALL CONTROL. If you have trouble controlling the ball, or reading the spin, play against players with good serves until you can read the spin and control the ball. If you don't have anyone like that you can practice against, then you better find someone because you aren't going to learn to do something unless you practice it.
  5. That is all.

How arm problems are improving my game

More specifically, it is helping my backhand tremendously. Ever since I hurt my arm ten days ago I've avoided hitting or looping forehands with any power. It's really helped the healing process while allowing me to continue coaching every day. However, it's meant a huge amount of backhand play since I'm having everyone play most there in drills. And since I'm not looping forehands, guess what? When we play points, I'm opening with my backhand loop. The result is my backhand blocking, hitting, and looping have both improved tremendously. My normally steady backhand is still steady but at a faster pace, while I'm backhand looping in pushes and serves to all parts of the table, something I don't usually do as I'm more the all-out forehand looper type. Also, after nine days of non-stop backhand play, my backhand muscles are now tireless - I can hit backhands forever without my arm getting tired.

Take me out to the Ball Game--that'd be Ping-Pong
You all know the lyrics to the baseball version, which can be found here (with the second stanza the commonly sung one). Here's my version!

Take me out for some ping-pong,
Take me out for some fun.
Buy me a racket and ping-pong balls,
I don't care if I don't score at all!
Let me hit, hit, hit with my forehand,
If they don't land it's a shame,
For it's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven points and you're out,
In the new pong game.

Talking to the Curator of the World's Greatest Collection of Photos of Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

Oh, that would be me! Yes, I was interviewed about my "Celebrities Playing Table Tennis" site. The interview went up yesterday - here it is!

Dan Seemiller article

Here's an article on Dan Seemiller in yesterday's South Bend Tribune.

Zhang Jike

Here's a tribute video (9:21) to World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike, strangely titled, "World Champion or Small Boy?"

Lots of Ping-Pong Balls

Yes, that's a lot of ping-pong balls in the air. I keep thinking I recognize the player, but I'm not sure. Anyone know? [NOTE: Aaron Avery emailed that it was Polish paralympic player Natalia Partyka, and sure enough her web page includes that photo. Thanks Avery!]

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January 12, 2012

Do you like this blog?

Then spread the word! I'm getting about 300+ readers per day. That means there are over seven billion people who are not reading it. Oh, the inhumanity!

Proper use of free arm

A lot of problems arise when players don't use their free arm properly. I've been emphasizing this with students a lot recently - some are getting lazy with this. Here are two common problems.

First, many players let their free arm just sort of hang down instead of holding it up as a counterbalance to the playing arm. Every time they stroke the ball there is no counterbalancing arm to act as a counterweight, and so they are thrown slightly off balance with each shot. Worse, they become so used to this they don't even realize it is happening. The cure - hold the free arm up for balance at all time, and let it naturally counterbalance your playing arm. Note that this is true on backhands as well as forehands. On the forehand, the counterbalancing is more obvious. On the backhand, as you extend your playing arm out, the free hand needs to counterbalance this by naturally pulling back.

Second, when hitting forehands, players don't use their non-playing side. Instead, pull with the non-playing arm as you rotate around on the forehand. The non-playing side (the left side for righties) is just as important as the playing side when you hit a forehand. Your body can't rotate unless both sides rotate.

Here's a video of probably the two best players in the world right now, Ma Long and Zhang Jike of China (15:29), playing the final of the Austrian Open in September. Watch the way they use their free arm on each shot. (Of course, you can learn a lot from this video besides just the use of the free arm!)

An expanded version of this may end up being a Tip of the Week.

USATT Coach of the Year Awards

And the winners are. . . .

How to do the Ma Lin serve

And you can learn it in just 2:14! (I may have posted this link once before, but it's worth watching twice.)

McDonald's table tennis commercial

How to lose your McNuggets to a "little old lady" in 32 seconds. This isn't the only time McDonald's has used table tennis - here's a video (1:40) where they had customers play video ping-pong on a huge screen in Stockholm.

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January 3, 2012

Tip of the Week

Table Tennis Tip: Pushing and Looping Deep Backspin.

Still sick

This is Day Three of the Great Cold of 2012. I'm not sure whether to blame Obama, the Iowa caucuses, or global warming, but if my cold doesn't get better soon I'm going to blame somebody. It looks like another day in bed reading. (Actually, maybe having a cold isn't so bad.)

Celebrities Update

Over the weekend I updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page with 18 new pictures of 9 new celebrities. There are now 1317 pictures of 760 celebrities playing table tennis. The new celebrities are:

  • Tom Cruise, actor
  • Rob Lowe, actor
  • Ralph Macchio, actor
  • Jack Benny, actor and comedian
  • Mary Livingstone, actress and comedian
  • Alice Cooper, rock star (new picture)
  • Michael Buble, singer (5 pictures)
  • Joe Reeder, former U.S. Undersecretary of the Army and Chairman of the Panama Canal Commission (and a student of mine!)
  • Baron Davis, basketball player
  • Blake Griffin, basketball player (5 pictures)

Christmas Camp

On Saturday we finished our 21st annual Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. There were over 30 players, almost all juniors, ranging from beginners to several over 2300. I blogged about much of this last week. Here are two interesting notes from the last day.

  • I overheard a group of kids, ages 10 or 11, discussing the intricacies of Tenergy 05, 25, and 64, with the FX option. I'm not sure why, but I found this incredibly funny. (By the way, I'm an advocate of kids who train regularly and get good coaching to use advanced sponges like this after they've reached about 1500 or so in level - it really helps in their progress, especially with looping. It's the racket that should not be too fast until they are relatively advanced.)
  • I told a kid I was feeding multiball to that he should try to remember the feel of the good forehand loops. He said, "That's easy. The ones that strain my back are the good ones." Uh oh.

Article on World Champion Zhang Jike

He describes the year as "powerful."

Marty Reisman video feature

Here's a video profile of Marty Reisman (6:36) as part of the "City Series" featuring New York City.

1998 Eastern Open

In my blog on Friday, in pointing out my credentials for promoting major tournaments (in regard to the low turnout at the 2011 USA Nationals), I wrote of the 1998 Easterns I directed, "I promoted the heck out of that tournament." Someone complained that I seemed to be taking all the credit for the record entries at that tournament, when I was just pointing my particular background in this. So to be clear, Richard Lee and others all promoted the heck out of that tournament, leading to the huge entry turnout.

Breaking News - I'm running for U.S. President

I'm running for president of the United States as a member of the Ping-Pong Party. My minions are already moving out through Iowa and New Hampshire, getting the signatures needed to get me on the ballot for their caucuses (in Iowa today, so we're in a bit of a rush) and primaries. I will also be on the Republican ballot, as the conservative alternative to Romney and the moderate alternative to all the rest. I am also running as the Libertarian alternative to Ron Paul by claiming to be a libertarian to libertarian audiences.

I will gladly meet any of my rivals anytime and anywhere in Iowa in a game of ping-pong where I will destroy them, as I will destroy all our nation's foes, except perhaps the Chinese, who are actually very good at ping-pong. Under my leadership, USA will dominate the 21st century as the second best ping-pong power. Altogether now, "We're number two! We're number two! We're number two!"

Platform:

  • I promise to do whatever you want me to do if it will get me your vote. This is a core value with me, and I always stick to my core values.
  • Hardbatters: I will outlaw sponge.
  • Inverted sponge players: I will outlaw hardbat and anything that's not inverted.
  • I will create a Blue Ribbon Commission to come up with a new service rule that can actually be enforced, and then shoot all umpires that do not do so.
  • I will occupy a tea party and serve tea to the occupiers. I will give them cream and sugar in their tea until they give in to my demands. If they do not, I will stuff ping-pong balls down their throat.
  • I will revamp our national educational system, replacing outdated schools with modern table tennis training facilities.
  • I will change the national mascot from a bald eagle to a large ping-pong ball, and solve our economic problems at the same time by bidding out rights to what brand becomes the National Ball. Will it be Nittaku? JOOLA? Stiga? Butterfly? Halex? Double Happiness? Bids are open now, starting at $1 Trillion.
  • I will nuke our country's economic rivals. Why? Because I like saying "nuke."

The Simpsons and Ping-Pong

  • Here are two pictures of Bart and Lisa Simpson playing ping-pong: Picture 1 and Picture 2
  • Here's a drawing of Bart with a ping-pong paddle.
  • Here's a recording of Patrick Stewart saying "Now let's all get drunk and play ping-pong."
  • Here's the online wiki for Madam Wu, a minor character on The Simpsons, where it says that "Her father was a professional ping pong player who died when he got a ping pong ball lodged in his throat." According to The Simpsons 2012 Daily Desk Calendar (which I just got for Christmas), in the Oct. 10, 2012 entry, it says, "Her father choked to death on a Ping-Pong ball the day before the Heimlich Maneuver was invented."

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November 14, 2011

Zhang Jike wins 2011 Men's World Cup

Here's coverage at Table Tennista, a great place to get your table tennis news (besides here!), including many articles translated from Chinese. Zhang was down 0-2 in the final to Wang Hao in the all-China final (what else is new?) before staging his comeback, -7,-7,9,4,5,3. Here's the whole match in just 13:49, with the time between points removed. (Note - this was originally linked to their match at the 2010 World Cup; it didn't get corrected until Monday night at 7PM.) Here's the ITTF home page for the Men's World Cup, with results, articles, and photos.

World Cup 2011: Zhang Jike (CHN) vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER)

One of the best matches of the 2011 World Cup was the Zhang-Ovtcharov match in the preliminaries. Both had already defeated the other two in the group (), and were playing for positioning in the final draw of eight players. Here's is the entire match in just 7:50, with the time between points removed. Zhang comes from behind 0-2 and 1-3 to win deuce in the seventh, -10,-7,5,-8,5,8,10. This is a great match to study. Watch how they vary their serves and receives.

Also note how Ovtcharov often serves backhand to the forehand side (see first point), and over and over Zhang returns it with his backhand. See extreme case at 0:50. Ovtcharov does it as well - see 1:05, for example. Also see 1:10, where Ovtcharov is about to return backhand from the forehand side, then realizes the serve is long, and switches to a forehand loop. As mentioned in previous blogs, this technique of using the backhand to attack short serves to the forehand, mostly against backhand sidespin type serves, is relatively new at the world-class level, and went against what coaches taught until just a few years ago, when top Chinese players like Ma Long and now Zhang began doing it successfully.

Day Five at the Writer's Retreat

Friday was the fifth and final day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I was working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

44,327 words, over 38,000 since Monday. I'm about two-thirds through the book, and hope to get most of that done this week - we'll see. Here's the wordy sentence of the day (which might get rewritten): "This book is for all levels, from beginners learning to play (who should focus on developing their game strategically so they can later have the weapons to use tactically) to intermediate players (who can execute many of the shots the best players do, at a lower level, and need to both find ways to maximize their tactical performance with the tools they have, and to strategically develop new weapons) to top players (who can use this book to develop - or further develop - the habit of thinking strategically and tactically).

Richard McAfee and the Micronesian Month

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee just finished his month-long coaching excursion to the Federated States of Micronesia, where he's been coaching at the South Pacific islands of Kosrae, Yap, Chuuk, and Pohnpei. Here's the ITTF article. I will make no jokes about Richard fitting into a place called Micronesia because it's never good to make jokes about a person who is bigger than Micronesia.

ITTF Museum Newsletter #26

The ITTF Museum released Newsletter 26. The issue includes:

o   Their first royal visitor
o   Kjell Johansson remembered - his personal 1973 racket donated
o   ITTF Museum exhibition at the China Open in Suzhou
o   Jean Devys (FRA) donation:  Budapest 1950 World Ch. program
o   The Final Relay - arrival of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic torch
o   Colin Clemett visit, with previously unknown World Ch. scores

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 1 (3:27).

Top Ten Political Excuses for Losing

  1. "I'm part of the 99% . . . the ones who don't win tournaments. Occupy Court One!"
  2. "During my match with Zhang Jike, the teleprompter was telling me how to play Timo Boll."
  3. "There's this third reason . . . I can't remember it. Sorry. Oops."
  4. "The "trickle down theory of rating points" hasn't work for me. I'm more of a ratings creator, and then they just trickle down to whoever I'm playing."
  5. "I'm a Democrat, my opponent was a Republican, and he waterboarded me."
  6. "A billion dollar stimulus program didn't bring me a single rating point."
  7. "The accusations that I harassed four opponents are absolutely untrue. It was my righty forehand that harassed them. But I still lost because they kept hitting to my left, my backhand."
  8. "I absolutely deny that in Massachusetts tournaments I was pro-choice on long pips, no matter what the videos say. I've always been against long pips, and I always will, as long as Republican primary voters are against them, or at least until the general election."
  9. "To help finance my training, I hired a Greek economist."
  10. "Unlike Trump, Bachman, Perry, Cain, Palin, Christie, Mother Theresa, the ghost of Ronald Reagan, and a plumber from Ohio, I haven't yet had my fifteen minutes as the conservative alternative to Romney."

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September 27, 2011

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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