William Henzell

November 13, 2013

Potomac Open Serves

There were a number of serving "incidents" at the Potomac Open this past weekend. Here's a summary.

In one match a player accused another of hiding his serve. He called for an umpire. The problem was the umpire didn't feel there was enough room between the tables for him to sit without getting in the way of the players on the adjacent table. So he suggested they move to another open table that was on the side of a row of tables, where he could sit without getting in anyone's way. The player who was accused of hiding his serve didn't like that, saying that the lighting for that table wasn't as good. The umpire and two players argued for a time. They were playing on table #2; the players on table #1 interjected and said why not switch tables with us, so the umpire could sit on the far side away from table #2 and so not interfere with anyone. So they switched tables, and all was well. (Ironically, the server accused of hiding his serve was faulted, not for hiding the serve, but for dropping his hand below the table when he served. The other player was also warned for some serving infraction.)

Another player, rated about 1950, had developed a short, high backspin serve that bounced back into the net, sometimes back over the net. A lot of top players fool around with serves like that, but they don't really work against top players, who can reach over the table for the ball, and often smack a winner off it since the serve is high. But this player had two matches where he used the serve effectively over and over. The first was against Charlene Liu, the U.S. Over 50 Women's Champion, rated about 2000 but not much more than five feet tall. She couldn't reach many of the serves, and they had a long battle. Charlene finally pulled the match out, mostly because she was able to barely reach some of the serves.

However, in his very next match he was up against a very short junior player who was rated higher than he was. But the kid couldn't reach these serves. Three years before they had played in the final of Under 1900 and the player had beaten him in five by using the same serve over and over. He still couldn't reach most of them, and had a tough battle on his hands since he was spotting about five points a game to this serve. But he managed to win 3-1, deuce in the fourth (down several game points in the last game, so it almost went five). There was much debate on the sidelines about the sportsmanship of this serve. It's legal, of course, but sort of makes a mockery of the game since it's basically unreturnable by anyone under five feet or so tall. You can run around the side of the table, but the server can do it on either side and by the time you see which side he does it on it's usually too late. He usually does it short to the forehand, and if you do go around to the side to return it, he returns it quickly for a winner to the wide backhand. I also have this serve, but I've never used it in a serious tournament match.

I was coaching Derek Nie in the tournament. The referee told me that he was quite impressed with Derek's serves, which he said were extremely legal. Ironically, the message I got from that is perhaps Derek needs to push the rules a bit more! Most top players have borderline legal serves (and often illegal ones). Even if the serve is (barely) legal, they might nearly obscure contact with their arm or body so the receiver has some difficulty in seeing it. Or they might toss the ball sideways into their body or into their racket. Or toss the ball so it's barely six inches. All of these give the server some advantage.

In 37 years of tournament play (since 1976) and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted on my serve exactly once - and as both the umpire and referee agreed, it was a mistake, the serve I was faulted for was legal. I blogged about this in February of 2012, but here is the story again.

In the early 1980s I was about to play another player about my level, around 2200 or so at the time. This was just before the color rule was passed, and so many players used different racket surfaces with the same color. Often they would flip the racket and serve with either side, and about the only way to tell which side the server used was by sound. And so many players with combination rackets began stamping their foot as they served to hide the different sound. It became a serious problem with all the loud distracting foot stomps, and so foot stomping during the serve became illegal. The wording of the rule roughly said that if the umpire believed you stomped your foot to hide the sound of contact, the serve would be a fault.

Before the match my opponent reminded the umpire of this rule, and incorrectly said that if I lifted my foot during my serve, it was a foot stomp and I should be faulted. I was using inverted on both sides, and did not stomp my foot during my serve - but I did left my left foot slightly off the ground when doing my forehand pendulum high-toss serve, my primary serve.

On the very first point of the match the umpire faulted me for foot stomping. I pointed out the actual wording of the rule, and the umpire looked confused. So I called for the referee. The referee explained the rule to the umpire, and the umpire then changed his ruling, saying that in he had gotten the rule wrong, and that I hadn't tried to foot stomp to hide the sound of contact. So it's a let, right?

Wrong. The opponent then argued that foot stomping is a judgment call, and that an umpire cannot change a judgment call. After thinking it over, the referee agreed, and so the fault stood.

I won the match.

Backhand Counter-Hitting and Topspinning

Here are two nice videos that show these two shots, from William Henzell at NetEdge. Backhand counter-hitting is how most players should start out, and is how most players (including me) played their backhand when I was coming up. These days essentially all top players topspin their backhands from close to the table, as shown in the second video. (In the backhand counter-hitting video Henzell has a rather wristy follow-through; most players wouldn't follow through off to the side quite so much.)

ITTF World Cadet Challenge

Here's the ITTF Report on the event (pdf). USA's Victor Liu is in several pictures.

Top Ten Points at the Polish Open

Here's the video (4:45)! The Polish Open was held this past weekend.

Maryland Beer Pong Sex Scandal

Here's the story from the Washington Post this morning. We've had people suggest we run beer pong tournaments at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, but I think I'm going to continue to veto that idea. 

The Funny Faces of Table Tennis

Here's the article and photo gallery!

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October 1, 2012

Tip of the Week

Short Serves to the Forehand from Backhand Side.

The New Plastic Balls

Here's a review of the new ball by Alex Vanderklugt of the OOAK forum. He reviews it with visual inspection, sound, size, the bounce test, and in actual play. The results are not good.

As some of you may have heard, plastic poly balls (instead of celluloid) are coming to table tennis, replacing the usual celluloid, care of the ITTF, starting July 1, 2013. The reasons seem to be vague, but involve a supposed worldwide ban on celluloid because of their flammability. Can someone point me in the direction of a good article on the current status? I've heard they may postpone the actual switch if they are unable to come up with poly balls that are satisfactory, but can't remember where I've heard this. Anyone know anything?

USATT Coach of the Year

It's that time of year again - time to nominate coaches for the USATT Coach of the Year Awards! There are five awards - National, Developmental, Volunteer, Paralympic, and Doc Counsilman. (I was the USATT Developmental Coach of the Year in 2002, and was runner-up three times, alas.)

Men's World Cup Results and Video

Here are results, articles, and photos of the 2012 Men's World Cup, held this past weekend at Liverpool, England. Congrats to China's Ma Long, who came from behind to defeat Germany's Timo Boll in the final, -7,-8,2,7,7,10. And here's a video of the Final in just eight minutes, with time between points taken out. 

Best of the Men's World Cup

Here's a video of the best points (5:47) from the Men's World Cup held this past weekend in Liverpool, England.

Henzell's World Cup Blog

Eight-time Australian Champion William Henzell kept a blog of his trip to the Men's World Cup in Liverpool, England this past weekend. Here are the three entries.

Butterfly MDTTC September Open

The MDTTC September Open I ran last weekend was already processed on Thursday night! That's pretty fast. Here are the rating results, here are the actual results, and below is my writeup. 


Seventy-three players competed in eight events for $2600 in prize money plus trophies at the September Open at the spacious Maryland Table Tennis Center. The events were dominated by local junior players, with at least one junior player in seven of the eight finals. In the Open, it was chopper/looper Wang Qing Liang (17, rated 2644) over two-winged penhold looper Chen Bo Wen (15), -6,6,9,7,-9,6. In the semifinals they defeated a pair of former Maryland junior stars, Wang over Raghu Nadmichettu (6,7,9,5) and Chen over Khaleel Asgarali (10,3,8,7).

After losing to Chen Bo Wen in the Open Semifinal, Raghu came from down 0-2 to win Under 2350 over Hung Duy Vo, -9,-15,6,11,8, in the only final without a junior player.

Roy Ke, 13, had an exceptional tournament, winning Under 2200 with a string of upsets over Chen Qiming (2121), Nazruddin Asgarali (2187), and coming back to win the final over Lixin Lang (2127), -6,-5,4,8,8. His new rating is 2188.

Another junior having an exceptional tournament was Anthony (Tony) Qu, 12, who not only won Under 2050 over John Olsen, but upset Richard Doverman (2349, 11-9 in the fifth) and Derek Nie (2170, 13-11 in the fifth) to make the quarterfinals of the Open. His new rating is 2194.

Practice partners Wesley Duan (11) and Kyle Wang (12) ran amok in four events, taking four second places - Wesley in Under 1900 and Under 1650, and Kyle in Under 1400 and Under 1150. Winning these four events, respectively, were Pat Lui, Quang Lam, Ara Sahakian, and still another local junior, 12-year-old Daniel Yang.

Rating-wise the big winner was William Wung, who gained 549 points in going from 494 to 1043! Others with big gains were Wesley Duan (253, 1432 to 1685), Benjamin Kang (231, 829 to 1060), Roy Ke (186, 2002 to 2188), Tony Qu (169, 2025 to 2194), Quang Lam (154, 1348 to 1502, the only non-junior to gain more than 100 points), and Moonsoo Park (102, 598 to 700). Also welcome to six newly rated players: Tiffany Ke, Deapesh Misra, Sameer Shaikh, Sam Snitkovsky, and Jeremy & Alexi Weinberg!

Special thanks goes to Lixin Lang for helping run the tournament, and to tournament sponsors Butterfly and Llewellyn Realtor James Wu. 

Lions Playing Table Tennis

Here's an illustration from pages 26-27 of the children's book "Big Max and the Mystery of the Missing Giraffe." I found 15 rules violations in this picture - what are they teaching our children?!!! Did I miss any? Here are the USATT Rules. (Note that since they are not playing doubles, they don't legally have to have a white line down the middle of the table.) And yes, I'm just having fun with it.

  1. The lion on the left has a green racket surface.
  2. The lion on the right has a brown racket surface.
  3.  The lion on the right has his free hand (paw?) touching the playing surface.
  4.  The ground is grass, which is not a legal flooring.
  5. The lion's chests seem to be white, which matches the color of the ball. Technically, it's the shirt that cannot match the ball's color, but this violates the spirit of the law.
  6. The table doesn't have white lines along the edges.
  7. Unless these are gigantic lions, I'm fairly certain the table is smaller than a legal 9'x5'.
  8. The drawing of the table measures about 2.83" x 1.25". This means if the table is 9 feet long, it's 3.97 feet wide, so the table is about 9'x4', rather than the legal 9'x5'.
  9. The ball is much larger than 40mm.
  10. The ball isn't spherical.
  11. The net doesn't extend six inches to the side.
  12. Neither are wearing shirts, violating the USATT dress code.
  13. Neither are wearing shorts or skirts, violating the USATT dress code.
  14. Neither are wearing shoes, violating the USATT dress code.
  15. Neither are wearing socks, violating the USATT dress code. 


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October 19, 2011

Secrets of the Quick Push and Punch Block

The quick push is where you push rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. A punch block is where you block rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. See the similarities? But it goes beyond that. In both cases, you use a short stroke; angle the ball or go at the opponent's elbow; make last-minute changes of direction to throw off an opponent; go deep on the table; keep the ball low; and focus on quickness and consistency. The shots are meant to force a weak return or miss. Many players are so focused on attacking that they never learn these more subtle but valuable shots. Placement is especially key - so many pushes and blocks go to the middle forehand or backhand that it's a crime. Or the shots are so passive that they put no pressure on the opponent, when of course every shot in table tennis should put pressure on your opponent in some way. Placement, depth, height, quickness, speed - these are all elements that make the shots effective. (The key differences are that when pushing, you also have backspin as a weapon, and can both load up the spin or vary it, and that when punch blocking, you can also use speed as a weapon.)

Match Analysis

Here's a video from the last World Championships between William Henzell of Australia (world #152) and Adrien Mattenet of France (world #31), with Henzell giving tactical commentary (10:25). Here's your chance to see how world-class players think tactically. Do you agree with his analysis? (Note - after posting this, I discovered that this was the same one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7. Oops. But enjoy it again!)

William's Journey to the Olympics

Since I belatedly discovered that the video above was the same one as one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7, I'm adding this new segment - William Henzell's Journey to the Olympics! Here's Part 1 (4:08),  Part 2 (6:26), and Part 3 (6:38). 

Attack letter

This is kind of funny, but mostly sad. Someone sent out a letter early this morning to a group of people in response to the satirical article a few days ago about Brad Pitt playing me in a movie based on the adaptation of my book, Table Tennis Tales and Techniques. (Here's the article, or see my blog the last two days.) The letter writer still believes it is real, even though I explained in my blog yesterday that it was a satire. He says he also sent the letter to the "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques" website, but I think he means the fake, satirical one at The Daily Quarterly that he still believes is real, not the real one, since I maintain that since it is my book. (And here it is!) As to The Daily Quarterly, I'm sure they took one look at the raving in the letter and put it aside. Or maybe they'll publish it for laughs.

The person, who for many years has been saying I shouldn't be in charge of anything (and far, far worse - he gets pretty nasty), and in fact got kicked out of a USATT Coaching Seminar I ran for USATT for yelling such things and refusing to stop (the USATT coaching chair kicked him out, not I), now attributes those words to the great Sol Schiff. He also writes, "Mr. Marty Reisman, late 60s, beat him in the US Open Hardbat Finals around 1998 and Coach Larry didn't have the backbone or the sense to put Mr. Reisman's photo on the cover of our magazine." To be accurate, it was actually in the final at the 1997 Nationals. Now, letter writer, you've been attacking me on this for years. So, one more time: I was USATT editor from 1991-1995, and from 1999-2007. I wasn't editor at the time of the match in 1997. I wasn't the one who chose the cover. I had nothing to do with it. But, of course, we've been through this many times, and facts don't seem to matter, do they?

Of course, this same letter writer once photoshopped me in a Nazi uniform with a Hitler mustache and sent that out to a large group of people, including the USATT board of directors and staff, claiming it was a school project.

But I did enjoy these parts of this morning's email: "If the movie was about the real Coach Larry, the man behind the curtain, the dirty, two-faced lying flat-sponge manufactures' operative posing as a journalist and couch and 'Hardbatter'--it would be a blockbuster, bigger than _ERAN BROKOVITCH...I've got the shrill characters." (I have no idea what that last part means. The ellipsis was the letter writer's, not mine.) And this: "There is no doubt that The Game is broken, thanks to the Coach Larrys."

Eating a ping-pong ball

Here are 31 seconds of someone actually eating a ping-pong ball. Bon appetite.


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