March 20, 2014

Tricky Serves

Here's an interesting dynamic I've noticed over the years. Players who play the same players over and over at clubs, and only occasionally play at tournaments or at other clubs, rarely develop tricky serves that they can use when they do play in tournaments or against different players. Players who play lots of different players and compete in tournaments tend to develop tricky serves. Why is this?

It's all about feedback. If a player starts to develop tricky serves, his opponents will at first have trouble with them. But if he plays the same players all the time and rarely plays new ones, then the players he plays quickly get used to the tricky serves, and they stop being that effective. And so the feedback the player gets is that the serves aren't that effective, and he stops developing those serves and tries other ones. A player who regularly plays tournaments or other players gets more realistic feedback on the quality of those serves as his opponents aren't seeing them as regularly.

The same is true of other aspects of the game. For example, a player develops a nice backhand loop, his regular opponents might get used to it, and he'll stop using it as often - never realizing how much havoc the shot might create against players not used to it.

So if you want to really develop your game, seek out new players, either at your club, other clubs, or in tournaments, and see how they respond to your serves and other techniques. If your ultimate goal is to play well in tournaments (even if you only play in them occasionally), then you need this feedback to develop your game.

By the way, this strongly applies to me. When I used to play tournaments, most of my opponents had difficulty with my serves, especially some of my side-top serves that look like backspin. But in practice, most of the people I play are used to those serves, and I tend to serve more backspin and no-spin, which may set up my attack but rarely give me "free" points. If I went by what happened in practice, I'd be giving away a lot of free points in tournaments by not using those tricky side-top serves.

About.com Table Tennis Forum (RIP)

After something like fifteen years of operation, the about.com table tennis forum is closed. When you go there you get "Forum Closed" and "We are sorry, this forum is no longer in operation" notes. Nobody seems to know why, but presumably it was because there hasn't been a moderator for some time, and the powers that be (i.e. about.com) decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I'm not a big forum poster (though I used to be), but I like to browse them and sometimes post things. I'll probably frequent the mytabletennis.com forum more often.

Learn to Play in the "Zone"

Here's the article by Samson Dubina. This is an important lesson I endlessly try to instill in students - let the subconscious take over when you play.

Expert in a Year

Here's the home page for Ben Larcombe's "Expert in a Year" challenge. He's trying to turn a beginning player into an expert in one year. Can he do it? They are eleven weeks in, with a weekly diary and lots of video.

Zhang Jike's Shoulder Injury

Here's the article. He had to withdraw from the Asia Cup. Fortunately, the injury is to his left shoulder (he's a righty), but this shows how important it is to use both sides of the body when playing - the left side pulls around just as much as the right side.

Table Tennis is Life

Here's the video (4:46).

Testing Timo Boll's Eyesight

Here's the article with a link to the video (8:02).

Planning Underway for Even Greater 2015 Cary Cup

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Cary Cup Final

Here's the video (39:03) of the final between Eugene Wang and Li Kewei this past weekend, with Li the chopper/looper defeating the top seeded Wang (who's won the last two Cary Cups and U.S. Opens) at 8,9,-7,12.

The Brain of a Table Tennis Player

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's video (59 sec) of an incredible exhibition point between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.

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December 14, 2012

Warm-up Partners

With the Nationals coming up, perhaps I should mention the importance of a good warm-up at the start of a tournament? Many players just show up and hope they find someone to hit with. I always tell my students to arrange in advance who they'll hit with and when. (At big tournaments in big arenas, add "where.") You want someone who's reliable, with solid, consistent shots. This is NOT the time to practice against weird styles and surfaces - sorry! (The time for that is regularly at your club, and before a match with someone like this, if you can get someone similar to warm up with. If there are two long-pips blockers at a tournament, for example, they both become in demand - by whoever is playing the other one.)

You want to get your game warmed up. The best way to do that is to use the same routine you warm up with at your club. What, you don't have a warm-up routine at your club? Better fix that! With experience, you'll know what you need to do to warm up all the shots you'll be using, as well as your feet, serves, and receive.

Now I'm going to tell you about "Black Sunday." (This is my Black Sunday; there are others.) One year at the Teams in Detroit (before it moved to Baltimore in 1998), I had what should have been the tournament of my life. I went in rated just over 2270. On Friday and Saturday I beat just about every one in sight. Playing in the "B" division (where the ratings ranged mostly from about 2200 to 2400), I had only one loss, to a 2500 player. I beat a whole bunch of players from 2250 to 2400, and I think three over 2400. I later calculated that if I had stopped playing after Saturday, I would have been over 2500, which would have been my highest rating ever.

I had arranged with my teammates to meet at the playing hall about an hour before play began. They were late. I sat around waiting for them as time ticked by, getting more and more ticked off myself. Finally, about twenty minutes before play was to begin, I began looking for someone else to warm up with - but couldn't find anyone good. I finally found a 1700 player with long pips (no sponge) to warm up with. He flipped his racket throughout the warm-up and swatted balls all over the table and off it, often with weird sidespins. Five minutes before play began, my teammates showed up, all smiles as I glowered at them.

After destroying everyone the first two days, I went 0-6 on Sunday. Worse, all six players were rated lower than me. Worse still, three of them were over 100 points lower than me. When the ratings came out, despite Black Sunday, I came out almost exactly even for the tournament.

Moral: Get a good and reliable warm-up partner.

2013 Cadet and Junior Team Selection

At long last, here they are! (They are linked from this page.) Unfortunately, I see four possible problems in them.

1) Have they forgotten about the Mini-Cadet Trials? The Selection Procedures only reference the Junior and Cadet Trials. [ADDENDUM: I've since learned that the procedures for the Mini-Cadet Trials are on the USA Nationals entry form. For some reason they differentiate them from the Junior and Cadet Trials.]

2) In 2-b it says that if a player is unable to finish all matches in the second stage, then all of his or her matches do not count. Do they realize what this means? A player could "clinch" his spot on the team, but then, in the last round, a player he beat (but who beat someone else) could decide not to play, canceling all his previous matches in one shot, and by doing so dramatically change the results of the Trials. In other words, in the last round, there will likely be at least one player who has the power to change who makes the team simply by choosing not to play.

This is why the standard (especially overseas) is that all matches count if you have played over half of them, and none count if you don't play a match before you have played half of them. To allow all of the matches to suddenly not count because someone chooses not to play in the last round is a disaster waiting to happen. (I won't even get into the blackmail/bribery possibilities here.)

3) They refer to players "unable to finish all matches." Which means a player can simply say he is able to finish all matches, but chooses not to. "Unable" and "unwilling" have different meanings.

4) I'd also recommend that they allow the referee to adjust the Second Stage schedule for geographical purposes. Otherwise there likely will be cases where a player who cannot make the team plays someone from his club (or even a relative) who cannot, and has incentive to dump or at least not try hard. In the past, they often required players from the same club, or who were related, to play early. With all the players from a few top training centers, this is likely to happen. (This is standard in China, and most Chinese coaches, and likely other coaches, would ask the player to dump for the benefit of his teammate. Let's not put them in that situation if it can be avoided.)

How to Return Ma Lin's Backspin Serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (2:18) on returning Ma Lin's heavy backspin serve, the ones that would bounce back into the net if given the chance.

Pongcast Episode 21

Here's the latest Pongcast (16:58). "In this episode: The 2012 ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals, plus the life and times of Marty Reisman, who just recently passed away; accompanied by music by Dave Brubeck, which seemed fitting. May they both RIP."

Crazy Like Table Tennis

Here's another highlights video (4:04)!

One-Point Knockout Event

This is kind of interesting - a one-point single elimination tournament! Here's the video (8:55). Pete May used to run something similar in his tournaments down south - 3-point games, which he called the "Parade of Champions." I copied that from him and have run a few of these "Parades." Perhaps I'll try the one-point version next time?

Spin Standard LA

Here's an article about the new Spin Standard LA club, with an interesting picture. I count 25 ping-pong balls, one Robert Redford, and one Paul Newman.

What Really Happens at Big Tournaments

What the heck is going on? L-R: USATT President Sheri Pittman, Chen Xinhua, Cheng Yinghua, at the USA Nationals or Open, circa late 1990s. (Photo by Mal Anderson.)

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June 8, 2012

Too tight when you play?

I'm one of the roughly way-too-many-to-count players who often struggle to get loose before playing, whether in matches or practice. But I have found a solution that works most of the time, and works for many players I coach.

When you start a session (practice or matches), have fun at the start. Let yourself go. If it's practice, start out with something you do really well (preferably something physical, like looping or smashing), and have fun doing it. If it's a match, take it lightly and have fun. The goal in both cases is to relax and loosen up. Once you feel loose - and this shouldn't take too long - then take deep breath, clear your mind, and focus.

When I say focus, this doesn't mean to get super-serious. You can have a clear mind and still smile on the inside. The best players may often look impassive on the outside, but on the inside they are having the time of their life. So lighten up at the start of your sessions, loosen up, then focus, and you may surprise yourself by how well you play.

At the Easterns last weekend, the kid I was coaching, Derek Nie, started the tournament off very nervous, and played horribly in his first match. Afterwards I took him to a back table where we did some counterlooping for a while, joked about, and then played challenge matches where we trash talked. ("I cannot be beaten!" I'd say whenever I win a point," which of course just spurred him on.) In his matches shortly afterwards, he played the best of his life. (See next item.)

Eastern Open Recap

Here's a nice video recap of the Eastern Open last weekend at Rutgers University (2:50). Alas, they somehow missed me, but at 2:25 you can see Derek Nie, the kid I was coaching, who won Under 13, beat players rated 2258 and 2142, and was up double match point on a 2233 player. Not bad for a 60-pounder! (We already have a list of things he needs to work on before the U.S. Open in a few weeks, and he's been training much of this week on them. Sorry, can't report on them here, there are rival coaches reading! Perhaps after the Open. But last night he had a great session with Jeffrey Xeng Xun, one of our 2600-rated coaches, and he seemed to be playing like he had at the Easterns.)

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's another nice exhibition between Sweden greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson (1:53), with five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller doing the commentary. (On Monday I'd linked to another exhibition they'd done.)

Why does Waldner come up so often when showing spectacular shots and exhibitions? Actually, today has three items pertaining to Sweden, so we'll belatedly declare today National Day of  Sweden, an national holiday in Sweden that was actual celebrated two days ago, on June 6.)

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a five-minute compilation of spectacular points that feature sidespin, mostly sidespin looping. Perhaps the best one is the one (shown in slow motion) of Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner that starts right at the one minute mark.

Sweden #1 Denied Olympic Spot?

Matilda Ekholm of Sweden qualified for the Olympics, but the Swedish Olympic Association apparently didn't believe she was good enough or competitive to win an Olympic medal, and so denied her a spot on the Olympic team. She is ranked 51 in the world, the highest ranked Swedish woman. (The next best is Daniela Moskovits, #399 in the world.) For comparison, on the men's side, Sweden is sending, in singles, Par Gerell (world #80) and Jorgen Persson (#88, though of course World Men's Singles Champion in 1991, 21 years ago), and a men's team of Persson, Gerell, and Jens Lundqvist (#48). (Sweden didn't qualify for an Olympic Women's Team.)

There's been a huge outcry about this, culminating in these two letters yesterday to the Swedish Olympic Committee by ITTF President Adham Sharara and Vladimir Samsonov, chair of the ITTF Athlete's Commission (and former world #2 and current #14). There's a Facebook page devoted to her cause. And here's a discussion of the situation on the about.com table tennis forum.

Rapper Yelawolf Plays Table Tennis

Here's a three-minute video interview of rapper Yelawolf, which goes back and forth between him performing and the interview, which seems to take place as he's playing table tennis. You can see him actually playing at 1:09 and 2:20, but at other times he seems to be playing as he talks, though they only show his head (you can hear the ball bouncing back and forth in the background).

Fun with Robots

Here's 33 seconds of someone having fun with a robot at full speed, set to music. Reminded me of a sequence from Forrest Gump, but this wasn't computer generated.


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November 10, 2011

Talking Table Tennis with the Teens

When I discuss table tennis with our top junior players, two things jump out at me.

First, they know the best players in the world inside and out. Name a top player, and they can mimic his strokes and serves, his favorite tactics, recite his best titles, and tell me what they had for lunch.

Second, if I ask them what tactics they use against a specific player they have recently played, often a dazed look comes over their faces. After a short "senior" moment, they'll usually say something vague like, "I serve short and loop" or "I attack his backhand." (There are exceptions. Some can discuss in great detail what they do.) If I draw them out, they often admit they hadn't really thought about it. It turns out they are thinking a lot about their strokes, but little about their tactics. They know more about Ma Long's tactics than their own!

It always amazes me how much our juniors know about the top players, and how little they know about their own games. This is an area where we can improve - but their knowledge of the top players is a huge asset if they can incorporate it into their own games.

Day Three at the Writer's Retreat

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

It was another historic day as I broke my previous day's word count record, with exactly 11,000 words. (I was about ten words short when I stopped, so I typed one more sentence, which happened to be exactly ten words long.) Since 10AM on Monday, I've done over 29,000 words, for a total of 35,419! (This includes about 6000 words I had done in advance.) I'm over halfway through; I'm guessing the first draft will be around 60,000 words, but we'll see.

Today I'm going to be incorporating a lot of past articles, so that may give me a bloated word count. (Some of those 11,000 words were from past articles, but it had to be rewritten and updated.)

I haven't decided whether to use the following line on in the Introduction: "You are about to enter into another dimension, a dimension not only of speed and spin, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of creativity. It is an area we call . . . table tennis tactics." Too non-serious?

The real question is this: Will "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide" become the cherished bible to billions of ping pologists, or will it be laughed to oblivion?

On a side note, Jennifer Crawford, the wife of Parris Glendening, former governor of Maryland (1995-2003), stopped by on Tuesday.

Coaching Seminar at the Nationals

USATT will hold a coaching seminar at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach on Tuesday, Dec. 13, from noon to 2PM. You need to register in advance to attend. Two major topics will be:

  • "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game," by USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth.
    • Serves with elbow involvement and higher ball toss like Mizutani, Ryu Seung Min and Ma Long;
    • After motions on ball contact during serves (fake motions);
    • Inside out serves (hook serves) like Timo Boll, Liu Shiwen, Zhang Jike;
    •  More sidespin motions on returning serves;
    • Backhand receives with banana flicks like Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, Petr Korbel;
    • Hook drop shots;
    • Reversed banana returns.
  • "The Use of Half-Pattern Drills to Teach Anticipation Skills," by USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.
    • Come and learn what “half-pattern” drills are and how they can prepare your athletes for tournament play.

How to Execute the Ma Lin Serve

Ma Lin has one of the heaviest backspin serves imaginable. This Pingskills video (2:14) explains and shows how he does it.

Have you practiced your serves this week?

Well, have you?

Juic International Junior and Cadet Championships

Here's where you can find all about the tournament, which was held last weekend in Milpitas, CA - results, news, videos, pictures.

Top Ten Shots of all time?

You decide. (2:57)

Spectacular trick-shot exhibition

Or is this exhibition by three Norwegian women all fake? You decide. (2:21)


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