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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and an author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!

October 31, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Table Tennis Plans and Other Work

It's been an incredibly busy week, and yet I'm more energized now than in years. Why is that? Ever since I decided to run for the USATT Board (assuming I get on the ballot) I've been busy planning out the stuff I've been arguing for (and planning for) for years. Much of it is stuff I've already done or others have done, and only need to introduce to this country, so it's not like we're re-inventing the wheel (or the ping-pong ball) again. Since I do the blog (and Tip of the Week) in the morning, this leaves much of the day for other activities, such as promoting MDTTC and (hopefully) working with USATT.

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day working out plans and discussing with others the idea of recruiting an entrepreneurial leader to help create a USA Professional Table Tennis Players Association (hopefully with a better name), whose job it would be to go to cities in the NA Tour (assuming we go that route) and bring in sponsorships for each stop (hopefully to dramatically increase prize money), as well as organize activities, find ways to make and save money for the top players (free places to stay, etc.), and other ways of professionalizing the sport in this country. This is only one of the five main issues I plan to work on - I blogged about this on October 23. I've already worked out plans for all five. (I've had them for a long time, but had to write them out and fine-tune them.) I've told people the plan is to have enough prize money so at least eight USA players can make a full-time living as players by the time Kanak Jha (age 14) is ready to go to college, and has to make that college-or-table-tennis decision. Of course, that's sort of just a slogan (a long one), but the idea is that we want up-and-coming juniors to have this option, as well as being able to show other students that there indeed are professional players in this country.

Regarding item #1 from the Oct. 23 blog, "Create a USATT Coaching Academy to Recruit and Train Professional Coaches to Set Up Training Centers and Junior Programs," I've been arguing versions of this for years. At the December, 2006 USATT Board Meeting I made a formal proposal that USATT get involved in this, with the goal of 100 serious training centers with junior programs in five years. At the time there were only about eight in the country. The proposal was pretty much laughed at, even though total financial commitment from USATT was exactly $0. (The plan was to change the focus of currently run USATT coaching clinics, and to use the web page and magazine to recruit potential coaches/directors/promoters.) Two board members openly argued that there simply isn't enough players in this country for full-time training centers, missing the whole point that you develop the demand.

And so the item was checked off the agenda list and they went on to more important stuff that would quickly be forgotten. I had a similar experience at the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting and other USATT meetings. But if I'm on the board, I'll be in a position to get these things done - all it takes is one person to take action. While others might not take initiative, it's not so easy to openly block someone else taking initiative when it costs almost nothing. I've discussed these ideas with enough board members to know they should get enough support to make them happen. (Not all of them were at the meetings I mention above.)

There are now 76 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. that I know of. As I've blogged before, I believe this is the best thing happening in table tennis right now. It's why we now have so many top juniors now, as well as more in general. It's why we've gone from a few dozen full-time coaches to many hundreds of them. And yet this is a fraction of the potential if we simply organize this by recruiting and training such coaches/directors/promoters, rather than make each one of them re-invent the wheel or informally learn how to do it from others doing it. (I've spent a lot of time advising people on this. I spent some of my trip to Indiana this past weekend advising two people who are planning two new full-time centers.)

Meanwhile, I've been doing my usual table tennis work. There's the usual private and group coaching, which is mostly nights and weekends. This week I seem to be emphasizing backhand work with my students, just as last week. Lots of backhand drills! More of my students (and others at MDTTC) are really topspinning their backhands, and those balls are really hopping - it's getting scary! I've had several of our top juniors demonstrate their backhand loops for other up-and-coming ones, and have begun making sort of a study on how they each do it differently. (For example, some never change the racket angle during the backswing, while others close it slightly in the backswing and then open it again as a way to get more "snap" into the shot. World-class players also vary in this way, with the key being that the racket angle should be constant during the time just before, during, and after contact or you can't really control it.) 

Yesterday a new beginning junior class started with 11 players. I'm also doing the afterschool program, which involves picking up kids at school, coaching, and tutoring. I spent some time working out the upcoming training program for one of our top players, and met with him for half an hour to go over it. As blogged about on Tuesday, I spent Fri-Mon traveling to and from and coaching at the 4-star South Shore Open in Indiana. I've since updated my notes on several of the players I watched there - I keep running notes. I also researched some info from an old USATT Magazine for someone - I have nearly every magazine going back to 1976, though some are crumbling.

One of the regular activities of table tennis coaches is writing letters of recommendation for students when they reach college age. I wrote a bunch this week for Tong Tong Gong. We have seven full-time coaches at MDTTC, but I'm the writer-coach, and most of the others are Chinese and don't write English well, so it falls on me to do this.

Back Problems

This is exciting - I have a new back injury! New and different!!! The injury is in my upper right back, I think a small muscle tear. I've never injured this spot before, so let's all give a great welcome to this brand new injury!

I think I hurt it on the 11-hour ride back from Indiana, or at least it stiffened up there. When I returned my air bed was a bit low on air, but it's very noisy to fill up, and so I waited until the next day - and I think sleeping on a soft air bed may have aggravated it further. I was mostly okay when I coached on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it was bothering me a bit. Then, during a session yesterday, my whole upper right back pretty much became a solid mass of injured rock, and I could barely rotate to hit shots. Halfway through a one-hour session I had to stop, and I had to cancel a one-hour session later that night. (In between I did new junior class, but I only had to do simple demos and multiball for that.) Anyway, I'll rest it today and tomorrow (no coaching planned for once), and see how it is on Sunday. I don't think it's too bad; I should be fine soon.

Halloween Table Tennis

World Cadet Challenge

Crystal Wang, Kanak Jha, and Jack Wang all went 3-0 in their preliminary RRs, and are now in the Final 16 in Singles. They will play two rounds today, and the final two rounds (SF and Final) tomorrow. Here's the girls' draw, and here's the boys' draw. Here's a feature ITTF article on Crystal's latest performance. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, which is taking place in Bridgetown, Barbados, Oct. 23 - Nov. 1. In the round of 16 Crystal will play Nanapat Kola of Thailand; Kanak will play Martin Friis of Sweden; and Jack will play Wong Ho Hin of Hong Kong. You can watch the matches live here.

Breaking News added at 1PM on Fri: Crystal, Kanak, and Jack all won their first match in the main draw, and are into the quarterfinals.

Breaking News added at 6:30PM on Fri: Kanak won in the quarterfinals, 4-1 over Vitor Santos of Brazil. Alas, Crystal lost in the quarterfinals, 2-4 to Adina Diaconu of Romania, and Jack lost in the quarterfinals, 1-4 to Cristian Pletea of Romania. (Semifinals and hopefully the final for Kanak are tomorrow - Saturday.) 

Liu Guoliang Misinterpreted by Media?

Here's the article where China's Coach Liu Guoliang apparently denies he ordered Wang Hao to dump the Olympic Men's Singles Final to Zhang Jike in 2012. (See this article, which I linked to yesterday, with the note that a commenter there said Coach Liu had been misquoted.) I'm starting to get more suspicious as he and the players never actually deny it. Here are what Coach Liu, Zhang Jike, and Wang Hao said on this:

Coach Liu Guoliang said, "Zhang Jike deserved the Grand Slam. Wang Hao has no complains being an Olympic runner-up for the third time. Both are my pride. There is no distinction as to my feelings to them. They are like my children. I will never allow them to concede, and I will never allow anyone or anything to hurt them."

Zhang Jike said, "Coach Liu, everything that you've done are all fair and open. We must resolutely put an end to doubts that violate the morals and spirit of sports."

Wang Hao said, "After reaching the finals, I certainly wanted to win the title."

When someone falsely accuses you of ordering someone to dump, isn't the normal response to be a denial that you ordered someone to dump? As noted, this only makes it seem more suspicious. Perhaps Coach Liu said more in Chinese that didn't get translated; I don't know. China does have a long history of ordering players to dump, but that supposedly ended years ago. Or did it? (The dumping was done for various reasons ranging from strategic to political.)

Breaking News: Here's a new article "Fixing the Olympic Finals is Impossible," where Zhang Jike says more on the topic, and seems to insist there was no fixing, though again he doesn't seem to say so explicitly. Technically, only Coach Liu and Wang Hao know if the latter was ordered to dump, so I wish Wang would just say, "I wasn't ordered to dump the 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final." 

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode 20.

  • Question 1 - 0:49: I’ve got a problem, I don’t twist properly and the speed of my topspin drives are slow. I got the start and end positions right but i don’t twist much with the hip and the only thing that twists from me is my shoulder. How can i fix it? AmekunRaiane
  • Photo Bombing by Jeff's Mum - 2:30
  • Question 2 - 2:40: Hi, I was wondering whether, in doubles, you and your partner are able to switch bats between points. I know that you can't get a new bat, but i couldn't find an answer to this anywhere. Thanks. Bob James
  • Question 3 - 4:15: What should be the minimum height for the toss? And what if the server fails to achieve that minimum height? Can he be penalised in form of a point or is there something like a warning? Rutvik
  • Question 4 - 6:19: Recently I noticed that Ma Lin twiddled his bat right before he serves. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to twiddle. Yu

Mezyan Table Tennis Imaginarium

It's now open, where you can buy table tennis art, clothing, tech stuff, or accessories, featuring the artwork of Mike Mezyan.

Boxer Lennox Lewis Visits Werner Schlager Academy

Here's the article and picture of the visit to the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria by Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world as well as the Olympic Gold Medalist.

GoPro Here 3+ Test

Here's the video (1:28) by PingSkills of table tennis as videoed by a camera attached to a player's forehead! (They look like miners to me.)

The Needle and Table Tennis Nation

Here's an article on the late great Marty Reisman and his founding of Table Tennis Nation.

The Official Table Tennis Nation Halloween Costume Guide

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation!

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Here's the cartoon! (Wouldn't this be a nice Halloween costume?)

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October 30, 2014

George Brathwaite Statement to The View

On Tuesday morning table tennis was disparaged on the TV show The View. First they showed footage of the Zhang Jike barrier-kicking celebration after he won the Men's World Cup. Afterwards, co-host Nicolle Wallace said, "table tennis can be boring without stuff like that." (Wallace was communications chief during the George W. Bush presidency and a senior advisor for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.) Here's a link to 11:40 into the show, where the table tennis starts. At 12:49 is when Wallace makes her statement. The table tennis ends at 13:20. USATT Hall of Famer George Brathwaite sent the following statement to The View. (I may send something as well, but I only saw the video for the first time this morning.)

Hello,

My name is George Braithwaite and I am an original member of the United States Table Tennis Team that participated in the Historic PING PONG DIPLOMACY tour of the People's Republic of China in 1971. I was watching THE VIEW TV episode this morning and was appalled at the ludicrous remark made by Nicole Wallace in reference to table tennis being a boring sport and needed a demonstration like what occurred at the recently concluded World Tour for Table Tennis which was won by Zhang Jike of the People's Republic of China.

After winning the championships, Zhang displayed an unnecessary degree of anger by kicking and breaking down the barriers surrounding the arena, which triggered the reaction of the promoters to forfeit his prize money of $45,000 and which was in absolute contrast and in violation to the principles of the Chinese Table Tennis Association which also holds their athletes to a strict code of conduct.

However, in reference to Ms. Wallace's preposterous remark about the sport of Table Tennis, let me point out and bring to her attention as well as to the knowledge of those who may not be aware, that "TABLE TENNIS IS THE MOST POPULAR RACKET SPORT IN THE WORLD AND IS RANKED SECOND OVERALL IN TERMS OF PARTICIPATION”

Table Tennis is and has been an Olympic Sport since 1988 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) never accepts a sport unless it has a great degree of Athleticism for spectators to VIEW. 

For further information you may access my website at the following: www.GeorgeBraithwaite.com

Disabled Veterans Camp in South Bend, Indiana

Dan Seemiller ran a Disabled Veterans Camp at his club in South Bend, Aug. 23-24 - and got 31 players!!! These camps were made possible by a grant to USATT by USOC, and organized by USATT Director of Para Programs Jasna Reed. Here's the Disabled Veterans Camp listing and other info on Para events. I also ran a Disabled Veterans Camp at MDTTC in August, but mine had only six players. How did Dan get 31?

Dan had earlier contacted me about how to get players in the camp, but frankly, I wasn't much help. We had a player who worked at a local VA hospital, and he distributed flyers for us, but there wasn't exactly a huge surge of players for the camp I ran. Dan decided that he needed to set up an info table in front of a local VA hospital. But first he had to get permission - and that's when he ran into bureaucracy and red tape. He was hassled every step of the way, but wouldn't take no, and kept moving up the ladder until he found someone who gave it the okay. (Dan admitted that it got so bad that he almost gave up.) And so he set up a card table, brought rackets and balls to attract attention, and talked to an estimated 500 people. A total of 51 people signed up for the camp, though "only" 31 were able to make it - but he has all their emails to send future info.

Coaching at the camp were Dan, his son Dan Jr., Barry Chan, and Zach Steele.

World Cadet Challenge

Here's the ITTF home page for the event. It's taking place right now in Barbados, with singles and doubles events starting today. (Team competition already finished - Asia won Cadet Boys while Europe won Cadet Girls.) Follow the action, including USA stars Kanak Jha, Jack Wang, Crystal Wang, and Amy Wang - or, as I put it, Jaws and the Triple Wangs! Yes, I'm officially suggesting we nickname Kanak Jha as "Jaws," a play on his name, what he does to opponents, and named after this and this.

Wang Hao Ordered to Dump to Zhang Jike in 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final?

Here's the article. Unbelievable! I thought they had stopped doing this. I think there's a cultural thing with this - I've had discussions with people from China who believe dumping like this is the right thing to do, and that players should dump if asked to do so as the coaches and other leaders have the best interests of the team and country in mind rather than individual achievement. (See the comments under the article where one person says that Coach Liu Guoliang was misquoted.)

Table Tennis Needs a Big Name like Zhang Jike

Here's the article.

Twenty Tips by Tahl

Here are 20 tips by Tahl Leibovitz. You can learn from all of them, but I especially like #1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 16, and 18.

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode 19 (10:50):

  • Question 1 (0:35): Many people just turn around and drive my service. Where do I do the service and what should I do? Srikanth Pyaraka
  • Question 2 (1:55): When looping it seems easier to wait for the ball to reach the top of the arc and start dropping before you brush it up. I hit well when the ball is rising but swing and miss a lot when I try to brush the ball after it starts dropping. Can I improve? Ken
  • Question 3 (5:17): I normally stand on the left side of the table. I face difficulty if short backspin service comes to my forehand. I try to push the service & the opponent attacks with topspin. How to place the ball in such a manner so that I can attack the return? Anushka
  • Question 4 (7:35): Most of my serves have sidespin but when the opponent finds an answer to return it, I'm in trouble because all the sidespin is coming back at me especially if it is pushed back. Should I stop serving with sidespin as it can make life more difficult? Thijs

Zhang Jike, Ma Long, and Timo Boll Review the Plastic Balls

Here's the article, with links to videos.

Interview with Georgina Pota

Here's part 2 of the interview by Dora Kurimay, which went up this morning. (I linked to part 1 last week.) "How Did Georgina Póta Multiple Times European Champion Professional Table Tennis Player Change From Shy To Self-Expressive?"

Top Ten Shots from the Men's World Cup

Here's the video (6:36). If you want to see one of the best "get" returns ever, see #1 at 5:42. The point was over, as even Zhang Jike believed, right? Nigeria's Quadri Aruna - a breakout star at the World Cup as he made the quarterfinals - didn't get the memo.

PingPod #41: Zhang Jike's Fine and the Plastic Ball

Here's the video (6:02).

Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's the ITTF article.

Ariel Hsing's Home Page

Here it is - bet you didn't know the three-time USA Women's Singles Champion had one!

Top Spin the Movie

Here's the home page, and here's info on the premiere at the SVA Theatre in New York City on Saturday, Nov. 15, at 4:30 PM. "In Sara Newens and Mina T. Son’s spirited sports film, three driven teenage athletes attempt to go for Olympic gold. Their sport? The perpetually popular but underappreciated game of table tennis. Northern California’s Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang balance friendship and professional rivalry to see who’ll come out on top, while Long Island’s Michael Landers sacrifices his senior year of high school to devote more time to training at NYC’s SPiN."

How Bugs Bunny Cheats

Here's the cartoon! (Actually, wouldn't this mean every ball comes back, and so Elmer Fudd would win?)

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October 29, 2014

Butterfly South Shore Open

I spent the weekend coaching Nathan Hsu at the 4-star South Shore Open in Highland, Indiana (here are results) - and he played great!!! And I, of course, take full credit, right? Actually, he's been training extremely hard, including three months in China and 6-7 days/week at MDTTC before and after with our other coaches/practice partners/top players. The payoff was his strong backhand is even stronger, his strong receive is even stronger, and every other aspect of his game is stronger. (He's even been doing weight training, so he's stronger!) He won 18 & Under and Under 2450, made the quarterfinals of the Open (losing to top-seeded Li Cheng, rated 2603), and the semifinals of Open Doubles.

I'd like to write pages and pages on the tactics used, analysis of his opponents, what Nathan's working on, his strengths and weaknesses, etc., but other players are reading this, and so I have to keep my mouth shut. Dang.

Here's Nathan on the victory podium for winning the Nate Wasserman 18 & Under Junior Championships ($1000) along with finalist Victor Liu ($500, and another $500 for winning 15 & Under) and semifinalist Chase Bockoven ($100). (Missing - the other semifinalist Brian Gao.) Here's a picture of Nathan and me. In that picture he's holding up a piece of paper with "$1000" on it - he got the real check later, along with prize money from his three other events. Also, he got the wrong medal initially, the silver one in the picture - shortly afterwards we noticed that, and he traded it in for a gold one. (In the background on the left you can see Dan Jr. and Sr. - more about them below.)

I keep most of what Nathan says confidential, but I'm sorry Nathan, I'm quoting you here with your biggest complaint between matches: "My knees are itchy." Yes, that was his ongoing problem. My recommendation was to scratch them.

To save money we drove to Indiana. According to Google Directions, it was a 9.5 hour drive, but we ran into traffic both ways, and so it took about 12 hours to get there on Friday (leaving at 6AM), and about 11 hours to return on Monday. Nathan's dad, Hans, did the driving. We discussed table tennis nearly the entire time both ways. (Coach Jeffrey Zheng Xun substituted for much of my coaching while I was gone.)

The best umpires are often those who aren't noticed, and yet who enforce the rules. I want to commend umpire Jorge Vanegas for doing a great job umpiring all day long both days, from around 9AM to 8PM or so both days, pretty much non-stop, and getting it right match after match. When players didn't serve legally, he immediately warned or faulted, and there was never even a controversy about it, probably because he's so soft-spoken and fair-minded. Several times I started to react to an opponent's illegal serve - and nearly every time he was already signaling a warning or fault. I'm guessing most players and spectators barely noticed him out there, despite the fact that he was working such long hours in one of the most difficult positions at a tournament - a sign of a great job. My hat also goes off to referee Kagin Lee, who once again was highly professional throughout the tournament, even when I was bugging him with hypothetical rules questions.

Samson Dubina, rated 2474 and seeded fifth, won Open Singles. In the quarters he upset second-seeded Zhang Yi Chi (2563) at 6,-13,-9,9,9,0. (Did he really win the last game 11-0, or is that a typo? I don't know.) In the semifinals he upset second-seeded Emad Barsoum (2490) at 10,7,10,-7,1. (Emad injured his leg near the end of the last game and retired down I think 1-8.) In the final he was down match point to Dan Seemiller, 9-10 in the seventh, before winning, -7,-6,5,6,4,-5,10.

How did 60-year-old tournament director Dan Seemiller, seeded fourth at 2479, reach the final? In the semifinals he upset top-seeded Li Cheng (2603) at 8,8,5,-4,-6,14. The last game was a doozy as they took turns going up game point (or match point in Dan's case), including one point where Dan had match point and they played the point of the tournament, where they took turns ripping winners, only to see the other block it back and then take over the attack. Dan had two great tactics that worked against Li and others - he'd either loop anything he could get his forehand on (but not with as much power as he did back when he was around #20 in the world and winning five USA Men's Singles Championships), or he'd serve or block deep to the opponent's backhand and then dead block to the backhand, and follow with either aggressive blocking or forehand loops. Many players can move opponents side to side, but few can move them in and out the way Dan does, and few are less afraid of challenging an opponent's forehand than he is. These tactics worked against both Li Cheng and Samson - and Dan was just one point away from winning that match.

Samson plays a very athletic two-winged looping game, with very aggressive receives, especially his backhand. Of course, the real key to his victory was that he warmed up with Nathan! (As a full-time coach, he also warmed up his students - so he was doing double-duty.)

It was a pretty good day to be a Seemiller. Dan Sr. made the final of Open Singles and ran a great tournament. Dan Jr. teamed with Dan Sr. to win Open Doubles - including somehow beating Nathan and Micaiah Skolnick in the semifinals. Randy Seemiller won both Over 40 and Under 2300, and made the semifinals of Open Doubles with Chip Coulter.

This has been a pretty busy weekend for table tennis, with the 4-star South Shore Open, 4-star Westchester Open, the Men's World Cup, and the ongoing World Cadet Challenge. (Go Kanak, Jack, Crystal, and Amy! That's Jha, Wang, Wang, and Wang - the latter three non-related.)

2014 USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Here's the article about the Induction Ceremony in Las Vegas, on Thursday, Dec. 18, with ticket information. Inductees are players Tawny Banh and Lisa Gee, player/official Sheila O'Dougherty, contributor Dick Butler, and Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Donna Sakai.

Washington DC Table Tennis Center

The Washington DC Table Tennis Center just opened - #76 in my list of full-time table tennis centers - and is the first in that city. It's not far from my club in Maryland (MDTTC), and gives us six in the area (including one nearby in Virginia), all within 30 minutes of me. When new full-time clubs open, at first they draw some players away from other clubs, which is a temporary problem. However, it evens out as they bring in their own players and add them to the local table tennis community, with some of them ending up playing at the other clubs, whether as members, in leagues, or tournaments. The more full-time clubs, the larger the pool of players, and the more success for any well-run club - i.e. "A rising tide lifts all boats."

Westchester Open

Here are results and pictures from the 4-star Westchester Open in New York this past weekend. (We need to give smiling lessons to some of the top Chinese players, don't you think?)

Incredible Shots of 2013

Here's video (5:11) of the best shots of 2013. (I don't think I've linked to this one.)

PGA Tour Players Challenge USA Table Tennis Players

Here's the article, pictures, and videos as Timothy Wang, Lily Zhang, Cory Eider, and Judy Hugh took on golf stars such as Freddie Jacobson, Matt Kuchar, and Ian Poulter.

Was it Zhang Jike's Idea to Give Up His Prize Money?

Here's the article on his forfeiting his $45,000 prize money. 

Good Morning America (ABC News)

Here's video (2:01) of coverage of Zhang Jike's barrier-breaking celebration after winning the Men's World Cup on Sunday.

50 Shades of Pong

Here's video (1:16) of Adam Bobrow coaching a lawyer at a law firm not to be afraid of the ball - and it involves smacking her with the ball! (I've actually done this a few times with students - if someone's afraid of the ball, the only way to overcome it is to face that fear!)

Inclusion TT - Table Tennis with Walls

Here's the video (3:22) of the newest version of the sport (demonstrated at the Westchester TTC), with glass walls on each side so you can rebound shots like racquetball. "This is like Table Tennis 2.0. This game is one of the best twists on table tennis."

Tumbling Lobs

Here's video (31 sec) of Hermann Muhlbach demonstrating his lobbing while doing forward and backward rolls.

Halloween Special Tumba Ping Pong Show

Here's video (57 sec) of their latest show. (Not for the weak of heart!)

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October 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Defensive or Offensive Returns of Short Serves.

South Shore Open

I returned late last night from the South Shore Open in Indiana - an 11-hour drive. I have a lot to write about it, but I've also got a todo list that goes from here to Pluto. So I'm going to write about some other stuff today (the Tip of the Week and Men's World Cup - mostly linking to articles about it), catch up on other things, and write about the South Shore Open tomorrow. Here are the results of the tournament, care of Omnipong. Great performances by Samson Dubina, the Seemillers (Dan Sr., Dan Jr., and Randy), Nathan Hsu, and others!

Men's World Cup

It finished on Sunday, with Zhang Jike defeating Ma Long in the all-Chinese final. In the semifinals Germany's Timo Boll went seven games with Zhang, while Ma defeated Japan's Jun Mizutani 4-0. So Boll came close to breaking the near-Chinese lock on many of these events. Here's the ITTF Men's World Cup page, with results, articles, and pictures. Here's the ITTF article on USA's Kanak Jha, the youngest player ever to qualify for the World Cup.

However, the news of the event was Zhang's reaction to winning, where he celebrating by kicking and destroying barriers! As a result, the ITTF penalized him the entire $45,000 in prize money he'd just won. Here's the video (27 sec). Here's another video of it (45 sec), from a different angle. Here's a picture from a newspaper. Here's the ITTF's press release, "Zhang Jike Wins ITTF Men's World Cup Amid controversy." Here's Matt Hetherington's blog on this, "ITTF Fine on Zhang Jike No Less Than Absurd." (I haven't had time to really investigate this, but I pretty much agree with Matt and most others on this that the penalty was excessive - as Matt writes, a $5000 fine might be about right.) Here's extensive discussion on this at the Mytabletennis forum.

Zhang issued a statement, saying, "No matter what kind of honour I won today, I didn't handle my celebration with calmness and rationality. For a long time, I have been withstanding a lot of pressure but I shouldn't bring such mood into the arena. I didn't consider the impact on the team and the event itself. I apologise to everyone."

There are a whole series of articles on this at TableTennista:

And here's Mike Mezyan's cartoon artwork on Zhang Jike's barrier breaking!

World Cadet Challenge

It started yesterday in Barbados, after three days of training. Here's the ITTF page with results, articles, and pictures. USA players competing (on the North American team, combined with Canada) are Kanak Jha (who flew in from the World Cup), Jack Wang, Crystal Wang, and Amy Wang. Crystal was featured in an ITTF article.

Super-Fast Down-the-Line Serves and a Serving Device

Here's the video (48 sec) - I want one of these! And you should want a serve like this.

How to Become Your Own Table Tennis Coach

Here's the article from Expert Table Tennis.

Breaking Sidespin Serves - Serving Into a Shoe

Here's the video (2:41). It's both an exhibition trick and something you should learn to do to help develop your serves. If you can't do tricks with your serves, they can't be very tricky, can they? I do this same trick in clinics, though I usually have someone put their racket on the side of the table and spin the ball one way so that it curves back and bounces on the paddle.

Ask the Coach and Should Zhang Jike Keep His Prize Money?

Here's the latest Ask the Coach feature from PingSkills, Episode 16 (12:10). Below are the questions. At the end they ask the question on whether Zhang Jike should keep his $45,000 prize money from the Men's World Cup after his barrier-destroying episode. You can see the responses underneath.

  • Question 1: I have a friend that can do a serve, almost as fast as a drive and low just about above the net hitting near the edge of the table, chances of countering it are slim, most of the time the my shot goes high. How do you do and counter this serve? Jigo
  • Question 2: I'm interested in a stroke that I'm probably inventing as I've never seen it used. You know the backhand block executed with the wrist movement when the bat curves the ball, I'm wondering if the same stroke can be executed on the forehand side. Eugene S
  • Question 3: What is the most important aspect in table tennis? Is the service, or the return, or the footwork, or the third ball attack, or the speed, or the spin or any other? Kaustubh
  • Question 4: I've noticed that in table tennis, a lot of the professional players wipe the top corner of the table every now and then. I wouldn't have thought that they would use that bit of table very often. Do you know why this is? Kai Ball
  • Question 5: What is the best penhold rubber mark?
  • PingSkillers Question of the Day: Should Zhang Jike receive his prize money for winning the World Cup?

Nathan Hsu in China

As some readers might have figured out, Nathan is back in the U.S. (he just won 18 & Under and Under 2450 and made the QF of the Open at the South Shore Open), but he's editing these videos from his three months training there starting in July. Here's the latest episode - Quadricycle!? - China Day 48 Part 2 (10:00).

Sandwich Racket

I have no idea if this "sandwich" racket is legal, but I sure want one!

Waldner-Appelgren Exhibition

Here's 32 seconds of Jan-Ove Waldner and Mikael Appelgren doing an exhibition for a law firm.

Table Tennis TV Comedy - "The Kings of Queens"

In my last blog I linked to a "German" TV comedy that featured table tennis. However, as emailed to me by Grant Vogl, it turns out the clip was actually from the TV show "The Kings of Queens," which ran on CBS from 1998-2007. The original was in English, which was dubbed in German in the version linked before. Here's the original in English - the table tennis starts at 1:11. Grant also explained that the clip was from Season 6, Episode 3, titled "King Pong (20:39). Earlier in the show (as Grant emailed), Arthur (Doug's father-in-law) surprises Doug with his ping-pong prowess (1:36). Later on, Carrie (Doug's wife) defeats Doug and Doug then asks Arthur to train him. This leads to Arthur training Doug to use a wooden spoon (1:49) so that "the paddle will seem like the size of Texas." Ultimately, Doug defeats Carrie in glorious fashion. However, as shown in the episode, Carrie later proves to Doug that she was just letting him win. Doug has a hard time dealing with this, declares that the ping-pong issue is "gonna ruin everything," and in the humor of the show, considers the possibility that it will lead to divorce unless Doug defeats Carrie "for real."

Viking Pong

Here's the cartoon!

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October 23, 2014

Next Blog on Tuesday, and the South Shore Open

This will be my last blog until next Tuesday. I'm leaving very early (6AM) Friday to coach at the 4-star South Shore Open and Nate Wasserman Junior Championships in Indiana, and returning Monday afternoon. Here's the Omnipong listing, where you can see the listing of players by event, rating, or alphabetically, and where results will be posted.

I'm Running for the USATT Board

Or at least I'm applying to be on the ballot. Here is the USATT Notice on the election, which gives the rules and deadlines. (I'd be running for the At-Large position.) In a nutshell, by Nov. 14 I have to send to the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC) the following:  

  1. at least twenty-five (25) Signature of Support from adult USATT general members (membership must be current and in good-standing);
  2. a signed copy of the USATT_Code_of_EthicsEthical Behavior and Conflict of Interest; and
  3. a written statement of not more than one page, single-spaced, 12-point font, that explains why the nominee wants the position and what knowledge and skills the nominee would bring to the Board of Directors (which will be published on the USATT Web Page and sent in the November monthly E-Newsletter prior to the opening of the election voting period);

This past weekend, at the MDTTC Open, I got 38 signatures of support from USATT members (13 extras, just in case some are ruled invalid). I printed out and signed the USATT Code of Ethics and Ethical Behavior and Conflict of Interest statements. (I have two potential conflicts of interest - I'm sponsored by Butterfly, and I coach at MDTTC, a USATT National Center of Excellence. I would abstain in votes directly involving Butterfly or MDTTC.) I've written the one-page statement, though I'll probably do some rewriting of it.

The NGC will announce on Nov. 21 who is on the ballot. Voting begins on Nov. 27 and ends on Dec. 27. The results will be announced on Jan. 6, 2015.

Why am I running? Either because I really want to see table tennis succeed in this country and am tired of waiting for others to do it, or because I'm insane. (It's an unpaid volunteer position.) Below are the five main items I'd focus on. I'll write more about each of these if and when I'm on the ballot. (I blogged about roughly these five items on Sept. 23, but I've made a few changes since then.)

  1. Create a USATT Coaching Academy to Recruit and Train Professional Coaches to Set Up Training Centers and Junior Programs
  2. Create a Nationwide System of Regional Leagues
  3. Instigate Regional Associations
  4. Instigate a Professional Players Association, and Professionalize the Sport
  5. Turn U.S. Open and Nationals into Premier Events

Will these things be hard to do? Of course. Is that a reason to avoid them? No, but it's been a reason for 80 years now, since USATT's founding in 1933. I do have plans on how to instigate each of these. I can't promise that everything I try will succeed, but I can promise I'll work hard on each one, and believe I will succeed on most, and hopefully all - if I get on the ballot and am elected. I'm not one to avoid trying something for fear of failure, but I'll be faced with some board members who do have this mindset (I'd be one of nine), and will have to find ways to overcome it. If I'm on the ballot, I'll devote an entire blog to each of the items above, as well as another on a series of other issues, many of which I've blogged about already.

A key thing is that while money is needed to instigate programs, we have to face the fact that USATT has limited funding. And so each of my plans focuses on ways to develop these items without huge funding. Doing things right and thinking long-term is usually more successful than just throwing money at a problem.

A few things that I'd do that are different than how we've done things. I would focus on progressive issues. Here's my blog entry from March 19, 2013 where I blogged about the difference between progressive and fairness issues. I also want to focus on things that really make a difference. Too often we do "nice things that don't accomplish much." I want to focus on dramatically increasing USATT membership (less than 9000), developing our junior and elite athletes, and turning table tennis into a major sport in this country. I believe the five items above are big steps in this process.

I wish I were the back-slapping, compliment-throwing, buddy-buddy type who looks great in a suit. It would make things a lot easier when it comes to campaigning and getting elected. Instead, I'll have to focus on accomplishing stuff - and hope a few people notice!

I did run for the USATT Board once before, back in 1991 when I was 31. There were seven of us running for two spots on the board, including the two incumbents. I received over 70% of the vote and came in first, and so became a USATT Vice President. However, at my first meeting it was announced that USATT had (if I remember correctly) a $70,000 budget deficit (that's $122,000 in 2014 dollars), and so we spent pretty much all of the meeting going over budget items one by one and cutting everything. It was an incredibly frustrating time - I had things I wanted to do, but no money for anything serious. Sometime I'll blog about my time on the board. One thing I've learned since then is how to get things done with limited resources.

Coaching Position Open

The Austin TTC is looking for a full-time coach, and you could be that coach. Here's the help wanted notice.

Modern Table Tennis

Here's video (29 sec) showing a player doing side-to-side footwork in multiball, looping everything from close to the table. This really shows the difference between table tennis now and how it was before, where most players backed up to do these shots, and with the backhands usually softer.

Ask the Coach

Episode #14 (15:44):

  • Question 1: Do you know the specific hand signals for doubles? It might not be the same for everyone. But what have you used? Andrew Yuen
  • Question 2: In the office we usually play doubles, and many rallies end soon due to low-quality stroke or just missing the ball. That often happens because a player does not get into a good position in time. Any ideas? Roman Sukhanov
  • Question 3: What is the right finish position for the backhand sidespin serve? Kaustubh
  • Question 4: Hi, can you please explain what they mean when they say he is a 1500 or a 2000 player. Ron Thomson

Table Tennis Tips and Other Books

Mark Dekeyser did some editing of Table Tennis Tips, and so I've updated the book. Nothing hugely substantive, but there were a few doozies in there! Here's where you can find all of my books. I also have an Amazon Page.)

Interview with Georgina (Gina) Pota

Here's the interview by Dora Kurimay. 

So You're a Fan of Jan-Ove Waldner?

Here's his website! And - breaking news - now he has a fashion website!

Incredible Exhibition Rally by Timo Boll and Jean-Michel Saive

Here's the video (70 sec).

Great Shot from 2013 European Championships

Here's the video (44 sec, including several replays) of the rally by Gionis Panagiotis.

Chinese Team at Triangle TTC Revisited

Here's a video (1:37) of the recent visit, and here's a news video from China (in Chinese).

Zhang Jike/Li Xiaoxia vs. Ma Long/Ding Ning - Playing Doubles?

Here's video (4:11) of the Chinese stars playing doubles in front of a huge crowd . . . on a mini-table!

German Table Tennis TV Comedy

Here's video (33 sec) of a ping-pong game and an over-celebratory player. Alas, it's in German (anyone want to translate?), but you can get the gist of it by watching.
UPDATE: The clip is actually from the TV show "The Kings of Queens," which ran on CBS from 1998-2007. The original was in English, which was dubbed in German in the version linked above. Here's the original in English - the table tennis starts at 1:11. Special thanks to Grant Vogl for pointing this out!

Why Pong-Ping Never Caught On

Here's the cartoon!

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October 22, 2014

Studying Table Tennis Videos

Yesterday I spent an hour and a half with one of our top up-and-coming players studying videos of himself and potential opponents. This is one of those things that should be basic to any player who wants to improve. Video cameras and Youtube are your friends!

First we watched two of the player's matches. While you can learn from any video of yourself, you probably get the most out of watching yourself when you are playing your best against a somewhat orthodox player. Whatever is your best is what you want to emulate, so those are the ones to study. (Watching yourself play poorly is a good way to emulate poor play. So only do that to 1. figure out why you played poorly, if you think it was a technical thing, and 2. for tactical reasons to study an opponent so you can learn how to beat him.) In this case, the thing that jumped out from the videos was that our up-and-coming player (whose identity I'm hiding!) has been working so hard on a particular weakness that he/she was overplaying it, at the expense of actual strengths, and so didn't play as well as he/she could.

We also saw a video where our up-and-coming player had a serve that an opponent struggled against every time. But the up-and-coming player used the serve only about once a game rather than perhaps 3-4 times, and probably lost a completely winnable match as a result. 

We next watched videos of two players he/she might have to play, both among the best players in the country. One of them had one huge numbingly obvious weakness, and it was almost entertaining watching some opponents go after it over and over (and win), and others go there only as a "variation," and so lose. When someone has a weakness the size of Mount Everest (or even one much smaller), you should go after it relentlessly, with other tactics the "variation." But too often players fall back into the same old habits and thereby find a way to lose despite a huge sign practically saying "Do this and win!" It was also educational watching the player with the huge weakness using various tactics to cover for the weakness - sometimes successfully, other times not. One player who had been playing him for years ate him alive, going after the weakness essentially every single rally.

One thing that also showed up here and in all the videos we watched - partly coincidentally, but a real trend and tactical problem for most players - was that too many attacks were to the backhand. That's the side where most players block better. In general, players should attack more to the middle and forehand. Here's my Tip of the Week on this - the 3-2-1 rule, i.e. in general, against most players, for every attack to the backhand you should attack twice to the forehand and three times to the middle. Few follow this rule except at the elite level - and in some of those matches they don't follow it because at that level the forehand counterloop is so strong that they have to go more to the backhand. We watched a video of our up-and-coming player where he lost to a player who had trouble when his forehand was attacked, but too often the first attack went to the backhand instead. 

We also studied the receive of some players. Far too many players mindlessly return serves, either with blindingly obvious attacks or blindly obvious control shots. If they aim one way, that's the way they go. Then you watch the better receivers, up until the last second you never know what they are going to do, and often they appear to be doing one thing or placing the ball to a certain spot, and then they do something else. One video that was interesting was watching Eric Boggan - former top 20 in the world, now a way-out-of practice player in his early 50s - completely dominate players with his receive. While he did have the advantage of antispin on one side of his racket (with his Seemiller grip and flipping), what jumped out was how he kept changing his placements at the last second, tying his opponent in knots as he constantly reacted to where he thought Eric was going. Eric not only varied the direction, but also the depth and speed of the shots - if the opponent was too close to the table, he'd get an aggressive receive; if he was farther off the table expecting a deep ball, he wouldn't get it.

More on PBS MDTTC Video

One thing I might have mentioned about the PBS video on MDTTC (featuring Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, and myself, which I linked to in my last two blogs) was that I tried to get coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang into them. I think PBS did video them coaching, but both coaches were busy, and since my English is better, they both asked me to do all the talking for the club. I don't want it to appear that I'm "The" MDTTC coach - we have seven full-time coaches. Cheng, Jack, and I co-founded MDTTC 22 years ago in 1992, but these days they do more of the running of it (along with long hours of coaching), while I just coach and help with some organizing and promoting. (I also do our monthly newsletter.) I was pleasantly surprised that they opened the video by featuring my books!!! The video was featured yesterday on the USATT home page.

Nittaku Premium 40+ Balls

These are the new plastic non-celluloid balls that will be used at the USA Nationals. They are not yet available in the U.S., but (from the Paddle Palace web page, which has other info as well on the ball), "A limited supply [will be] available in November, 2014 only for players entered in the US Nationals. The balls will be more readily available starting in January.

First ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course in U.S.

Here's the ITTF article. Wish I could have been there - hopefully next time.

Ask the Coach

Episode #13 (12:10):

  • Question 1: I was just on a training camp and learned to play early, mid and late forehand topspins against under and topspins. I did quite well there but I guess I still need more training for perfection. I forgot to ask when to play which kind of topspin. Michael W
  • Question 2: I saw a point in the match between Timo Boll v Chun Ting Wong, where Chun Ting was serving and after two or three exchanges Timo pointed out it was a let. Do the rules allow players to do this so late in the point if the umpire has not seen it? Abhinav U
  • Question 3: I am able to do some video analysis of myself playing and was wondering what are the criteria I should be looking for when trying to find weaknesses, also are there tests we can do on strokes to see how consistent we are at them? C Cc
  • Question 4: Hi Alois and Jeff! I have been playing TT for the last 2 years and know the basics (topspin, block, backspin push, etc.), but I struggle against opponents with similar skill but more expensive bats with better grip. Should I change my Tibhar Chila Balsa DHT?
  • Question 5: The rules say that serves must be from behind the baseline, and the baseline should be considered as extending out beyond the edges of the table. On another website video it is said that you must serve from within the edge line. Can you clarify? David M

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Movie

Here's the article about the planned movie, coming from Village Roadshow Pictures, and based on the Nicholas Griffin book, "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World."

Adham Sharara on the New Balls

Here's an article from Tabletennista where past ITTF president and now ITTF Chairman Adham Sharara comments on the new plastic 40+ balls and the Chinese team.

Dog Pong

Here's the video (24 sec) of a dog trying to play!

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October 21, 2014

Coaching Happenings

I hope you enjoyed the PBS video I showed yesterday that featured Crystal Wang and Derek Nie. (I said it was a WETA video, but it was actually produced by PBS.) I showed it at MDTTC on my laptop yesterday to a number of players. The video is currently featured on the USATT home page.

Lots of coaching happenings yesterday. The biggest news was Sameer's breakthrough on the backhand loop. Sameer (13, about 1600) has been topspinning his backhand pretty well this past year. But yesterday something clicked, and suddenly he was just ripping backhand loops off the bounce with ease - at least in practice. He was doing it both in rallies against my backhand block, in side-to-side footwork drills (including the 2-1 drill), and in multiball against backspin.

Technique-wise, he's now hitting pretty much the same as Ma Long in this video (1:55, far side). Note the nice, relaxed power with this stroke, with the small body rocking motion that creates power. (Here's a Tip on "Easy Power," demonstrated in the video by Ma Long, which Sameer is now learning.) Sameer still goes through stages where they all hit and then they all miss (often when he tries to muscle the ball), and it'll take time to incorporate this into a match, but now he's on a really scary path (for opponents). Since I wanted him to really ingrain this, we spent about 45 minutes of our two-hour session on this, and we'll continue to focus on this for a time - yes, a little Saturation Training.

Near the end I played Sameer a few games where I chopped, using my regular inverted rubber (Tenergy both sides). He's much better against me when I play regular, and since I'm almost as good chopping as attacking, let's just say things didn't work as well here as it did for his backhand loop. He did throw a lot of backhand loops at me, but he kept putting the balls into my forehand or backhand corners - easy returns for a 2100 chopper. I finally hinted that he needed to go after my middle. He served and looped there several times, and I missed four chops. He said, "Are you messing up on purpose?" He was wondering if I was missing to show him the importance of playing the middle, as opposed to my missing because he was going to my middle. It was the latter!

I've been playing for 38 years, and coaching for 34. And yet, yesterday was the first time I ever had to tell a student (age 7) to stop chewing on his shirt during points.

We're facing serious problems at the club because of the changeover to plastic balls. The ITTF really jumped the gun on this - they should have waited until the new plastic balls ("40+") were standardized and there were training balls available. Right now we have different players training with different balls, and players have to check on what the other players are using before they can play or practice. Since Butterfly doesn't have plastic training balls yet, we're still mostly using regular Butterfly celluloid balls for most coaching. Players used to have to contend with going from Butterfly balls to the slightly harder Nittaku balls, but the difference there is only a fraction of the difference between the various plastic balls.

All of the plastic balls are white, as are most of our training balls, which seems to be the preference of most players. At the moment, though, I wish all our training balls were orange so we could tell them quickly from the white plastic ones. A training center is not like a typical club, where players use just one ball on each table. Players train at our club with buckets of balls, and so balls are scattered everywhere. (For an example of this, see the Multiball Footwork segment below.)

Yesterday, at the same time, we had players training with Butterfly celluloid (used in last weekend's 4-star North Carolina Open and MDTTC Open, in next weekend's 4-star South Shore Open and Wasserman Junior Championships, and along with other celluloid balls, still used in most USATT tournaments), JOOLA plastic (for the upcoming North American Teams), Nittaku Premium plastic (for the Nationals) and Nittaku SHA plastic (for the Nationals for players who didn't have the Premium yet). Meanwhile, Crystal Wang is training with various plastic balls to prepare for the World Cadet Challenge which starts next weekend, which will be using Butterfly plastic balls, but we don't have any since they aren't available in the U.S. yet. Players were running about trying to keep the same balls in each court and sifting through balls in boxes and on the floor to find the ones they were training with. And yesterday someone was practicing with DHS plastic balls for some other tournament. This is crazy!!!

One that'll help a little - USATT is requiring all tournament entry forms must list the ball material used in the tournament. Here's the news item.

Is Search Engine Showing Up?

I need help on something. Tell me if you see the search engine on the top left - it should read "Search this site:" with a field underneath it. It shows up for me on both my desktop and laptop computers on all the major search engines, but it's not showing up on someone else's laptop computer for some reason. (Right now it should only show up if you are logged in. I've asked my web page expert to fix that so that the search engine shows up no matter what.)

Multiball Footwork

Here's 34 seconds of some serious multiball footwork. Can you do this? (Note the wide stance - without it, you can't.)

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team

Here's a video library that's a MUST for all players. It has 14 videos of the Chinese National Team or coaches demonstrating and explaining techniques. (This includes seven videos in the "Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team" series. There's a Part 8 that just came out but isn't yet listed, "Forehand Serves and First Attack by Yan An" (7:43).

Contact Point for Maximum Backspin

Here's the new video from PingSkills (3:13).

Ask the Coach

Episode #12 (9:55):

  • Question 1: I play inverted and will play against a hardbat penhold player. He has no problem hitting through chops, and various spins. What I find most difficult is returning his general shots. I hit many balls into the net. Any suggestions? Bob Van Deusen
  • Question 2: There is an attacking shot in badminton called dropshot from the rear court. I haven’t seen it in table tennis where one player is away from the table, slows down shortly before contact so the ball drops short. Is it possible in table tennis? Peter Habich
  • Question 3: Being not a terribly strong guy, I've always preferred blades on the lighter side. Recently I switched to one which weighs only 5 grams less, and the difference is remarkable. I can't be sure yet which to prefer, so what's your view on this? Andrej K
  • Question 4: My issue is that I'm practicing drills mostly at the club with ITTF standard sized tables and the one at my office is one that lays on top of a billiards table, which is about 9cm higher. How I can adjust my strokes so that I can perform better? Gregory S

Photos from the First ITTF Level 3 Course in the U.S.

Here's the photo album from Shashin Shodhan. Photo #17 shows that they stayed in the same dormitory (Building 87) that I stayed in from 1986-1990 during my years as manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center. Others that lived there included Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, Eric Owens, Todd Sweeris, Dhiren Narotam, Diana & Lisa Gee, and many more.

Butterfly Teams

Here's an article by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Butterfly Teams in Hobart, Indiana, to be held on Thanksgiving weekend. (Not to be confused with the 4-star South Shore Open to be held this weekend in Highland, Indiana - I'll be there coaching - or with the North American Teams, also to be held on Thanksgiving weekend in Washington D.C.)

World Women's Cup

Here are two more videos on the Women's World Cup held this past weekend in Austria.

Who Will Win the Men's World Cup Contest

Here's the blog entry on this from Matt Hetherington. The Men's World Cup is this upcoming weekend in Dusseldorf, Germany, Oct. 24-26. The basic challenge is to guess the two finalists and the total number of points the losing player will score in the final. Winning prize is two sheets of Butterfly Tenergy.

ITTF Timo Boll Puzzle Contest

Put poor Timo Boll back together again, and win a signed blade from him.

Top Five Reasons Why Ping Pong Rocks by Susan Sarandon

Here's the video (1:04). #1: "I like ping-pong because Richard Nixon had to leave the country for at least two weeks during Ping-Pong Diplomacy."

Olympic Power Table Tennis

Here's the cartoon!

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October 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Top Ten Ways to Play Your Best in a Tournament.

Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's where you can download the video (60 min) or see the trailer (2:12) about the late Marty Reisman (Feb. 1, 1930 - Dec. 7, 2012). "A chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life. A table tennis champion turned hustler. Pursuing notoriety and motivated by his love of fame and ping pong, he has to face his biggest fear: mortality."

Here's the IMDB entry on the film. Here's the full description:

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler is a chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life, a former international table tennis champion-turned-money player. Pursuing notoriety through his idiosyncratic lifestyle and motivated by his love of fame and Ping Pong, he inadvertently has to face his biggest fear: mortality. Shot over three years, the film follows Marty - a complex mix of childlike excitement, eccentric narcissism and constant charm - as he negotiates between pride, the denial of old age, past defeats and the decline of his fame and fortune, as well as his devoted wife Yoshiko's health, all while clinging onto the hope that his own life and career are just beginning to blossom. The film's observational style, combined with rare archive footage and interviews with key New York and London society characters such Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson and eminent psychotherapist George Weinberg, work to tell the story of one of America's greatest.

I recently watched the video on my computer, along with Tim Boggan. I knew Marty pretty well. In fact, he's how I got into table tennis! Here's the story.

The video uses both old and recent footage of Reisman, showcasing him from his early years (growing up in the depression, discovering "a different world" in table tennis, and developing as a player in the hardbat era) to his last days, and especially the last three years of his life. Parts of it are rather dark, with much of the video taking place in a hospital after his heart surgery and shortly before Marty died. There's also footage of him running Reisman's Table Tennis Club, which ran from 1958 to the late 1970s.

Marty was perhaps the most flamboyant and stylish table tennis player who ever lived. The video features his many outfits, hats, his tailor and dry cleaner, and even the cane he used - not because he needed it, but for style purposes. Marty quotes poetry, jokes with doctors, talks and sings about mortality, teaches his forehand, shows his microscopes (a hobby of his), demonstrates the cigarette trick, talks about Satoh (the man from Japan who introduced the sponge racket and won the 1952 Worlds, the year Reisman thought he should have won), and talks about how much he was looking forward to a challenge match he had planned with 2009 U.S. Men's Champion Michael Landers. "You'll be in a film with the great Marty Reisman," he explained to Landers. (The film mistakenly credits Landers as being on the U.S. Olympic team.) There's also segments about a planned "Marty's Bar" at Spin TTC in New York.

Yes, Marty was an egomaniac, but he didn't hide this fact - in fact, he wore it on his sleeve, with an almost in-your-face ego. And yet he could be incredibly nice if you played along with it and treated him well. He was a God to many, and enjoyed playing the role. Much of his Godhood came about from the stand he took against sponge rubber, insisting on sticking with hard rubber (and later sandpaper), which he considered a far superior game, where two players had a "dialog" when they rallied.

Near the end there's about 3.5 minutes with USATT Historian Tim Boggan, who gives sort of a fact check to some of the items in the film. (Hence the "Fact or Fiction" part of the title.) He also shows a "Marty as Don Quixote" picture, symbolizing Marty fighting the windmills of sponge.

MDTTC Featured at WETA

Here's the video (4 min), which features me, Crystal Wang, and Derek Nie.

First Ever ITTF Level Three Course in USA Staged

Here's the ITTF article on the course just completed in Colorado Springs, taught by Richard McAfee. 

Women's World Cup

In the all-Chinese final held Sunday, world #1 Ding Ning defeated world #4 Liu Xiaoxia. Here's a video of the match highlights (4:04). Here's the ITTF home page for the event with results, articles, photos, and video. Here's the ITTF Press Release on the Final. Here's the Daily Shot of the Day:

iPong Basic Series: Forehand Drive

Here's the video (1:19) of Richard McAfee teaching the stroke.

Kenta Matsudaira's Sidespin Block

Here's the new video (3:56) from PingSkills of the Japanese player (world #27, #16 in January). My students hate it when I throw sidespin or chop blocks at them!

Training at Zhou Xin TTA

Here's the list of videos.

Ask the Coach

Here are two more "Ask the Coach" episodes from PingSkills.

Episode #10 (13:26):

  • Question 1: Usually players follow one style, attack or defense. If I want to change mine to All Around to add some defensive strokes, when is it efficient to start? When the attack style is completely confident or it’s better to study all the strokes at the same time? Olena.
  • Question 2: I realize that in table tennis we use only one part of our hand (upper arm, lower arm, and wrist) so what is the time to use each part of it and can I combined them? Frendy.
  • Question 3: How to reply to a player who simply sends every shot back with push & chop shots? I feel like I am playing the ball against a wall. I start to think that I have to do something to end the rally and then I make the mistake & lose the point. Len Buffey.
  • Question 4: What advice can you give to changing the momentum in a match? I was recently up 2-0 in a match and lost all confidence after losing the 3rd set and continued to go downhill losing in 5.
  • Question 5: Is there difference between a lob and a fish? If yes, what is it? Kaustubh Kulkarni.

Episode #11 (13:05):

  • Question 1: Hi Alois! I have my first tournament of the season in a week and I want to practice my serves. One problem: I don't have any plastic balls. Is it bad to practice my serves with celluloid balls? Yoan Pelletier
  • Question 2: Do you other professionals who play with shakehand, use a specific or specialized grip to serve and then quickly shift to the shakehand for the majority of the point? Do you stay with the special grip after the serve? Cole Mooney
  • Question 3: I recently received advice to engage my thumb and apply pressure onto the rubber when backhand counterhitting. The advice improved my backhand but I don't know if should change especially if the rallies are transitioning BH to FH in a fast manner. Danny Ly
  • Question 4: Due to studies I didn’t play table tennis for 1.5 months. I played today in an interschool tournament and I lost to a player whom I used to defeat every time. What is the reason of my defeat and how can I prepare for my state tournament. Shivam Goenka
  • Question 5: As a penhold player, should I hit with the other side of my bat? I tend to find that I can't have as much control as if I simply move more and use the same side of my bat. Colin Young

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship - see last paragraph in particular. Deadline is Nov. 1, 2014. "The Shonie Aki Scholarship award, in the amount of $1250 for one year, will be offered to a young table tennis player who has aspirations to complete a college education, become a better player, and a productive individual who would reflect on Shonie's legacy. In order to be considered to receive this scholarship award, candidates must be expecting to attend college in 2015 (and have at least two years remaining to complete their degree) and have GPAs of at least B or better."

Top 5 Veteran Table Tennis Ladies You Don't Want to Mess With

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis Tournament to Benefit Homeless Portlanders

Here's the article.

The Making of Table Tennis Blades and Rubbers

Here's the video (13:08).

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's the latest episode - Hengdian World Studios! - China Day 48 Part 1 (5:49).

Jorgen Persson and Bill Clinton

Here are five pictures of the two playing golf in 2005. The other player is Brian Laudrup, a Danish soccer player.

Ma Long's Birthday Party

Here's the picture. He just turned 26.

Be So Bold

Here's the video (60 sec) - I think this is a jeans commercial, but I'm not sure. That's one cheap paddle the "star" is using.

Bruce Lee Ping Pong

Here's a new video (3:13) where two hackers flamboyantly play table tennis with various implements, from bottles and paper towel rolls to cheese graters. (Not really a lot to do with Bruce Lee, however, other than the title.)

Cooking Ping-Pong Balls for Breakfast

Here's the video (5 sec) - looks pretty tasty!

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October 17, 2014

Big Upcoming USA Tournaments

This is sort of the main "tournament season" for many players, with the Teams and Nationals both coming up, along with other big 4-star tournaments. If you are relatively new to big tournaments, perhaps the first thing to do is to read my USATT article (with the longest table tennis article name ever), "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Your First Table Tennis Tournament…But Didn’t Know Where To Ask!" (It includes sections on General Info, Ratings, Etiquette, and How to Play Your Best.)

If you play in any of these tournaments, you might want to enter some smaller events first to develop "tournament toughness," which will help you in the big ones. Here's my Tip of the Week on this, which begins, "Playing in tournaments is quite different from playing practice matches. Here are three reasons for this. First, the playing conditions are generally different than you are used to - different tables, balls, floors, backgrounds, and lighting. Second, you are usually playing different players, while in practice you often play the same players over and over. And third, there's far more pressure in a tournament match than in a practice match. (There are other, lesser reasons - traveling, time zone changes, eating different foods, etc.)"

Here's a rundown of some of the big ones coming along. (To find tournaments, see the USATT Tournament Schedule.) We'll start with three of the BIGGEST ones.

Nov. 28-30 - The Teamses. We normally call it the "Teams," but there are now two big 4-star Team events over the Thanksgiving holidays, so we have to pluralize that to "Teamses." (Now I sound like Gollum.) The format for the two Team tournaments is 3-person teams, with each team match a best of nine. (In some of the "feature" matches in the final or just before that they play an adjusted best of five.) 

I've got a huge conflict here. I'm sponsored by Butterfly, but the JOOLA North American Teams are both local and run by a former junior star from my club, Richard Lee. (Richard won nearly every age event at the Junior Nationals and Junior Olympics during his heydays in the 1990s - and though I wasn't his primary coach, I spent hundreds of hours practicing and playing with him.) Richard still comes to MDTTC, and his son, 7-year-old Ryan, is now one of our up-and-coming juniors. Here are the two tournaments.

The $3000 Butterfly Teams are held in Hobart, IN. Here's their promotional video (2:07). Tournament director is Dan Seemiller. They are the "new kid on the block," running their own 4-star team tournament on the same weekend as the traditional North American Teams. If they are successful, I'm guessing they will increase the prize money in the future.

The $20,000 JOOLA North American Teams are held in Washington DC, about 20 miles or so from my club (MDTTC). Here's their promotional video (54 sec). This is the bigger of the two by far, with 140 tables and 830 players last year, the most of any USA tournament. I've been going to this one since 1976. (It was in Detroit back then, moving to Baltimore in 1998, and to Washington DC last year. I was the original instigator in bringing it to Baltimore, along with Richard Lee, Jim McQueen, and others.) They'll be using the new JOOLA 40+ plastic balls at the tournament. I'll be coaching my students at this tournament.

Dec. 16-20 - the 5-star $31,000 USA Nationals in Las Vegas. This is one of USATT's two showcase events. (The other is the U.S. Open in July.) I'll be there mostly coaching and attending some meetings, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) The deadline to enter the tournament without a late fee was originally today, with a $75 late fee until Oct. 27, and then no more entries accepted. But they just extended the deadline - they do this every year - and now the first deadline is Oct. 31, with entries accepted with the $75 late fee until Nov. 10. You can actually watch as the entries come in, either by name or by event. They currently have 388, but will have about double that before entries close. (For some reason they don't advertise the total prize money, so I painstakingly added it all up, and it came to $30,650, which I rounded up to $31,000 above.) They'll be using the new Nittaku 40+ Premium ball at the tournament. 

Here are other upcoming 4-star tournaments.  Note they are now running monthly 4-star events at the clubs in Westchester TTC (NY) and Triangle TTC (NC).

Oct. 17-19 - $10,000 North Carolina Open at the Triangle TTC in Morrisville, NC. It might be too late to enter this one, since it starts today, but who knows?

Oct. 25-26 - $8900 Butterfly South Shore Open in Highland, IN. I'll be at this one, coaching Nathan Hsu, who is in the Open, Under 2450, and 18 & Under Boys. We're driving up - a 9.5 hour ride. (If you're there, come by and say hello.) Here's the list of entries so far. The highlight of this tournament might be the Nate Wasserman Junior Championships. These include six events:

  • 18 & Under Boys (1st $1000, 2nd $500, 3-4 $100)
  • 18 & Under Girls (1st $1000, 2nd $500, 3-4 $100)
  • 15 & Under Boys (1st $500, 2nd $200, 3-4 T)
  • 15 & Under Girls (1st $500, 2nd $200, 3-4 T)
  • 13 & Under Boys (1st $200, 2nd $100, 3-4 T)
  • 13 & Under Girls (1st $200, 2nd $100, 3-4 T)

Oct 25-26 - $7000 Westchester October Open at the Westchester TTC in Westchester, NY. (It's actually in Pleasantville, NY, which is in Westchester County, but I like saying "Westchester.") They run a monthly 4-star tournament at Westchester, so I hope lots of players will support this. I wish I could bring players and attend more of their tournaments (as a coach), but I'm too buy on weekends to get away too often.

Nov. 15-16 - $5000 Triangle November Open - another big one at the Triangle TTC in Morrisville, NC. I'll have to get down to one of their tournaments sometime.

Nov. 22-23 - $7000 Westchester November Open - another big one at the Westchester TTC. The entry form for this one doesn't seem to be up, but info is at the club's web page.

Dec. 6-7 - $5000 Triangle December Open - still another big one at the Triangle TTC in Morrisville, NC.

Dec. 27-28 - $7000 Westchester December Open - still another big one at the Westchester TTC.

Knock the Ball Off the Table Contest

Here's the video (1:53) between USA's Kanak Jha and Sweden's Kristian Karlsson.

Interview with Brian Pace

Here's the interview, which covers his table tennis (player and coach), cycling, and other subjects.

2014 ITTF Women's World Cup About to Take Off in Linz

Here's the ITTF Press Release. Here's the ITTF Home Page for the event (with articles, results, and soon pictures and video), which runs in Linz, Austria, Oct. 17-19 (Fri-Sun).

Aging Player Keep On the Ball with Pingpong

Here's the feature article in the LA Times.

TableTennis11 Blog and the Ten Best Backhand Players of Modern Table Tennis

Here's their blog page, with the link the "Best Backhands" item (which includes video) and two previous blog items on "7 Things You Need To Know to Master The New Plastic Ball" and "Top 5 Blades You Want Right Now!"

Training Through Seo Hyowen's Eyes

Here's video (15 sec) of what training looks like from the world #10 and #1 Korean woman.

Table Tennis USB Flash Drives

Here they are! Up to 16GB size.

Lefty Cat Smacking Forehand

Here's the repeating GIF image.

Real Table Tennis

Here's the cartoon! Here's a similar one with the same idea.

***
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October 16, 2014

Lack of Creativity in Serving

I'm always amazed at how simple most players serve. Serving is the most creative part of the game (though receive is close), and yet most players seem to serve with little purpose or variation.

A major reason for this is because most players play the same players at their club over and over. There are all sorts of little nuances you can do with your serve that can give opponents trouble - last second changes of spin and direction (via last-second changes to the racket's motion), widely varying spins and placements, serving the extremes (deep breaking serves to backhand/short to forehand, or short heavy backspin/short side-topspin), or just different serving motions - but few use them. Many probably experiment, but since they play the same players over and over, opponents quickly get used to them, and the advantage of these little nuances mostly goes away.

Now even in practice there are ways to overcome this. If an opponent adjusts to your variations when serving from the backhand corner, for example, try it from the middle or forehand side - you'll be amazed at how much this changes things. Or just come up with variations. The more you have, the harder it is for an opponent to get used to them all. Or just hold back on certain serves for a while, and then, when you come back to them, they are effective again. Meanwhile, while you use those newly effective serves, hold back on some others for a while. (When I say hold back for a while, I mean both for a few games or for a few weeks of play - both ways work.)

When you watch world-class players play, often their serves look all the same. What does this mean? It means the world-class server has been successful at hiding his variations from you! There are nuances in every serve they do; they don't just serve to get the ball in play. If they did, world-class opponents would be all over those serves. Instead, they throw lots of little variations out there, varying the motion, spin, and placement just enough to keep the opponent slightly guessing and not completely comfortable. They may not get outright misses as we see at lower levels, but they force slightly weaker returns.

But a key thing to note from all this is that while all your serve variations might not continue to work in practice matches against the same players, they will work in tournaments. If you have a few serve variations that work at first at the club, but then players get used to them and they are no longer effective, guess what? They will still be effective in tournaments against new players, because for them, it is the first time they've seen them, just as it was for the players at your club before they got used to them.

I face this type of thing every day. All of my students are so used to my serves that most of them return them better than players rated far higher who don't face them regularly. In practice games at the end of sessions I often am split between using serves they'll see in matches, or coming up with new variations of my own serves just to throw them off, knowing that they are unlikely to face those specific serves in tournaments. (Last night, for example, one of my students was playing very well and led against me in two straight games. I fell to the dark side of the force and threw at him a series of Seemiller-grip windshield-wiper serves that he'd never seen before, and "stole" the games. Afterwards I let him practice against them, and they probably won't work next time. But I still feel guilty about "stealing" those games!)

One things I always stress is to find the right balance between "set-up serves" and "trick serves." At lower levels, trick serves are more effective, but as players get better they lose some of their effectiveness, and set-up serves become more important - but you should always have both. (Set-up serves are designed to set up a follow-up attack but don't usually win the point outright, while trick serves are designed to win the point outright or give an easy winner.) There's a lot of gray area between the two - a set-up serve can also be a trick serve in some circumstances. Here's a short tip I wrote on this a while back.

Why Karakasevic's Backhand Deserves Recognition

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. The Serbian star has always been known for his phenomenal backhand. From 2001 to 2013 his world ranking mostly bounced about in the 40 to 70 range, with his highest at #33 in January, 2007.

Ask the Coach

Here's another episode from PingSkills.

Episode 9 (11:51)

  • Question 1: Hi Alois, I've noticed that the quality of the training somehow depends on the mood and the concentration. The same strokes I perform differently and miss more with the higher concentration on the ball. What is an object and level of concentration? Olena
  • Question 2: I play at a local club and have received comments that I have a good serve. However, I have noticed that almost all of my backspin serves (Pendulum) have sidespin as well. Is this taking away from the effectiveness of the backspin? Adam
  • Question 3: While playing with my opponent when I tossed the ball for a serve my opponent asked me to stop as he wasn't ready then after a pause of 4 to 5 seconds I served again and again the same thing happened. Is this legal? Rutvik Thakkar
  • Question 4: Hi, sometimes I see professional players immediately smash the ball when returning a serve, I was wondering in what circumstances could and should you do this. Thanks! Alan C

USATT Tournament Advisory Committee Meeting

They met via teleconference on Sept. 18. Here are the minutes.

PingPongRuler.com

Here's a new website that features equipment reviews, videos, and custom-made paddles. Lots of good stuff there! (One thing that wasn't at first clear - in the Equipment Review section it looked at first like there were only very short reviews of each item. Click on the picture or heading and you get a far more extensive review.)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Visits Piing of Power

Here's the article. (And yes, there are two i's.)

International Articles

As usual Tabletennista has lots of international articles.

Ping Pong Trend Bounces Across the Nation

Here's the article on the rising popularity of the sport.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's his latest entry, "Names, names, names - China Day 47" (4:47).

The Spinning Paddle Bouncing Ball Cookie Jar Trick

Here it is (13 sec) - but is it real?

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