February 14, 2011

Ma Long and MDTTC Juniors

Let's start with the big news. Many of you know of China's Ma Long, currently world #4 but #1 in the world for nine months last year? Well, Ma Long was at the Maryland Table Tennis Center last night, as a guest of Cheng Yinghua. I played a challenge match - and beat him, 3-0! We're not talking hardbat or sandpaper - we played with regular rackets.

Okay, it was Ma Long's 9-year-old namesake, a student of Cheng's. But it was fun to beat him!

I also played two matches this past week with 8-year-old Crystal Wang, another MDTTC player. She's rated 1833, and is #2 in the U.S. in Girls' Under 10. Now, for the record, I've played 35 years, and I've never, Never, NEVER lost even a game to an 8-year-old, not even when I was a beginner. Well, in the first match, she went absolutely crazy with her shots, and before I could wake up, I'd lost the first game and was down 9-10 in the second in this best of five. Anything with topspin she killed, forehand and backhand. When I looped, she smashed. When I pushed, she'd spin loop from either wing, and follow with a smash unless I did something drastic. Somehow, she was returning my best serves with ease, sometimes backhand smacking them in. She even hit my lobs pretty well, and I felt guilty about lobbing, so I stayed away from that. Anyway, I managed to serve and loop a winner to get to deuce, then caught her completely off guard the next two points by chopping. I then all-out looped the next two games to win somewhat easily. In the second match, I was ready - I wasn't going to get caught like that again, and I had my "A" game ready. I won the first two games easily. Then a strange thing happened - she began smashing everything again! Down 4-8 that game, I decided enough was enough - and switched to chopping. I use fast inverted on both sides, but chop almost as well as my regular topspin game. I tied it at 9-all, and then pulled off two big serve & follows. Seriously, sometimes she misses too much, but when she gets on a roll, she's scary. Let's see where she is in a couple years. Unfortunately, I'm about to turn 51, and every year she (and other juniors) get better, and I get . . . stiffer.

With another of our other juniors, I came up with three table tennis quotes while we played. He was a captive audience who couldn't leave; you are not. You have advance warning.

  • "In my first match, I'm never warmed up, and in my second match, I'm too tired, but in between I'm really good."
  • "My loop has been called the most powerful loop in the world. I don't care what anyone says, I'm going to keep calling it that."
  • "Nobody can get my shots back, not until they start hitting."

Hints for those who play against up-and-coming kids.

They are usually weak against heavy backspin, have trouble with hard, angled shots, and varying spin (on serves or rallies) drives them nuts. Lob when necessary, but don't overdo it. And whatever you do, don't take them on backhand to backhand!!!

Backhand Footwork Drills

How come players do so many forehand footwork drills, but almost nobody does backhand footwork drills? Sure, most players cover less ground with the backhand, and you can actually get away with reaching for the ball more on the backhand - but you don't want to reach, and you should be able to cover more table with the backhand when necessary - such as when you've been pulled off to the forehand side. Just as players do side-to-side forehand footwork drills, you should do this with the backhand. When Eric Owens upset Cheng Yinghua to win Men's Singles at the 2001 USA Nationals, he credited to all the backhand footwork drills he'd been doing. (Eric was a big forehand looper, but against Cheng, his backhand was almost as good.)


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