February 24, 2014

Tip of the Week

Backhand Sidespin Push.

Adham Sharara Interview - More Changes Are Coming!

Here's an interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara. Some of the things he says will make some players nervous or even downright scared. Three of the main things he talks about are ending Chinese domination, slowing down the game by using a ball with less spin and speed (bounce), and starting to restrict rackets with a bounce test. Here are excerpts, and my comments. (Note that I'm saving for last the most revolutionary item - the testing of rackets, i.e. a bounce test, and an apparently new racket approval process.)

When asked why he thinks it's necessary to end Chinese domination, he uses the example of USA basketball, and says, "Hence, we felt it’s necessary to take our sport to other nations and requested China to help others. Table tennis should be played everywhere. Otherwise, it’ll become very boring." I'm a bit leery of the whole idea of making it a goal to end a country's domination, though of course he might have a point about it being more interesting when more countries are competitive.

There does seem to be one difference, however: I believe that when the USA basketball teams dominated, the whole world watched when they played. With China dominating, the world doesn't seem to watch when they play. I think this has more to do with USA media, which is (of course) biased toward USA and tends to dominate or at least influence the rest of the world's media. I'd rather the focus be on China helping to spread table tennis by continuing to do what they are already doing, which is to send their coaches all over the world to train players in other countries. Then it's up to the rest of the world to catch up with China, with the help of these Chinese coaches. That's what we're doing in the U.S., for example. With the help of seemingly zillions of new Chinese coaches and practice partners, and many dozens of new training centers opened in the past 7-8 years, we have by far the best junior and cadet players in our history. In a few years they may be challenging anyone in the world . . . except maybe the Chinese. (USA top juniors and cadets: sic 'em!)

Then they get into balls and rackets. We'd been told that the change to the new poly balls was because celluloid balls are extremely flammable, and it was becoming very difficult to ship them around the reason for insurance reasons. But Sharara says:

"We’re also changing balls. FIFA made the balls lighter and faster, but we’re changing balls from celluloid to plastic for less spin and bounce. We want to slow down the game a little bit. It’ll come into effect from July 1, which, I think, is going to be a very big change in the sport."

We already switched from 38mm to 40mm balls to slow down the sport, and now the change to poly balls is for the same reason. While this might technically slow the ball down and reduce spin, it also will likely have two apparently unforeseen effects, which also happened when we increased the ball's size. First, with a slower ball, players have more time to get into position and throw their entire body into the shot, and so you favor big, power players who rip everything even more - and so the ball speeds are even faster. (On the other hand, a bigger ball does slow down faster due to air resistance, and so is easier to return, as we learned with 40mm balls. But will the new poly ball be slower due to a substantial size increase, or just slower off the racket? Apparently the latter, though the new balls may be slightly larger than the 40mm ball we've grown used to.) Second, with less spin, you make defensive chopping at the higher levels even more difficult as they rely on heavy backspin to succeed.

Finally, we get to the question on rackets. Sharara says:

"In the past, we’ve tried various ways to control the power of the racquet. But players are always ahead of us. They’ve tried other means, which made the action faster. Now we’ve decided to measure the racquet from the outside. The racquets will have a bounce limit as well. We’ll introduce this next year."

Rackets are already tested, mostly for continuity and any traces of illegal glue. This would be a new test, presumably measuring the actual speed of the blade and covering. (There aren't that many rules on blades, which is the racket without covering - they can be of any size, weight, or thickness. About the only rules about blades is that they must be flat and rigid, and at least 85% natural wood. Here are the current ITTF rules on rackets; most of it is about the coverings, not the blade itself.) How far would this new bounce test rule go? Would rackets need to pass a test to be approved, thereby making many older or homemade rackets illegal until tested? Would they be tested at tournaments? That's be another task for referees.

We'll just have to wait and see how these things transpire. Meanwhile, on Saturday one of the kids in our junior class asked me why one of the balls we were using was smaller than the others. It turned out a 38mm ball had been mixed in with the regular 40m ones - the second time this had happened recently. I have no idea where they are coming from; someone at the club must be bringing them in. Later that day I brought one out during a lesson and hit with it, and boy did it bring back some nostalgia! Those balls really react to topspin, curving down like a hawk diving for prey.

Larry's Trademarked Terms

From now on you have to pay me $1 anytime you use any of these terms I've invented. I'm pretty sure I've invented some others but can't remember them.

  • Frobbing (half lobbing, half fishing - sort of a low lob or high fish)
  • Topspinny Backhand (off-the-bounce backhand loops but with a shorter stroke than a conventional backhand loop)
  • Heavy No-Spin (fake spin with a big serving motion but actually no-spin) (Addendum added later: Actually, others were using this term before I did, but I'm trying to steal credit!)
  • No No-spin (fake no-spin serve but actually spinny)

Lily Zhang Qualifies for Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games

Here's the ITTF list of qualifiers (page down to Women's on page 4, and see the third item, "ITTF Under-18 World Ranking). So her world under 18 ranking qualified her for the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games.

Xu Xin Wins Qatar Open

Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's another article on it from Table Tennista.

McConaughey vs. Harrelson

Here's an article on how Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turn table tennis into extreme sport.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's a new video (6:08) with an incredible compilation of trick shots. The first one might be the longest trick shot ever.

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