January 3, 2018

North American Youth Olympic Games Qualification – Boys’ Final
Here’s the match, Kanak Jha vs. Jeremy Hazin (17:35, missing first game). This was one of the few top matches I got to see at the US Open, since I was so busy in meetings, coaching, and playing. But it was a great tactical match – basically, Kanak, age 16 but already over 2700 and #90 in the world, gave a clinic in receive and ball placement.

The match epitomizes something I’ve been quoted saying many times: “Tactics isn’t about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. It’s about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work.” In this case, Kanak used disarming receives to take away Jeremy’s serve advantage, and then used one seemingly simple tactic that completely dominated the match – attack the middle and wide forehand.

It seems simple, but the execution is far more difficult than it appears. If you just keep going after someone’s middle or forehand, they can anticipate it, and jump on that shot, so you have to be ready to switch back and forth. If you attack too aggressively, you make mistakes; if not aggressive enough, opponent has time to react.

Watch the rallies, and you’ll see over and over that when Kanak attacks the middle, Jeremy would struggle to react, either going for erratic counterloops (ones he’d likely made if the attack were to a corner) or awkward blocks. If Jeremy hedged over to cover the middle, usually with his forehand, Kanak immediate attacked the opened forehand corner.

For example, see the point at 3-1 in game two (0:28), where Kanak attacks a corner, than the middle, then the open corner. At 5-2 he spins a serve back to the middle, catching Jeremy, who appears to be guarding the wide forehand and so is slow to cover the shot. (Note how irritated he is after the point, since he should have been jumped on it quicker.) Often in this game Kanak finds openings to the wide forehand as Jeremy seems to be covering the middle, perhaps in reaction to Kanak’s attacks there in the first game, which isn’t seen here, but which I watched, and where Kanak went after the middle even more.

On receive, Kanak focused on consistency and variation. I’m not going to rewatch the whole video, but I don’t remember him outright missing a single serve. But more important, watch the variation – a mixture of flips, and short and long pushes, with last-second changes of direction that kept Jeremy from following up his serve effectively. (Ironically, Kanak’s first receive in the video is one of his weakest.)

Watch the first point of game three at 4:55. Kanak fakes a backhand flip but instead drops the serve short, then flips the next ball to the middle, setting up an easy winner. On the next point, Kanak quick-pushes to the wide forehand for a winner. Watch closely and you’ll see Jeremy start to move to his backhand the split second before Kanak contacts the ball – and Kanak instantly picks up on that. On the next point, Jeremy again leaves the forehand a bit open as he’s covering the middle, Kanak again jumps on the wide forehand. Jeremy is reacting to receives before Kanak has committed, and so Kanak is able to catch him off guard by changing his receive at the last second.

Another interesting thing you’ll notice about the match is the seemingly lack of pure counterlooping rallies. Normally when you see two top players go at it, there's a lot of counterlooping, and both of these players are great at counterlooping. But this is a big strength for Jeremy, who would love to turn the match into a pure counterlooping duel. While that might have been interesting to watch, Kanak shut that down almost completely, rarely letting Jeremy to get into a straight counterlooping battle. Kanak might have won such a counterlooping battle, but why should he play into the opponent's strength?

These tactics are seemingly simple. On paper, many could execute them. But in practice, they are very difficult - but Kanak made them look easy. As to Jeremy, he knows what he has to do next time out against Kanak – if he’s smart, he’ll be doing lots of drills where his partners vary their shots to the middle and wide forehand. He also probably needs to be less reactive to the opponent’s receive – most players telegraph their receive too early, and Jeremy was used to reacting to that. Against Kanak and other players his level, he’ll have to lose that instinct since he often seemed to react to Kanak’s receive before Kanak had committed, and so was caught off guard. Two seemingly simple things, and yet they made all the difference in this match. Take them away, and unless Kanak comes up with another simple yet effective tactic, we have an even match.

Kanak Jha to Top 100
The new ITTF ranking system definitely has shaken things up, since it gives an advantage to those who are more active. This helped our top two USA players. In the new rankings, Kanak Jha jumped from #200 to #90, while Lily Zhang went from #92 to #60. It’s been a while since USA had men in the top 100 – we had several in the 1990s - Cheng Yinghua, David Zhuang, Jim Butler, and Sean O’Neill. Since then the only other USA man in the top 100 I know of was Ilija Lupulesku in the 2000’s.

Decoding Jun Mizutani's serve
Here’s the video (12:25).

10 Stages of Footwork Summary
Here’s the video (4:46) by Samson Dubina.

New from EmRatThich
He has lots of new material up. Here are his two pages:

Table Tennis Tidbits #15
Here’s the article by Robert Ho, “Qatar Open ’16:  Genes and Memes—the Cream Rises to the Top.”

Irregular Drills, Positioning, and Anticipation – Problems of the Intermediate Player
Here’s the article from Epic Table Tennis.

Equipment – How Important Is It to the Sport?
Here’s the article by Eli Baraty.

Top 10 Best of 2017
Here’s the ITTF video (6:38).

History of USATT - Volume XX - Chapter 9
Here’s chapter nine of Tim Boggan’s latest volume, which covers 1991-1992. Or you can buy it and previous volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com.

Samson Dubina in the Movies?
Samson gets a lot of coverage in my blog (and here’s his news page, with lots of coverage of his recent MegaCamp), but that’s because he creates a lot of great articles and videos. But now the truth is out – he’s secretly a movie star!!! Don’t believe it? Here’s video (38 sec) of a Regal Theaters Coca-Cola ad that they’ve been showing before movies the last month or two. When you see the character behind the counter selling the drinks and popcorn – tell me that isn’t Samson Dubina!!! (For comparison, see “10 Stages of Footwork Summary” segment above.) So . . . which of you is the guy in the glasses?

Colorful Beach Table
Here’s the picture. (Here’s the non-Facebook version.)

Dimitrij “Santa” Ovtcharov
Here’s the picture! (Here’s the non-Facebook version.)

Santa Ninja Table Tennis Cross Training
Here’s the video (90 sec) – table tennis is only in the first six seconds.

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