March 9, 2018

USA's Best: Past, Present, and Future
Here's a quick look at our best in the past, present and future. Here goes - and if you aren't interested in our history, skip ahead to the Present and Future!


USA's best heyday was 1936-1938. USA had stars like Ruth Aarons, Jimmy McClure, Robert Blattner, and Sol Schiff. During that period they won the following titles at the World Championships:

  • Men's Teams: 1937
  • Women's Teams: 1937, finalist in 1936
  • Women's Singles: 1936, 1937 (Ruth Aarons both times)
  • Men's Doubles: 1936, 1937, 1938 (McClure/Blattner 1936-37, McClure/Schiff 1938)

Not a bad record!

There were no World Championships from 1940-1946 due to World War 2. And then Team USA returned almost as strong as before, with a whole new set of stars - Dick Miles, Marty Reisman, Lou Pagliaro, Mae Clouther, Reba Monness, and the sisters, Leah Thall Neuberger and Thelma "Tybie" Thall Sommer. Here are their results at the Worlds right after World War 2:

  • 1947: Finalist in Men's Teams, Finalist in Women's Doubles (Mae Clouther/Reba Monness), Semifinals in Men's Singles (Lou Pagliaro)
  • 1948: Mixed Doubles (Dick Miles/Thelma "Tybie" Thall Sommer)
  • 1949: Women's Teams, Semifinals in Men's Singles (Marty Reisman), Semifinals in Women's Singles (Thelma "Tybie" Thall Sommer)

Not a bad record!

So the "Golden Age" of USA Table Tennis was from 1936-1949, with that 1940-46 World War 2 gap. (Or call it two short "Golden Ages," 1936-1938 and 1947-1949.) But USA wasn't done - in the 1950s USA had a few last gasps:  

  • 1951: Semifinals in Women's Singles (Leah Thall Neuberger)
  • 1956: Mixed Doubles (Erwin Klein/ Leah Thall Neuberger)
  • 1959: Semifinals in Men's Singles (Dick Miles, led 2-1 in games and 12-8 in fourth)

So from 1936-1956, USA did the following at the World Championships - and note that we are 10-3 in finals!:

  • Men's Teams: 1937 (Finalist in 1947)
  • Women's Teams: 1937, 1949 (Finalist in 1936)
  • Men's Singles: Zilch
  • Women's Singles: 1936, 1937
  • Men's Doubles: 1936, 1937, 1938
  • Women's Doubles: (Finalist in 1947)
  • Mixed Doubles: 1948, 1956

And then, from 1960-2018 . . . Zilch. Nada. Nothing at the Worlds. And don't even ask about the Olympics, which included table tennis starting in 1988. (Note - we've won numerous titles at Disabled or Para events, but that's a separate issue.) We did have Eric Boggan reach #18 in the world in the early 1980s with wins over essentially all the top ten players in the world at some point, and Dan Seemiller also reached top 30 in the late 1970s. (Dan and brother Rick Seemiller reached the quarterfinals of Men's Doubles at the Worlds in 1977.) Wang Chen, formerly world #3 for China, reached the quarterfinals of Women's Singles at the 2008 Olympics. (I think Gao Jun reached the quarterfinals of Women's Singles while playing for USA one year, but not sure what year.) 

But there were two other more modern achievements that many forget.

In 1995, at the World Team Cup held in Atlanta, Team USA made it all the way to the semifinals with a series of upsets. Cheng Yinghua, Jimmy Butler, and David Zhuang pulled off upset after upset in doing so, with Cheng even defeating world #1 Jan-Ove Waldner. So as recently as 1995, Team USA made the Final Four at the World Team Cup. (But, as some would point out, Cheng and Zhuang developed their games in China before emigrating to the U.S.)

Just one year before, in 1994, another Team USA also caused an uproar at the King Kar City World Youth Cup Championships in Taiwan for players under age 18. China didn't play (because it was in Taiwan), but most of the best countries in the world attended. Team USA, made up of David Fernandez, Barney J. Reed, and Richard Lee, with a series of upsets, also made it all the way to the semifinals, upsetting powerful teams from Korea, Taiwan, and Sweden. (I was the team coach - it's an incredible memory coaching the team between games in front of 20,000 screaming fans.)

Former world #3 Gao Jun of China became a USA citizen in the 1990s and for a number of years she, Jasna Rather (previously from Romania and Yugoslavia), and Tawny Banh did pretty well in Women's Teams (and Gao in Singles) in events around the world. But other than that 1995 "Dream Team" and 1994 junior team, and a few Gao Jun-inspired scares in the 1990s/early 2000s, Team USA hasn't really threatened much since the 1950s. (Here's a complete listing of World Championship Medalists.)


Let's face it, our current USA Men's and Women's team aren't particularly great compared to the rest of the world. The men are ranked #38, the women #23. On the men's side, our #1 is Kanak Jha at #73, with no one else in the top 300. On the women's side, our #1 is Lily Zhang at #56, with no one else in the top 100 - but we do have Wu Yue (#113), Crystal Wang (#153) Angela Guan (#211), and Rachel & Grace Yang, sisters tied at #294. On any given day, our women's team can battle with most teams outside the top four or so, but they have a way to go before they are really threatening the best teams.

However - and that's a BIG however - did you notice that many of the players above are juniors, and still developing? That includes Kanak Jha, Crystal Wang, Angela Guan, and the Yang sisters. So let's take a look at the current junior rankings - and we'll now move to the. . . .


How many of you remember the days when USA would rave about having any kid ranked in the top 50 in the world? It didn't happen very often. And now - well, unless you've been hiding at a table tennis club practicing your serves and not checking the table tennis news, you probably know that USA's Kanak Jha is now World #1 in Under 18 Boys!!! That's a first. (Yes, there's a caveat - few of the top Chinese juniors are ranked, and of course the "best" junior in the world is 15-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan, ranked #12 in the world in the Men's rankings, but he no longer competes in international junior events and so has no junior ranking.)

We also have a relatively new USATT High Performance Director, Jörg Bitzigeio, formerly a top coach from Germany, now dedicated full-time to working with our top players to turn USA back into the powerhouse it was from 1936-1949. He is in regular contact with our top players and juniors, and their coaches, working to focus them on developing world-class players who can battle with the best. He's also run trainings camps for them. (As the USATT Coaching Chair, I'm also working with him on developing a new USATT coaching education and certification system, but he's taking the lead in that.) Here are current world rankings for under 18 and under 15.

Under 18 Boys

  • Kanak Jha (USA), #1
  • Sharon Alguetti (USA), #29
  • Victor Liu (USA), #49
  • Jack Wang (USA), #78

Under 18 Girls

  • Amy Wang (USA), #11
  • Rachel Sung (USA), #46
  • Crystal Wang (USA), #48
  • Ishana Deb (USA), #78
  • Grace Yang (USA), #83

Under 15 Boys

  • Nikhil Kumar (USA), #4
  • Aditya Godhwani (USA), #112

Under 15 Girls

  • Rachel Sung (USA), #5
  • Tia Lynn Hsieh (USA), #50
  • Angie Tan (USA), #52
  • Lavanya Maruthapandian (USA), #64
  • Swathi Giri (USA), #65
  • Joanna Sung (USA), #111

Note that Amy Wang and Crystal Wang both just left the Cadet category, and have at least two more years in Under 18. At their highest in Cadet Girls, Amy was #3 and Crystal #2. Also, Swathi Giri, at #65 in Under 15 Girls, has at least two years left there, and last year was on the ITTF World Hopes Team, for the top four girls in the world ages 11-12.

There's a reason why USA has, in recent years, shown signs of coming out of its decades-long slumber (other than that short awakening in 1994-1995) - training centers!!! The Maryland Table Tennis Center (MDTTC) was the first successful full-time training center, opening in 1992. As recently as 2006 there were only eight such centers in the whole country. So of course few top juniors were being developed, and that, of course, is where top men and women come from. But now there are 93, and so of course there are more and more of these top juniors. And so Team USA is now highly competitive in world events, led by Kanak Jha and others listed above. Here's the Feb. 28 article by Matt Hetherington, TeamUSA Youth Capture Multiple Podium Successes in Sweden, showing just the latest successes.
I'm a coach at MDTTC, and we're doing our part, with great help from the HW Global Foundation, which runs our Talen Development Program. (The club is also sponsored by Butterfly, as am I.) Perhaps our brightest current star is Tiffany Ke, age 13, rated 2359, and #2 in Under 15 in the U.S., and #272 in the World - but with two years of eligibility left. (She's also #5 in Under 18 Girls in the U.S.) At the Nationals last year she did a clean "sweep," making the USA Under 12, Under 15, and Under 18 Girls' Teams. We have a number of others, but probably our brightest group is Under 10 Boys, where Stanley Hsu, Mu Du, and Andy Wu are ranked #1, #3, and #4 in the USA rankings. (Stanley and Mu both started out with me in my beginning table tennis class.) These three nine-year-olds play three very distinct styles - Stanley reminds me of a modernized Waldner; Mu Du plays like Ma Long; and Andy's a chopper/looper. (As of Dec. 31, we had 6 of the top 13 in 10 and Under Boys.)

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 21 - Update
After five slave-driven days, Tim (see "Tim 'Hulk' Boggan" segment at end) and I have done 15 chapters and 213 pages, plus the covers. Some of the chapters are relatively easy; others have taken half the day. There have been at least four individual pages that each took over an hour; one took two hours. We're mixing 21st century and 19th century techniques here - Tim cut and pasted every page with scissors and tape, and then Mal Anderson scanned the pages. Unfortunately, every scissor mark shows, there are smudges everywhere, and over half the columns aren't lined up, so I have to fix all these problems in Photoshop. And then Tim has zillions of changes, with lots of alternate photos to scan and stick in, and often having me move things around in Photoshop as if it were a word processor.

We worked from 7AM to 4:15PM yesterday (30 min lunch break), then I was off to the physical therapist, who worked on my shoulder for an hour. Then I taught my Thursday night Beginning Junior Class, 6:30-7:30PM. I didn't get home until after 8PM, and then my "real" work began. I won't bore you with a complete list, but I managed to go through my entire todo list (including writing this blog) - but I didn't finish until 2:15AM. I left a note for Tim alerting him to the fact that we'll be starting late this morning. (That "roar" you might hear around 5AM is Tim reading my note.)

If all goes well, we'll finish the pages on Tuesday, and do corrections on Wednesday, and then we'll be done, and I'll get to stop doing these crazy 7AM - midnight (or 2AM) workdays.

2018 Seamaster Qatar Open
Here's the ITTF home page for the event, March 8-11 on Doha, Qatar. Make sure to click on the news link!

A Simplified Approach to Returning Serves
Here's the article and video (7:58) from Tom Lodziak.

Sizing Up Your Opponents and Assigning Estimated Ratings
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Translator: Learn to understand what he means...
Here's the article by Samson Dubina. "If someone says… 'I lost in the fifth'  - He means…  'I lost badly in the fifth.' (If it was close, he would have told you the score.)"

WAB Club Feature: New York International Table Tennis Center
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

Tag a Mate: My “Win” Over Timo Boll
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

2018 English National Championships: How to Make it Better
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

USATT Insider
Here's the issue that came out Wednesday.

Italian Highlights Reel
Here's the video (3:35), which appears to be a top ten rallies from the Italian Championships.

Society 6 Home Décor Table Tennis Items
Here's the listing, with pictures!

Crazy Point with Adam Bobrow
Here's the video (20 sec)!

How an Olympian Opens a Water Bottle
Here's the video (12 sec) of Ilija Lupulesku!

Tim "Hulk" Boggan
Here's the image! Yes, that's Tim's face superimposed on The Hulk. (I did this a number of years ago, but thought this would be a good time to bring it out again.)

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