April 20, 2018

Forehand Blocking
Here's the last point of the match (18 sec) where 14-year-old Japanese whiz Harimoto Tomokazu (world #13) recently upset world #1 Fan Zhendong at the ITTF-Asian Cup. The camera angle shows just how fast these players play. But to me the key thing here is what Tomokazu does at the start of the rally when Fan loops to his forehand - he blocks. Yes, at the highest levels of our sport, where nearly everyone tries to counterloops everything on the forehand (and often on the backhand) - he forehand blocks. And this is a well-placed block. He has an angle into the forehand, so Fan has to be ready to cover that - and so when Tomokazu instead blocks down the line, he forces Fan to play his backhand, followed by an awkward, out-of-position forehand, which sets Tomokazu up to win the point. (Fan would have tried to counterloop.)

One of the most under-used shots in table tennis (at all levels) is the down-the-line forehand block - most players automatically go crosscourt, both because of the angle (which forces the opponent out of position) and because it's easier. And that's probably the best shot at least half the time. But with the opponent reflexively moving to cover that angle, he's almost always vulnerable to a down-the-line block to his backhand. It was one of my bread-and-butter shots when I competed regularly. When I play practice games with students it drives them crazy, not just because it catches them off guard, but because they claim few of their other opponents block forehands down the line. And because players tend to copy other players, few of them have developed this shot. Jeez, talk about a simple way to improve!

It's always been a debate whether it's better to become so good at one thing, such as counterlooping, that you become overpowering with that one shot, where you don't even have to hesitate as you decide what shot to do; or whether it's better to develop multiple shots, so you can do the appropriate shot at any given time, such as a well-placed forehand block.

A pure counterlooper would have tried to counterloop Fan's first loop, and it not only would have been a difficult shot, it likely would have forced the player to step back, thereby giving Fan time to play another super-powerful forehand, where he likely would dominate. But there is the argument that trying to have too many shots means none are as dominating. But in this case, Tomokazu's shot flexibility allowed him to play just the right shot, which rushed Fan and took away his powerful forehand.

Years ago I was coaching one of the top 12-year-olds in the country against another kid who was a year older and a little better. The opponent was being developed as a "pure" counterlooper - it didn't matter whether you blocked, looped, or smashed to his forehand, if the ball went long, he was supposed to loop it back. In this match, my player fell behind in the first game, 5-10. Then he served short to the forehand, bringing the opponent in over the table where he made a weak return. My player ripped a powerful forehand to the opponent's forehand, and the opponent reflexively blocked it back for a clean winner, winning 11-5.

When the opponent went over to his coach between games, I couldn't believe what happened - the coach started screaming at him, saying he was insulting him as a coach and more - all because he had blocked that forehand rather than attempt to loop it back!!! Suffice to say that knowing his tactical inflexibility - and taking advantage of the fact that the opponent was now crying and could barely play - I had my player loop all over the table (wide forehand, middle, wide backhand) at varying speeds, and of course the opponent missed his counterloops over and over, and my player won the next three games.

I don't necessarily disagree with the way the other coach was developing his player (which is basically how Fan and Ma Long play, the two best players in the world), just the extremism of it. His player had been caught too close to the table and so, rather than throw away a point he made a perfect, reflexive block. But the way the coach reacted was inexcusable. A better reaction would have been, "Nice shot, but remember you are supposed to counterloop everything on the forehand side." And then, in their next training session, he could work at the root of the problem - that the player had gotten stuck too close to the table, and so was unable to counterloop. Or perhaps, in that one situation, he should block.

Perhaps the coach should learn from 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager, who also sometimes blocked on this forehand. Here's video of him against defending World Champion Wang Liqin in the quarterfinals of the 2003 Worlds, leading 7-4 in the seventh, when he gets caught too close to the table - just as the player above - and so rather than trying to force a forehand counterloop, does a simple down-the-line forehand block (just like Tomokazu above), catching Wang off guard (he makes a soft backhand loop) and wins the point.

Adoni Maropis Stars in "Taken" Friday Night
=>NOTE - it got rescheduled, with Dateline on in its place. It will now play in late May - I'll post when it's coming up.
In the episode on NBC at 9PM tonight (Eastern time), actor and table tennis star Adoni Maropis will be starring as the "arch villain." Here is the episode description: "The team captures an accused bomber and sets out to prove that he's been set up." Adoni is a full-time hardbat and sandpaper player, who has won Hardbat and Sandpaper Singles at the Open and Nationals several times, and has a 2103 rating with hardbat against sponge players. Here's what he wrote on Facebook about the episode:

"I play the arch villain who is a bald gun dealer... errr... I mean a Greek gun dealer who happens to be bald. The lead, Clive Standen... and Jessica Camacho were class acts and fun to be around. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. I was hoping to meet Jennifer Beals... who I told my mother I would marry after seeing her in Flashdance many moons ago... but I had no scenes with her. Oh well, another time perhaps."

Should You Play Chinese or European Style in Table Tennis?
Here's the video (5:42) from Keenan Southall. It has some great insights. However, one thing I strongly disagreed with is where he said of European styles, "You don't need to be as strategic," and "Not a lot of strategy is required." I don't think there's a real difference in the strategic needs of these two styles - I would say it takes just as much strategy to offset the Chinese style and force your European game on them as vice versa. However, putting aside this disagreement, he has some great stuff here. 

Poker Face
Here's the coaching video (2:28) from Samson Dubina.

New from EmRatThich

The 2018 Commonwealth Games and Other Items
Here's the podcast (40:49) from PingSkills. Topics covered:

  • Joke of the Week
  • On This Week
  • Vladimir Samsonov turns 42!
  • Tournament Wrap
  • 2018 Commonwealth Games
  • 2018 Asian Cup
  • Tip and Drill of the Week
  • Basic No Spin Serve
  • Dealing with Long Fast Serve
  • Moving Faster
  • Serving off the Side

National Collegiate Championships
They are this weekend, Apr. 20-22, in Round Rock, TX. Here are links:

Table Tennis and the Brain
Here's the article from PongBoss.

Sharon Alguetti: Work Hard, Play Hard
Here's the video (3:19).

Side-to-Side Multiball Looping Practice
Here's the video (74 sec) of a great way to work on footwork and forehand. I sometimes do similar drills. The kids here look pretty good!

WAB Club Feature: Allen & Sons Table Tennis Club
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins on this club in the greater LA area.

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

Politics and Sport Don't Mix, Theory Disproved, Universal Party Support for World Championships
Here's the ITTF article.

World Table Tennis Day: Bridge Building, Laying Foundations
Here's the ITTF article.

World Table Tennis Day in Poland
Here's the video (2:34).

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - March 2018
Here's the video (20:18).

Maria Sharapova About to Smack a Forehand
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Strangely, even though she plays tennis right-handed, she plays table tennis lefty! (Here's another picture of her playing table tennis, also playing lefty. There are many more - Google Maria Sharapova table tennis pictures.)

Ball in Cup of Water Shot
Here's the video (15 sec). How many tries would it take you to do this?

Here's the t-shirt! Nice graphic. Note that it comes in your choice of 16 colors. (No, I have nothing to do with it, just found it browsing.) 

Family Table Tennis Showdown
Here's the video (6:30)!

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