June 7, 2018

Timo Boll Hand Switch at 2018 China Open - Revisited
Here's the video (45 sec), which I posted on Tuesday, of the point between Timo Boll of Germany (world #4) and Liang Jingkun of China, world #82. Let's look at it shot by shot. (Use the space bar to start/stop the action, and the left arrow to bring the video back 5 seconds - at least that's what it does on mine.) Note that Liang will end up pulling off the upset, -5,9,10,-7,-4,9,5. At the time of this point, Boll is up 3-2 in games but Liang leads 9-5, and 9-6 after this point. 

  1. Liang's serve. It's hidden, of course, since umpires these days almost never call hidden serves - or more specifically, don't call serves where they are not "satisfied" that the serve is legal. When a player contorts his body like this and then thrusts his head out just as he's about to contact the ball, there's no way an umpire can be "satisfied" that the serve was not hidden - he simply can't tell from his angle, meaning he cannot be "satisfied" the serve was not hidden, meaning there's no gray area anymore - the serve is illegal, period. See Rule 2.6.6: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws."
    Watch the video - see how he thrusts his head out just before contact? Here's a screen image. Pretty clearly illegal, isn't it? But it isn't called, and there's no push by the ITTF, USATT, or any of the Rules or Referee/Umpire Committees to do anything about this pervasive cheating in our sport because cheating has become part of our table tennis culture. (There is some nuance here - cheating means to "act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage." Therefore, the first person to hide his serve is cheating. If you respond by hiding your own serve, you are not doing so to "gain an advantage" - you are doing so to take away the opponent's unfair advantage.) At the world-class level, players are used to it, and so have learned to read the spin by how the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, but it leads to more passive returns, like Boll's here, and more mistakes. Below the world-class level it can cause havoc.
  2. Boll's return. It's a relatively weak return, probably because of the hidden serve. But he deadens the ball some so that the table is partly in Liang's way so he can't wind up with full power.
  3. Liang's follow. He makes a strong forehand loop into Boll's wide backhand.
  4. Boll's block. It's extremely well placed, to Liang's middle, forcing Liang into an awkward position.
  5. Liang's second loop. Despite the awkwardness of his position, Liang uses his upper body to loop rather strongly to the middle of the table. This is a technique that was originally developed by pips-out penholders, then adopted for looping by 1993 World Men's Singles Champion Jean-Philippe Gatien, and now common by top players caught in the middle - it allows you to make a strong shot while staying right at the table. It's not really to Boll's middle, since Boll was already off to the side and in position for this, but it puts Boll out of position.
  6. Boll's loop from the middle. He makes a decent loop, but not particularly powerful, and it's not that well placed, going right into Liang's middle backhand. This is where Liang gains the advantage. Note how while Liang took the ball almost off the bounce from the middle, Boll takes the shot from the middle a little further back, which gives Liang more time and a bigger angle into the forehand.
  7. Liang's angled block. With Boll caught out of position and with a big angle to Boll's forehand, Liang does exactly that. Note that he didn't just blocked - he backhand topspinned off the bounce.
  8. Boll's awkward return from wide forehand. He's caught out of position, and so is almost falling back as he practically lunges for the ball, setting up Liang for a likely winning shot to the now open backhand side.
  9. Liang's shot to the open backhand. He should have ripped it, but instead seems to hold back a little for safety and doesn't really angle it well. I haven't seen Liang play before, but his Chinese teammates (Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Zhang Jike, Xu Xin) would have ripped this shot.
  10. Boll's hand-switching shot. Liang's failure to rip the ball or go for a wider angle is all Boll needs for this spectacular hand-switching shot.
  11. Liang's counterloop. When someone suddenly switches hands on you like this, the ball comes at you different than you expect, and so Liang makes a surprisingly good recovery with this counterloop.
  12. Boll's backhand loop. Just a nice shot. It completely catches Liang off guard. Except . . . .
  13. Liang's weak but well-place forehand. When you have to make a weak return, place it well, and that's what he did here. He also sidespin looped it so it broke even more into Boll's backhand side. Liang has the advantage here, and it seems there's nothing Boll can do that won't set up Liang for a strong forehand.
  14. Boll's inside-out forehand sidespin. I don't think you'll find this shot covered in instructional books. Boll is looking to do a forehand, but the angle and the sidespin caught him off guard. And so he improvises with a once-in-a career shot. (Has he ever done this in a big match before? I've never seen it. That's why it's called improvisation.)
  15. Liang's reaction. When you've trained all your life against standard shots, and then get something you've never seen before . . . well, his reaction is like an intermediate player faced with world-class hidden serves, and his return is about as good. (Note - world-class players don't just hide contact; they fake one spin, then change it right when contact is hidden.)

Japan Open
Here's the home page for the event, which takes place in Kitakyushu, JPN, June 8-10, starting tomorrow.

New World Rankings
Here they are. On the men's side, they are a bit saner than before with the best player in the world, Ma Long, moving from #6 to #2, after Fan Zhendong, the second best player in the world. (I think Ma has beaten Fan the last three times - that's what someone told me though I haven't checked it.) Overall, for the first time since they began the new system, the rankings look rather accurate on the men's side other than this. On the women's side, it's still hard to fathom that Ding Ning is #12, when she should be at the top with the other top Chinese - Chen Meng, Zhu Yuling, Wang Manyu, and Liu Shiwen, with Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan (#4) the only non-Chinese to break up that murderer's row.

3 Ways to Win a Table Tennis Point
Here's the article by Eli Baraty. "Each point is evidently different and no player plays the same way! But there are three different ways we approach a point or match."

How to Return a Topspin Serve
Here's the video (7:55) by Tom Lodziak.

Response to "Shut Up and Just Play"
Here's the article by Sean O’Connell.

WAB Club Feature: Atlanta International Table Tennis Academy
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

DHS ITTF Top 10 - 2018 Hong Kong Open
Here's the ITTF video (5:42).

Table Tennis Tic-Tac-Toe
Here's the video (64 sec) from Maria Ingles. I may try this out in my beginning junior class!

Insane Ping-Pong Gun
Here's the video (41 sec)!

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