March 18, 2019

Tip of the Week
Challenge an Opponent's Strength.

USATT Election
As I write this, I am a member of the USATT Board of Directors. However, very likely later today I will no longer be on it as they will be counting the ballots in the current election. (I chose not to run for re-election.) The result will be announced on the USATT news page, though I don't know for sure if it will go up today. (I'll link to it directly from here when it goes up.) BREAKING NEWS - Bruce won, 260-208. Congrats to him!

The two candidates in the final runoff are Bruce Liu and Mike Babuin. While both have been sharply critical of USATT in many ways, I'm fine with either of them; I know I can talk to either of them. But that might not be the case for some of the people with USATT - there's going to be some friction involved with either of them. But maybe that's a good thing as it makes us really look at what we're doing.

When I ran for the USATT Board, I made it clear that I wanted to focus on "Progressive" issues, not "Fairness" issues. Both are equally important, but due to the nature of USATT, Fairness issues tend to dominate at the expense of Progressive ones. Here's where I blogged about this, USATT: Fairness Versus Progressive Issues. Unfortunately, during my four years on the board, Fairness issues completely dominated - every week there'd be another "emergency" issue of this nature, many of which few people even know about. Board members dealt with these time-consuming issues consciencously, but it took up much of our meetings. A huge amount of my board time (not just in meetings) was spent on issues such as SafeSport; the fairest and best way to choose National Teams (including the recent controversies over how the Olympic Team will be selected); whether USATT should get involved in trying to resolve the hidden serve problem (see below); changes in the Nationals and Open (and whether the Board should get involved, as most of these issues are currently decided at headquarters, not by the Board of Directors); dealing with disgruntled USATT members (including one member who managed to take up more board time in one year than the other 8000 combined - I spent 110 hours on his issues); numerous confidential personnel and legal issues; and many more.

In the end, I did set up a USATT League page, with a Prototype Regional Team League (and hope that eventually this will lead to something); got started on a USATT Education and Certification Program (with USATT High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio, who is in charge of the developing program); and a zillion other smaller things. Back in 2015 I tried to set up a Professional Players Association, but ran into so many problems (mostly involving whether non-citizens could play) that I finally dropped that one. We had a "Table Tennis Academy" at the Nationals, but with a small turnout, we didn't continue it. I'm still involved in a number of issues - I'm on the USATT Committee Selection Task Force, and have a teleconference this afternoon (Monday) at 3PM. (Addendum - and another Tuesday at 6:30PM.) I chaired the USATT coaching committee the last two years, and will likely stay on as a member.

Anyway, there are a lot of things that our sport needs, and whoever wins the election today will likely have plenty to do their first year. Good luck to both!

Pan Am Team Trials - Hidden Serves
I've blogged about this many times. Here are some of the serves in the recent final between Victor Liu and Nikhil Kumar, using the same illegal serving techniques used by most top players, including Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, and so on. (I don't like posting this since they are both juniors, but this was the Men's Final.) It's a big advantage to be able to hide the ball during the serve as it makes it much harder for the receiver to read the spin. (At the highest levels, they get used to this since it's so common, and it actually is a major weapon against up-and-coming players, who aren't as used to them yet - which is a reason most top players don't make an issue out of this.)

Before I get to the videos, let me be clear:

  • I don't blame the players or their coaches. If they don't learn to serve like this they are at a disadvantage since most of their opponents do so. If the rules were enforced, they too would serve legally. As it is, every coach has to take his junior student aside at some point and explain to him that if he wants to compete at the high levels without being handicapped, he too has to serve illegally. It's a ridiculously bad situation coaches and players are stuck in.
  • I don't blame the umpires. Almost no other umpires are calling these serves, so why should they? When they do, not only do fans boo, but most referees ask them to stop. It's even unfair to the players, who would never know if the serving rules would be enforced in any given match. It's also unfair to the umpires, who no doubt want to enforce the rules but are under great pressure not to.
  • I only partially blame the referees. They aren't enforcing the serving rules because few other referees are. I just wish they'd get together and decide, as a group, to require umpires to enforce the rules as they are written.  
  • I do blame the ITTF Umpires and Referees Committee for ignoring this issue. I also blame USATT for not asking them to do so. I've tried to get the USATT Board, Umpires and Referees, and Rules Committees to act or to ask the ITTF to do so, but haven't been able to get them to do so. I tried. Twice I've made it a USATT Board issue, and both times I was unable to get them to act on this issue. And so we are stuck with a sport where our top players openly break the rules (i.e. cheat), and we do nothing about it.

Some will argue that regardless of what an opponent does, one should follow the rules, even if it means losing a match. To them, I ask this question. Suppose you have trained since you were a little kid as a sprinter, and now are the fastest sprinter in the world. You go to the Olympics. As they are about to start the race, all the other sprinters take two steps forward. The officials allow it. The spectators and fans don't notice it. You have trained all your life for this, but can't win if you start two steps behind everyone else. Do you take the two steps forward? It's pretty easy to sit on the sidelines and take the high road if you aren't the one about to throw away a lifetime of training. The blame here isn't the athletes taking the two steps forward or who hide their serves; it's the officials who, worldwide, allow such travesties.

Now to the videos! And note that most of the serves are like this, with the hard part in most videos finding good camera angles. When you watch them I suggest freezing the video, then advancing it one frame at a time by hitting the period key. You can go back one from with the comma key. Notice the head dips that help hide the ball and contact.

The pertinent rules - and is really the key one that is rarely enforced, i.e. if the umpire isn't sure about the legality of the serve, rather than fault the serve, they allow it, thereby allowing hidden serves. Yes, this means some non-hidden serves will be called, but that's the fault of the player who should be following rule 2.6.6. 

  • 2.6.4 From the start of service until it is struck, the ball … shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
  • 2.6.5 As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension.
  • 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, and either may decide that a service is incorrect.
  • If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.

Ping-Pong Restaurants
I know of four table tennis themed restaurants in the U.S. - places where you can have a regular sit-down meal and play table tennis. (So I'm not including bars that have ping-pong tables.)

  • Bubba-Gump Shrimp Company, a nationwide chain based on the Forrest Gump movie. I've been to three of them. They have 48 restaurants worldwide, 29 in the U.S, and others in Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, Colombia, London, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Canada, the Marianas and the Philippines. They are table tennis themed, even serving food on ping-pong paddle trays, and with table tennis pictures all over the walls. Here's their Wikipedia listing with more info. Interesting trivia there - Actor Chris Pratt was discovered in 2000 while working as a waiter at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Maui, Hawaii. He waited on the table of actor/director Rae Dawn Chong, who had starred in one of Pratt's favorite films, Commando. Chong offered Pratt a role in a short movie she was directing at the time.
  • Comet Ping Pong is a pizza restaurant in Washington DC, which I've visited a couple of times, though not in a few years. They have three ping-pong tables in their basement, and everything is ping-pong themed, even serving the pizza's on what look like big ping-pong paddles. They were also the site of the crazy Pizzagate conspiracy theory and 2016 shooting, showing that table tennis is not the only group that has crazy people. Here's their Wikipedia listing with more info
  • Ace Eat Serve is an Asian table tennis themed restaurant in Denver, which also has ping-pong tables. They have Tuesday night tournaments and regular open play.
  • Spin Table Tennis is an upscale social table tennis club with an extensive menu and bar, with locations in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Philadelphia, Seattle, Austin, and Washington DC. Here's the DC menu. The chain was primarily founded and owned by actress Susan Sarandon. Here's their Wikipedia entry. They have professional coaches and open play. They are more of a table tennis club with a kitchen than a table tennis themed restaurant. I've been to the one in New York City twice, but haven't made it to the local one in Washington DC yet - they just recently opened. (There's a second one opening in New York City.)

Spanish Open
Here's the ITTF page for the ITTF Challenge event in Guadalajara, Spain, March 22-24 (with preliminaries March 20-21).

Oman Open
Here's the ITTF page for the ITTF Challenge Plus event in Muscat, Oman, March 22-24 (with preliminaries March 20-21).

RIP: Ulf Bengtsson
Ulf Bengtsson died yesterday at age 59. He was the 1984 European Men's Singles Champion, won bronze at the 1984 World Men's Cup, and was on the Swedish Men's Team that won Silver at the 1983 and 1985 World Championships. There will likely be an Obit on the ITTF news page sometime soon. Here's one from the English TTA. (Don't get him confused with Stellan Bengtsson, who is alive and well, and coaching in San Diego. As far as I know, they are not closely related.)

Here's Jan-Ove Waldner's Facebook tribute: "A good friend, fantastic teammate and master have left us yesterday. My thoughts go to your children and your family. The memories are many but I will never forget our time in Kalmar when we took Swedish championship gold together! Obviously, the European championship gold in Moscow in 1984 was the most memorable one! An amazing achievement from a fantastic player! Rest in peace my friend you will always be missing!" Here are four photos Waldner posted:

ITTF Executive Committee Statement on Former President Mr Adham Sharara
Here's the article. "The International Table Tennis Federation [ITTF] Executive Committee today confirms the suspension of Mr Adham Sharara, former President and current Honorary President of the ITTF, from all activity within or in connection with the ITTF for four years."

Strangely, Sharara seems to have recently been elected or named president of Table Tennis Canada (the Canadian TTA) - click on "Board of Directors." (Sharara is a former member of the Canadian national team and I think president of the Canadian TTA many years ago.)

3 Easy Drills To Improve Timing in Table Tennis
Here's the video (6:30) from Table Tennis Academy Coaches Dan Ives & Tom Maynard. "One of the biggest challenges in table tennis in our opinion is not technical but timing and rhythm of the shots, so we've released this coaching tutorial which has 3 exercises to help improve your timing and demonstrates the importance of getting this area in your game right."

New From Tom Lodziak

New From Eli Baraty

One Trick to Get More Spin on Your Sidespin Serves
Here's the article by Ben Larcombe.

Learnin' Experience - Read about 4 main keys to improvement
Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

Finding Your Table Tennis Identity
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Visual Perception Training for Table Tennis Athletes
Here's the article and video (10:50) from Richard McAfee.

Inside My Mind | Ma Long
Here's the ITTF video (61 sec).

Heming Hu Videos
Here they are! Lots of instructional ones. He is the #1 ranked player from Australia (world #126) and a 2016 Olympian.

Timo Boll's Reverse Pendulum Serve
Here's the video (52 sec).

Timo Boll | Top 10 Shots | Table Tennis Legend
Here's the video (5:21).

Timo Boll vs Patrick Franziska | 2019 German National Championships | FINAL
Here's the video (6:36, time between points removed).

Who Will Host the Future ITTF World Table Tennis Championships Finals?
Here's the ITTF article.

Players Confirmed for Liebherr 2019 ITTF World Table Tennis Championships
Here's the ITTF article.

Omar Assar and Quadri Aruna to Lead African Charge
Here's the ITTF article.

Setting the Example: Chuang Chih-Yuan
Here's the ITTF article.

ITTF March Rankings – And a Peek at April
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

How One Woman Brought Ping Pong — And Feminism — To Work
Here's the article and podcast (7:19).

2019 Maryland Hopes Regional Camp and Tournament
Here's the USATT news item - this was from my blog last week.

Double-Ball Gnip-Gnop Doubles
Here's the video (31 sec)! "Gnip-gnop" - yeah, ping-pong spelled backwards - is the informal name of the game where you hit the ball downward and then over the net, instead of directly over the net. Give it a try! But maybe with one ball to start.

Blondie Table Tennis
Here are four Blondie comics that feature Dagwood and table tennis. (There are a couple of others that mention table tennis, but don't feature it.) 

  • August 13, 2017 - my favorite, on the wall at MDTTC. Elmo returns from table tennis camp and annihilates poor Dagwood!
  • July 7, 2017 - Dagwood suggests ping-pong tables in the break room to the Boss.
  • August 20, 2016 - table tennis and archery as a combined Olympic sport?
  • March 8, 2009 - Dagwood and Herb go at it, with trash-talking.

Benny the Bull Does Multiball
Here's the video (12 sec) as Mimi Bosika "destroyed him." Benny the Bull is the mascot for the Chicago Bears basketball team.

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