July 8, 2019

Next Blog
I'll be out of town July 13-28, so the next blog will be Monday, July 29 Tuesday, July 30. I'm on vacation!!! Early on Saturday morning (July 13) I drive up to Boston (seven hours) for the last 1.5 days of Readercon, a big science fiction convention. Then I spend Mon-Thur (July 15-18) touring Boston - Freedom Trail, USS Constitution and Bunker Hill, New England Aquarium, Franklin Park Zoo, Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, and perhaps a stop at Revere Beach. (I was thinking of visiting the local TT clubs, but there are too many and I don't want to insult the ones I don't visit.) Then, from July 19-27, I'm in "The Never-Ending Odyssey," my annual nine-day science fiction writing workshop in Manchester, NH, an hour from Boston - I've been going regularly since 2006. See you all in a few weeks!

Tip of the Week
Take the Shot.

USA Nationals
Let's start with the results - here they are! There are also lots of articles on the tournament - see USATT News and some of the Steve Hopkins articles below. Here are highlights of the Men's Final, Kanak Jha vs. Nikhil Kumar (5:58), and the Women's Final, Lily Zhang vs. Rachel Sung (5:09). Here are write-ups by Matt Hetherington, Kanak Jha defeated Nikhil Kumar and Lily Zhang defeated Rachel Sung. Since I was coaching all day, I didn't see many of the big matches, other than these two finals.

It was a crazy week for me. I won Over 40 Hardbat (6th time), got an Appreciation Award from USATT, and experienced my second and third earthquakes - the latter just before I was to go out and accept the award. I spent most of the week coaching the Maryland kids, whose results could best be described as a sine wave, but with some great matches. The temperatures broke 100F every day, but it was nice and cool in the playing hall. Then I spent a day at the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon!

With 105 events, some may have missed Event #74, Over 40 Hardbat, the true feature event of the tournament (of course). Mark Conti made me work very hard in the final, blocking me side to side in the best of three to 21, and he won game two. But I played one of the best games of my life (at age 59!), attacking relentlessly and smashing every chance to win game three and the match, 15,-14,13. I'm normally a sponge player and coach, but as readers here know, I play hardbat on the side, and at the Nationals and Open have won Hardbat Singles twice and Hardbat Doubles fourteen times. Alas, due to coaching conflicts, Over 40 Hardbat was the only event I entered this time.

Some might think a tactical player like me would play more "tactically" rather than attack and smash so much, but they miss the tactical situation - my best hardbat game is when I tactically do everything I can to set up my forehand. If I played a more balanced game, I'd have a lot of decent techniques but nothing that would challenge the really good players. By centering my entire hardbat game around forehand hitting, I end up with a huge threat to any opponent, as well as weaknesses - but I use tactics to not only set up the forehand, but to hide the weaknesses, such as a rather weak backhand (where I chop about half the time).

But I was mostly at the Nationals to coach players from the HW Global Foundation's Talent Development Program, which is the junior program at MDTTC. I'm one of their regular coaches. They had raised $12,000 to pay for six coaches to go to the Nationals and coach their junior players. Here's a daily rundown.

I caught a flight at Dulles Airport at 5:15AM, transferring at Denver, and arrived in Las Vegas around 9AM (noon my time - three-hour time difference), the hotel at 10:30AM (rooming with Cheng Yinghua), and the playing hall at noon, just in time to coach (along with Wang Qingliang) the Minicadet Boys' Team from Maryland, with the longish name MDTTC/HW Global Foundation (Stanley Hsu, Mu Du, Ryan Lee), which started at 12:30PM. They went 3-0 in the preliminary group and won their quarterfinal match before losing in the semifinals to the top-seeded team that included Nandan Naresh and Daniel Tran. I also practiced with some of our players, getting them ready for tomorrow. That night I went to the Mandalay Bay Shark Aquarium. Alas, it was getting late so the kids couldn't go, so I went alone. Lots of sharks that swim around you in glass-walled rooms, plus a huge Komodo Dragon, a crocodile, two huge pythons, lots of crazy and often giant fish, a jellyfish tank, stringrays, lionfish, a huge pufferfish, an octopus, and much more.

For most of the tournament, I was in charge of coaching Ryan Lee (about 1950) and Todd Klinger (rated 1665, but recently over 1800), though I also coached Mu Du, Stephanie Zhang, and Ryan Lin at times. I'm not going to go into details of their play other than to say that their play is often a sine wave, but with some great play. For the tournament, Todd knocked off his first 2000+ player, beating a 2001 player three straight, but ironically went into the match thinking he was playing the lowest in the group, rated about 1100! Later he would beat a 2100 player, but he'd also have several bad losses when he played down to opponents. Ryan knocked off a series of players over 2050, but in matches I didn't see, had some bad losses as well. (Sine wave!)

Just before the Nationals I'd had a root canal (yikes!), and they had put in a temporary crown while the permanent one was made from a mold - they are putting it in this afternoon at 3:30PM. But while coaching Ryan Lee in a match this afternoon, the temporary crown came off! This exposes the nerves underneath, and any type of eating or drinking is painful. The dentist had told me if this happens that toothpaste can be used as a temporary cement. Since Ryan was playing an 1100 player and won the first easily, he said he'd be fine in the match, so I ran back to my hotel room and re-attached the crown with the toothpaste. Todd's mom made a few phone calls and found a dentist for me, and made an appointment for 8AM on Tuesday.

That night I attended the USATT Umpire and Referee Seminar, run by Wendell Dillon from 6PM to roughly 7:45PM, with 18 attendees. I've run 207 USATT tournaments, but this year have handed over the reins to Klaus Wood and Greg Mascialini. However, when referee Stephen Yeh is not there or is umpiring a match, I become the Acting Referee, so I though this would be a helpful seminar - and it was! But when someone asked me why I attended, I said, "Because I'm in Las Vegas and have nothing better to do."

I ubered over to the dentist early that morning, and was in the dentist chair shortly after 8AM. She re-attached the temporary crown more properly, and I was out by 8:40AM, and also out $212. I was back at the playing hall at 9AM and coaching at 9:45AM. The highlight of the day, besides Todd beating the 2100 player, or rather the craziest thing that happened to me was a player accused me of coaching Todd during points!!! It's now legal to coach between points, but coaching during a point would be crazy and non-productive, and I didn't do it and never have or will - it would just distract the player, who couldn't react to anything I said anyway. That night I attended the USATT Tournament Directors and Club Leaders and Meet the CEO Gala, 7-8:45PM, with about 30 attendees. I was asked about the Regionalization Plan I'd worked on before, and promised to send it to CEO Virginia Sung. (I did so yesterday.)

Ryan came down with an ear infection, which not only hurt but made him tired. So he had to drop out of two events and see a doctor. (It was up in the air whether he'd be able to play the next day, but he was able to.) So I mostly coached Todd that day. That night I attended two meetings. First was the Meet the High Performance Director and High Performance Committee meeting (about 40 attendees), where they played a video highlighting Team USA this year, and answered questions. There was much discussion about the USATT team selectin process. After that meeting we had a USATT Coaching Committee meeting. I had been the chair for two years (and previously for four years in the 1990s), but had stepped down earlier this year, but agreed to stay on the committee. Attending were HPD Joerg Bitzigeio; the new coaching chair, Pieke Franssen, and members Gao Jun, Dave Fullen, and myself. Stellan Bengtsson, who is also on the committee, was unable to attend. We mostly went over the planned USATT Coaching Education and Certification plans that Joerge and I have been working on the last 1.5 years, though he's taken the lead on it.

On Thursday morning I experienced my second earthquake. I'd been in one in Santa Barbara maybe 15 years ago while visiting my parents. As I was watching Ryan Lee play his match, the whole building began shaking for about ten seconds! It was a 6.4 earthquake centered in Ridgecrest, CA, about 200 miles away. Some ran about warning us to not stand under light fixtures in case they fell.

We also pulled off a great prank this day. Several of our top juniors and I decided to make it our goal to convince the two youngest players in our contingent, both nine, that I had defeated Kanak Jha the night before in the Men's Singles Quarterfinals. The kids were great as they congratulated me on the match, even with details (apparently I flip-killed in Kanak's serve at deuce in the seventh, and Kanak couldn't handle my serves). We convinced them! They were so impressed by how good Coach Hodges still was as a player! Then one of them asked me who I played in the semifinals, and I wasn't sure, so I guessed Kai Zhang - which turned out to be correct (at least for Kanak). But they wanted to find out who and when I played next, so they went to the Men's Singles draw sheet, and that's when the cat came out of the bag.

That night I attended the USATT Hall of Fame Banquet, hosted by HoF President Sean O'Neill. This year's inductees were Michael Ralston, Li Zhenshi, and Sharon Frant Brooks, with Richard Hicks getting the Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award. For the tenth year in a row I did the Hall of Fame Program Booklet. (Here's last year's, when I won the Lifetime Achievement Award.)

This was one of the craziest days ever. First, I won Over Hardbat, as noted above. Then I was told to get ready to receive the USATT Appreciation Award! First they played the Women's Final, where Lily Zhang defeated Rachel Sung to win her fifth Women's Singles Title. Then they had a contest where spectators threw foam hockey pucks at a trash can set on the main table, and if anyone could get a basket, he/she would get a USATT Lifetime Membership! Sure enough, one man did.

And then I lined up behind Dennis Taylor to receive my award - and that's when it happened - another earthquake! This time it was 7.1, about five times as strong as the previous one, also centered in Ridgecrest, CA. This time the place shook for about 20 seconds, and stronger than before. The lighting fixtures in the ceiling were really shaking this time! (I'm sure there's no connection between my award and the earthquake, right?) After things settled down, Dennis went out and said nice things about me, and gave me the plaque. It says, "Larry's Table Tennis Expertise, Insight, And Contributions Are Greatly Appreciated By Each Director On The Board And Every Member Of The Association. Few People Have As Much Passion, Drive, And Willingness To Push Table Tennis Forward As Larry. Thank You!" -2019 USATT Board of Directors

I gave a short speech, thanking them and mentioning my 300 years of USATT service. I then gave a short history lesson - the USA Nationals started in 1976, and this was the 44th; the U.S. Open started in 1931, and there had been 88, exactly twice as many as Nationals, a total of 132. (Many called the U.S. Open before 1976 "The Nationals," so there's some semantic problems here, but let's not get into that.) I've now been to 75 of them (including every Open and Nationals starting in 1984), as well as 43 consecutive North American Teams (previously called U.S. Open Teams) starting in 1976. Then I asked all first-timers at the Nationals to stand or raise their hands, and invited them to come back. Then, since I started in 1976, the year I joined USATT, I asked all those who were USATT members in 1975 or before to stand, and there was a group. I pointed out that, to them, I was just some new guy! (Standees included Mal Anderson, Wendell Dillon, Bowie & Melba Martin, Patty Martinez, Si Wasserman, and others.)

Then it was off to the Men's Final, where Kanak Jha defeated Nikhil Kumar for the second year in a row, to win his record fourth consecutive title. Afterwards I told him the story of the prank above, about my "beating" him in the quarterfinals, which he thought was funny. 

There are always a lot of tactical things going on in a tournament. Some recurring ones this time included:

  • Most opponents seemed to come in two types - those where you attacked all three spots (wide backhand, wide forehand, and elbow/middle), and those where you mostly attacked two of those spots, and stayed away from the other. There are also some players where you mostly pin them down on one of these spots. This will likely become an eventual Tip of the Week.
  • In most matches, we focused on third-ball serves, with occasional surprise "trick" serves. But there were also a few matches where we threw every serve at an opponent. That doesn't work as well at the higher levels, as many "trick" serves are easy to attack once the opponent gets used to them.
  • There was some focus on positioning after the serve. One player tended to stand too close to the table, another too centered, thereby taking his forehand out of play.
  • There were several matches that were won with simple angled received into the backhand, taking away the opponent's forehand.
  • Mental focus was the single most important thing that led to success. 

I have been told that I visited the Grand Canyon 58 years ago, when I was one, but somehow I do not recall this. So while everyone else flew home on Friday, I stayed an extra day. It was expensive - $432 - but I got 5:50 hotel pickup, we stopped to see Hoover Dam, then, after a three-hour bus trip, I spent four hours at the Grand Canyon. Included was a helicopter trip through the Grand Canyon (my first helicopter ride!), a boat ride down the Colorado River at the bottom, the Skywalk (walking over a glass floor 4000 feet over the canyon), and lots of scenic views. I also visited the Hualapai Tribe site, where I had lunch and toured ancient housing and other exhibits. Then came the three-hour ride back, and I caught an 11:15PM direct flight back to Maryland, arriving Sunday morning around 7AM. I took one look at my todo list and collapsed into bed for a few more hours before going to work. 

Table Tennis Books by Larry Hodges
Yep, this is one of those periodic postings where I ask you to support a poor (relative to Jeff Bezos), starving (I had a small breakfast and it's past lunchtime) table tennis writer by buying my books! Below are my table tennis books that are currently sold on Amazon; here are all my books, including science fiction. 

Australian Open
Here's the home page for the event held July 9-14 in Geelong, Australia. Preliminaries start today!

Korean Open
Here's the home page for the event held July 2-7 in Busan, Korea, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

News Items
Since I've been away two weeks, rather than compile every single link, why not browse these news sources? There's lots in them on the USA Nationals!

New from Steve Hopkins - he's been writing up a storm!

New from Samson Dubina

New from Tom Lodziak

New from Coach Jon

New from EmRatThich

How Olympians Train Their Brains to Become Mentally Tough

Here's the article. "For any athlete to deliver a gold medal performance, mental toughness is an essential ingredient. But what exactly is mental toughness — and how does an athlete develop it?"

Pan Am and US Nationals Journey
Here's the article by Rachel Sung.

Table Tennis in Mauritius
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Florida State University Hosting ISET Coaching Certification
Here's the article from NCTTC.

PingSkiller in London United by Table Tennis
Here's the video (5:19). "Take a look at this great video produced by PingSkiller Kathrin.  I think it captures some of the beauty of Table Tennis.  The ability to play it almost anywhere and with a group of people of all abilities and interests... and even strangers."

Lily Zhang Multiball
Here's the video (39 sec).

Fan Zhendong Slowmo Shots
Here's the video (6:39).

Ma Long Interview
Here's the video (60 sec) - "I can recall more than 90% of my matches."

Good Omens Table Tennis
Did you see the recent Amazon Mini-Series Good Omens? It's six episodes, each a little over 50 minutes, about an angel and demon who are best friends and decide to try and stop the Apocalypse. If you go through it all (I did, it's great!) you get to catch one instance of a table tennis set! From the IMDB trivia page, "Terry Pratchett famously included several humorous footnotes in most of his novels. Neil Gaiman attempted to include as many of the Good Omens footnotes as possible in the show as Easter eggs. An example is the table tennis set which belongs to the Chattering Order of Saint Beryl."

Kung Pong!
Here's the page where you can buy this and other interesting paddles. Now if they would only sell these with $80 tensor sponges!

Scorching Ping-Pong Girls
Here's the picture!

A Different Game
Here's the comic!

Synchronized Table Tennis
Here's the video (2:51)!

David Goffin Playing Table Tennis with Household Objects at Wimbledon
Here's the video (3:28)! He's the world #23 tennis player from Belgium, formerly world #7.

Behind-the-Back Smash
Here's the video (16 sec) of Scott Preiss. This is the ONLY table tennis trick I can't do - my shoulder is too tight!!!

Bottle Cap Challenge Trick Shots
Here's the video (1:48) from Pongfinity!

Subway Pong
Here's the video (11 sec) - train on a train!

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