November 16, 2020

Tip of the Week
Use Both Sides of the Body When Forehand Looping.

ITTF Men's World Cup
Here's the home page for the event, which finished yesterday in Weihai, China. Here are news articles, videos (or see them directly on Youtube), preliminary RR results (including USA's Kanak Jha's two seven-gamers), and the single eliminations results. The big news - Fan Zhendong won for the fourth time, including his third in a row! Here are some videos, with time between points removed:

Here's Men's World Cup coverage from Steve Hopkins at Butterfly:

Kanak Jha at the Men's World Cup and Some Analysis
The results for USA's Kanak Jha (world #27) could be called a well-played disappointment. He was in a preliminary group of three, top two advancing, with Liam Pitchford (ENG, world #15) and Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE, world #30). Coaching Kanak was Jörg Bitzigeio, former USATT High Performance Director. (See also the interviews with both by Steve Hopkins below. Also, I'm told that Kanak here and Lily Zhang & Wu Yue at the recent Women's World Cup were funded by themselves and sponsors, not by USATT, primarily due to Covid-19 health and safety concerns.) The group started with Pitchford defeating Chuang, -9,6,8,11,11. Then Kanak played Pitchford and Chuang . . . and they were both wild ones, but both ended in seven-game losses for Kanak. Here are the two matches:

I haven't watched the Chuang match, but I watched the entire Pitchford match. He won the close ones (he always seems at his best when it's close), but when he lost, he lost big, averaging 4.5 points in those four games - primarily because Pitchford had adjusted to Kanak's tactics. Kanak won game three from down 4-8, 8-10.

I was impressed with Kanak's tactics and game plan against Pitchford, especially on receive. (I'm also impressed by his continual improvement over the last few years.) Like most world-class players these days, Kanak (and Pitchford) has a nice backhand banana flip, and could probably attack all of Pitchford's serves. But Pitchford is at his best about half a step back, counter-attacking off these shots. If Kanak attacks the serve, it almost plays into Pitchford's game. So Kanak avoided the temptation to attack most serves, and instead pushed most serves short, bringing Pitchford in over the table and out of his comfort zone. This allowed Kanak to often control play, even on Pitchford's serve. However, it might have been slightly overused. By about the fourth game, Pitchford was so expecting and used to these receives that they became less effective. I think the next time they play, Kanak should use the same tactic, but go ahead and attack more serves to keep Pitchford off balance, especially as the match goes on. If Pitchford has to guard more against the attack, then he won't be as ready for those short receives.

When attacking, I think Kanak attacked the corners too much. I think he often attacked the forehand to get Pitchford out of his two-winged pocket, where he's strong attacking from both wings. However, this usually led to Pitchford counterlooping cross-court to Kanak's forehand, and unless Kanak was able to counterloop the first one aggressively (and hopefully for a winner), Pitchford dominated the forehand-to-forehand counterlooping duels, since he's a natural off-table player, while Kanak plays closer to the table. When Kanak attacked the backhand, he let Pitchford play his strong backhand while staying in that pocket.

Instead, when attacking, I think Kanak needs to put a target on Pitchford's elbow and just go after it aggressively, over and over, rarely going to the corners until he sees Pitchford out of position, with a corner open. By going to the middle, it forces weaker shots (as Pitchford has to both choose between forehand and backhand and then move to the ball, and without a big angle to go for), but it also draws Pitchford out of position, and then Kanak can go for the open corner. I think Kanak knows all this, but in the heat of a rally, when he had a strong shot, he too often went to the corners. Sometimes he did this because crosscourt is usually more natural and easier (more table), but too often that gave Pitchford the chance to regain the initiative.

The other problem I saw was that by the fourth game, Pitchford was so used to Kanak's serves that he often controlled play there. Kanak pretty much served every time from the backhand corner, while Pitchford would often serve from the middle (with his reverse pendulum serve). I think Kanak would do better if he developed serve and attack patterns that start with a serve from the middle or even forehand side. This doesn't leave him in as strong a forehand position as he'd like, but the added variation makes up for that. It forces Pitchford and other opponents to adjust to a ball coming from a different angle. Serving like this and perhaps following with a backhand attack would give him more variety that the opponent would have to adjust against.

Regarding Kanak's overall game, he has a quick, aggressive topspin backhand (like Harimoto), and a quick, close-to-table forehand (also a little like Harimoto, though that's Harimoto's "weaker" side). On the forehand side, I was impressed at Kanak's ability to end the point quickly while close to the table, but he doesn't have world-class point-ending power. So he has to loop from close to the table to make up for this. When he backs up, he's not nearly as strong. Hopefully, he's doing a lot of weight training and multiball to develop power, working with an expert trainer - I'd be surprised if he's not already doing this.

If he wants to truly challenge the best players in the world (and go for medals at the 2024 Olympics - perhaps 2021, though that may be too soon) - then he needs to develop something (or somethings) that really challenges the best players. There are many possibilities - forehand, backhand, footwork, serve, receive, steadiness, etc. But here's the catch - to develop something that's so strong that it challenges the best players in the world, he can't just practice it a part of each session, and then move on to the next technique. If he does that, the techniques will likely get a little better, but not to the point where they challenge the best players. Instead, once he and his coaches decide what it is that he can develop to challenge the best players, he needs to focus on that for half or more of EVERY session, day after day for months and years, with the goal to be the best at that technique IN THE WORLD. For example, he could learn to dominate with quick, aggressive topspin backhands (like world #4 Harimoto, who is only 17 and already challenging the best Chinese), or perhaps quick forehands, or maybe receive. But it has to be something that he focuses on and strives to make the best in the world. (It's just an advanced form of Saturation Training.)

For Kanak, he might be best dominating on the backhand, with a quick, point-ending forehand when he gets the right shot. Which means, if he really wants to challenge the best, then he should spend much of every single session working on that dominating backhand (along with sudden point-ending forehands).

He might also turn receive into an over-powering strength, since this already seems a relative strength. The latter means a coach should be serving to him, over and Over and OVER, maybe 30-40 minutes at a time, maybe twice a day, while he works on developing the best receive IN THE WORLD. Most of that would be without playing out the point, so the focus is on the receive itself and to maximize the receive practice. Then he'd go on to where a practice partner/coach serves and plays one shot, so Kanak gets feedback on how strong the receive was. He'd also play out some points, but players do that way too often when working on receive, and so don't get the repetitive practice needed to make a technique GREAT.  

But Kanak and his coaches know his game better than I do, and they are the ones who should decide just what it is Kanak can turn into an overpowering strength. And then they should focus on that in every session until it IS an overpowering strength - something so strong the Chinese will study videos of it to prepare to play him!

Weekend Coaching
On Sunday I worked with the kids in the MDTTC junior program. As usual, lots and lots of stroking and footwork drills. We also did some pushing games to work on that, and a lot of serve practice.

On Saturday I had my weekly session with Navin Kumar. We spent a lot of time on his backhand "bump," where he attacks a push with his long pips (no sponge) with a quick block, i.e. aggressive pushblocking. Even though he hits the ball with an open racket, with a pushing motion, the backspin rebounds back as topspin! (See second video below.) Ideally, eventually he'll be bumping the ball like the woman in this video.

USATT Coaches Meeting
USATT has a USATT Coaches Meeting twice each month on Zoom, normally on the second and fourth Friday. (Info is posted in the USATT Coaches Facebook page.) Most meetings have been at noon (Western time, so 9AM Pacific time), but the time sometimes varies, to accommodate various coaches' schedules. The meetings are hosted by USATT High Performance Director Sean O'Neill. Last week they met at 10:30AM Eastern time (7:30 AM Pacific time), and the meeting lasted just under an hour. Attending were eleven coaches (a twelfth joined near the end). Here's a group shot. Topics covered:

USATT Election
The USATT election began Oct. 29 and continues until Dec. 13. I wrote about this in my Oct. 26 blog, where I strongly endorsed Khoa Nguyen and Thomas Hu, and also endorsed Will Shortz for Club Rep, though both candidates for that spot were good, the other being Mike Babuin. Susan Sarandon, the actress and founder of SPiN Table Tennis, endorsed Thomas Hu! He has 47 testimonials on the Thomas Hu for USATT Board of Directions Facebook page.

Stupa Analytics to Hose Product Presentations
Here's the USATT News item. They will be doing three presentations:


Tactical Review: How Lily Zhang Stunned Feng Tianwei in Weihai
Here's the ITTF article.

New from Samson Dubina

Proper Footwork During Serve & Attack
Here's the video (2:52) from Zhou Xin.

Top 5 Tips To Return Impossible Table Tennis Serves
Here's the video (12:25) from Table Tennis Daily.

How to Lob Like a Pro
Here's the article by Alex Horscroft at Expert Table Tennis (which includes video of Xu Xin doing some monster lobs).

Pendulum Serve Like a World Superstar
Here's the video (15:56, in Chinese with English subtitles) from Ti Long. Also see his past videos.

New from Tom Lodziak

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Backhand Loop
Here's the video (25 sec) as he prepared for the Men's World Cup. "Rah!"

Match Analysis with USATT Rank No. 17
Here's the video (12:19) from Panda Pong.

Remembering George Brathwaite
Here's the video (George is on the first five minutes) from NYC TV Live and Jules Apatini.

DHS Top 10 Points at the ITTF Women's World Cup
Here's the video (6:04) - "Vote your favourite point!"

New from Steve Hopkins and Butterfly

A Whole Lotta League
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Ping Pong Beast
Here's a site that does lots of equipment reviews.

New from the ITTF
Here's their home page and news page.

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here!

Butterfly Racket Outdoors Contest
Here's the info page. It's simple - you  take a photo of Butterfly racket or rackets (with or without rubber) OUTDOORS and send it to Butterfly by Nov. 30 - and you might win a Harimoto Innerforce ALC Autographed Blade!

Ping Pong Legend Shirt
Here it is!

Chen Meng Visits New Zealand - in 2001!
Here's the video (1:22) showing the world #1 woman Chen Meng (and recent Women's World Cup winner) already dominating when she was seven years old!

Cat Ping-Pong in the 50s
Here's the video (38 sec) because we haven't had a cat video in a while.

Fuzzy on Table Tennis
Here's the cartoon! Apparently credenza golf and toilet bocci would be better.

Types of Ping Pong Players
Here's the video (6:17) from Pongfinity!

Table Tennis Trickshots, Outdoor Edition
Here's the video (4:08)!

Send us your own coaching news!