July 12, 2021

Tip of the Week
Playing the Non-Adjuster. (There was no blog last week while I was at the US Nationals, but in case you missed it, there was a Tip - Changing the Pace.)

2021 US Nationals
I had a great time at the Nationals last week in Las Vegas, July 4-9. The players I coached did very well, and in between coaching I managed to squeeze in two gold medals myself!!! However, as usual, due to my coaching and hardbat, I didn't get to see as many high-level matches as others. (When they were playing the Men's and Women's Finals I had to go online to find out who they'd beaten in the semifinals.) A great thanks to the many staff who did an INCREDIBLE job, given the difficult parameters they had to work under.

Here are a few links:

I was one of the coaches from the Maryland Table Tennis Center (along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Qingliang Wang), which dominated the Under 13 Boys' Singles. Stanley Hsu won it, Mu Du made the Semifinals, and Ryan Lin and Winston Wu made the quarterfinals. (The latter two will still be eligible next year.) I coached many of their matches and have worked extensively with them in the past. A lot of our other players also had great results, with James Zhang and Todd Klinger both having breakthrough tournaments. Can't wait for the new ratings!!! (They might be out today.)

Temperatures hit a high of 114 F during the tournament, but we never noticed as the Mandalay Bay Hotel is connected directly to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, so it was a brisk ten-minute walk each way. (In fact, the AC was almost too high - I had to wear my warmup jacket most of the time.) There were a number of restaurants at the hotel, but more importantly an eatery a few hundred yards from the playing site, so that's where I had nearly all my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. (Subway was open 24 hours and served breakfast, and between that, the Chinese place, and the pizza place, I was happy with the food - though it was pretty expensive.) One problem - there was no water available at the playing hall. This likely had to do with the Pandemic, but they really should find some way around this. Players had to choose between paying extremely high prices for bottles of water, or making a special trip to nearby stores for cases of water. Fortunately, I was in an entourage (ten kids, ten parents, four coaches), and the parents went out and bought everyone cases of water.

I heard there were various types of entertainment in Las Vegas, such as gambling, huge swimming pools, shows, and so on, but I will never know for sure as I was at the playing hall every day from 8AM to at least 9PM.

We arrived on Friday so the kids could get a day and a half to get used to the conditions. There was some confusion about when the playing hall would open. We were initially told setup would take place on Sunday morning, and that the hall might not be open for practice until near 1PM, which is when the first event was scheduled. So we contacted the two local full-time clubs, conveniently named the Las Vegas TTC and the Vegas TTC. We ended up doing a three-hour session at the Vegas TTC on Saturday morning and early afternoon. And then we received word that USATT had started setup early, and that the playing hall would be open Saturday after all! So we arranged a 90-minute session that night as well, along with a session on Sunday morning. Yeah, we work the kids hard!

We ran into some issues with the scheduling. We had four kids in Under 13 Boys' Singles, the primary event for all of them. Three of them were seeded out of the RR groups, but we didn't know that until I think Saturday night or Sunday morning. And so, rather than play at 1PM Sunday, as scheduled, they didn't play until Wednesday at noon! They were all primed to play, so that was a bit disappointing. So they focused on other events. This was because of the decision to run all of the RR groups in all events first, and then run the single elimination portion. This meant that players who won or were seeded out of their RR groups had to wait days before they played the SE part. In the case of Under 13 Boys, they had to wait three days. (More on this below.)

I singlehandedly averted the largest crisis ever to face USA Table Tennis. On Sunday, I had pizza for lunch. I went to the long row of tables at the back of the hall to watch a match that one of our other coaches was coaching. After finishing, I looked around and discovered there were no trash cans in the back of the hall. Others were also having lunch and had the same problem. So, what do you do when you have trash and no trash cans? Yes, it gets piled onto the floor. So, being a superhero wannabe, I emailed USATT COO Mark Thompson - and lo and behold, the following morning, there were trash cans in the back! Trashcangate was averted. Once again, I am an unsung hero.

Lots of crazy things happened in the matches I coached. I wish I could give some of the tactical stuff, but that would be giving away trade secrets that could hurt our players! Here's a rough rundown:

  • Stanley Hsu, rated 2311 at age 12, had a bad loss a couple of months ago to a shakehands player who dead-blocked everything with antispin. He had to play him again. I frantically raced about the playing hall looking for someone with an anti-racket - and found Dan Seemiller Jr.! (He's head coach at the El Paso TTC.) He lent me his spare racket. I blocked for Stanley for almost half an hour - and this time he won at 5,4,1. Yes, practice makes a difference.
  • I coached Stanley in the semifinals of Under 13 Boys, against He Xianyao. He'd beaten him at the Under 13 Team Trials a few weeks ago - I'd also coached that match - and we had a good game plan. But things didn't go quite as planned. Stanley lost the first two at 7 and 9 (leading 9-7 that last game). He won the third 11-8. In the fourth, down 6-8, I called a timeout - and once again, we picked the right serves and tactics as he won five of the next six points to win 11-9. He came alive in the fifth to win the match, -7,-9,8,9,6, and make the finals. Only - his opponent in the final, Patryk Zyworonek (2214, the second seed), had to default to catch a flight. More on that below.
  • James Zhang had been going five games over and over in recent tournaments with players rated from 2200 to 2400 but hadn't been able to pull out the fifth. He finally had his breakthrough - but in hilarious fashion! He beat a "2087" player deuce in the fifth. I was the one who got to tell him the player was actually rated 2337! (The 2087 was an old rating and the player had played a recent tournament that had just been processed.) Here's video of his match with the 2337 player (13 sec). James, Todd Klinger, and Christian Funderberg all had breakout tournaments.
  • Lance Wei (2015) played a 2189 player. He lost the first two and was down 8-10 match point. I called a timeout. After a sports psychology pep talk, I called two serves. The opponent missed both! Lance won the next point, and reused one of the serves I'd called earlier - and the opponent missed it again! (Sometimes the magic works.) It went into the fifth, with Lance up 6-2. Alas, it was not to be. But he'd later beat a 2157 player. He's going to shoot up over the next year.
  • One match I coached was a bit crazy. Suffice to say he was down 6-10 in the second and 2-8, 8-10 in the third and won both.

As I usually do, I also played in the hardbat events at the Nationals. (I'm normally a sponge player but play hardbat on the side.) I won Over 40 Hardbat Singles for the seventh time, and won Over 60 Hardbat Singles in my first time eligible. (Here are the USATT Leaderboards.) Didn't lose a game in either event, the only two I played. I've won Hardbat Open Singles twice, but that was long ago, when I was much younger. I've also won Hardbat Doubles 13 times, but due to the pandemic, they had no doubles events this year. I had to default out of Hardbat Singles due to conflicts with my coaching, and twice I came very close to getting defaulted from the other two events due to showing up late because of coaching duties.

On Thursday night I attended the USATT Hall of Fame Banquet. Inductees this year were Roman Tinyszin (contributor), Christian Lillieroos (contributor), Sebastian DeFrancesco (athlete), and Pam Fontaine (athlete). (The latter two are para athletes.) Getting the Lifetime Achievement Award was David Sakai - who, circa 1981-1985 and again in the early 1990s, I practiced regularly with. (These were actually last year's inductees, but they had to cancel the Nationals due to the pandemic, so they were honored this year.) I've been doing the Hall of Fame Program Booklet every year starting in 2009 - here is this year's! (If you want to browse all the past years, go to the USATT Hall of Fame Annual Dinner page, and scroll past the bios at the start. All of the programs are there, from 1979 to present - I scanned all the old ones myself.) The banquet went well and was efficiently run by Hall of Fame Chair Sean O'Neill. 

Covid wasn't really an issue. Most (like myself) were vaccinated, and masks were not required. Fortunately, the tournament did not enforce some of the Covid restrictions on the entry form, such as, "No more than two persons [other than tournament officials] are permitted inside the field of play while preparing for competition or actual competition play at any time," "Participants are not permitted to be closer than six feet to the Tournament Director's work area," and "No food is allowed inside the competition venue." I and pretty much everyone else broke these rules.

And now we get to the problems of the tournament - and the following is meant both as reporting and a todo list of things that USATT can do to improve their future major tournaments. (Though much of it is more about this specific tournament and the unique situation that the threat of Covid caused.)

Way back in January or February USATT decided that, because of Covid, they would run the entire tournament single elimination. The reasons given seem contradictory. (I've blogged about this.) I was initially told it was because they were worried about a small turnout because of the pandemic, and so didn't want to lock themselves into a larger hall that they couldn't afford without a large turnout. But if they rented a smaller hall and then got a large turnout, they'd be stuck trying to run it with the usual RRs. So they decided to rent a smaller hall and run it all SE. (They also scheduled most of the SEs to start early, on Sunday or Monday, which makes sense if you are running all SE events.) I argued with them at the time, pointing out that by the time of the Nationals all non-juniors who chose to would be vaccinated, and that with no Nationals or Open since 2019, there was a hunger for the Nationals and there would be a large turnout in Las Vegas if they ran it like normal. They didn't agree, and so we were stuck with a hall that had room for only 45 tables, less than half the norm. Then, at the April USATT board meeting, CEO Virginia Sung said, "The reason for running all single elimination is to better manage schedule and conflicts more efficiently." This seemed to contradict the initial reason given. Communication does not seem a strength of this administration.

Since they were not running doubles events (due to Covid), that helped with time scheduling. Players were limited to only six events, which was disappointing to players who wanted to play both age and rating events and had to pick which ones to skip. However, about a week before the deadline to enter, with entries very low, they decided to go RR after all. There was a last-minute influx of entries, which brought them to the current listing of 526 players. (Earlier the listing had 557 or more, but apparently many of those were regional winners who never entered the Nationals and so were taken out after email queries, though others were left in since USATT wasn't sure if they meant to play or not and were not able to contact them.) The ratings show that there were 490 players in the tournament (which included players who only played in hardbat or sandpaper events). Historically, this makes it the second smallest Nationals ever, less than the 502 at the 2011 Nationals in Virginia Beach, but more than the 335 at the 1986 Nationals in Pittsburgh, and by far the least ever at Las Vegas, where it is traditionally held. (The ratings aren't actually up as I write this, but it appears in the rating list with the number of players. Presumably, it will be processed today. I'll link to them in the bullet list above when they go up.)

But now they were stuck trying to run all of these events, with RR, with about 500 players on just 45 tables, with most of the events starting early in the tournament rather than spaced throughout, as was usually done. Normally, an RR event is followed closely by the SE portion, so that most events start and finish within two days.

Since all of the junior events started on Sunday and Monday, it was assumed they'd be done on by Tuesday or Wednesday. So the rest of my "entourage" (ten kids, ten parents, and the other three coaches) were all scheduled to fly home on Wednesday night or Thursday morning. I was the only one scheduled to stay to the end, on Friday, since I was planning on playing in the hardbat events scheduled to start on Thursday. Alas, the only way the tournament could stay on time, with the scheduling from when they planned all SE, was to run all the RR groups first, and then run the SE's. And so many of the events our kids were playing on Monday wouldn't finish until Thursday! Result - I was the only one in my entourage who didn't have to change his flight. The other 23 all had to change theirs, often paying additional fees to do so. The same thing was happening to players, parents, and coaches from all over the country.

Initially, two players were to advance from each group. But due to the table shortage, they had to change that to only one advancing, which made a lot of people unhappy. Also, to save time, a lot of top seeds were seeded out of the preliminaries.

Suffice to say that all of these changes left a number of people unhappy. One player told me he was entered in two senior events, both on Sunday. He was seeded out of the preliminaries in both. He had to fly out on Wednesday morning, which was when the SE started, and so had to default both events. Others had similar problems. As noted above, Patryk Zyworonek and his parents assumed that Under 13 Boys, starting at 1PM on Sunday, would finish by Wednesday afternoon, and when it didn't, they had to default the final. I didn't mark down the exact times of the match, but like many events, it was held up due to conflicts, and the final, scheduled for 4PM Wednesday, didn't play until I think a few hours later.

Other problems include:

  • No live streaming. This had become the norm for major USATT tournaments, so this left a lot of USATT members unhappy. USATT did later upload videos of the Men's and Women's final, which I linked to above.
  • Not enough chairs. (Many of us spent six days battling for chairs.) We need about 1.5 times as many as provided.
  • As noted above, water should be provided.
  • As noted above, players were limited to only six events in a tournament that lasts six days. Most players want to play about two events per day. The limit used to be much higher - the limit was nine in 2016, for example, and at one time it was ten. In 2018 and 2019 they lowered this to seven, and now six. Why not let players play more events? They were able to do this before, and it means more revenue for USATT, and a better experience for the players.
  • With only 45 tables and about 500 players, finding a table to practice on was difficult. Four to a table became the norm. The entry form restricted play to two to a table, due to Covid, but fortunately that was not enforced.
  • Players who were competitive in multiple events often had to play almost continuously, often with no lunch break. (Because of this, I twice went without lunch as I was coaching continuously.) Sarah Jalli was scheduled to play 18 matches in 6 hours. The kids I coached mostly relied on snacking throughout the day rather than an actual lunch.
  • Matches were played rather late at night. Our junior players were at the playing hall at 8AM, practicing for their 9AM matches, played matches throughout the day, and often were sent out again at 7PM for RR matches that often didn't end until near 10PM. The Under 17 Boys final (Sid Naresh over Darryl Tsao) was scheduled for 8PM but (according to Sid's Facebook posting) didn't finish until after midnight. These late-night matches had a dramatic effect on some players, especially those from the east coast - kids who normally go to bed at 9:30PM were often playing at what, to them, was 1AM or later, after being at the hall for up to 14 hours. (This tournament had unique problems that required this, but normally all play at Opens and Nationals has been done by dinner time, other than a few times where they've scheduled doubles events afterwards.)
  • New schedules were given out on Wednesday for Thursday and Friday. This caused problems for some, and for me in my coaching schedule. Twice on Thursday I found myself committed to coaching a match at the same time as I was scheduled to play a hardbat match and (as noted above) I came within minutes of getting defaulted.
  • They no longer separated junior and adult rating events. That had been done for a reason - up-and-coming juniors are often way underrated, often much better than the rating cutoff, and so completely dominate rating events. There were years where juniors swept all the rating events, despite making up less than half the entries. And this year, boy did they dominate! There were eight rating events. Of the 16 finalists, 14 were junior players. The two non-juniors? Top-seeded (2541) Earl James Alto won the highest event, Under 2550, which is a tough event for juniors to win - congrats to Earl! (He beat Under 17 Boys' Champion Sid Naresh in the final.) Under 2000 was won by Diego Gallardo, an obvious ringer from Mexico. (He'd played only one USATT tournament and got a rating of 1891, despite going five games with players rated 2179 and 2138, and getting games off players rated 2284 and 2146 - though he also somehow lost to a 1919 player. Addendum: He came out rated 2133.)

And now we get to a serious problem that USATT needs to really investigate and fix. I've been going to US Nationals and Opens since 1976 and have been to every one starting in 1984 - and (other than the disastrous 1990 US Open), have never seen so many defaults. A parent told me that while the events were run mostly with groups of four, they were essentially groups of three, since so many defaulted. He was right.

For example, in Under 2200, there were 53 groups with 209 players entered - but 46 didn't show (22%). When they got to the SE stage, 16 of the 52 players defaulted (31%). For perspective, at the 2019 US Open (the last major USATT tournament), in Under 2200 there were 208 players, and only 13 didn't show (6%). In the SE portion, of 52 players, only one defaulted (2%). The number of defaults this year were insane!

I checked a few other events, and while Under 2200 was one of the worst, there were other similar events, especially in the SE stage. In Under 2300, in the SE stage, 16 of the 52 players defaulted (31%). It wasn't just rating events. In Men's Singles, in the SE stage, 10 of 49 players defaulted (20%). In Under 11 Boys' Singles in the SE stage, 4 of the 15 players defaulted (27%).

Keep in mind players don't generally pay for an event and fly across the country for it with the intent to default. So what was happening here? It was a combination of the following:

  • Players flew in for the RR groups but didn't realize the SEs would come several days later, and so had to default to make their flights - either they couldn't change their flight, couldn't afford the fees to do so, or had other commitments.
  • Players were too exhausted from playing multiple events and so defaulted some to focus on others. For example, as noted above, Sarah Jalli was scheduled to play 18 matches in six hours (!), and there's no way you can do that while playing at a high level. So she ended up defaulting out of the 2550 SE stage to focus on her other events. (She ended up winning Under 17 and Under 15 Girls, and made the semifinals of Women's Singles, Under 21 Women, and Under 19 Girls - but she might have done even better if she hadn't had to play so many high-level matches almost back-to-back.)
  • I'm told that a number of players who won regional events were automatically entered into the Nationals, even if they did not enter or pay and had no intention of playing. Around the deadline and afterwards USATT was contacting these players, trying to find out if they were playing or not, but couldn't reach them all. Some may have noticed that at one point, entries for the Nationals hit 557 (and I think higher) - but then dropped down to the current listing of 526, and the actual total of 490, as noted above. I'm told this was the reason.

Given the situation, the staff did a great job in keeping things going properly. Scratch that; they did an INCREDIBLE job in keeping things going. What I heard over and over from staff members, worded in various ways, was essentially, "It is what it is." (Which is a direct word-for-word quote from two of them.) Given the parameters (only 45 tables for about 500 players, with starting days and times mostly set months earlier when they planned for all SE), there was no way to schedule in a way that wouldn't cause many of the problems outlined above.

The irony is that, with all the defaults and the rescheduling for Thursday and Friday, everything finished by around 1PM or so on Friday. I don't have the exact time as I was done coaching by that time and already on my way to the airport.

Thanks again to all the people who put this together and ran it, and congrats to all the new Champions, including new Men's and Women's Singles Champions Xin Zhou and Amy Wang! And now, it's on to the Teams in November and the US Open in December - can't wait to find out where and when it'll be.

[Meanwhile, while I was away, in my other world, I sold two science fiction/fantasy stories, one to New Myths Magazine and one to Galaxy's Edge Magazine. I can afford to eat now!!! The first, "Madam Hitler," is about a bumbling time-traveling tourist who shows up as Hitler is about to commit suicide in 1945 (asking for his autograph and a snippet of his mustache) and inadvertently gives him access to a device that allows him to switch bodies with his secretary (Traudl Junge, his actual secretary) - leading to the secretary (in Hitler's body) being captured by Stalin, who thinks he/she is the real Hitler, while Hitler (in the secretary's body), goes on to become chancellor of West Germany. Don't worry, things do not end well for Hitler, or for Stalin and Chairman Mao either. The other story, "Prototype Solar System with Strings Attached," is a humorous satire on the creation of the universe, and how and why God and a harried angel created gravity, string theory, and other marvels of the universe. Yeah, one's about Hitler, the other a satire on God - nothing controversial here, right?]

ITTF Hopes Around the Clock
Here's the USATT article by Joshua Dyke, featuring USATT Under 12 stars Mandy Yu (Rochester TTC), Tashiya Piyadasa (CA Table Tennis), Ryan Lin (MDTTC), and Charles Shen (Topspin TTC). I assisted with the first online session on Tuesday, June 29, as the coach/practice partner for Ryan Lin (US #1 Under 12). Basically, we alternated between listening to the ITTF coaches (including Massimo Costantini) as they gave instructions, then we'd go out to the table and do the drills as instructed, with a camera on us and all the other players around the world, with the ITTF coaches watching. Periodically they'd call us over with suggestions. The two-hour session was pretty rigorous - I was exhausted afterwards, while Ryan was still jumping up and down. The second session is tomorrow - not sure yet if I'll be doing it or Coach Wang Qingliang. The timing is tricky as the sessions take place during our summer camps, when all or most of the tables are in use and the coaches are rather busy. Winston Wu, the US #2 rated in Under 12 and also from MDTTC, may join in and do the drills with Ryan Lin.

Navin Kumar Training Session with Wang Cheng
Wang Cheng (rated 2417, a coach in Virginia) is getting his ITTF certification, but part of it involves coaching para players. And so he joined me and Navin Kumar for a session just before the US Nationals. (Navin is a silver in doubles and bronze in singles medalist at the Parkinson's World Championships, plus has a partially artificial heart.) Here's the Facebook posting by Navin, with links to three videos: video1 (37 sec), video2 (6 sec), video3 (20 sec).

How to Watch Tokyo Olympics Table Tennis: TV & Live Streaming Schedule
Here's the article from NBC Sports.

Table Tennis Legend Vladimir Samsonov Retires
Here's the article from Belta.

New from Timo Boll

New from Samson Dubina

New from Louis Levene

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich

Videos (some overlap with the above)

Seth Pech vs Jabdiel Torres 2021 AND Sneaky serve by Lin Yun-Ju Tutorial
Here's the video (10:23) from Seth Pech.

New from Ti Long

Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis
They have a number of new videos.

Bay Area Table Tennis Olympians Ready for Tokyo
Here's the video (1:53) from NBC Bay Area, featuring Nikhil Kumar and Kanak Jha.

Indian Americans Paddle US' Table Tennis Dream at Tokyo Olympics
Here's the article from The Quint featuring Nikhil Kumar and Kanak Jha.

Ojo Onalapo in Action!

Eleven Years and Counting
Here's the article by Joanna Sung.

2021 National U19 Team Trials
Here's the article by Rachel Sung.

Aditya Sareen Captured Under 2500 Title at Westchester
Here's the article, photos, and video (6 sec).

New from Coach Jon

New from Steve Hopkins

New from Edges and Nets

Table Tennis Top
Here's their new blog (8 entries) and skills section (one entry so far, Table Tennis Skills for Beginners). It's in English, and run by Petroj Sorin, a top player and coach in Serbia. It also has a lot of equipment reviews.

Here's their news pagevideo page ("World Table Tennis") and home page. It's been two weeks since I blogged, so they have a lot of new stuff. Perhaps the most interesting is The History of CHO (5:41)!

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

Flowery Table Tennis "Nature" Shirt
Here it is - wear this to a party, work, wedding, you know you want to! And don't forget the matching shorts!

Adam vs. The What Happened Guy
Here's the video (10:30) from Adam Bobrow!

Pongfinity's Otto vs Miikka
Here's the video (10:51) from Pongfinity - "Otto and Miikka battle against each other in a ping pong game where they add a piece of clothing after each won point!"

Best Player in Europe
Here's the cartoon! (Timo Boll fans will like this.)

Ping Pong Funny
Here's the video (15 sec) - it's only peripherally TT, but those are ping-pong ball heads!

New from Table Tennis Central

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