March 27, 2023

Tip of the Week
How to Win the Choice at the Start of a Match.

Kanak Jha Suspension
It was a shocker when it came out in December that US #1 Kanak Jha was suspended for missing three USADA tests in a twelve-month period. They went to arbitration, and unfortunately, Kanak lost. His suspension is one year, starting Dec. 1, 2022. Here’s the USADA Announcement. Here’s the American Arbitration Association Report – actual testimony starts on page 32. (It’s fascinating reading.) Here’s a video report from TT11TV (1:58).

The whole situation is unfortunate. While Kanak was at fault for missing the tests (apparently out of carelessness), much of it came about due to a series of unfortunate events. For example, in the third test, the tester tried calling Kanak, who was only five minutes away at his new address, but couldn’t get through because he said he didn’t know you had to dial the US country code (1) before dialing Kanak’s US phone number.

And yet, while the situation is unfortunate, it’s also an opportunity – and I even messaged Kanak on this.

Right now Kanak is one of the top players in the world (ranked #24), but generally not a big threat to the very, very best players. He isn’t likely to win medals at the Olympics or Worlds until that changes. He is in the same situation as lots of players who were very good, and trained and trained, but never quite made that final breakthrough into the very, very best in the world.

My suggestion to him is that he sit down with his coaches and make a simple decision – what part (or parts) of his game can he develop into overpowering strengths that really threatens a Ma Long or Fan Zhendong? Once he and his coaches decide that, for the rest of his suspension, don’t just work on that; focus almost entirely on it. Do not spend part of each session on it; spend 2/3 to 3/4 of every session on it. (He isn’t going to lose his other skills. He is a complete player already and that’s not going to change.) The goal is to develop an OVERPOWERING strength, something he does BETTER than anyone else in the world, one that threatens all opponents. (Plus the techniques that set it up.) He can’t do that by working on it a bit, and then moving on to the next drill. If he trains six hours a day, then 4-5 hours should be centered on that technique. (Obviously, he has to adapt as needed in a session since his practice partners have their own drills to do.)

But the key thing is he can’t do this type of training when he is competing as a professional athlete as he has to be at his best for his professional league and tournament matches – which is why he should look at the suspension as an opportunity. Do this for six months or more, and develop that overpowering strength. Then, when he starts competing again – perhaps after a short period of getting used to professional matches again – there’s a good chance that he can be one of the very, very best in the world, able to play even or better with the best Chinese and everyone else.

Kanak is only 22. Ma Long is considered by most the greatest player in history, winning men’s singles at the Worlds three times and singles at the Olympics twice. But he didn’t win the World’s until he was 26½ years old, and the Olympics until he was almost 28.

There are examples where this type of training really paid off. Istvan Jonyer famously spent six months training almost exclusively on his backhand loop, and a year or so later it paid off as he became the 1975 Men’s World Champion and the #1 player in the world for the next few years. Todd Sweeris at my club spent the last year before the 1996 Olympic Trials training mostly on two things – receive and how to beat one particular player that he likely would (and did) play for the final spot on the Olympic Team, and he won the match (mostly on receive) and became an Olympian. On a smaller scale, many years ago when I was stuck as a 1900 hitter, I spent two years focused on developing my forehand loop, and that led to massive improvement and top 20 in the US. (Yes, I could come up with more recent examples, but I’ve always liked these historical examples!)

Weekend Coaching
Sunday was a long and eventful coaching day. I had three group sessions and two private ones. I retired from most private coaching a few years ago, but made an exception for Navin Kumar, who I coach in Parkinson’s and para events. We spent a lot of time this session on smashing, which is not easy for many Parkinson’s players since their hands are often shaking or moving erratically. We also worked a lot on side to side movement. Here’s video (23 sec).

Afterwards I had a session with up-and-coming para junior star Sam Altshuler. He is on the USATT developmental para program. He just returned from competing in tournaments in Spain and Italy where he won enough matches that he should get an international para ranking when the new rankings come out soon. (He also got a silver medal in class 6 in Cancun last year.) His primary coach is Lidney Castro twice a week, plus he does group sessions on Sat and Sun. Sam plays with long pips on the backhand (with sponge), and this gives our other junior players practice against that in group sessions. But since he’s the only one in his group sessions with long pips, he’s the only one who doesn’t get to practice against it regularly – and the irony is that, when he plays para events, a high percentage of opponents use long pips! Jasna Rather, the USATT Director of Para Programs, contacted me about this, and I volunteered to hit with him. Though I’m normally a regular inverted player, I keep in my playing bag an assortment of rackets with different surfaces for players to practice against and pull them out in training and at tournaments when needed. They include rackets with: long pips with thin sponge (mostly for chopping, can also block and hit with it); long pips no sponge (for blocking); medium long pips; regular short pips; hardbat (no sponge pips); and antispin. All except the hardbat have regular inverted on the other side (Tenergy 05).
=>BREAKING NEWS ON THURSDAY: Sam is world #38!

I hit with Sam a lot in our group sessions, where I sometimes act as a practice partner, and had chopped to him with long pips a month ago. For this session, I used the long pips no sponge and just blocked. For half the session we went mostly long pips to long pips – some really long rallies! Then we went his forehand inverted (he has a pretty good loop) to my long pips – and he was also pretty good. (Since he plays with long pips, he has a better understanding of what it does, which gives him an advantage in playing against it.) Anyway, the plan is that I’ll hit with him every other Sunday, and the other Sunday he and Navin will play, so that they both get practice against the others long pips. (Navin has long pips no sponge.)

In the group sessions with beginning/intermediate players, we did a lot of work on random drills, mostly with multiball. This means either putting the ball to the forehand or backhand randomly, or putting the all anywhere randomly (including middle/elbow). There are three key things to focus on in these drills:

  1. Good ready position, ready to move in either direction.
  2. Only react, no guessing – first move has to be the right move. You have more time than you think, so you don’t have to rush.
  3. Move to the ball, don’t reach.

Table Tennis Books and Memorabilia
I have perhaps the largest collection of table tennis books in English in the world, and perhaps the biggest collection of table tennis books, period. Overall, I now have 330 books on table tennis, with 301 of them in English. (If you include different additions, I have a bunch more.) I also have a large collection of other table tennis memorabilia. Here are both listings, which I updated this weekend:

1900th Published Table Tennis Article
Last week’s Tip of the Week, “When to Serve Long” (published both here on and at Butterfly, was my 1900th published table tennis article, and my 2158th overall in over 180 different publications. (I look grim in the Butterfly photo, someone must be playing bad tactics.) The non-table tennis ones include 136 science fiction stories, and a number articles on science, writing, and on the Baltimore Orioles, who I used to do articles on for Orioles Hangout. Here’s my complete bibliography, including 19 books, with #20, “Yet Still More Table Tennis Tips,” coming in June. (Here’s a better listing of my books – c’mon, you know you want to buy one!) This is in addition to (including today’s) 1889 table tennis blogs, plus a few dozen science fiction blogs on my science fiction page, where I’ve been less active.

2023 US Table Tennis Hall of Fame Inductees Announced
The inductees are Kenneth Brooks, Dennis Davis, Ashu Jain, and Willy Leparulo, with Richard McAfee getting the Lifetime Achievement Award. (The HoF Committee is chaired by Sean O'Neill; here's the complete committee listing.) Here’s the Hall of Fame announcement, including bios – presumably there'll be a USATT news item on this soon. The Hall of Fame Dinner and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Nationals in July - I'll be there. (I do the program book for them.) Here's the Hall of Fame listing, with the Lifetime Achievement Award winners at the end. (I was inducted in 2003 and got the Lifetime Award in 2018 - and I'm only 63!) 
ADDENDUM: Strange doings - USATT apparently put up the news item about the Hall of Fame over the weekend, then took it down. Here's the announcement, but when you go there, you now get, "Access Denied." 

New from USATT

Table Tennis Mental Test
Here’s the video (14:51) from Samson Dubina.

Butterfly Training Tips

New from Ti Long

How To Play The Forehand Flick
Here’s the video (5:51) from Rational Table Tennis Analysis. (In the US, we call it a flip.)

New from the Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis

New from Pingispågarna

New from Taco Backhand

Why Is It Difficult to Hit a Topspin Against Backspin?
Here’s the video (7:52) from Drupe Pong.

Ask the Coach
Here are the latest questions from PingSkills.

Taking on One of the World’s Best at WTT Singapore Smash
Here’s the article by Lily Zhang.

New from Steve Hopkins/Butterfly

New from ITTF

Xu Xin (CHN) vs Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN)
Here’s the video (14:30) of a great match between the two. SPOILER ALERT! – Harimoto (world #4) leads in the seventh 5-1 and 10-8 but former world #1 Xu wins it. (I’m not sure what tournament this is.)

Amazing Net Return
Here’s the video (12 sec) as Seth Pech makes this incredible back-to-the-table return of a net ball against Chance Friend – and the rest of the point is pretty good too!

Best Ping Pong Bars in America to Perfect Your Table Tennis
Here’s the article from the Men’s Journal. “Ping pong is weird. It’s an Olympic sport and a drinking game. Kids can do it, but it’s also mind-numbingly difficult when played at the highest level. I’m obsessed with it. I love the competitive and social duality. You can take it seriously while still being surrounded by friends and great craft beers—that is, if you frequent the best ping pong bars in America.”

Cat Table Tennis Art
Here’s the picture!

Credit Card Pong
Here’s the cartoon!

Keep Calm and Play Ping Pong
Here’s where you can buy the shirt at Amazon!

Galaxy S9+ Table Tennis Funny Ping Pong Cowboy Players Case
Here’s where you can buy it at Amazon!

Here’s the video (8 sec)!

Many-Rackets Pong – and Wash Your Hands!
Here’s the video (26 sec)!

World's Hardest Table Challenge
Here’s the video (8:25) from Pongfinity! “Today we’re playing on the world’s most tilted table, trying out green-screen suits, matches with different balls, and extended hands.”

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