World Team Championships

April 1, 2012

Tip of the Week

Grip and Stance.

Wang Liqin is Coming to Maryland

As reported yesterday in numerous online forums and news agencies, Wang Liqin, the 2001, 2005 and 2007 World Men's Singles Champion (but now down to #9 at age 33), wasn't happy about not being chosen to play in the World Men's Team Final against Germany this past weekend. We'd been negotiating with him, but this slap in the face was the final straw for the unhappy superstar. I pick him up tonight at Dulles Airport, on United 933 from Frankfurt, GER. "I think I've done all I can for China," the disgruntled star said through a translator. "China don't need me, they don't want me, so they can't have me. Maybe I can help United States instead."

Wang also noted that he'd like to explore his other interest outside table tennis, science fiction writing. Under a pseudonym of "Wan Ling Qi" (which is an anagram of his real name), he's had several stories published in Science Fiction World, the largest SF magazine in China with a circulation of 300,000. His favorite was "Ping Pong Scientist," a story he wrote of a boy growing up playing table tennis in a futuristic world where players were more technicians than athletes with futuristic paddles covered with dials and buttons.

Wang's son, nine-year-old Tongtong, is also coming with him, and I've been told he's a level better than any USA kids his age. Both of them will be staying at my house for the first month or so while he looks for a permanent place to stay. Meanwhile, he'll both be playing for and coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.

World Team Championships

The Worlds ended on Sunday with another easy victory for China in both Men's and Women's Teams, beating Germany and Singapore 3-0 in the two finals. (How many remember that Singapore actually upset China in the Women's Final two years ago? From 1975 to 2012 China has lost in Women's Teams only twice - the loss to Singapore in 2010, and in 1991 to Korea, the latter the subject of the upcoming movie "As One," previously titled "Korea.") USA Men and Women came in 53 and 23, respectively. Complete results and articles are on the ITTF home page. Here are photos by the ITTF, and photos by USATT Photographer Diego Schaaf.

There were a number of questions about why USA #1 woman Gao Jun only played in one of the five preliminary matches. Presumably we'll find out why in Coach Doru Gheorghe's team report. Here's an article on the question.

There was some great play in the Men's Team Final. (Sorry, haven't watched the Women's Final yet, but you can easily find them on youtube.) Here are those three matches, with the time between points removed so you can watch the entire thing in about 20 minutes.

Faults at the Worlds!

Here's a video of the now infamous Robert Gardos (Austria) vs. Bartosz Such (Poland) match at the Worlds (6:14), where both players were faulted over and over. At one point Such was faulted on five consecutive serves.

MDTTC expansion and Spring Break Camp

The MDTTC expansion finished last week, and we're almost getting used to playing in a full-time playing hall (10,000 sq ft) that seems the size of a soccer stadium. (I think some people spend hours wandering about the place lost - it's that big.) Right now we have 16 courts set up, and we have two others we can put up. If we want, we can buy more tables and probably fit in 25 or so.

On Saturday we had a small local tournament, the Coconut Teams, an annual event. While they ran their tournament on twelve tables, the four coaches (including me) coached on the other four. I counted 93 players that morning, and we probably had over 100.

This morning we start our Spring Break Camp, which coincides with spring break in the local schools. I can't wait to see the expression on some of the kids when they come in and see the new place for the first time.

Backspin on Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a video from PingSkills on the creating backspin with the Reverse Pendulum Serve (1:06).

Table Tennis Cards

Mike Mezyan has created two table tennis cards, and plans to create sixty of them. Here are his first two cards:

April Fools Prank

Here's a hilarious 16-second April Fool's ping-pong balls in a car joke. That's a lot of balls in that car! Of course, we here at TableTennisCoaching.com never do April Fool's postings. 

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March 30, 2012

It's not fair! Another reason why top players dominate. 

I once complained to U.S. Olympian Todd Sweeris during a match, "It's not fair. You're not winning by playing 2600; you're winning by being 2600." I said the same thing last night to former Pan Am Team Member Scott Butler (who was in town for a couple days), who was seemingly winning "cheap" points in a practice match with local Raghu Nadmichettu. I told Raghu, "You never miss those shots against me."

The point was that it is often the very threat of high-level play that freezes opponents into immobility against shots they would have no trouble with against lower-level players.

There are two ways you can take advantage of this. First, you can become a very good player, and then your potential for high-level play will freeze many opponents into immobility. That's the hard way.

The easy way is to simply diversify your game by developing versatility and unpredictability. If you threaten opponents with lots of options on any given shot, many will also be frozen into immobility as they wait to see which of your many options you choose. For example, against a short serve, many players predictably push over and over, usually to the backhand. What if you instead moved the push around (changing directions at the last second), sometimes flipped, and perhaps even dropped the ball short sometimes? Or against a loop to the forehand most players can only block crosscourt. Learn to block your forehand down the line, and watch the havoc it causes. Or simply learn to vary the pace of your blocks and watch your opponents' timing all apart. Or vary the placement, pace, spin, and depth on your loops (or drives), with last-second changes of direction. There are so many options, and so few are developed by most players.

Another way of doing this is to simply vary your serves. This doesn't mean just varying a limited number of serves; it means developing more varied serves that you can throw at an opponent. And then, once you've established that threat, and your opponent is gibbering in fear of all the possibilities, you can then focus on using your most basic and dependable serves.

Most players spend years honing "their game," and stick to that game whenever possible, often leading to a relatively strong but one- or perhaps two-dimensional game. Why not go for a few extra dimensions?

How I spend my days

  • Coaching table tennis
  • Organizing table tennis
  • Writing about table tennis
  • Reading about table tennis
  • Actually playing table tennis
  • Catering to the whims of Sheeba, who loves bacon.
  • Writing science fiction & fantasy. (I've sold 58 short stories, and have 35 more plus 2 novels making the rounds. Keeping them in submission is practically a full-time job.)
  • Reading science fiction & fantasy, plus history, and (alas) politics and newspapers.
  • Studying calculus, since I'm regularly tutoring it and it's been a while since I last studied it. (I'm toying with starting a math & English tutoring service at my table tennis club.)
  • Watching NCIS, The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, The Walking Dead, and A Game of Thrones (back this Sunday!)
  • Rooting for the Baltimore Orioles (please pity me)
  • Planning how to spend my $540,000,000 when I win the Mega Millions lottery tonight
  • Planning what movie to see to console myself when I don't win the Mega Millions lottery tonight (either Wrath of the Titans or Mirror Mirror)
  • Trying to ignore the political mess our country is in.

World Team Championships
Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1, 2012

Robert Floras vs. Werner Schlager at the Worlds

Here's Poland's Robert Floras 3-1 upset win over Austria's 2003 World Men's Champion Werner Schlager, with the time between points removed so the whole match takes less than four minutes. Lots of great points. However, Austria defeated Poland to reach the quarterfinals of the World Team Championships. Here's the ITTF article.

Three photos from the Worlds

Here are three interesting photos of Chinese players at the World Championships:

Futurama table tennis

There are two table tennis segments here from Futurama (1:28). (In this episode, "Put Your Head on my Shoulder," Fry's head has been surgically implanted on Amy Wong's body.)

JC Penny commercial with ping-pong

There's about two seconds of "ping-pong" in this 31-second JC Penny commercial, starting at the 11-second mark.

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March 28, 2012

Grip and Stance

Let's do a thought experiment. Hold a piece of paper so you hold the top with one hand, the bottom with the other. Now twist the top. Notice how the entire piece of paper twists? Now twist the bottom. Same thing. How does this relate to table tennis?

Now imagine holding a table tennis player in your hands. (You are either very strong or the player is very small.) Hold his playing hand in one hand and his feet with the other. Twist his playing hand and his entire body twists. The same if you twist his feet.

This is what happens when you have a bad grip or bad playing stance. It twists your entire body out of proper alignment, causing all sorts of technique problems. These two problems are by far the most common cause of technique problems. Most often they are not recognized as even many experienced coaches often treat the symptoms of these problems rather than recognizing the cause.

This is why I strongly recommend that players should use a neutral grip during their formative years, and usually well beyond that. (For shakehand players, this means the thinnest part of the wrist lines up with the racket. If the top is tilted away from you when you hold the racket in front of you, it's a backhand grip; if the top is tilted toward you, it's a forehand grip.) A neutral grip means your racket will aim in the same direction as your body is stroking the ball. A non-neutral grip forces you to adjust your stroke in often awkward ways since the racket is aiming one way while your wrist, arm, shoulder, etc., are aiming another direction.

At the advanced levels some players do adjust their grips, taking on usually slight forehand or backhand grips. (I generally use a slight forehand grip, but only after I'd been playing ten years.) There are some technical advantages to this, but only after you have ingrained proper stroking technique.

Similarly, make sure you are in at least a slight forehand stance when hitting forehands (i.e. right foot slightly back for righties, shoulders turned back as you backswing, etc.)

Even at the advanced levels often players have trouble with a specific stroke because of their grip or stance. Because they've played this way so long they don't even recognize the cause of their problem, and most often they are destined to an eternity of stroking like a crinkled piece of paper. In a few cases they realize what the cause is, and fix the problem, which often simply means going back to a more neutral grip or adjusting the foot positioning.

Like a piece of paper, if you get the top and bottom parts right, the rest falls into place. (An expanded version of this might end up as a Tip of the Week.)

World Team Championships
Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1, 2012

Guo Yue in Slo Mo

Here's a 48-second video of China's World #7 Guo Yue in slow motion. She was #1 in the world in January of 2008, and has had probably a record 24 different rankings as #2 in the ITTF monthly rankings. 

Table Tennis - Pure Magic

Here's another table tennis video (5:59), set to music with lots of slow motion. It's from 2009, but I don't think I've ever posted it.

Cell Phone Pong

Yes, table tennis with a cell phone (0:16), with the phone's video camera running!

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