Ariel Hsing

March 13, 2012

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

DONE!!! Well, almost. We actually finished the "first draft" on Saturday, and spent much of Sunday and all of Monday inputting changes from Tim's proofing of the pages. (He's very, Very, VERY picky!) I printed out the "final" version last night, but Tim's told me he has many more changes, which we'll be inputting today. Alas.

Meanwhile, you can order the first 11 volumes, and pre-order #12, at the Tim Boggan Table Tennis page. I've already updated the page and the new order form.

How I play "lower" players

The key to beating lower players consistently is to take control right from the start with serve and receive. On the serve, you should have lots of serve and attack patterns. The key is not to serve and go for winners unless the shot is there. Instead, serve and attack with placement to put pressure on the opponent, and let them miss or give you an easy ball. Don't give away easy points by going for reckless shots.

On my serve, I test all opponents out with a variety of short and long serves, looking for two things: serves that they can't return without giving me an easy opening attack (either a long push or weak flip receive), and serves that they pop up or miss outright. Then I focus on serve and steady attack, mixing in the serves that win points outright so that they don't get used to them. My serve and attack serves are mostly short serves with varying spin, often with sidespin, side-top, and no-spin disguised as backspin, and often backspin or side-backspin to set up loops if they push them long. If they can't attack my deep serves, then they'll get a lot of those.

If they can return my serve consistently without giving me easy attacks, and I don't have any serves that they consistently miss, then I have to put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game. In general, weaker players can't return my serve effectively.

On the receive, all I want to do is neutralize the serve and get into a neutral rally. Control is key. This usually means consistent loops or drives against deep serves, and varied receive against short serves. A push to the backhand corner that's quick off the bounce, deep, angled, low, and heavy, as well as the threat of a sudden push to the wide forehand, is usually all it takes to disarm a weaker player. A quick but not too aggressive flip that's well placed (again, usually to the backhand) also disarms most players. Once you've neutralized the serve, you can take control of the rally. If you can't neutralize the opponent on his serve, then put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players - again, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game.

You don't need to be too aggressive when receiving - that's the one time that even an aggressive player should focus on control. If the serve pops up or you see an long serve that you read well, you may go for a shot. But that's only because the opponent messes up on the serve. Instead, control the serve, and then look to attack. Control the serve doesn't mean just pushing the ball; if you can loop it, or topspin it from over the table, do so, but focus on spin and control, not speed.

Once in the rally, find the weaker player's weaker side and go after it every chance. Move the ball around, but do so mostly to pull the opponent out of position so you can go after the weaker side. Focus on steady aggressive shots rather than risky point-winners, but be ready to pounce on the many weak balls you'll probably get.

If there's something the weaker player does in rallies that gives you trouble, and it's something you can't avoid getting, then play into it early to get used to it. For example, when I play a shakehands player with short pips on the backhand, I like to go straight backhand to backhand early on to get used to the pips. Once I'm comfortable with that I start moving the ball around, often attacking the middle. (Shakehand players with short pips are notoriously weak in the middle - they generally try to play quick off the bounce, so have little time to react to the middle, and their pips don't have the extra rebounding effect of inverted, meaning they have to stroke more with less time to cover the middle.)

So the key to beating lower players consistently is to serve and attack, but not over-attack; and control the receive to get into a neutral rally, and then get the attack.

One last thought - do you want to know the opponent's rating or level in advance? Most players do, but it often messes them up if the rating isn't accurate. I also like to know an opponent's rating, but I'm quick to put it aside if they can handle my serve, if I can't neutralize them on their serve, or if they are strong ralliers. Many players are more successful by not knowing an opponent's rating, and simply playing their game. I generally consider anyone rated within 300 rating points of me as a "threat," and even if they aren't a serious threat, a primary reason why they are not a threat is because I treat them as a threat.

Ariel & Lily on TV

Here's TV coverage of Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:22), the U.S. women's singles champion and finalist and the top two junior girls in the U.S. as well. 

Tribute to Jean-Michel Saive

Here's a tribute video to Saive (11:30), one of the all-time greats and former #1 in the world. He's one of the most spectacular players ever, with his combination of all-out forehand looping and off-table lobbing and fishing, as well as his one of the more livelier players between points.

Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Vol. 12

Tim suggested this one. It's not exactly table tennis, but there are human skulls! It's about Dr. Michael Scott's 1983 travels in Northern Borneo.

Here’s USTTA Sports Medicine Chair Dr. Michael Scott (SPIN, Dec., 1983, 18) to tell us about some of his recent travels to places where U.S. players and officials are normally not seen:

Among the most fascinating of my world travel experiences was a visit with the Dyak headhunters of Northern Borneo. To reach them [what in the hell did you want to reach them for?—you were gonna teach them ping-pong, lecture them on the dangers of melanoma? (“Let me see your scalp, your neck, please?”] I had to be flown in by plane and then take a lengthy river trip in a small outboard boat.

When the 'Headman' welcomes you to the longhouse (communal dwelling), shoes are removed upon entering the covered porch, and tan woven mats are spread on its spotless hardwood floor. Inhabitants and guests gather in a ten-foot circle sitting cross-legged. While seated in this circle, I glanced up and observed numerous human skulls dangling from the porch’s ceiling. They were suspended by a short rattan cord that entered through a small hole drilled in the vertex of the skull. Elderly men were tattooed, many even on the anterior aspect of their throat. The location of the tattoo was significant—for example, neck tattoos indicate the tribesman did the capitation himself. Fortunately, the last known incident occurred in the 1960’s.

When I ran out of gifts, I presented one Dyak Headman an embroiderd USTTA emblem. He was totally perplexed as to what it was or what he was to do with it. He turned it sideways, upside down, flipped it over, and still could not determine a use for it. {Not a good idea to frustrate him, do you think?] Another Dyak finally took it and placed it against the Headman’s T-shirt. I’m certain he’s the only headhunter with an official USTTA emblem.”

Perkins the Cat

He/she just wants the ball, and gets the net instead (0:17).

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March 6, 2012

Muscling the ball when forehand looping

Several players I coach use too much arm when they loop. Looping is a full-body shot, where you use your legs, waist, shoulders, arm, forearm, and wrist for power. However, the sequence is important - always from bottom to top, large muscles to small muscles. Players who use too much arm and forearm try to muscle the ball with those muscles instead of using the legs, waist, and shoulder rotation to power the ball with their body weight and large muscles.

One cure is to essentially make your playing arm and upper body rigid early in the stroke, forcing you to use your lower-body muscles. Those larger muscles will throw your upper body and arm into the shot like a whip, and then you can relax the upper body and let it go naturally.

Another way to fix this problem is to focus on taking the ball in the back of the forehand hitting zone, in front of your back leg. This forces you to keep the arm back rather than use it early in the stroke. If you stroke with the arm muscles too early, you'll contact the ball more in front of you.

Probably the best cure for this, and most other stroke problems, is to 1) watch videos of top players doing it so you can get a visual image of proper technique; 2) work with a coach; and 3) practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

Jim Butler vs. Ariel Hsing

Yes, THAT Jim Butler, the three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and Hall of Famer, who stopped playing tournaments in 2003, but is playing again at age 41. And THAT Ariel Hsing, the 16-year-old U.S. Women's Singles Champion. The two played in the quarterfinals of the Northridge Open in a classic match-up. Jim still has great serves and a great backhand, while Ariel is unbelievably quick. Winning 13-11 in the seventh was . . . Ariel. Here's the video (20:20).

Get Your Game Face On

Here's Dora Kurimay talking about her new eBook on sports psychology for table tennis, "Get Your Game Face On." I plan to read this pretty soon - I've already downloaded it ($4.99).

Sol Schiff Retrospective

Here's a two-part retrospective on Schiff by Dean Johnson and Tim Boggan.

Most Congenial!

Here's a quote from Timmy's North American Table Tennis Magazine, Nov/Dec, 1983, and reprinted in Tim Boggan's upcoming History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12. It's about a two-week training camp held in Baltimore. Here's the last paragraph, with the most important parts in bold!

At the end of each week a tournament was held and Awards given. First Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Larry Hodges. 2. Kit Jeerapaet. “B” Group: 1. Dennis Hwang. 2. Steve Kong. Doubles: Manfred Wilke/Kong. Best Footwork: Hwang. Sportsman Award: Ben Ebert. Most Improved: Wilke. Most Congenial: (tie) Steven Olsen, Becky Martin, and Ebert. Second Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Hodges. 2. Dave Babcock. “B” Group: 1. Ebert. 2. Hwang. Best Footwork: Stephanie Fox. Sportsman Award: Robert Natale. Most Improved: Martin. Most Congenial: Hodges.

The Yankee versus the Comedian

Here's a hilarious video challenge match (4:43) between New York Yankees baseball player Nick Swisher (a penholder!) and comedian KevJumba.

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February 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Opening Up the Forehand Zone.

Opening Up the Forehand Zone, Part II

The following happened on Saturday night - and I swear it happened after I wrote this week's Tip of the Week. (And now you know what I do on Saturday nights.)

I had a new student, around age 40, with some serious technique problems. His level was somewhere under 1000 in USATT ratings. He'd had a few lessons before at another club, but things hadn't gone well there. As soon as we started hitting forehand to forehand, you could see he had a serious problem with his grip, which seemed to lead to an awkward forehand. His finger pointed upward on the blade, his wrist fell backward, and he more or less punched at the ball in front of him instead of from the side. The obvious and easiest solution was to fix his grip, and then work on the stroke. And that's exactly what others had tried to get him to do. It hadn't worked.

At the USATT coaching seminar I taught last year I regularly harped on the idea of fixing the root cause of problems, not the symptoms. And that's what others had tried to do - the grip wasn't the cause of his problems, it was a symptom of the root cause, which was that he was playing his forehand with a backhand stance, feet parallel to the table, with little waist or shoulder rotation. He was only using about the front one-fourth of his forehand hitting zone, while facing forward. This forced him to adjust his grip to compensate. It took only a few minutes to fix the problem in practice: move the right (back) foot back some, rotate the waist and shoulders, and contact the ball toward the middle of the hitting zone. The key was to start out by hitting forehand to forehand very slowly, focusing on proper technique and timing, until the stroke became ingrained enough to speed up some.

The player still has a lot of practice to do in order to ingrain this new and better forehand technique. If he puts in the time, his stroke will be fine.

Happy Birthday to Sheeba and Me

Today's my 52nd birthday, so people can no longer say I'm not playing with a full deck. (It's also Chelsea Clinton's 32nd birthday. We always go out together and celebrate with root beers.) It's also Sheeba's 78th birthday. Okay, Sheeba is my dog, about 3/4 corgi, 1/4 some sort of hound, and she's actually only 14, though we only know that she was born in February of 1998 (that's from the form about her when I adopted her from a shelter in 2002 when she was four) , but we celebrate it on my birthday. According to the Dog Age Calculator, as a 30 pound dog, she's 78. Here's her picture (from a few years ago, but she looks almost the same), and here she is straining to eat bacon snacks.

Arm problems

With age comes physical problems. Or perhaps they aren't related. My arm has been bothering me for several days, and sometime during yesterday's mornings three hours of coaching it got much worse. That afternoon I was playing matches in a group session (where I'm a practice partner), and had to stop. The injury appears to be a muscle strain, on the forearm, just below the inner elbow, on the right. Here's a picture, with a black dot marking the injury. Any doctors, trainers, or others with suggestions on rehabbing it, other than rest and icing it?

USATT Paralympic Program Manager

USATT has hired Jasna Reed as the Para Program Manager for 2012, a new USATT position. Jasna, two-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion, Olympic Bronze Medalist in Women's Doubles, and head table tennis coach at Texas Wesleyan University, has extensive experience in Paralympic table tennis. Here's an interview I did with Jasna back in 2001, with picture.

2012 USA Table Tennis Budget

Here it is: Income Statement Summary | Income Statement Detail | Programmatic Summary

Table Tennis in New York Times

Here's an article in the New York Times on Saturday on Ariel Hsing's Olympic dreams.

Interview with Jorg Rosskopf

German great Jorg Rosskopf was interviewed just yesterday as he prepares for the 2012 Worlds.

2012 Kuwait Open Final

Jun Mizutani (JPN) defeats Ryu Seung Min (KOR) in the Kuwait Open Final on Feb. 18, 2012. Time between points is taken out, so it's non-stop action with the whole match shown in 6:37. Here are results and articles on the tournament.

Hilarious exhibition

Here's an exhibition between Jean-Michel Saive (on left at start) and Andrzej Grubba at the 1996 Gilbert Cup in Beverly Hills (7:36).

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February 17, 2012

Developing a smash

At the highest levels, many top players don't even bother to smash - even if the ball is eye-level high, they loop. However, for most players, a smash is a must. Here are some keys to developing a good smash, forehand or backhand.

First, get some coaching or watch the top players. Here's a tutorial from PingSkills (3:58) on the forehand smash, and here's Tahl Leibovitz demonstrating the backhand smash (1:35). It's still best to work with a coach who can figure out and fix any flaws in your technique.

Second, practice. Here are two of the best smashing drills.

  • Hard-Soft Drill. This really should be called the Hard-Medium Drill. Your partner blocks while you alternate hitting a medium drive and then a smash. As long as you keep the ball to the same spot, your partner should be able to return many of your smashes, with practice. A variation is to hit two medium drives and then a smash. This allows you to focus more on technique with the two drives. You can do this forehand or backhand.
  • Loop and smash drill. You serve backspin to your partner's backhand, your partner pushes it back to the middle of the table, you loop to his backhand, he blocks to your forehand, you smash, then play out the point. The key here is to lower the shoulder for the loop, but keep it up for the smash. After looping, many players drop the shoulder on the next shot, and their smash will almost always go off. (Here's a short article on the topic.) There are numerous versions of this drill:
    • You can start by serving to the backhand, forehand, or middle;
    • Your partner can push to any pre-set spot on the table - forehand, backhand, middle, or even add some randomness by having the push go anywhere on the forehand or anywhere on the backhand side.
    • You can loop to your partner's forehand instead of his backhand. But to keep the rally going consistently, your first loop should go to the same spot each time.
    • Your partner blocks to another place on the table, and you move there to smash.
    • You can do this drill on the backhand side, with a backhand loop followed by a backhand smash, both from the backhand side.

Third, use the smash in games. If you don't, you won't learn to use the shot in a real match. Find ways to set it up, with serves, loops, aggressive backhands, etc. (A longer version of this may end up as a Tip of the Week.)

Ariel Hsing in USA Today

And here's the article.

Playing a forehand from the backhand side

Here's a short video from PingSkills (1:31) on playing the forehand from the backhand side.

Free hand position

Here's another short video from PingSkills (1:43), this one on the free hand position.

Pong Beer

Yes, you can now buy a 30-pack of beer with ping-pong balls included. Here's the article in Business Insider. Pong Beer's big product pitch is the Rack Pack, which is a 30-pack that comes with two pong balls. And while we're at it, here are 3:42 of the most epic beer pong shots you'll ever see.

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February 14, 2012

Tip of the Week

Those Dizzying No-Spin Serves.

Happy Valentines Day!

Here's your Ping-Pong Champion Valentine!

Results for U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials

Here are the Final Twelve results for Men and Women. (The top ten men and women were seeded into the Final Twelve, with a Qualifier held for the final two spots in each. Here's the Men's Qualifier and the Women's Qualifier.) The top four made the U.S. National Team and advance to the North American Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, April 20-22, where they will compete against the top four Canadians for the three available spots each for men and women. Making the team and advancing were:

Men: Michael Landers, Barney Reed, Adam Hugh, Timothy Wang
Women: Gao Jun, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu

U.S. Olympic Trials News

Here's a rundown of my four days at the Trials, where I coached John Hsu in the Qualifier and Han Xiao in the Final Twelve.

  • John Hsu's (18 years old, rated 2236) first match on Thursday was against Brian Pace (rated 2410). Brian, who spent years in the 2550 range, was staging a comeback, and had been training in Austria. John's a two-winged looper who often opens with spinny backhand loops. Brian, who had switched to short pips on his backhand a while ago (he used to use inverted) is a big forehand looper whose loops prove ping-pong balls can travel faster than light. John moved him around with his two-winged looping, and often took control with his serve and follows, but Brian's "opportunistic" forehand howitzers (opportunistic as in any ball that went long on his side of the table) finally wore him down - barely. Down 6-10 in the seventh, John deuced it, but lost the next two points and the match, -3,9,-8,7,-7,7,10.
  • Han Xiao, alas, also did not make the team, going 6-5 to finish seventh. He was hampered on the last day by a shoulder problem as well as general exhaustion, which everyone seemed to suffer from, so it sort of evened things out. Razvan Cretu said he thought he was going to die during several matches - I think he died a thousand deaths. It's a grueling schedule to play table tennis at the highest level and go through eleven matches in three days, all best 4 out of 7. It was even worse for Razvan, who had to go through the Qualifier the day before. (Perhaps next time have the Qualifier at the Nationals?)
  • Going into the last round, there was a good chance that there would be a five-way tie for the first five positions, all at 8-3. If Han had won his last two matches that's exactly what would have happened. However, after going up 3-0 on Adam Hugh, he lost in seven, and then lost to Michael Landers 4-2. If he'd won those two (coulda, woulda, shoulda) then Han, Landers, Timothy Wang, Barney Reed, and Peter Li would have all been 8-3. (If Adam had won his last match against Timothy, then he would have been the fifth player at 8-3.)
  • I felt uncomfortable coaching against Peter Li, since he was from my club, and I've spent many hours practicing with him, and coached him in many matches during his junior years. However, his dad wanted to coach him that match, so I had to coach Han. In a rematch of the Final of Men's Singles at the USA Nationals in December, Peter won again, 8,-9,9,-2,3,9. Peter had a lot of service faults called against him in the tournament, alas. He tends to throw the ball back and behind his head on his forehand pendulum serves (his best serve), and seemed unable to adjust his service motion. It probably cost him his last match against Mark Hazinski, and he finished fifth and did not make the team or advance. However, I believe there is a coach's pick for the fifth spot on the World Team, and it would be a crime against humanity if Peter, the U.S. National Champion at age 18, is not selected.
  • Grant Li, age 17, was sort of the unsung breakout star at the Trials. Though he only finished 8th, he challenged a lot of players, with wins over Barney Reed, Razvan Cretu, Lubovic Gombos, and Chance Friend, as well as losing 11-9 in the 7th against Han Xiao (leading 9-7 in the last game), going seven games with Michael Landers, and getting two games each against Fan Yiyong and Timothy Wang. He made it through the Qualifier with wins over Jeff Huang and De Tran, the second and third seeds there, both 2500 players.
  • One spectator had brought a very loud noisemaker, and played it over and over when the player he was rooting for won a point.
    • In Han's match against that player, the spectator with the noisemaker sat almost directly behind me, so I was stuck with this blaring sound every couple of points. It gave me a massive headache. There's a difference between a bunch of people with noisemakers in a stands of thousand of people, and a sometimes sparse crowd with one person with such a loud noisemaker. But to each his own.
    • After the match I spoke with the spectator, and pointed out that though they have these things at the World Championships, there the sound blends into the noise from thousands of people in the stands, plus they are much farther from the playing area. In the match against Han, there were only a few dozen in the stands. (In later rounds the stands would fill up with many hundreds.) So the blaring was a real nuisance. However, the spectator insisted on using it throughout the Trials, and I decided not to make an issue of it. The headache never went away - I literally had it the rest of the Trials.
    • There was some discussion of it in the players' lounge, where the consensus was that it was irritating, but to just ignore it. I also sometimes saw something I had seen at the Worlds - a sort of bubble would form around the noise-making spectator as others edged away so as not to have their ears blasted. One elderly spectator complained about it to one of the officials, but was shrugged off. He returned to the stands and sat as far away from the noisemaker as possible.
    • I was disappointed that the spectator didn't care that he was giving me (and presumably others) a massive headache, and that the blaring interrupted the other matches that were going on at that time. His argument was that he was there to cheer on his player. I disagree with his view, but understand it. Ultimately, this was a difference of opinion. (But I'm the one who had to spend three days with a percussion orchestra pounding away in my head.)
    • Unfortunately, the player he was rooting for overheard this and came over and went on a personal attack tirade that I won't repeat here. Not a civilized response. The spectator and I disagreed, but didn't resort to personal attacks. This player did, and was way out of line. 
    • Maybe at the next Trials I'll bring a jackhammer to play between points. :)

Yahoo for Ariel!

Here's an article at Yahoo about U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing and her Olympic hopes.

173 hits in 60 seconds

12-year-old Ai Fukuhara sets the record for most hits in 60 seconds. This is from the TV show "Ultimate Guinness World Records from a few years ago. She is now #9 in the world, and was #7 for two months last year. Here's a more recent photo, and her Wikipedia page.

Lemonade or Tea?

Here's a Snapples commercial that features table tennis.

Swing Pong

How's this for a new type of table tennis (1:01)? The Swing Pong table is a radical take on ping pong. The table tilts at the whim of the referee, the net moves across the table based on the score as to give the losing player an advantage, and photo flashes blind the players through the table.

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December 30, 2011

MDTTC Christmas Camp

Yesterday at the MDTTC Christmas Camp the focus was on backhand attack. That meant lots of backhand smashes, backhand drives and flips against backspin, and backhand loops. I was amazed at how fast some of the "beginner" kids picked up the backhand loop. The old paradigm that you have to be relatively advanced before you can backhand loop has been wrong for many years, and yet it still plagues many junior players whose old-fashioned coaches hold back on teaching this shot, thereby handicapping their games. My general rule of thumb is as soon as the kid can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands with a good stroke he's ready to learn to loop.

This reminds me of a Junior Olympics many years ago where a full-time professional coach from another region was admiring the level of play of the Maryland juniors. She was amazed at how well some of our kids in the 10-year-old range could loop, and commented, "None of my students that age are good enough to learn to loop yet." As she explained, she thought it was assumed a kid needed to be at least 1500 before he should be taught to loop. Yikes!!!

Once again I gave out lots and lots of chocolates in a game where the players had to hit a bottle to win one. My chocolate supply is making me very popular.

Entries at USA Nationals

We now have the entry totals for the USA Nationals - and it ain't particularly pretty. (The ratings for both the North American Teams and the USA Nationals were processed last night.)

Using the USATT ratings database, there were 502 players at the 2011 USA Nationals in Virginia Beach who played in rated events. (Players who only entered doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper are not included in these totals.) This is by far the lowest total in the ratings histories, which start in 1994, with the next lowest the 592 in 1998, and 27% down from last year's 686, and way down from the 829 and 837 in 2005-2006. Other than the 1986 Nationals in Pittsburgh (where I believe there were less than 400 entries), I believe this is the lowest turnout ever for a USA Nationals since the first one in 1976. (I'm not including U.S. Opens, which were sometimes referred to as the USA Nationals before the first "official" one in 1976.) It also pales by comparison to the totals for the North American Teams, which had 767 players. Of course, the reality is that neither of these are large totals. There were two U.S. Opens in the mid-1970s that had over 1000 entries, in Houston and Oklahoma City.

I've put together a graph showing the annual totals for the USA Nationals starting in 1994. (Other than 1986 in Pittsburgh and one year in Anaheim in the last 1980s, I believe it's been held in Las Vegas every year.) I also put together one for the U.S. Open.

Some will immediately conclude that the problem was the location - Virginia Beach. This is basically correct. Putting the Nationals at a "vacation" area like Las Vegas automatically attracts players. But as proven by the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids in 2010 (645 entries, versus 610 the year before in Las Vegas), you can attract players to non-vacation lands. I had an email exchange with the Grand Rapids organizers about a year before the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids where I gave numerous recommendations on how to get entries, and they did use many of those methods, whether on their own or because of my email. (Maybe sometime later I'll publish the entire list.)

I have some experience in this, which is why I was contacted by the Grand Rapids people. While I've run about 150 tournaments, I've run only one 4-star tournament, the 1998 Eastern Open in Baltimore. It received 411 entries - 359 in rated events, the rest in doubles events or paid no-shows - which I believe is still the record for most entries in a 4-star event (other than the North American Teams, which for some silly reason, is still listed as a 4-star). I promoted the heck out of that tournament, as did Richard Lee and others who put it together. 

How did we get so many entries at the 1998 Easterns? By promoting the tournament to potential players. I'm sure the tournament committee for the 2011 Nationals also worked like crazy to get entries, but they didn't seem to have any experience in doing this, and didn't seem to consult with those who did. For example, there are a huge number of players in neighboring Maryland, including the Maryland Table Tennis Center, my home club, with a 200+ membership. I don't recall a single mailing or any other serious contact made with MDTTC to attract players. There also was no personal invitation to enter the tournament by "names," as Grand Rapids did with Dell and Connie Sweeris. Get a Sweeris, Seemiller, or similar "name," send out a personal invitation to enter the tournament from them (focusing on regions within driving distance, and flooding the local regional clubs with flyers), and use other successful methods  to promote the tournament (I won't elaborate here, maybe later), and you'll be surprised at how many entries you can get.

I really believe they can get 700+ entries in Virginia Beach if they promote the heck out of the tournament using the successful methods others have used. On the other hand, if they did the same in Las Vegas, they might get 1000. Heck, if Houston and Oklahoma City can get over 1000, why can't Virginia Beach or just about any other location that promotes the tournament properly?

Here are the entry totals for the Nationals, 1994-2011.

USA Nationals

  • 2011: 502        Virginia Beach
  • 2010: 686        Las Vegas
  • 2009: 597        Las Vegas
  • 2008: 604        Las Vegas
  • 2007: 730        Las Vegas
  • 2006: 837        Las Vegas
  • 2005: 829        Las Vegas
  • 2004: 755        Las Vegas
  • 2003: 707        Las Vegas
  • 2002: 678        Las Vegas
  • 2001: 672        Las Vegas
  • 2000: 686        Las Vegas
  • 1999: 658        Las Vegas
  • 1998: 592        Las Vegas
  • 1997: 650        Las Vegas
  • 1996: 613        Las Vegas
  • 1995: 660        Las Vegas
  • 1994: 598        Las Vegas

USA Nationals Videos

You can now watch just about every major match from the 2011 USA Nationals!

Mission Impossible: Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang

Here's a photo montage to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:46), set to the theme music of Mission Impossible, who just played each other in the Women's Singles Final at the USA Nationals for the second year in a row, and now have their eyes set on the 2012 Olympics.

One-Year-Olds Forehand

Here's actual footage (1:21) of the 2028 U.S. Women's Singles Champion, currently one year old. (I believe its Samson Dubina's daughter - that's him "coaching" her.)

Topspin Charity Ping-Pong and Baron Davis

Here's a humorous video (3:14) of Baron Davis of the Cleveland Cavaliers promoting the Topspin Ping-Pong Charity Tournament. Here's more info on the event.

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November 21, 2011

Tip of the Week

Remember the Good Shots.

Rushing the quicker player

It's tough playing a quicker player who bangs every shot before while you're still following through on your previous shot. But a lot of players don't understand that on the first shot of the rally, especially on your serve, you can rush the quicker player. It just comes down to setting yourself up for a shot you can attack quickly, before the quick opponent can get into a quick rally. If you place your first quick attack well, the quicker player will have great difficulty and won't be able to rush you - and you'll get a second shot to attack.

For example, I like to serve fast no-spin at the receiver's elbow. This often forces a weaker topspin return - but more importantly, it draws the receiver out of position, especially if he returns it backhand. (For that reason, I tend to serve it slightly to the backhand side, though a forehand also draws the player out of position.) Once the player is drawn out of position, it's just a matter of you attacking that ball quickly to an open corner.

Another way is to serve short side-top to the forehand. Many players have trouble attacking this ball, and so you tend to get a softer return you can attack quickly - and while the opponent is drawn over the table reaching for that short ball to the forehand. Or serve a breaking sidespin serve deep to the backhand - many players will take this ball late and essentially roll it back, allowing you to go for the first quick, aggressive shot.

Of course, the best way to overcome a quicker player is to keep the ball deep, attack his elbow and wide corners, and focus on making consistent, strong shots. 

Trials and Tribulations

After a month of playing great (due to extra practice, weight training, and stretching), over the last week I've been feeling progressively stiffer, especially in the upper back. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, it just happens. Exercising and stretching only help it marginally. Unfortunately, this is causing havoc to my forehand attacking game in practice matches. After a month of feeling like I had the speed of a meteor, now I'm feeling a bit more like a meteorite. Dan Seemiller told me this used to happen to him as well as he got older, that there were times he just couldn't play, and who am I to disagree with him? Anyway, I'm not playing terrible, just not nearly as well as before. I can still pretty much go through "lower players," but I'm not challenging stronger, faster players (i.e. our top juniors) so much anymore. Hopefully it'll come back. I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams next weekend (Fri-Sun), and fortunately the players have to do the playing; I don't.

Video Coaching

I'm off this morning for another two-hour video coaching session. We're not only watching the player I'm coaching, but other possible opponents as well. Top players, if you feel a cold tingle going down your spine, we're watching you.

USA Interviews at the World Junior Championships

Modern Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Why a simple game holds the key to world peace. (From the English newspaper The Independent.)

How to Practice Without a Serious Practice Partner

Coach Tao of Table Tennis University explains how to practice while playing games (4:58).

Non-Table Tennis - "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination" anthology

I recently submitted three stories to "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination," a science fiction and fantasy anthology put out by the famous editor Warren Lapine. They are literally the highest paying SF/fantasy anthology, and received well over 1000 submissions. All three of my stories made the final 40! (They expect to pick only about 20.) Here's what Warren wrote about my stories: "Larry, your stories were passed up to me by three different first readers in one night. I think that's a record." One of the assistant editors wrote, "Larry, I spent the last section of this evening wishing I had been first reader on one of your stories! Even if you don't make it into Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, know that you impressed a multitude of readers, writers, and editors, with myriad tastes." Okay, I'm ready to write some more stories! (Meanwhile, they plan to announce the final selections by Wednesday.) (Don't worry, I won't quit my day job, I mean my mostly night job, which is table tennis.)

Behind-the-back winner

Here's Liam Pitchford (English #1 player in men's and juniors) hitting a behind-the-back winner at the World Junior Championships last week. Notice how nonchalant he is about it? This reminds me of the best shot I ever saw in table tennis, also from an English junior. In the late 1980s, an English junior star trained for a week or so with the top USA juniors at the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While playing a match with Chi-Ming Chui (Chi-Sun's older brother), he mis-hit a serve almost straight up. Chi-Ming pulverized the shot. The English junior, seeing he was about to be creamed with the ball, turned his back, and without looking, jumped into the air and made a backhand, over-the-head, no-look counter-smash as the ball was rising from the table! He was as surprised as anyone watching - he had no idea he'd actually make the shot.

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October 21, 2011

Looping versus Hitting

The advantage goes to looping, at least at the higher levels. But everyone's different, and below world-class levels there are many hitters who eat loopers for breakfast. 

The advantages of looping versus hitting

  1. The extreme topspin in a loop pulls the ball down, so you can keep the ball in play at high speeds and effectively attack even low balls.
  2. The topspin makes the ball bounce low and fast on the table, making it hard for the opponent to handle it.
  3. The topspin jumps up off the opponent's racket, making it tricky to keep on the table and low.
  4. Because you can loop the ball on the drop, you have more time to get into position for the shot, and so can loop over and over more easily than hitting over and over.
  5. A looper can often turn a hitter into a blocker.
  6. Because the ball jumps off the table and then sails downward, it's difficult to block or counter a loop effectively from off the table unless you are advanced enough to counterloop. To make an effective return, you generally have to stay at the table and block the ball off the bounce. Against a fast incoming ball, you have little time to react. Against a hitter, you can take a half step back to give yourself more time. Against a looper, that rarely works.

The advantages of hitting versus looping

  1. It's a quicker stroke.
  2. It's easier to learn.
  3. A hitter can often turn a looper into a lobber.
  4. You can generally create more speed since all of your power is going into speed.

The 2011 U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Inductees

They are (and this link includes bios) . . . drum roll please . . . Quang Bui, Jim Butler, Jasna Rather (players); Jim McQueen (contributor); and Mal Anderson is the Mark Mathews Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. Here's a listing of the current U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

Table Tennis at the Pan Am Games

Here are the table tennis results from the just completed Pan Am Games. Here are some articles. USA finished with three bronzes, in Women's Team (Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu), with Ariel and Lily each getting bronze medals in Women's Singles. Mo Zhang of Canada won the gold medal for Women's Singles. Here are more detailed USA results.

Table Tennis News Video

Pongcast brings you the table tennis news, putting together this video (26:53) on the latest table tennis news. After a rather long one-minute intro, they talk about the sport, starting with a video of Susan Sarandon playing at the Spin Club in New York City, then go on to table tennis robots, the new "hyperbolic" serve, news from Europe, and other news.

ITTF Coaches in the USA

All fourteen of the coaches from the ITTF seminar I ran in April are now certified. They are (in alphabetic order): Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), John Hsu (MD), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD), David Varkey (PA), and Shaobo "Bob" Zhu (PA). Overall, there are now 44 USA coaches who are ITTF certified. Here is the ITTF coaches database; put in "USA" and you'll see the complete list for USA.

Group Coaching for Kids

This morning I'm off to coach a new group of about 20 new kids coming to the Maryland Table Tennis Center. They are from a local Optimal Learning Center. I'm going to start off with an exhibition, then go over a few basics, then introduce them to ball bouncing on the racket and various table tennis relay races. Then it'll on to the tables.

Entries at the USA Nationals

Currently there are 374 entries listed in the online listing. (You can search by name or event.) However, there are undoubtedly numerous entries not yet entered into the database or entering late, so I expect a bunch more, though it'll probably be a low turnout since, let's face it, Virginia Beach is not a "vacationland" like Las Vegas.

Here's a graph of the number of entries we've received at the Nationals each year going back to 1994, when the info first went online. (These numbers are from the USATT ratings database and only include players who played in rated events; they do not include players who only played doubles or hardbat.)  It was held in Las Vegas in each of these years. As you can see, we've regressed badly since 2006, though we had an uptick last year. It'd be nice if we could get back to where we were five years ago. Below are the actual numbers, though I think the graph shows it better.

  • 2011: ?
  • 2010: 686
  • 2009: 597
  • 2008: 604
  • 2007: 730
  • 2006: 837 record high
  • 2005: 829
  • 2004: 755
  • 2003: 707
  • 2002: 678
  • 2001: 672
  • 2000: 686
  • 1999: 658
  • 1998: 592
  • 1997: 650
  • 1996: 613
  • 1995: 660
  • 1994: 598

Photos of the Day in the Wall Street Journal

See photo #2!

This is not where the ball is supposed to go

Here are seven seconds of someone spitting a ball at a wall and catching it in his mouth.

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July 20, 2011

Varied serves

Have you been practicing your serves? (Yes, I like to ask this question on my blog every couple of weeks or so, which should indicate its importance.) At any time, can you (or your students) serve short or long, with sidespin going either way, with backspin or topspin, or with no-spin, to all parts of the table? Can you disguise these spins? Can you also serve fast and deep with varied spin (or no-spin) to the corners and middle? If the answer to any of this is no, get practicing!

Table tennis training tools

Yesterday I used two table tennis training tools in our MDTTC training camp. First, there was the ball spinning device for teaching a player to loop. (I think I wrote about this briefly in a previous blog.) It basically consists of a ball that spins freely on top of a short pole that attaches to the table with a suction cup. The player can then practice spinning the ball. If they mishit, the ball has a spring mechanism so it can bend forward instead of breaking the device. The kids had a great time with it, and learned to spin the ball. I bought the device at the U.S. Open from Newgy Table Tennis, who had gotten it from Masir Table Tennis in China, but I couldn't find it anywhere on either web site. (If you can read Chinese, take a look at the Masir site and see if you can find it so I can link to it in another blog - you'll get credit here for finding it!)

The second tool was a serving height device made by local player and coach John Olsen. It consisted of two adjustable height brackets, one on each side of the net (by the net brackets), and a pole that you balanced between them over the net. (Sorry, no picture - maybe later.) Since the brackets are adjustable, you can move the pole up or down. Then you challenge the players to serve so the ball goes between the net and the pole, i.e. they learn to serve low. I demonstrated the device on its lowest setting, where you had to serve with the ball within about half an inch or so of the net to get it through. I was going to raise it for the beginning/intermediate players, but they protested as a group - they all wanted to try the lowest setting. I said sure, be my guest, figuring none would be able to do it but that they needed to learn the hard way how hard it was to serve at that setting. Oh boy, was I wrong! While none could do it consistently, nearly all managed to do it several times. I plan to use the device again in the camp, at a higher setting, this time with the players hitting forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, and see if they can do that. No chance, right? We'll see.

A third "device" was a bunch of paper cups. I put ten on the table and the kids take turns getting ten shots at knocking them down. (I feed them the ten shots multiball style.) I've written about this before, but it's rapidly become the most popular game in our camps, even though the players spend much of the time waiting for their turn. Ideally, I should bring in more cups and teach the kids to feed the balls to each other so they can all do this.

Disney's Ariel

Here's U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing on a Disney TV commercial! (2:50) No, not this Ariel - this Ariel! Explained Rajul Sheth from ICC Table Tennis, "They've aired it since Sept 2010. It was done during 2010 ICC summer camps when Stellan was one of our visiting head coaches." (I was a visiting coach at ICC in 2009, so I missed being in the commercial, dang.)

Seeing doctor today

As I've noted a few times in my blog, I'm having major upper back problems. It is getting more and more painful to rotate for forehand shots, especially forehand loops and my forehand pendulum serve (which I use 90% of the time when I serve), as well as regular serves. It also hurts when feeding backspin in multiball, where I have to dig into the ball, though feeding topspin doesn't affect it much. (And I'm feeding multiball several hours a day right now in our training camp.) I saw a doctor a week ago and he thought I probably have two discs rubbing against each other, and referred me to an orthopedist, who I'm seeing this afternoon. Hopefully he'll figure out what exactly what the problem is and cure it by tonight, and all will be well.

Ironically, when I woke up this morning my neck was in pain, and as I type this, I can barely move my head. I think I slept on it wrong. I'm also having some knee problems. With this trio of inconveniences, this is going to be a fun day!!! (How does one get through such a day? I've resolved to have pepperoni pizza from Little Caesars tonight for dinner. Whenever my back/neck/knees remind me of what it's like to be dipped in a bed of lava, I'll just think about that pizza.)

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June 22, 2011

Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun practice session

Had a fascinating time watching these two train together yesterday as they prepare for the U.S. Open. Sun (rated 2730) is here for much of the summer, and is seeded fourth in Men's Singles at the Open (which starts in about a week), while Jeffrey (2612) is almost the same level - he's way out of practice, as he lamented during his first serious practice session in some time. (That's what happens to players who become coaches.) They spent most of the session taking turns feeding multiball to each other. How many of you do that, as opposed to just hitting?

Sun Ting ("Sun King"?) is a lefty with short pips on the backhand. He's basically a put-away machine on both sides. He's one of those players who absolutely rips his forehand. His backhand is like Shao Yu's, a top New York player also with a great pips-out backhand smash. Together, there's no safe place to put the ball. Add in great serves, and you see why the 2730 rating is probably way too low. The rating actually comes from playing in the North American Teams back in 1999 - when he was 15! He's now 27, and I'm told considerably better.

Jeffrey's loops aren't quite as punishing, but he's very steady, and has a nice backhand loop. He controls play with a great receive game. He won his last two tournaments, the Cary Cup and the Eastern Open, but since he's basically been coaching the last year or so without training, we haven't seen his best yet. During the training session, he was a bit disgusted with himself because he was winded several times. When he looked over at me one time after doing several minutes of an extremely fast footwork drill, I jokingly jogged in place and pointed at him, and he nodded. I think he's doing some serious physical training to get ready for the Open.

We're in the middle of a training camp here at MDTTC; during the camp, Sun took juniors John and Nathan Hsu (both about 2200 players) and put them through some serious drills. Watching this and watching Sun and Jeffrey train tired me out.

Are you missing an ingredient?

Here's something I wrote in a comment recently, and thought I'd repeat it here. It's amazing to me how many players never learn the joys of chopping. Personally, I find that if you don't use all of the major attacking shots (FH and BH looping and smashing) and all of the major defensive shots (chopping, blocking, lobbing, fishing), and a sampling of everything else, table tennis is like fine food that's missing an ingredient.

Feature on Ariel Hsing and Michael Landers

Yes, the documentary is coming! I'm proud to say that Michael came to four of our training camps in Maryland when he was about 12 or 13, and I had the opportunity to work with him with lots of multiball training. And I once proudly lost a "clipboard" challenge to Ariel, where I used a clipboard for a racket, and she showed me the advantage of sponge! (Prepare for some controversy - the documentary calls Ariel the youngest U.S. Women's Champion ever - she won in Dec. 2010 at age 15 - which many will contest since Patty Martinez was the U.S. Open Women's Singles Champion in 1965 at age 13, in the days before we had a USA Nationals, and the Open champion was considered the U.S. Champion. Ariel is, of course, the youngest to win Women's Singles at the USA Nationals since its debut in 1976.)

Will Shortz, Robert Roberts, and the Westchester Table Tennis Center

New York Times columnist and table tennis addict Will Shortz (and an 1800 player) and Caribbean champion and 2500+ player Robert Roberts have combined forces to open the full-time 13,000-foot Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, New York. Here's an 18-minute video that chronicles their odyssey from idea to fruition. Here's an article about it.

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