Nathan Hsu

July 6, 2012

U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4

I returned from the U.S. Open late on Wednesday night, took Thursday off, and now I'm back to blogging, coaching, and writing. How did I spend Thursday? Glad you asked! Saw both the new Spider-Man and Teddy movies. Both were very good. Teddy definitely deserved its R rating - most of my table tennis students aren't going to be seeing this for a while. (About thirty minutes into the movie a woman left the theatre with her roughly five-year-old son - what was she thinking? Probably thought "Teddy" sounded cute and didn't see the R.) I also read half the day ("Into the Out Of" by Alan Dean Foster), bought groceries, and watched "Little Fockers" on TV. Now on to the Open.

Before we go further, here are the complete U.S. Open Results and the complete ITTF Junior Pro Tour Results. (The latter was held in conjunction with the U.S. Open.)

I was there primarily as a coach, but I did enter one event - Hardbat Doubles with Ty Hoff. I'd won the event twelve times at the Open or Nationals, eight times with Ty. Make that thirteen times, nine with Ty! We eeked out a three-game victory in the final over Jeff Johnston and Jay Turberville, 20,-19,17. We were down 11-16 in the first game, and the third was close all the way until we pulled away near the end. Ty and I have a lot of experience together; our basic game plan is he attacks consistently while I end the point with forehands. My strength is my receive, where I attack pretty much every serve with quick, off-the-bounce hits to wide angles and to the opponent's middle. But I normally use sponge. I started using playing hardbat semi-seriously around 1990, and besides the doubles, have won Hardbat Singles twice and Over 40 Hardbat four times. Here's a picture of Ty and me in the final.

At the Open I was primarily coaching Derek Nie, as well George Nie (his older brother), Nathan Hsu, and a couple of times Lilly Lin. I usually coach Tong Tong Gong as well, but since he's on the USA National Cadet Team he was primarily coached this time by USA Cadet Coach Keith Evans. Since I was coaching almost the whole time I rarely got to see other matches.

Derek Nie, who recently turned 11, came in rated 2146, and at a little over 60 pounds, he may be, pound for pound, the highest rated player ever. He plays an aggressive game, looping and smashing from both sides, at a pace few opponents can keep up with, especially when he starts looping forehands. He had a great tournament, winning 11 and Under, with wins over two players around 2250 and a bunch of 2000 to 2100 players. He also went five games with two players over 2300, and in one of them, was up 2-1 in games and 8-5 in the fourth before losing 11-9 in the fifth. Perhaps most impressively he didn't lose to anyone rated under 2300 despite playing eight singles events.

Derek seemed to think a game that didn't go deuce was like a day without McDonalds - but he won most of those deuce games, including in the final of 11 & Under against Gal Alguetti, where Derek won at 16,10,11. (He was down game point all three games: five times in the first game, including twice at 8-10, and down 9-10 in both the second and third.) He also had to battle in the semifinals with a red-hot Michael Tran. Derek was up 10-8 match point in the fourth (and I think another match point in deuce) before losing that game and so went into the fifth before winning at 11,-6,7,-12,7. Afterwards Derek watched video of himself over and over missing the easiest backhand kill of all time up match point in the fourth; if he'd lost that match, missing that shot would have haunted him for a long time. We then switched to videos of his best matches as the last thing I wanted was for him to keep watching himself miss!

Against a 2240 player he won at 11,8,15,-7,10. Yes, he likes those deuce games. (But he beat the other 2250 player three straight without going deuce or even 9.) Here's a picture of me warming him up, and another coaching him. Later I hope to post the picture of him posing with a Ronald McDonald clown, but for now, here he is with green hair and striped glasses.

I've been pondering a timeout I almost called. In the 11 & Under final, Derek was up 2-0 in games and led 11-10 match point. I wanted to lock up the match, and decided to call a timeout. This is also what the Chinese National Team tends to do - they often call timeouts when their player is up match or game point so the player can focus on winning that last point. However, before I could call the timeout, the opponent's coach called a timeout instead. From their point of view, their player was down to his last point, and desperately needed the next point. From my point of view, I wanted to lock up the point and the match, and the timeout would have allowed Derek to really focus while we discuss tactics. If the opponent hadn't called the timeout, should I have? (I did make one "obvious" mistake - I should have anticipated they'd likely call a timeout, and should have waited to see if they were going to before I started to. As it was, they just beat me to it.)

In general, I'm hesitant to call timeouts with Derek. Why? Because he's very focused when he plays, plays smart tactics, and I think his opponents, facing this mini dynamo, need the break more than he does. I'm more likely to call a timeout to recommend a serve at a key point, but often he seems to serve exactly the serve I'm hoping he'll serve. He has a knack for going for the fast & deep serve at just the right time.

I also coached his brother George in many of his matches. He also had a very good tournament. He came in rated 1994, but had wins over players rated 2250 and 2080 and was up 9-8 in the fifth with a 2206 player. (I coached those three matches.) He also beat several other players rated around 2000.

I coached Nathan Hsu (now 16 years old, rated 2356) in three of his ITTF Junior Pro Tour matches. (Here's a picture of him winning a game.) All three of his opponents were in the 2350 range, with the first two a pair of lefty Canadians.

In the first one (in the preliminary Under 18 RR), he was down 1-2 in games but came back to win, 11,-6,-8,6,5. This was an interesting tactical match, especially the fifth game. Nathan had been receiving very aggressively, flipping most of the short serves, but at 2-2 in the fifth, the Canadian served two no-spin serves, Nathan flipped, and the Canadian anticipated both returns and ripped forehands. I could see that he was hanging back, waiting for the flip, and decided I was going to call a time-out before his next receive. It was a "controversial" time-out because Nathan tied it on his serve, 4-4, and so he had the "momentum" when I called the time out. I told him to start dropping the serve short - and it worked! He went back, executed perfectly, and scored four in a row and outscored his opponent 7-1 the rest of the way in winning the last game 11-5. (Once he started dropping the ball short, he was also able to flip the serves again, since the opponent wasn't sure what he was going to do.) Winning this match advanced him to the main draw.

Against the second lefty Canadian he was down 1-3 in games. He had been attacking hard with his backhand loop to all parts of the table - my advice - but missing too much. Starting in game five we agreed he should go nearly all crosscourt. Now the backhand loops became relentlessly strong and consistent, often taken very close to the table, and he came back to win, 9,-5,-8,-4,8,6,9. This advanced him to the second round.

Now he faced Kunal Chodri, who's about 2400. Again Nathan mostly went crosscourt with his backhand loop, and it worked - well, almost. He did dominate the backhand exchanges, and was up 2-1 in games. He led 10-9 in the fourth but just missed a backhand winner. In the seventh he was up 10-9 match point, and again missed a backhand winner. (He hadn't been missing many of these!) In the end, Kunal pulled it out, -10,7,-9,10,9,-7,11.

I told Nathan afterwards that if he focuses on developing his serve & receive, adds power to his forehand loop with better hip rotation (which is how you put your weight into a loop), and keeps improving his dominant backhand loop, he can ride that backhand loop to a very high level. 

A few other notes:

  • A man in his mid-60s literally got into a fight with his opponent and the opponent's wife, twisting the wife's arm so severely it left extensive bruises. (I saw them.) He also shoved the referee. He was kicked out of the tournament and probably faces suspensions and/or fines. When someone came by and told us about this, some of the kids started chanting "Old person fight! Old person fight! Old person fight!"
  • Wang Qing Liang, the 17-year-old chopper/looper from China who moved to Maryland a few months ago as a coach trainee, made the semifinals of Men's Singles and Under 21 and the final of Under 18. He beat Olympians Timothy Wang (4-0) and Pierre-Luc Hinse (of Canada) as well as Adam Hugh.
  • Coaching is 16.7 times as tiring as playing. I worked this out with actual math.
  • What does a coach actually do at major tournaments?
  • Tactical advice to players, before matches, between games, and during timeouts;
  • Strategic advice to players (i.e. explaining what they need to work on for the future);
  • Scouting (both live and video) - I keep a file on opponents;
  • Physical preparation, especially each morning;
  • Mental preparation before each match;
  • Training preparation (either as practice partner or by arranging one);
  • Advice on meals
  • Entertainment

Last Monday's Tip of the Week

Oops! I had a Tip of the Week written in advance to go last Monday while I was at the U.S. Open. But it completely slipped my mind. Alas, it'll go up on Monday.

48 seconds of Slow-Motion Table Tennis

The video is from the upcoming Topspin Documentary, and features Michael Landers, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu, and Barney J. Reed.

The Higgs Boson Explained

They explain it with ping-pong balls and sugar (1:53)!

Ping-Pong 3-D Game

If you want to go crazy, try beating this online ping-pong game! I don't think it's possible to win, but you can spend endless time trying.

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