Backhand Topspin

September 8, 2014

Tip of the Week

Easy Power.

The Ball at the USA Nationals

USATT has made the smart decision to use only one type of ball at the USA Nationals. Here is USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's blog entry on this. They will be using the Nittaku Premium 40+ ball, a non-celluloid one. This is a departure from their original plans, announced on Aug. 14, that they would be using two types of balls at the Nationals - celluloid for rating and senior events, non-celluloid for men's and women's singles & doubles, and in junior events. That would have meant players having to switch back and forth in the tournament, as well as serious problems at clubs as players have to decide which ball to use for practice and training.

This obviously doesn't solve all the problems. Many don't want to change to non-celluloid, but like it or not, the ITTF has pretty much mandated it. (Not by forcing it on everyone, but by mandating it in their tournaments, meaning others have to follow or their top players will have to switch back and forth.) I think they jumped the gun because the new non-celluloid balls still aren't really standardized - depending on which manufacturer makes them, they play differently, unlike celluloid where the balls are much more similar. Also, there are no training balls available, so training centers are stuck trying to decide what to do, since most training involves using large quantities of balls (especially for multiball).

There's also the problem that the ball to be used at the Nationals isn't actually available yet - it'll be out in mid-October, about two months before the Nationals. It'll be on sale at Paddle Palace. (Note that Paddle Palace is already selling a Nittaku Sha 40+ ball, which is non-celluloid, but I'm told that ball plays very differently and is of lower quality than the Premium. Don't get the two mixed up.) Here's an info page from Paddle Palace on the new balls.

There's a good argument to use celluloid balls one more time, and I was actually leaning toward that. However, I think it's more important to use one ball or the other at the Nationals than which one they actually use. If they had stuck with celluloid, the top players would have been frustrated since they are already competing internationally with non-celluloid balls. While we may have jumped the gun and made the switch a few months too soon, the switch was inevitable (given the ITTF's actions), and so we might as well do it now.

I received an advance Nittaku Premium 40+ ball - just one, which came in a one-ball box. I reviewed it in my June 16 blog. It plays similarly to a celluloid ball, but is slightly larger and heavier, and harder to spin - but once spun, the extra weight keeps the spin on the ball more than a celluloid.

Dana Huang Wedding

On Saturday night I joined over 100 others for the wedding reception of Dana Huang and Charles Song, at the Silver Fountain Restaurant in Silver Spring. Dana is not only the daughter of MDTTC coach and former Chinese Team Member Jack Huang (Huang Tong Sheng), but she was also a pretty good player herself. (And yet, during her playing years she mostly acted as a practice partner for others in her father's coaching sessions and camps.) From my archives - where I compile all the MDTTC medalists from the Junior Olympic and Junior Nationals - here is her record - and note the two bolded ones:

  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Singles Silver Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Olympics Under 14 Girls' Singles Silver Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Doubles Gold Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Team Gold Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Olympics Under 16 Girls' Singles Gold Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 16 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Doubles Silver Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Teams Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Olympics Under 18 Girls' Singles Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Doubles Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Teams Gold Medallist
  • 2002 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2002 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Doubles Gold Medallist

Here's a picture taken at the wedding reception of Coach Jack with three national junior girls' singles champions he's coached. L-R: Katherine Wu, Coach Jack, Barbara Wei, and current junior phenom Crystal Wang.

1983 USA Pan Am Trials

I've added an action picture to the home page here. That's me at the 1983 U.S. Pan Am Trials in Colorado Springs, where I made the final 16, finishing 15th. (Photo is by Donna Sakai. The lefty in the background is Brian Masters playing Brandon Olson. Brian, who was one of my regular practice partners from when I first started in 1976 until 1979, would not only make the team but would go on to win the Gold Medal for Men's Singles at the Pan Am Games.)

The Countdown Comes to an End

Here's the ITTF's wrap-up article about the 100+ articles during the last 100 days of the Sharara ITTF presidency. Here are all the articles, including the interview with me (the last one, other than the wrap-up).

Backhand Receive from Forehand Side

Here's a video (9 sec) where a Chinese coach or player demonstrates a drill where he receives a ball short to his forehand with his backhand, and follows with a regular forehand. (I've also seen this drill where the forehand is done from the middle or even the backhand side.) Ten years ago this type of receive would have been frowned upon by most coaches, but now it's a basic technique at higher levels, since it's easier to create topspin with the backhand against a short ball with a banana flip.

Serving - More Handy Hints

Here's the article from PingSkills.

Backhand Topspin to Topspin

Here's the video (1:55) from PingSkills.

Wang Liqin and Jorgen Persson at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games

Here's a nice article with lots of photos on the two former world men's singles champions attending the Games.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (40 sec) of this rally. Note the player on the far side switches hands to return the ball 22 seconds in!

Tunisian Table Tennis

Here's video (33 sec) of a woman doing very fast multiball footwork with a Chinese coach, in full Arab dress.

Ice Bucket Challenge

Meet the King Kong of Ping Pong

Here's the article and pictures of this $14,500 table, a "700-pound, Bluetooth-compatible, ten-speaker table feels designed for high-stakes tournaments."

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November 13, 2013

Potomac Open Serves

There were a number of serving "incidents" at the Potomac Open this past weekend. Here's a summary.

In one match a player accused another of hiding his serve. He called for an umpire. The problem was the umpire didn't feel there was enough room between the tables for him to sit without getting in the way of the players on the adjacent table. So he suggested they move to another open table that was on the side of a row of tables, where he could sit without getting in anyone's way. The player who was accused of hiding his serve didn't like that, saying that the lighting for that table wasn't as good. The umpire and two players argued for a time. They were playing on table #2; the players on table #1 interjected and said why not switch tables with us, so the umpire could sit on the far side away from table #2 and so not interfere with anyone. So they switched tables, and all was well. (Ironically, the server accused of hiding his serve was faulted, not for hiding the serve, but for dropping his hand below the table when he served. The other player was also warned for some serving infraction.)

Another player, rated about 1950, had developed a short, high backspin serve that bounced back into the net, sometimes back over the net. A lot of top players fool around with serves like that, but they don't really work against top players, who can reach over the table for the ball, and often smack a winner off it since the serve is high. But this player had two matches where he used the serve effectively over and over. The first was against Charlene Liu, the U.S. Over 50 Women's Champion, rated about 2000 but not much more than five feet tall. She couldn't reach many of the serves, and they had a long battle. Charlene finally pulled the match out, mostly because she was able to barely reach some of the serves.

However, in his very next match he was up against a very short junior player who was rated higher than he was. But the kid couldn't reach these serves. Three years before they had played in the final of Under 1900 and the player had beaten him in five by using the same serve over and over. He still couldn't reach most of them, and had a tough battle on his hands since he was spotting about five points a game to this serve. But he managed to win 3-1, deuce in the fourth (down several game points in the last game, so it almost went five). There was much debate on the sidelines about the sportsmanship of this serve. It's legal, of course, but sort of makes a mockery of the game since it's basically unreturnable by anyone under five feet or so tall. You can run around the side of the table, but the server can do it on either side and by the time you see which side he does it on it's usually too late. He usually does it short to the forehand, and if you do go around to the side to return it, he returns it quickly for a winner to the wide backhand. I also have this serve, but I've never used it in a serious tournament match.

I was coaching Derek Nie in the tournament. The referee told me that he was quite impressed with Derek's serves, which he said were extremely legal. Ironically, the message I got from that is perhaps Derek needs to push the rules a bit more! Most top players have borderline legal serves (and often illegal ones). Even if the serve is (barely) legal, they might nearly obscure contact with their arm or body so the receiver has some difficulty in seeing it. Or they might toss the ball sideways into their body or into their racket. Or toss the ball so it's barely six inches. All of these give the server some advantage.

In 37 years of tournament play (since 1976) and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted on my serve exactly once - and as both the umpire and referee agreed, it was a mistake, the serve I was faulted for was legal. I blogged about this in February of 2012, but here is the story again.

In the early 1980s I was about to play another player about my level, around 2200 or so at the time. This was just before the color rule was passed, and so many players used different racket surfaces with the same color. Often they would flip the racket and serve with either side, and about the only way to tell which side the server used was by sound. And so many players with combination rackets began stamping their foot as they served to hide the different sound. It became a serious problem with all the loud distracting foot stomps, and so foot stomping during the serve became illegal. The wording of the rule roughly said that if the umpire believed you stomped your foot to hide the sound of contact, the serve would be a fault.

Before the match my opponent reminded the umpire of this rule, and incorrectly said that if I lifted my foot during my serve, it was a foot stomp and I should be faulted. I was using inverted on both sides, and did not stomp my foot during my serve - but I did left my left foot slightly off the ground when doing my forehand pendulum high-toss serve, my primary serve.

On the very first point of the match the umpire faulted me for foot stomping. I pointed out the actual wording of the rule, and the umpire looked confused. So I called for the referee. The referee explained the rule to the umpire, and the umpire then changed his ruling, saying that in he had gotten the rule wrong, and that I hadn't tried to foot stomp to hide the sound of contact. So it's a let, right?

Wrong. The opponent then argued that foot stomping is a judgment call, and that an umpire cannot change a judgment call. After thinking it over, the referee agreed, and so the fault stood.

I won the match.

Backhand Counter-Hitting and Topspinning

Here are two nice videos that show these two shots, from William Henzell at NetEdge. Backhand counter-hitting is how most players should start out, and is how most players (including me) played their backhand when I was coming up. These days essentially all top players topspin their backhands from close to the table, as shown in the second video. (In the backhand counter-hitting video Henzell has a rather wristy follow-through; most players wouldn't follow through off to the side quite so much.)

ITTF World Cadet Challenge

Here's the ITTF Report on the event (pdf). USA's Victor Liu is in several pictures.

Top Ten Points at the Polish Open

Here's the video (4:45)! The Polish Open was held this past weekend.

Maryland Beer Pong Sex Scandal

Here's the story from the Washington Post this morning. We've had people suggest we run beer pong tournaments at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, but I think I'm going to continue to veto that idea. 

The Funny Faces of Table Tennis

Here's the article and photo gallery!

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July 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

Yes, it's Friday the 13th - and in honor of that, here's an extremely acrobatic black cat at the net (2:01). It's hilarious, and set to music. 

How Eric Messed Players Up

Yesterday I blogged about Eric Boggan's national and international record, and mentioned how some of the things he did are basically dying arts. Here is his Hall of Fame profile, written by father and fellow Hall of Famer Tim Boggan.

First, let's clear up one myth. Some believe Eric was only effective because he used inverted and anti, with the same color, so opponents couldn't see which side he used. The two-color rule came about in 1983, when Eric was 19 and not yet at his peak. He had his best results and highest world rankings after the color rule, where he reached #18 in the world. In fact, Eric went to two colors at least six months in advance, figuring he might as well get used to it, since two colors were the future. If not for the two-color rule, he likely would have reached top ten in the world. (But we'll never know.)

What exactly did he do that made his game so effective?

He had either the best, or close to the best, backhand block and overall blocking in the world. His Seemiller grip allowed him to jab block from all parts of the table at wide angles. The grip meant there was no middle weakness, which by itself put him above other blockers who had to guard the wide angles as well as the middle. Plus he regularly would flip his racket and dead block with the antispin side. His anti blocks sometimes double-bounced, and opponents who stepped off the table to loop against regular blocks were left thrashing about trying to react to blocks that died over the table or barely came off. And if they did topspin those ones, they were then stuck too close to the table to react to Eric's next shot, would either be another aggressive block or a smash. (While his loop wasn't great, he had a very nice smash from both sides.)

He also messed up opponents when receiving. Against short serves he'd usually use the antispin side and either drop it short or flip - and he'd hide which until the last second. Then he'd flip to the inverted side and start attacking or aggressive blocking. You haven't faced sheer terror until you face an Eric anti flip and try to loop it. (If you set up for it, he drops the ball short instead.)

His biggest strengths were exactly what were most players' weaknesses. Your typical world-class player liked to serve short and then attack to the middle or backhand. They also liked to return serves short. These tactics were often suicide against Eric - he was at his best against short serves and receives, and his blocking from the middle and backhand were just too good. Thinking players quickly realized they had to serve more long balls and attack his forehand, and to push long against his serves. (Few world-class players were in the habit of letting the opponent loop first, which is exactly what you often had to do against Eric.) Many players, such as Dan Seemiller, found success by chopping to get out of a losing rally since few could withstand his side-to-side jab blocks and anti dead blocks. Many found these tactics too different, and fell back on their old habits - often to their great regret.

Sandpaper News - $2000 Sandpaper Event at Nationals

You read that right - the top eight players will receive $2000 in total prize money, with $1000 going to the winner. Here's the press release, which reads:

July 12, 2012 Colorado Springs, CO and Palm Harbor, FL - Michael Cavanaugh, USATT CEO and Ty Hoff of FASTT announced the co-sanctioning of the Sandpaper event at the 2012 US Nationals in Las Vegas, NV December 18-22, 2012. The event will be the 2012 USATT/FASTT Sandpaper National Championships and will feature $2,000 in prize money for the top eight finishers with a top prize of $1,000.  

The USATT is the national governing body for the Olympic sport of Table Tennis.  FASTT is a national organization promoting the sport of Sandpaper Table Tennis.  These two organizations have come together to expand the base of players in the United States through this cooperative effort. 

Players interested in the Olympic sport of Table Tennis are encouraged to visit http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis.aspx.  Players interested in the sport of Sandpaper Table Tennis are encouraged to visit http://www.ttprotour.com/.  

The Backhand Topspin

Pingskills brings you this new video on the Backhand Topspin (1:38). (Yes, this is the backhand loop, but these days the dividing line between a backhand drive and a backhand loop is less clear than before as more and more players play topspinny backhands, which is made much easier by modern sponges.) 

USA Olympians Highlighted in Bay Area

The four (Timothy Wang, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu) are highlighted in the San Francisco TV Station and web page KTSF. "This is a twelve-day series introducing twelve Chinese-American athletes in various sports who will represent US to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. KTSF chooses table tennis as its first four episodes. Timothy's was aired yesterday, Ariel's on July 12, Lily's on July 13, and Erica's on July 14. Once aired, the video clips will be also available from KTSF's website. Tune in at channel 26, cable 8 in the Bay Area."

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Table Tennis on TV

Their University Team, which won lots of hardware at the College Nationals, is featured in this video (1:53).

Which Olympic sport is the hardest? Fourth-Place Medal ranks all 32

They put table tennis at #27!!! They obviously don't know our sport. But then put Equestrian - riding horses - as the hardest sport. I don't think they know sports, period. (Earth Fourth-Place Medal - the horse is doing most of the work!!!)

Crazy Sidespin

Here's an extreme sidespin by Xu Xin versus Ma Long (0.36).

Ariel Hsing on Nickelodeon

They try to figure out what she does - Olympic Table Tennis Player! (4:20)

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