Sun Ting

December 6, 2011

Sun Ting joins MDTTC Coaching Staff

Sun Ting, a recently retired lefty player from China with a 2716 rating - soon to be higher, after going undefeated at the North American Teams Championships last weekend - has joined the coaching staff at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. He'd coached there much of the past summer, but now is back permanently. He is famous for his serves, and had a win over Ma Lin in the Chinese Super League. He was probably much better than 2716 at his best, considering he got his first USATT rating of 2675 from the Teams in 1998 at age 14! The following year, at age 15, he increased it to 2730. Now 27, he's semi-retired, but he's maintained his 2700+ rating in four tournaments this year, his first U.S. tournaments since 1999. He joins the MDTTC coaching staff of Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and Larry Hodges (me). As posted previously, Donn Olsen is also joining the staff soon. (In January, MDTTC doubles in size from its current 5500 square feet and 12 tables to 11,000 and 20 or so tables with larger courts and all-red rubber flooring.)

Back-up attack

This past weekend I had a nice match with a fast penhold blocker. I started the match out forehand looping every chance, along with steady backhands. He was unable to stop me from looping after my serve, and on his serve I'd be looping after a shot or two. However, he soon got used to my looping, and began blocking side to side more and more aggressively. He was soon so tuned into my loop that he rarely missed. I battled on, but at 51 I wasn't as fast as I used to be, and the rallies were just getting too fast for me to have time to run down ball after ball to loop. So I made a simple tactical change - and went to just hitting on the forehand, a shorter, quicker stroke. The first time I smashed off his block, he had this look of surprise, since I'd been looping all his blocks until then. After a few more, he began grumbling in Chinese. He had no answer and I ended up winning in a rout. (He did switch to blocking almost exclusively to my backhand, but after a few of those I started quick-blocking to his middle and forehand to set up my forehand again. Also, since the blocks to my backhand became predictable, I began smashing backhands and stepping around to smash forehands.)

If I hadn't had a backup to my looping attack, things might have been quite different. Moral - do you have a backup game if your primary game isn't working? This doesn't necessarily mean dropping your primary game; it means finding other ways to win when necessary.

Side note - you can't normally cover as much of the table with your forehand if you focus on smashing instead of looping, and the timing makes smashing riskier, assuming you have time to loop. That's why looping tends to dominate at the higher levels instead of hitting - but not in this match. 

This also reminded me that at the upcoming Nationals next week, when I'm not coaching, I'm playing in the hardbat events. Since my hardbat game is centered on all-out forehand hitting, I'm going to focus on all-out hitting with my sponge racket in practice matches this next week.

Adham Sharara and the Celluloid Ban

Here's an interesting posting at the OOAK forum from someone who emailed with ITTF President Adham Sharara, along with discussion. Sharara states, "There is no upcoming world-wide ban of celluloid, this was a simplification of the current status and the status on the use of celluloid for many years past. Their is also no health issue with the finished product. The issue is in the manufacturing of the celluloid sheets that are used to make the ping pong balls." [You can read the rest of his long posting at the link above.]

Table Tennis, It's Not for the Slow of Wrist

Here's a short article on table tennis from craveonline.com by James LeBeau. Here's an excerpt: "Where reflexes are your primary friend in being a good TT player, you also have to have a good head for strategy as the game isn't so cut and dried as the above description would have you believe. A skilled opponent can take a ball and send it at you in a number of different ways, from pure power to the subtleties of a slight flick and they can, and will, try their hardest to put a spin on the ball that will have it flying off your racket in a number of unpredictable ways."

Before the Frost

Tim Boggan emailed me to let me know about a table tennis passage from the novel Before the Frost by Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell. It's one of eleven novels in the Kurt Wallander series, written in Swedish and translated into English. The character references Swedish star Jan-Ove Waldner, arguably the greatest table tennis player ever. Here's the excerpt:

"He's worried [Inspector Wallander is]. First, the report about the swans, and then a calf named Apple is burned alive."

"Apple," he said. "That's an unusual name for an animal."

"I played table tennis when I was younger. I often name my animals after great Swedish champions. I have an ox called Waldner."

Free online table tennis game

Here's a new online table tennis game someone emailed me about.

Smacking the umpire

Angry at the umpire? Tired of bad calls? Here's a 22-second video that ends with a player inadvertently (we think) smacking the umpire with the ball.

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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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June 20, 2011

Games against beginning/intermediate players

Because of a bad back, I've been playing an extraordinary number of "matches" against beginning and intermediate juniors in our junior session. I put "matches" in quotes because, well, they are beginning and intermediate players and aren't exactly going to challenge me at this stage in their development. Or are they? I started setting rules to equalize things. For example, I might have to push every serve to the player's forehand. Or even pop up every serve to the forehand. You get the idea. Suddenly a lot of close games! (Haven't lost any yet, but some good points.) One thing that came off well was when we played some straight backhand-to-backhand matches, where I'd spot five points. We'd put a box on the table to mark the middle, and any ball that hits the box or goes to the forehand side is a lost point. Then we go at it, backhand-to-backhand. Some really vicious points! So next time you're at your club and there's some "weaker" players, why not play them a serious match with improvised rules? It's great practice and makes every match competitive.

MDTTC Training Camp

The first of our five summer training camps starts today. All are Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. I'll be coaching along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. There are about 30 kids in the camp. Our general system: I run the morning sessions, including organizing and short lectures on each major topic. I divide the players into four groups, one per coach, and then we do multiball, with the players hitting among themselves when they are not doing multiball. There's a two-hour break from 1-3 for lunch - we order from a Chinese place in the morning at $5.25/meal, they deliver for lunch. Cheng and Jack run the afternoon session, which is nearly all table practice. We usually bring in two practice partners for the afternoon session, usually Raghu Nadmichettu (2429) and Vahid Mosafari (2273).

It's not all work - we end each session with games. Toward the end of the morning session I take the younger kids off to play various games where they try to hit a drink bottle (I tell them it's worm juice, and I have to take a sip whenever they hit it), or knock cups off the table. At the end of the morning session we play Brazilian Teams, where you have 3-5 on a team, and one player plays at a time, staying at the table until he/she loses a point, then the next player is up, with games usually to 41. We usually finish the afternoon session with 11-point games, where you move up or down the table depending on whether you win or lose. Sometimes we do this with doubles.

Sun Ting

Sun Ting of China (doesn't that sound like "Sun King"?), rated 2730 and seeded fourth at the upcoming U.S. Open, is here at MDTTC for much of the summer training with our players. He's a lefty with short pips on the backhand and the usual run-of-the-mill incredibly spectacular forehand loop. He also has great forehand pendulum serves that have flummoxed everyone so far - extremely quick contact that's almost impossible to pick up.

Final of the China Open

It's a great match to watch as Ma Lin (penholder) defeats Ma Long (shakehander), but both play great. See Ma Long's receive at 0:55 (which is then replayed in slow motion). Too often people watch the shotmaking of the top players, but you can actually gain more by watching how they serve and receive. (Not just the spectacular receives like this one, but the more common ones.)  

$45,000 LA Open

Yes, you read that right. Sept. 3-4, 2011 in Los Angeles.

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