Michael Landers

February 29, 2012

Sol Schiff RIP

Sad news. "Mr. Table Tennis," Hall of Famer Sol Schiff, died yesterday at age 94. He was the 1934 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion, the 1938 World Men's Doubles Champion (with Jimmy McClure), and a member of the 1937 World Men's Team Champion (the only time the U.S. ever won the title). He also served as USTTA (now USATT) president for many years. Here's his USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame profile. (It's only "Part 1" - hopefully Tim Boggan will write Part 2 at some point.) Note - A number of reports incorrectly have him as being 95, but he was born on June 28, 1917, passed away on February 26, 2012, and so wouldn't have turned 95 until June 28. 

Leap Day

In honor of Leap Day, go practice your footwork. Or at least read about footwork - here are five articles I've written on footwork that you may browse while lounging in a chair sipping diet coke.

The one time I was faulted

As promised last week, here is the story of the only time my serve was ever faulted in a tournament.

I've been playing tournaments since I started playing 36 years ago in 1976. I've probably played in about 600 tournaments. How many times have I been faulted? Exactly once - and as both the umpire and referee agreed, it was a mistake, the serve I was faulted for was legal. Here's how it happened.

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.

Side note - I just read the above to Tim Boggan. (See my blog yesterday about his staying at my house for two weeks.) He said that if he'd been there, said I'd been ROBBED and that he'd still be arguing to this day about it.

Table Tennis in New York Post

Here's a feature on Michael Landers in yesterday's New York Post. Here's an excerpt:

"Some people joke around saying that [table tennis] is a combination of running, boxing and playing chess at the same time, but in reality it really is," Landers said. "There’s so much thinking involved, so much strategy and you have to have the agility of a boxer and the speed of a runner."

Commercials with Table Tennis

Here's a lipstick commercial (0:30) that features table tennis.  Here's a Metro PCS commercial (0:31) that has one second of table tennis. (Watch quickly 16 seconds in or you'll miss it!)

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February 15, 2012

Banana Receives

Perhaps the biggest change at the higher levels in table tennis in recent years is the advent of the backhand "banana" receive. This is the nickname used for a backhand topspin flip of a serve, essentially a mini-loop, with the name referring to the curve the racket goes through with the stroke. It's done against any type of spin, but it's against short backspin that it is most effective. Some do it with straight topspin; most can add sidespin. It's much easier to do this type of shot on the backhand than the forehand, where the wrist is more locked, and so more and more players are covering more and more of the table with this backhand shot. At the U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials this past weekend (Feb. 9-12), it was the receive of choice of nearly every player.

Some players used it nearly every receive they could. Others mixed it up with short pushes. The ones who didn't use it much were thought of as "old school," while all the younger players used the banana flip over and over.

From a server's point of view, it complicates things. If you serve short to a corner, you give the opponent a wide angle. So most short serves go toward the middle of the table, which is easy for the receiver to banana receive. (If you serve long, then it usually gets looped much harder, so that's only done at the higher levels as a surprise variation.) This means most rallies start with the receiver getting in at least a mini-loop. About the only way to avoid this is to serve very wide to the forehand. The problem here is that the receiver then has a wide angle into the server's wide forehand, and since he has to cover that, the server is open to a simple down-the-line receive to the backhand. (This is for two righties; lefties would reverse all this.)

To see a good banana receive, let's look at the tape of the Men's Singles Final at the recent USA Nationals between Peter Li and Han Xiao. (The match doesn't start until 4:30 into the video.) On the very first point, Peter banana receives Han's serve. On the fourth point, Han does the same to Peter's serve. Throughout the match, against short serves, they mix in this shot with short pushes.

One interesting note about Han Xiao's banana receive that I'm particularly proud of - he copied the shot from me! I've been doing a precursor to the shot for decades, with a quick off-the-bounce backhand topspin receive, but it's only a precursor because my shot doesn't have the extreme topspin or sidespin of the modern banana receive. (So I guess I'm still "old school"?) On the ride back from the USA Trials, Han said that during his junior days he was having trouble stopping a local player from third-ball attacking. Then he saw how I disarmed the player with this shot, and so he copied it, added extra topspin, and suddenly he had what would become one of the best banana receives in the country - except, of course, the term "banana receive" wouldn't come out until a number of years later. (He also said that the reason he's so quick on counterlooping strong loops to the forehand without backing up is because of the zillions of practice matches we had, where my best forehand loops were often aimed at his forehand.)

4-F for Table Tennis

Here's my four F's for table tennis, which I often cite to players before matches: Focus, Free-play, Fysical, Fun. Yeah, one doesn't quite fit, spelling-wise, but this is ping-pong, not Scrabble. Maybe 4-F can become as big as 4-H?

TT on NBC News

Here's Michael Landers on NBC News (1:56).

Dial 800 for Kim Gilbert and Soo Yeon Lee

Here's a short video/commercial (I'm not sure which it counts as) by Dial 800, who sponsors table tennis player Kim Gilbert, who is featured in the video with table tennis star, Soon Yeon Lee (1:32).

Rod Blagojevich and Ping-Pong

Here's a video from Yahoo about luxury prisons (1:50) which doesn't mention table tennis until the very end. Then it talks about the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado, which "...offers foosball, pool, and ping-pong," and finishes by saying, "Rod Blagojevich ... will have fourteen years to work on his backhand."

Cho! - 21 times

21 pictures of table tennis players going "Cho!"

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November 4, 2011

Vary your serves

I recently played a match against a strong player about my level who basically used three serves: short backspin or no-spin to the middle or backhand, or a deep side-top serve to my backhand that was telegraphed by the delivery. The player never served to my forehand. Since I could see the deep serve coming a mile away (and could just hit it back with my backhand and force a neutral backhand exchange on his serve), all I had to do was worry about the short serves. Since they were so predictable, I hung over the table and returned them right off the bounce, with last-second changes of directions, mostly dropping them short to all parts of the table. Because of the quickness off the bounce, the tweeniness of many of the returns (i.e. second bounce would be near the end-line), and the last-second changes of direction, even when I went long the opponent had great difficulty attacking. And so I completely controlled the match off the opponent's serve. This is the type of thing that happens all the time in matches, where players get into the habit of using the same few serves over and over, thereby making things easy for the opponent. I have one word of advice about this: Don't.

FIT Open in New York City

This morning I'm catching a bus to Manhattan to play in the FIT Open, run by Lily Yip. I'll be staying at Tim Boggan's house, and probably talking table tennis late into the night with him and Eric. Other than playing some hardbat events, I've mostly been retired as a tournament player since 2006. However, recently (after getting into much better physical shape, and actually practicing) I've been playing so well that I decided it would be a crime against humanity if I didn't play in one, and I didn't want to get sent to Gitmo. I'll report on this next week.

Interview Time

The Daily Quarterly did an interview with me, and part 1 should go up sometime this morning. (Part 2 goes up next Friday.) They are the same satirical site that did the spoof of Brad Pitt starring as me in the movie adaptation of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. And so I gave my answers accordingly.

Wang Liqin Multiball

Here's 30 seconds of three-time world men's singles champion Wang Liqin doing multiball at the 2011 World Championships in May in Rotterdam.

The Reverse Pendulum Tomahawk Serve

Here's a video by Pingskills (2:19) on this serve used by Sweden's Par Gerell. (He calls it the "punch serve.") Note all the variety possible from the basic forehand pendulum serve motion - the regular version (with racket moving right to left for a righty), and the reverse pendulum variations (with the racket moving left to right), which can be done two ways - racket tip down or racket tip up (as shown in this video). The video says that you don't use as much wrist with this serve, but I use this serve, and use lots of wrist. I find it most effective served into the middle of the table where it suddenly breaks into the forehand.

Michael Landers now part of Team Kelloggs

Really! Click on his picture to get his bio.

China-Qatar Relations Bolstered by Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's an article in the Huffington Post on Ping-Pong Diplomacy in Qatar.

How to solve the Occupy Wall Street situation

You knew that Marty Reisman had a solution, didn't you? "Table tennis has an incredible diplomatic history," noted Marty Reisman, 23-time National and International ping-pong champion and President of Table Tennis Nation. "Ping Pong Diplomacy opened the doors for relations between China and the US, and can help settle Occupy Wall Street. ... Table Tennis Nation is offering representatives from Wall Street and the Occupy Wall Street $100 per team to play a Table Tennis Nation Brawl to settle their issues once and for all. Over ping-pong."

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September 30, 2011

Ratings - Love 'em or Love 'em

Way too many players are obsessed with ratings. Ratings are fun when they go up, but players (and coaches and parents) shouldn't worry too much about them. They are a good measure of level and improvement, and while you shouldn't worry too much about what your current ratings is, they are a good shorthand for various levels of play. Since goals are generally about winning a specific event (which includes making a team), or about reaching a specific level of play, ratings can be useful for the latter. They are also useful as a stepping stone toward winning a specific event - you aren't going to win a state title, for example, if the best players are 2100, and you are only 1500. Just to be a contender you need to approach that 2100 level, and rating level is useful in keeping track of that.

Here's my article about Juniors and Ratings. (It was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter.) But most of it applies to all ages.

Peter Li and Michael Landers in China

Both are training and competing in China. (At age 18 and 17, they are the best in the U.S. for their age.) I'm kind of proud of them - Peter was from my club from when he started until about age 14 or so and I used to practice with him and coach him in camps, and Michael came to a number of our summer camps when he was about 11 to 13, where I did a lot of multiball coaching with him.

Weight Training Update

During my second session of my new weight training regimen I added four new exercises to the list: fly & rear delts, calf extension, and back extension. The calf extension was especially obvious - guess which muscle is used when short-stepping around the table? And the fly delts seem to build up muscles used when forehand looping. I'm basically an amateur when it comes to weight training, and yet I'm gradually beginning to remember that I was somewhat knowledgeable about table tennis weight training routines back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've forgotten a lot, but it's starting to come back. Here is my updated regimen, three times a week, doing three sets of ten for each, usually after a table tennis session:

  1. Triceps: Arm Extension
  2. Biceps: Arm Curl
  3. Chest: Chest Press or Fly Machine
  4. Back: Pull Down or Row
  5. Shoulders: Overhead Press
  6. Hamstrings: Leg Curl
  7. Quadriceps: Leg Extensions
  8. Other: Leg Press
  9. Abs: Ab Crunch or Abdominal Machine
  10. Torso: Torso Rotation (both ways, so this is really two exercises)
  11. Fly Delts
  12. Rear Delts
  13. Calf Extension
  14. Back Extension

Also, I made the interesting discussion that one of the people I rent the downstairs of my townhouse to works at Fitness First. (I live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors to a father and 23-year-old son; the latter is the one who works at Fitness First.) We discussed my routine, and he thought (as did a commenter here) that I should eventually go to free weights, so as to build up the stabilizing muscles. But he thought my plan of using the machines until I'm a bit stronger and more experienced seemed reasonable. I did discover they have free weights at the back of the Planet Fitness I'm working out at.

Werner Schlager exhibition shots

Here's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria playing an exhibition point (0:51) against Oh Sang Eun of Korea.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book

Yes, "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement," by Mayumi Itoh, 266 pages, is out! But $72???

Another option for those interested is to read Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 5, which covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy. (Presumably the Itoh book covers things a big differently; Tim covers it in a very personal way, since he was on the trip to China, and part of the U.S. tour.) You can buy the eleven volumes in this series (individually or all of them) at TimBogganTableTennis.com, or you can read it online:

Inspirational Music for Table Tennis

I may have posted this once before, but the subject of inspirational music for table tennis came up recently, so here's a good listing. I don't actually train with music, but many do, and many find listening to such music before playing revs them up. (These are mostly from movies.) What are yours?

A Cat and Beverly Hills Cop

And since we're on the subject of table tennis music, here's a cat, table tennis, and the theme music to Beverly Hills Cop (starring Eddie Murphy at his peak). (3:42)

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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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