Sharath Kamal

July 4, 2011

HAPPY 4TH!

2011 U.S.Open

I flew back to Maryland last night from the U.S. Open in Milwaukee - didn't have any coaching duties today. At the airport in Milwaukee there was a Killerspin table set up with sponge paddles and barriers! I watched for a while as parents played with kids, often "coaching" them in ways that made me squirm a bit. I debated whether to help out, but decided they were having fun, so who was I to tell them what to do?

Because I had a bunch of stuff to take back to Maryland, I had two bags to check in at Airtran, which would cost $45. The attendant told me that since first-class passengers get two free bags, I could upgrade to first class for $49, and get the two bags free. So for $4 I traveled first class. The only other time I did that was nearly 20 years ago when I traveled with Andre Scott - we had regular tickets, but when they saw he was in a wheelchair, they put him in first class (for free), and since they had an open seat next to him, they gave that to me.

Funniest part of the U.S. Open for me was watching opponents struggle with Sun Ting's ("The Sun King") serve. Whenever he serves, it's showtime as opponents miss shots all over the place. The problem isn't so much that they misread the type of spin as they misread the amount of spin. How he puts so much spin on the ball without seemingly doing so is a mystery that only Albert Einstein might have solved. Alas, Sun Ting lost 11-9 in the seventh (from up 3-1), 4,-2,-4,-11,9,8,9, in the quarters to Canada's Pradeeban Peter-Paul. Sun Ting has been at my club, MDTTC, for the past month, and will be here for another month. He defeated Ma Lin in a tournament a few years ago, and had a 2730 rating from the 1999 North American Teams, when he was 15.

The players I coached had up and down records; unfortunately, we were 0-5 in five-game matches this time around. Have to work on that. Because I was mostly coaching or playing hardbat, I didn't see many big matches, and so can't report on them.

My Hardbat Results at the Open - skip if not interested!

While I was there primarily to coach, I did enter three hardbat events. (I normally play with sponge.) I had to default out of Open Hardbat because it conflicted with the junior team competition. I've won that event twice at the Open and Nationals, and while I probably wouldn't have won it, I had a good chance to do pretty well, maybe make the semifinals, and after that, who knows?

I made the final of Over 40 Hardbat. (I've won this four times at the Open or Nationals, including the last Nationals.) In the preliminaries, I had to play Peter Cua, one of the top Philippine hardbat players. He had me 16-11 in the third (two out of three to 21 in hardbat), but I went on a hitting binge and won ten in a row. (I told myself to just take the shots and let the shots happen, and they happened.) I had another huge battle with Jeff Johnson in the semifinals, who as usual ran me all around the court in a battle of his steadiness versus my forehand hitting/backhand chopping, and despite a near comeback by him late in the second game I won two straight, 15 & 16. In the final I played Richard Gonzalez, but his forehand hitting and heavy & varied backhand chopping was just too much, and he won easily, 13 & 11. I think I may be able to take on his chopping in a rematch, since I'm good against that, but it had been a while since I'd played a hardbat chopper of that level - but if I had, he'd have just attacked more, and his attack was way too strong. The guy was a member of the Philippine National Team and I believe is their hardbat and sandpaper champion.

I also played hardbat doubles with Ty Hoff. I've won that event ten times, six times with Ty (including at the last Nationals), and we did pull off a nice win over Dan Seemiller Sr. and Jr. - I had to smash Dan Sr's loop from down 19-20 match point in the second to deuce it! - but we lost in the semifinals to Jeff Johnson and Scott Gordon. They in turn lost to the Philippines, Richard Gonzales and Joseph Cruz. Those two pretty much dominated all hardbat play.

Tip of the Week

This week's Tip is about Coaching Against Yourself. It's short and to the point. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a great example of the reverse pendulum serve, by 2010 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion Sharath Kamal of India. It's shown in both real and slow motion. (37 seconds long.)

Hidden Serves

Unfortunately, Sharath Kamal, like many others, doesn't always serve legally. Here's a video of him on Youtube from the 2010 Egypt Open - it's not easy finding videos that give the right angle so you can see if the serve is hidden. See his serve 29 seconds in. Here is a four-sequence screen shot of the serve, showing how it disappears behind his body. At the 2010 U.S. Open, he and many of his opponents served illegally, hiding the ball (and especially contact) as they served, but umpires rarely call this.

Notice how with the arm stuck out, it's easy to thrust out the shoulder and hide contact. If the player pulls the arm back, as the rules require, then the shoulder isn't naturally thrust out, and if the player does thrust the shoulder out while pulling the arm back, it becomes rather obvious. This is what happened at the U.S. Open a few days ago when, at the request of the players I was coaching, I twice had to call an umpire against the same opponent because he sometimes stuck his arm and shoulder out, thereby hiding the serve. (This led to a very unhappy parent; hopefully he and I can put aside our disagreement on this so as not to be a distraction to the kids. After all, if the serves are legal, then there shouldn't be any objection to having an umpire.) The opponent may not even have been aware he was doing it, but the umpire warned him immediately to pull his arm in - on the second serve after the umpire came to the table - and the rest of the way the serves were pretty much all visible.

It's important players know the service rules, so there are the pertinent ones regarding hidden serves. (Bolds are mine.)

Rule 2.06.04: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry." (Here are the service rules.)

Rule 2.06.05: "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."

Rule 2.06.06: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

Rule 2.06.06.01: "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

Many players push the service rule to the limit - which in itself is okay in most cases - but they serve with the ball so close to the body, with the arm or shoulder thrust out, that it's difficult to tell if the ball was actually hidden or not. Many forget that a "tie" goes to the receiver, i.e. if the serve is not clearly legal, then it's supposed to be a warning or a fault, even though many umpires don't call this.(See 2.06.06 and 2.06.06.01 above.) So when a player serves with the ball so close to the body, or with the arm or shoulder stuck out, and the umpire can't tell if the serve was visible or not, then he's supposed to give a warning and then a fault. But many umpires do not. Some umpires enforce the rule about the arm being pulled out of the way, but then ignore it when the player continues to hide the ball with the shoulder, even when it's seemingly obvious.

On the other hand, illegally hiding the serve is so prevalent at the higher levels, since umpires usually don't call it, that many coaches believe you should just accept it, and learn to return such serves, while (at least publicly) saying you shouldn't do them yourself. The problem is that it doesn't take that long to learn (or teach) illegal hidden serves, but it's extremely difficult these days for a junior to learn to return hidden serves effectively because they are against the rules, and so if the junior trains in a junior program, he won't see hidden serves unless the other juniors are being trained to serve illegally. So he only sees them infrequently at tournaments. As he reaches higher levels, he sees them more and more, but by then he's already been trained to read the spin of legal serves, and now has to almost start over, when of course to really be able to return these serves at a high level he'd have to start training against them at an early age.

Of course a coach could spend his coaching time serving illegally to the student so he can learn to return hidden serves. But since most students only have limited hours of private coaching per week, you can't spend much of that time on that, and it takes a tremendous amount of time to learn to read and return such serves effectively.

So what's a coach to do? Call for an umpire every time an opponent serves illegally, thereby causing hassles while often just getting an umpire who will not call hidden serves, and so essentially giving their stamp of approval to the illegal serves? Teach illegal serves to all or most of their juniors so they can both practice against them and use them in tournaments as so many others do, and ignore the fact that it is illegal, and to be blunt, cheating? Or just serve legally, and accept the fact that they will always be at a large disadvantage when opponents do not? I've talked it over with some of our cadets and juniors, and most don't want the hassle, and lean toward just accepting that some opponents are going to serve illegally, and they'll just have to try to learn to return them, and accept that because they serve legally they are at a severe disadvantage. Is this fair?

There is currently a new service rule proposal being worked out that may solve the hidden serve problem. I'll post about that later, since I'm not sure if they want to go public yet.

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