Legends

November 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Serving Short to Forehand and Long to Backhand.

JOOLA North American Teams

I spent the weekend mostly coaching at the Teams in Baltimore. Since my family lives on the west coast (Oregon and California), I spent my third straight Thanksgiving with Tong Tong Gong and his family - they served a vintage Thanksgiving meal with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry juice, an incredibly good bread that's a family recipe, and a number of other items, including a few Chinese dishes. (They also had 17 relatives over.) I ate more at that meal than I have at any meal in years - and I mean this literally. Since they live only 20 minutes from the playing hall, I stayed at their house for the weekend, as I did the last two years. (I live an hour away.)

The number of teams was down a bit, from last year's 196 to 158. Part of this is because of the new Butterfly Teams in Columbus - see segment below. Some have written that that tournament had no effect on the Teams in Baltimore, but that's absurd - I know of at least 10-12 teams that regularly play in Baltimore that went to Columbus this year, and that's just the ones I know. I'd guess they lost at least 20 or more teams to Columbus. At $800/team, that's at least $16,000 in lost revenue.

While I'm never happy playing on cement, as most matches at the Teams (both Baltimore and Columbus), Open, and Nationals are played on, there's not a lot that can be done about that. However, I was happy to see (yes, that's a pun) that the lighting was greatly improved this year, as part of a renovation at the Baltimore Convention Center. The tournament ran on time, with two tables assigned to every team match we played. They also had much better prizes this year, giving out nice crystal prizes to the division winners that the players seemed happy with.

Here's a picture of the Division One Champions, Atlanta Table Tennis Academy, holding the crystal prizes. (Picture is care of Tom Nguyen from North American Table Tennis.) L-R: Tournament President Richard Lee, Feng Yijun, Liu Jikang, Li Kewei, Coach Wang, Timothy Wang, Wang (Eugene) Zhen, and Referee Bill Walk.

However, this will be the last year it'll be in Baltimore. Next year it's moving to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at the National Harbor, just south of Washington D.C.

Because I was there primarily as a coach, I didn't see much of the finals - just the last match in fact. I played as a part-time player for the NOVA team, playing in three ties where I beat a couple of 2150 to 2200 players and several 1950 players, went five with a 2300+ player, and lost to a 2050 player who moved me around on the slippery cement and then smashed over and over. When I did win points, it was usually off my serves, which gave everyone fits and covered up for my growing lack of mobility. Alas, I don't practice any more (I'm just a coach), and at 52 I'm too stiff and slow to play the way I used to. In my mind, I'm still greased lightning, but once at the table....

It is a grueling tournament, designed for true table tennis warriors. Play began Friday at 9AM, with most teams playing team matches at 9AM, 11AM, 2PM and 4PM, with these matches deciding what division you would get into. (Most teams played two higher teams and two lower teams, though of course this was adjusted for the highest and lowest teams.) On Saturday teams played five more team matches (9AM, 11AM, 2PM, 4PM, and 7PM), and two more on Sunday (9AM and 11AM), with crossovers at 2PM and 4PM. This is a true players tournament.

Tong Tong, just turned 15, didn't start out well, and I'm not going to get into that. He played well on Saturday night, and if he plays like that he might be in the mix for the USA junior team trials coming up in three weeks. He's been on the cadet team the last two years - top four in country - but is now ineligible, but has three years to try out for the junior team. I coached him here, and will be coaching him and Derek Nie at Nationals. Derek, 11, will be trying out for the mini-cadet and cadet teams.

I coached Derek in a number of his matches, and he had a great tournament. He came in at 2139 (from a high of 2170 recently), and pretty much blitzed everyone. He beat about ten players between 2100 and 2200 with, I think, only one loss in that range. He beat three or four players in the 2250 range (one of them from down 5-10 in the fifth), and he beat a 2438 player. He, Crystal Wang, Heather Wang, and Bernard Lemal combined to win Division 3, going 7-0 in the round robin and then winning the crossover semifinals and final for a combined 9-0. (So Crystal won crystal!) I'm wondering if Derek is the first person ever under 70 pounds to beat a 2400+ player?

Derek's best mach might have been the win over the 2438 player, but his gutsiest took place in the Division 3 Final. He was up against I think a 2180 player who could attack from both wings as well as lob over and over, and who played very smart. Derek led most of the first game but lost 11-9. He led 9-8 in the second and was basically lobbed down three straight points. Between games we talked tactics, then I told him if he wanted to win this match, he'd have to win it here (I tapped his head) and here (I tapped his heart). He nodded, and I knew we were in for a long match. Derek won the next game somewhat close, and the fourth easily. In the fifth, the opponent made a diving, lobbing return on the edge, looped a winner, and then got a net dribbler to go up 3-0. After a timeout, Derek only gave up one more point as he won, 11-4.

Crystal, 10, also had an amazing tournament. (I coached a few of her matches.) She beat a 2500+ player, a number of 2250 players, and I don't think lost to anyone below her 2245, though I'm not sure of all her matches. I'll talk more about her when the ratings are processed - but almost for sure she'll achieve the highest rating ever for a 10-year-old, boys or girls, probably well over 2300. There's a chance she or Derek may be adjusted to an absurdly high rating - we'll see. I'm wondering if she's the youngest player ever to beat a 2500+ player?

One strange incident took place. Derek was in a battle with Ray Mack, a 2150 player, and led 10-8 in the fifth. He went for his towel and drink bottle and took a sip. An umpire who was walking by interrupted the match, telling Derek that it was not legal to drink during the towel break every six points! Many or most players regularly do this; I've been doing it for 36 years. While the rules do not specifically say you can take a drink during the break every six points, I've never seen an umpire forbid it. I checked with the tournament referee, Bill Walk, and he agreed that it was okay to take a brief drink during the towel break. It was a rather scary moment when the umpire interrupted the match as it could have disrupted Derek's focus. The umpire got into an argument with Derek's parents and teammates while Derek walked about, looking perplexed. As it was, he scored the next point. I don't think umpires are supposed to interrupt matches in progress to enforce perceived rules violations.

As noted, I didn't see much of the action taking place on the feature courts where the top players were playing. I saw bits and pieces, but not one entire match. I did see the last few games of the last match in the final, where chopper/looper Chen Weixing kept coming from behind before finally losing close in the fifth as Atlanta Table Tennis Academy defeated Team JOOLA, 3-1.

It was a fun but exhausting weekend, which culminated in my getting a mild cold yesterday, though it seems to have mostly gone away already. Maybe I was just tired, though I went through a bunch of Kleenex yesterday. Here are the final division results - playoff results are at the end.

Butterfly Teams in Columbus

While the JOOLA North American Teams were held in Baltimore, the Butterfly Teams were held in Columbus, Ohio. Here are the results, and here's a listing of the players on each team so you can match them with the teams in the results.

Ariel's Speech

Here's Ariel Hsing's acceptance speech as San Jose Female High School Athlete of the Year (3:11). Ariel, 17, has been the U.S. Women's Singles Champion the last two years, and is a 2012 Olympian.

Table Tennis Legends

Here's a video (54:27) of old-time legends playing in the English Table Tennis Association 70-year anniversary gala in 1994. Names include Istvan Jonyer, Gabor Gergely, Klampar Tibor, Milan Orlowski, Janos Takacs, Jacques Secretin, Vincent Purkart, Ferenc Sido, Janos Fahazy, Mihaly Bellak, Tibor Kreisz. Perhaps most interesting is 73-year-old Ferenc Sido (6'4", 240 lbs at his peak, yet still able to move around and chop!), the last hardbat player to win Men's Singles at the Worlds (in 1953, also making the final in 1959). He is shown from 0:52 to 4:54.

Time-Stopping Exhibition Video

This video (1:39) starts as a regular exhibition, with a behind-the-back return, etc., but watch what happens about 13 seconds in!

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