Target Practice

April 4, 2013

Different Serving Motions

I had a long, animated discussion last night with a pair of our top juniors and their parents about serves. It's always bothered me when a junior spends so much time developing high-level strokes and footwork, but not a strong serving or receiving game. The discussion ended with a mutual agreement on specific service goals for one of the players - certain serves that he'd have ready by specific major tournaments. The other player had to leave to play a match during the discussion, but I'll speak with her later on her own service goals. (When I say "ready," this means done at a high level with lots of variation and control, which takes many hours of practice. Control means keeping it low while controlling both the direction and, even more important, the depth of the serve.)

It's so easy to fall into the habit of "simple" serves, where a player masters a few basic serves that sets him up for his game, at least against lower-level players, and perhaps against peers - but of course part of the reason they are his "peers" is because they haven't developed their service game, and so aren't really controlling play when they serve.

The part that is most often missed isn't that these simple serves aren't effective, to a certain extent; it's all the points being thrown away by not having a bigger service threat. Often their "peers" are only playing them close because they are winning 2-3 points a game on tricky serves. The irony is that players often complain about losing to an opponent's serves - but make no serious effort to learn these serves themselves.

The classic example is players who develop forehand pendulum serves, with simple backspin and side-backspin, and perhaps a pure sidespin or a no-spin serve - and not much else. Maybe they have a deep serve to throw at opponents, often with a different motion that telegraphs it because they haven't spent the time developing it out of the same motion. (This happens all the time; often the server thinks he's using the same motion for the deep serve, but usually is not.)

At a recent Worlds (I can't remember which one) there was a study that showed that there were more reverse pendulum serves then regular pendulum serves at the world-class level. And yet how many players develop these serves below the top levels? It's not that hard. It allows a player to serve sidespin both ways with the same motion until the racket moves forward. With the most advanced serving technique, you can use the same motion until almost the split second before contact before committing to which sidespin. (Note - a forehand pendulum serves is a forehand serve, racket tip down, where the racket moves from right to left for a righty. A reverse pendulum serve is when the racket moves from left to right, and is often more awkward for players when they first try it. If you have trouble, get a coach or top player to help out, or watch videos at youtube.)

When a player can do a reverse pendulum serve (mostly short to the forehand or long to the backhand), with sidespin, side-top, or side-backspin (this last is the trickiest to learn, but is hugely important), and combine it with the same spin variations of a regular pendulum serves, as well as no-spin serves that look spinny, then an opponent has so many things to watch out for that he'll often fall apart. And yet so many players spend years developing a nice loop but never develop these most basic serves.

It doesn't have to be just pendulum serves. There are all sorts of backhand serves, tomahawk serves, windshield wiper serves - the list is endless. Watch what the best servers do, practice, and experiment. Turn your opponent into the one saying, "If not for his serves..."!

USATT Seeks Junior Committee Chairperson

Here's the article. Interested?

Table Tennista

Here are three more interesting articles.

Photos and Other Info from the Korean Open

Here are photos from the Korean Open, care of the ITTF, which started yesterday in Incheon City, South Korea. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, and photos. In the preliminaries, USA's Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang both advanced with 2-0 records. They also won their first match in the Women's Doubles Preliminaries against a Korean team. Both are also entered in Under 21 Women's Singles. (The only other USA player, Wally Green, was eliminated in the Men's Singles Preliminaries.)

Target Practice

Here's a video showing a player doing multiball and aiming at targets. How long does it take to hit 20 targets? Apparently 38 seconds.

Pippa Middleton Challenges Boris Johnson

Pippa Middleton, a British socialite and the younger sister of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, has issued a ping-pong challenge to London Mayor Boris Johnson. The latter is known for his table tennis; Pippa is known for her cross-country skiing. Here's the article in the London Telegraph, where she at one point calls table tennis "whiff whaff," and dismisses the sport as a "less demanding hobby" than cross-court skiing. "My only stipulation is that I can use my favourite Dunlop Blackstorm Nemesis bat, which I used when I played in the Milton Keynes U13 National Championships, don’t you know. Bring it on, Boris." The article includes a picture of Mayor Johnson playing table tennis. 

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January 18, 2013

Target Practice

One of the true tests of your stroking precision is simple target practice. It's also a way to develop that precision. How do you do it? Simply set up a target on the far side of the table, and after bouncing the ball on your side of the table (or jus tossing it in the air), hit the target.

I do this regularly both as a demo and with students, usually using either a 16.9 oz Deerpark water bottle or a 20 oz Gatorade bottle. Usually I can hit it five out of five times. If you can't hit it at least three out of five times, you need to work on your precision and possibly your stroking technique. This exercise allows you to focus on the stroke mechanics and precision without having to worry about an incoming ball that isn't in the same spot every time.

To do this, just set the target on the far side of the table. I usually put it on the far left side (a righty's forehand court). Then I stand by my backhand side, bounce the ball on the table, and whack! I do it both hitting and looping, though the latter has a bit less control. As an added exercise, take a step off the table, toss the ball up a bit, and loop it, contacting the ball perhaps just above table height, and hit the target.

Here's a hint: don't consciously aim the shot. Just line yourself up, look at the target, and then the ball, and just let your natural muscle memory take over. Your subconscious controls these shots; your conscious mind just gets in the way.

Here's a video (1:14) of the late great Marty Reisman doing this . . . with cigarettes! He could hit them well over half the time - at age 80! I've never tried cigarettes, but in honor of Marty, I'm thinking of trying. (I don't think I can bring myself to actually buy cigarettes at a store - I'm a non-smoker, and I'd feel like everyone was staring at me! I'd have to order them on the Internet, or borrow from a smoker.) Marty does "cheat" on some of these, hitting the ball from practically right over the net, but then he's aiming at a target about half the width of your little finger!!!

I had an interesting "bad" experience a few days ago. I demoed this for a student, with a Gatorade bottle as the target, but my shots kept missing, often clipping the top of the net. Then I realized we were using new balls, which come with a coating of dust (apparently from the manufacturing system). The dust was on my racket, and so the ball was sliding, which was why they were going out lower than usual and so hitting the net. I wiped the racket, and then was able to hit the target with ease again.

I sometimes end junior sessions (especially with beginners) by putting a Gatorade bottle on the table, and claim that the liquid inside is "squeezed worm juice," or "squeezed jellyfish" or (if it's a bottle of water) "dog saliva" or something similar. I tell them if they hit it, I have to drink it. I feed multiball as they line up trying to hit the target (two shots each), taking great joy in making me drink the disgusting fluids. I usually end the session by grabbing five balls and going to the other side, and smacking the target five times in a row. It's very impressive, both for the kids and the parents. (If I'm feeling really confident, I'll spread five paper cups on the table, and smack all five off with five shots. But for this I'd bring a few extra balls in case one misses.)

Backhand Loop Training

Here's Backhand Loop Training for Table Tennis, Part 2 (9:20), by Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis. This is actually a promo video for the full video, which is 1hr 43 min. Lots of action video of backhand loops. "Brian Pace gets more strategic and tactical about how to use the Backhand Loop in competition. In Part 1, the focus was on building stroke mechanic and stroke production. In part 2 all of the Exercises focus on every possible case scenario that you will every face in competition that requires you to use the Backhand Loop." In case you missed it, here's Part 1 (6:41).

Jun Mizutani Ghost Serve

Here's video and a forum discussion of Jun Mizutani's serves, in particular his heavy backspin serve that comes back into the net. (The video commentary is in Chinese, but you can follow what's going on.) This serve is one of the most attention-grabbing serves you can do for new players and media people, yet it's not that hard to do for an experienced player. I do it all the time - though I can't "slam" it back into the net as hard as Mizutani.

Chinese Footwork Videos

Here are some nice videos of table tennis footwork. The explanations are in Chinese, but you can follow it easily just by watching. There's also some forum discussion in English that explains some of what's being said.

Google's Ping-Pong Hangout

Table Tennis Nation brings us info on Google's new ping-pong hangout, where they are having their first online tournament. "Go head-to-head with Ad Land's finest in the world's first Ping-Pong Hangout Tournament." Good luck!

Mind-Controlled Pong

Here's video (3:17) of someone playing the online game of Pong using only their mind.

Ping-Pong Warrior Carry Big Stick

What Happens When You Mix Silent Hill Movie, Street Fighter Video Game And Table Tennis? You Get This Guy!!!

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