High-Toss Serve

April 29, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Decline of the High-Toss Serve and Why You Should Learn It.

Pong Power Pins Proposal

Martial arts have colored belts. For many years people have proposed that table tennis adopt something similar, but designed for table tennis. But nobody could ever decide just what it should be. Here is my proposal.  

  1. USATT should have specially made Pong Power Pins, numbered every 100 points from 1000 to 2800, which would be sold at slightly above cost to players as they reach these 100-point milestones.
  2. To qualify at each level, a player would need to both reach that rating level in tournament play, and beat at least three players at that rating or higher in tournament play. This latter is to make sure the player didn't just have a fluky tournament that gave them an inaccurate rating, as often happens; three wins at a level is a minimum goal for one who wishes to attain that level.
  3. Once a player qualifies for a pin, he would send in the needed fee ($5-$7?), and USATT would send that person a pin.
  4. The system would be administered by a newly-created USATT Ratings Committee, which would presumably also advise on other ratings matters. However, the actual sending out of the Pong Power Pins would be done by USATT Headquarters.   
  5. The design of the Pong Power Pins would be done by a contest, with the creator of the winning design getting a free five-year USATT membership. The winning design should prominently display the actual rating achieved (such as 1800), and also obviously be table tennis related. For example, the rating achieved might be inside a stylishly designed ping-pong paddle.
  6. A color scheme would be used for the pins, perhaps the following: 1000-1400 (red); 1500-1900 (green); 2000-2400 (blue); 2500 and up (gold).
  7. Since ratings are online from 1994 to the present, players who qualified during that period could apply at any time for a pin. Players who may have qualified from before 1994 must present evidence that they qualified, normally with copies of rating lists from pre-1994 magazines. Players from before 1994 would only need to show they achieved the required rating, and would not be required to have three wins at the required level.
  8. Players would be encouraged to wear their Pong Power Pins at tournaments and at other table tennis activities.

Weekend Warrior

I should write a book on how to beat players without really doing anything. I'm feeling so old and stiff these days that it seems as if I'm barely doing anything when I play. And yet this past weekend, in practice matches with many of our top players, I went undefeated, winning nearly every match 3-0, with none going five. (My final record for the weekend was 13-0, losing a grand total of two games.) Either I'm playing really good without really playing really good, or no one can take my tottering about the court seriously. Anyway, for the weekend I won matches against players rated roughly (I'm rounding these off a bit) 2250, 2230, 2180, 2100, and a mess of players from 1800-2100. At one point I told someone I've never been so tired in my life - and then I went out and beat the 2230 three straight, with two of the games at 3 and 4.

Okay, how am I winning without seemingly doing anything? Mostly off serve, receive, sudden forehand attacks (both looping and smashing), and a steady backhand. I'm throwing every serve I have at players (which doesn't take much physical effort) and taking their game away with effective receives (again, minimal physical effort since I'm mostly controlling the serves with short and long pushes and controlled flips rather than trying to loop all the deep ones like I used to). When I attack, it's usually one-shot affairs, where if they make a strong return my attack ends - but usually, if the first attack is well-placed, it either doesn't come back or it's a weak return. And when all else fails, I just go backhand to backhand. I don't have an aggressive backhand, and I can't stay at the table, but I can keep it on the table, deep and wide to the backhand.

After beating the 2230 player I gave him a pep talk on how he can't let players like me completely dominate with serve and receive. He was relying far too much on pure physical skills, but rarely got a chance to use them.

There was one moment of hilarity when I was playing one of our juniors, and I serve and smashed twice in a row. The kid, who is far more used to players looping than smashing, pointed at me and said, "He's using his hardbat skills!" (I normally use sponge, and loop about as much as I smash, but I'm also a hardbat player on the side where I'm an all-out hitter on the forehand while mostly chopping on the backhand.)

Table Tennis Master

Here are three new coaching articles from Table Tennis Master.

Ma Long Training and Donn Olsen

Here's a video (7:25) with selections of world #1 Ma Long of China in training as he prepares for the upcoming World Championships. The video is at the Event Arena in the same building as the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. At 5:20, you'll see Coach Donn Olsen of the U.S. walk into the video. He's been to the Schlager Academy a number of times. Donn's doing coverage of the Chinese training, and along with Kyongsook Kim (another U.S. coach) is presenting a paper at the 13th ITTF Sport Science Congress, which meets every two years at the Worlds.

Hou Yingchai vs. Daniel Gorak

Here's a video (4:34) from the ETTU Cup Final, between attacker Gorak and chopper/looper Hou, with time between points removed.

Missouri University and Alan Chu

Here's an article and video (3:08) from Vox Magazine that interviews Alan Chu, a sports psychology graduate student at Missouri University and a member of their table tennis team.

Susan Sarandon and Jimmy Fallon

The two talk ping-pong and Justin Bieber in this article and video (3:58) from Table Tennis Nation. (First you get to meet Susan's cure little white dog.)

The Dark Side of the Paddle

Here's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan, a rather dark one as a tornado-style paddle from the seeming dark side comes down to do battle at the table in a seeming cornfield (from The Natural?). (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

Cub Scouts Build Super-Sonic Ping-Pong Ball Gun

Here's the video (2:05) as they blow up watermelons and coke cans! The balls shot out at speeds up to 883 MPH.

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February 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Learn to Play Defense.

Why the High-Toss Serve Isn't as Popular as Before

I saw an online discussion of why the high-toss serve isn't as popular as before, and thought it would be a good topic for my blog. I've been high-toss serving since the 1970s, and it's still a major part of my serving game. Here's an article I wrote on the high-toss serve.

The higher toss allows extra spin on the serve. However, you lose some control as well as some deception. Here are the two main reasons why the serve isn't as popular as before.

First was the rise of the half-long serve (also called a tweeny serve) as the dominant serve at the advanced levels. These are serves where the second bounce, given the chance, is right about the end-line. Any longer, and they are easy to loop; any shorter, and they are easy to drop short or flip at wide angles. These are probably the most difficult serves to return effectively, which is why essentially every world-class player (and most advanced ones) focus on these serves. The problem is that the difference between an effective half-long serve and a weak one is only a few inches. So control is extremely important - and more difficult to do with a high-toss serve, where the ball is traveling much faster at contact.

Second is that you lose some deception with a high-toss serve. With a shorter toss, the ball is dropping more slowly, and so the server can do more deceptive motions around the contact point, and so it's harder for the receiver to pick up on where contact was actually made. With a higher toss, the ball is dropping faster, and so there's little time for that deceptive motion.

High-toss serves are still effective, but take a lot more practice to develop well than other serves. Most players who high-toss serve can't really control the depth, and so the ball almost always goes long, meaning the receiver knows he's going to get to loop as soon as he sees the high toss. To counteract this, many players hold back on the spin when high-toss serving so they can control the depth - thereby taking away the primary advantage of a high-toss serve, the extra spin.

I find the high-toss serve most effective as a variation to my other serves. I use the same motion for the serve - a forehand pendulum serve - but focus on extreme spins and less deception. Usually I'll serve it short but with either straight backspin or "heavy no-spin" (i.e. I fake backspin but serve without spin). However, I will throw other long serve variations at opponents if I think they start anticipating it will go short.

Update - Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

We did the last three chapters on Friday, finishing with 29 chapters, 448 pages, and 916 graphics which I painstakingly cleaned up in Photoshop, placed on the page, and captioned. (I also had to scan a lot of them, though thankfully Mal Anderson did most of the scanning for the book in advance.) Tim spent the weekend (and much time before that) proofing everything, and today we input all the changes. Then I do all the pre-press work. It's going to be a looong day.

Sales Update - Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here are the first week of sales, Feb. 11-18. (With Tim leaving tomorrow, I'll finally be able to focus on publicizing it, in various forums and web pages, as well as the upcoming ad in USATT Magazine.)

Personal Sales (mostly at club): 9
Amazon Print Sales: 40
Amazon Kindle Sales: 36
Total Sales: 85

U.S. Open in Las Vegas

It's official from USATT - here's a news item on the U.S. Open and Nationals both being in Las Vegas this year, and why.

Timo Boll and China

Here's an article on how Timo aims to continue to be the strongest opponent for China. Includes a 44-second video of Timo speaking in German.

Table Tennis Instead of Wrestling?

Here's an article in the Canton Daily Ledger where someone argues that table tennis should be dropped from the Olympics instead of wrestling. He writes, "Unless you really believe the ping pong movie 'Balls of Fury,' then I think you would agree that there is just a 'tiny' more amount of effort put into wrestling than table tennis." Sure, wrestling is also at the high end in terms of "effort" needed, but few sports take up as much as table tennis at the highest levels. Obviously this guy has never seen real table tennis or seen the training they undergo. That's why he writes for the Canton Daily Ledger instead of [write in your own favorite high-level media outlet].

Behind the Back Shot

Here's a video (34 sec) of one of the best behind-the-back shots I've ever seen, by Quentin Robinot of France (world #173) against Kiryl Barabanov of Belarus (world #581) at the Kuwait Open this past weekend. See it in both real time and slow motion.

Kang Dong Soo vs Fang Bo

Here's a video (9:25) of chopper/looper Kang Dong Soo of Korea defeating Chinese team member Fang Bo (world #24) at the Kuwait Open. Kang plays very similarly to the current Korean #1, Joo Se Hyuk, currently world #12 (#5 as recently as last March) and 2003 World Men's Singles Finalist). The chopping style, when combined with looping, is alive and well!

Google Ping-Pong

Some of you may remember that Google has three times had a table tennis graphic as their daily Google logo, once each for the last three Olympics: 2004 ("Greeks" in Athens), 2008 (the "dragon" in Beijing), and 2012 (the "White-Haired Woman" in London). Here's former U.S. Junior Champion Barbara Wei at Google Headquarters in New York City, standing in front of a large picture of the 2012 Olympic Table Tennis Logo.

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