Short Push

August 28, 2013

Nathan and Cheng: Short Push Drill

Last night, as I was about to leave the club, I saw Nathan Hsu (17, about 2400) and Coach Cheng Yinghua doing a short push drill. It looked interesting, so I stopped to watch. I ended up watching for something like half an hour as they were really working on this. The basic drill was they'd push short until one of them either popped the ball up (flip it!) or accidentally or intentionally pushed long (loop it!). Most often they'd push short a few times, with Nathan moving in and out each time, and then Cheng would fake another short push and instead push long, Nathan would loop, and then they'd rally.

Three words describe this drill: Tiring, Finesse, and Tricky!

Tiring: There is no more tiring drill in table tennis than in and out drills. Top players are in such great shape they can endlessly and tirelessly move side to side. But those in-and-out drills are the absolute worse. These are drills where the coach drops one short, and the student has to step in and push or flip it, then step back, and be ready for either a deep ball or stepping in for another short ball. For some physiological reason, this is the most tiring drill you can do in table tennis - many top players have commented on this, and I know it from many years of personal experience.

Finesse: Dropping the ball short as you move in like this takes great control. Few players have the finesse for this. Watching Cheng take every ball right off the bounce and dropping it short and low was something to watch. Nathan wasn't far behind on this, though he was often caught by Cheng's...

Trickiness: It's not enough to just drop the ball short. At the higher levels they are tricky with this, and can change the depth and direction of their returns at the last second while seemingly doing the opposite. Cheng got Nathan over and over when he'd seemingly push aggressively. Nathan would get ready for the long push, but the ball would go short again. How did Cheng do this? By varying the grazing contact with the ball. Even with an aggressive pushing motion, if he barely grazed the ball it would go short and very heavy. If he grazed it slightly less, the ball would go deep. Both strokes looked the same, so you couldn't tell what he was doing until the ball left the racket. The problem was when Cheng would push short one way, and then suddenly do this "aggressive" motion that really looked like it was going deep, but it would also go short, catching Nathan and zillions of past opponents as they switched from ready to loop the deep push, to last-second lunges for the unexpectedly short ball.

But it wasn't just the depth. At the last second, as Cheng's racket moved toward the ball, it would become "obvious" which direction he was pushing, and Nathan (and zillions of past opponents) would start moving toward that spot. Then, with a last-second wrist move, he'd push the other way.

The great thing about this was watching Nathan make adjustments as he figured out how to deal with these pushes, and watching him experiment in doing these tricky pushes right back. It'll take a lot of practice to reach Cheng's level at this. (The irony is that at his peak, Cheng was such a good blocker that against USA players he'd often just push long over and over - changing the direction at the last second - and save the short pushes for when he played world-class players or when a game unexpectedly got close.)

None of this pushing stuff is really new to an experienced player or coach - I've been doing all this for decades. But knowing about it and doing it at a pretty high level isn't quite the same as watching it done at the highest level. (Want to learn more? I talk about this stuff in my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.)

Don't know who Cheng and Nathan are? Cheng was a member of the Chinese National team for eleven years (1977-87), and won Men's Singles at the U.S. Open twice ('85, '93), and - after becoming eligible at age 38 after retiring to become a coach in the U.S. - Men's Singles at the USA National four times ('96, '97, '99, and '04 at age 46). He had a rating over 2800 for many years. Nathan spent most of the last year rated just under 2400, and was 2397 before a few bad tournaments brought his rating down. But after winning Under 2400 at the MDTTC Open this past weekend he's back to 2400 level and is ready to move beyond that.

North American Championships

The North American Championships are done - congrats to the many winners: Eugene Wang, Ariel Hsing (thrice!), Hongtao Chen, Allen Wang, Tina Lin, USA Men, Canada Women, USA Junior Boys, and USA Junior Girls! Here's the home page with results, articles, and video, and here's the ITTF page with lots of articles.

Tribute to Karakasevic

Here's a video tribute (8:22), to Serbia's Aleksandar Karakasevic, known for his great backhand looping and doubles play. He was #32 in the world in 2006, and as recently as 2012 was #40. He won Men's Singles at the U.S. Open three times - 2003, 2006, and 2007. He never won an ITTF Pro Tour event in Men's Singles (making the semifinals two times and the quarterfinals five times), but he won Men's Doubles three times and was runner-up twice. He made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the 2011 European Championships, where he was also Mixed Doubles Champion three times.

Great Rally at the Czech Open

Here's a great rally (35 sec) at the 2013 Czech Open between chopper/looper Masato Shino (JPN) and Pavel Sirucek (CZE). The rally includes a great net ball off the side return, chopping, and counterlooping.

Longest Table Tennis Rally

Two Wisconsin teenagers set a new record for longest table tennis rally - 8 hours 30 minutes and 6 seconds! Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation.

Ping Pong Portal Picture

Here's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. Sometimes, when you dig yourself a big hole in a match, you just have to climb or tiptoe your way back out of that hole. A green hoodie helps, except perhaps in Florida. (Sorry, Sunshine State!) Or maybe that's a portal to another dimension of time, space, and table tennis.

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February 27, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

I'm 53 today and sick in bed. Terrific. I'm still undecided whether I can do three hours of scheduled coaching tonight, 6-9PM. (Usually I have a 5PM as well, but she's out of town.) So today's blog will be a bit short.

Freezing Up

Here's an interesting psychological study. When I serve short backspin to top players, I instinctively prepare to follow up against three possible receives: short push, long push, or flip. This past weekend at the end of a lesson I played a practice game with a student who really could only push long off this serve. But a strange thing happened. I served and instinctively prepared for his long push - and instead, he pushed short! I was so caught off guard I literally froze in mid-backswing as the ball bounced twice on my side of the table.

I had mentioned short pushes to him before, but hadn't really taught him how to do them yet. He'd just picked it up on his own, and he realized he needed to push short to stop my loop. Meanwhile, my subconscious mind was so set on the idea that he could only push long that it not only anticipated it, it froze up when the push went short, as if to say, "That does not compute."

New Players/Practice Partners/Assistant Coaches

Two new players/practice partners/assistant coaches arrived at MDTTC from China on Monday. They are Zhang Liang Bojun, 17, a right-handed shakehander from the Hunan Province Team, and Chen Jie, 16, a lefty shakehander from the Guanxi Province who was training at the Shandong Luneng School. Here's their picture, with Zhang on the left. We're not yet sure of their level, but probably somewhere in the 2500-2600 range; we'll see. They join the two other players/practice partners/assistant coaches that joined us a year ago - Wang Qing Liang (17, rated 2598, Men's Singles Semifinalist at the 2012 U.S. Open, a chopper/looper) and Chen Bo Wen (14, rated 2494, a two-winged penhold looper), and coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Rocky Wang, Raghu Nadmichettu, Jeffrey Zeng Xun (currently in Taiwan but returning this summer) and myself.

MDTTC Open

The MDTTC March Open is this weekend, March 2-3.  Come play and watch as the new Chinese players and others battle for the title.

Chuang Chih-Yuan Smashes Lob

Here's a composite photo of Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taiwan smashing a lob. From a coaching point of view, the key thing to note is how he backswings as if the ball were low, and then raises his racket, all in one continuous motion. Some players raise their racket too early, leading to an off-balance shot.

Shot of the Year?

Here's a video (40 sec) showing a shot by Koki Niwa at the Japan Top Twelve this past weekend. As one commenter wrote, "What in gods name possessed him to even attempt to hit that shot? It's madness, MADNESS I SAY!" One interesting thing to note is how Koki returned the short serve with a backhand from the wide forehand side, a growing trend these days.

Topspin Charity Event

Here's a video (3:19) of the MarblespinTV Topspin Charity Event.

Waldner Jump-the-Barriers No-Look Lob

Here's the video (1:06).

Colorful Tables?

Here's the photo - yellow, blue, green, and red tables.

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