2013 Eastern Open

June 10, 2013

Tip of the Week

Staying Low.

Eastern Open

It was a tiring weekend, but tournaments always are. I think coaching is more tiring than play. Seriously! Here are the results. We got there on Friday afternoon so our players could practice. I ended up volunteering with the NATT group running the tournament and spent some time putting together barriers. It was nostalgic - I was in charge of barriers at two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Nationals, and one North American Teams.

I mostly coached Derek Nie (12) and Sameer Shaikh (11). Sameer won Under 800 and made the final of Under 950, so it was a successful tournament for him. However, he needs serious work on staying low - hence the inspiration for this week's Tip of the Week (above). Often in practice with me he stays down, but once he gets into matches he tends to stand up straight, and his strokes and movement become awkward. We're going to focus on this for the foreseeable future.

Derek, rated 2215, had a strange tournament. On the one hand, he made it to the final of Under 2375, and had wins over players rated 2353 and 2332. He also went through stages where he was playing extremely well; his backhand play especially has improved as he can now do five types of backhand loops very well - over the table against short balls (especially serves), i.e. "banana flips"; off regular backspin; backhand rips against weak balls; in fast topspin rallies where he backhand loops the ball without backing up much, almost off the bounce; and from off table when forced to back up.

However, he had several matches where, at key stages, he seemed to tighten up and miss a few shots, especially finishing forehands. Astonishingly, he also kept missing his own serve, something he'd never done much before. Not fast and deep serves, but simple short serves that normally are almost never missed. He must have missed his own serve over 20 times this tournament - he has some work to do on this. In one five-game loss, after going up 2-1 in games, he missed his own serve four times in the last two games. (He also had a knee problem that affected him in some of his matches, especially toward the end; in his very first match he dived for a ball, and landed on it. Hopefully it's just a bone bruise. I don't think it affected him too much, but he's taking the next two days off to rest it.)

In the end, he lost five-game matches to three of his rival juniors, and another in four where he was down 1-2 but leading 10-8, with the opponent deucing it on a net-edge and winning on a net. (All four were actually rated higher, all in the 2260-2310 range.) Derek and I both agreed that while the actual results this time were somewhat disappointing, his actual play showed great promise. It'll take him time to gain the experience to incorporate his greatly improved backhand play with his already strong forehand play. And we had a lot of fun both to and from the tournament (four-hour drive) doing brain teasers and (I kid you not) discussing physics.

Here's a good place to thank fellow MDTTC players Raghu Nadmichettu and Harold Baring for their help in practicing with Derek throughout the tournament - and also to congratulate them for both making the quarterfinals of the Open. Chen Bo Wen, also from MDTTC and regular practice partner/coach for Derek, made the final of the Open.

I wish I could go into some of the tactics used in the tournament, but some give away too much for possible future opponents. Derek has a new-found "rivalry" with senior player Vladimir Shapiro (2332), who Derek beat in the Open but lost to in the U2375 final. In their first match, Vladimir was up 2-0, but with a major change in tactics Derek won the next three. In the U2375 final, Vladimir made a nice tactical adjustment to win at 7,8,9. "The future belongs to him," he told me, but the present belongs to him - with his two-winged looping game, varied serves, and smart tactical play, he swept three events - U2375, Over 40, and Over 50.

Because I was busy coaching, I didn't see many of the big matches. We left on Sunday as they were about to start the Open Quarterfinals.

We didn't stay at the tournament hotel, instead staying at a cheaper Day's Inn - and paid the price in other ways! I'm not picky about hotels, and didn't really mind it, but I did note a few things about the hotel:

  1. There was litter scattered all over - in the streets, walkways, outside rooms, and hallways.
  2. The coke machine just outside the front desk looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. I could barely make out the flavors. It was situated so that to get at it I had to squeeze between a bush and an over-loaded trash can that smelled of old garbage. When I clicked on Lemon Ice Tea, I got a Ginger Ale. The front desk refunded my $1.50. They said that there had been complaints about this. I mentioned I'd try the lemonade, but they said that if I did, I'd probably get a coke instead. I ended up going for a water.
  3. The arm rests on the chair in our room were both broken and hanging off sideways.
  4. The light fixture between the beds was broken and hanging off the wall.
  5. The front door had some sort of paint splattered over it.
  6. There was trash scattered about the bathroom.
  7. While walking to the front desk to check out, in a walkway littered with trash, I stopped and watched a giant spider crawling about the wall. Spider webs were all over.
  8. The clock at the front desk was 12 minutes slow.
  9. The complimentary was only corn flakes or sugar frosted flakes, plain bagels, bread, sugar donuts, orange juice, and coffee. I didn't mind; I had two bagels.

In contrast to this, the playing conditions were excellent, with grippy wood floors and good lighting. It was rather humid, which gave some players problems. I'll never understand why so many players show up at tournaments without a towel to wipe their racket with. When it's humid, I bring two - one for me, one for the racket and ball.

Here was an "interesting" incident. A very loud argument was going on between a coach and the referee. Several spectators told me what had happened. In the fifth game of a close match a ball rolled into the court. One player raised his finger to signal let. As he was doing this, his opponent, a junior player, not seeing the raised finger (he was watching the ball) went for a shot and missed. The adult who had raised his finger for let claimed the point. The referee was called. Since the junior player didn't know that his opponent had called a let, the point stood, with his opponent getting the point. (I'm not sure if the adult denied calling a let or claimed that since the junior went for the shot the point counted.) The referee couldn't rely on spectators on what happened (or you might get a biased view), and you can't check the video (or everyone would have to video their matches just in case), and so he could only go by what the players said - and so probably made the right call. However, the adult, if did in fact call the let, pulled a fast one there - and he won the fifth game 11-9. Anyway, there was a LOUD interaction between the junior's coach and the referee, which led to the coach getting red-carded and kicked out.

I had another interesting experience. One of the juniors from my club was playing a match and seemed to be struggling. I wasn't coaching the match, but I asked his dad how he was doing, and discovered he was down 2-1 in games and down 5-1 in the fourth against a player rated considerably lower, whose game I knew. (Very strong backhand, very weak forehand, with specific tactics needed to adjust for this since the player was willing to play backhands from the forehand side.) So I called a time-out, explained how to play this player, and our junior went back out and won the game and match.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

More reviews for the book are in. At Amazon.com, there are 17 so far - 15 five-star ones, and two four-star ones. They are selling pretty well at Amazon, both the print and Kindle versions. A few also sold at The Easterns. Hopefully we'll sell a bunch at the U.S. Open.

Butterfly App

Here's an app from Butterfly that allows you to watch the top players on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (Alas, my phone is circa 18th century, and it makes phone calls. Yes, just phone calls. Though I've heard rumors it takes pictures as well.)

Receive Secrets

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Service Receive Secrets From Japan.

Do You Know (the Ping Pong Song)

Here's a table tennis song I hadn't heard before - the music is to the beat of a bouncing ping-pong ball.

Michael Maze - Literally

Here's a cartoon from Mike Mezyan that combines Danish table tennis star Michael Maze, Michael Jackson, a maze, and a table tennis tour. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

Send us your own coaching news!

June 7, 2013


At noon today I leave for the Eastern Open this weekend in Piscataway, NJ, coaching Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh. As usual, I'll bring files of notes of players I've seen before, either live or on video. I'm going up with Derek and his mom. I've actually got some coaching this morning, not to mention my blog and dropping my dog (Sheeba) off at the dog boarding place, so it's going to be a hectic morning.

The complicating factor is I teach a junior class on weekends, on Saturdays 10:30AM-Noon and Sundays 4:30-6:00. Normally Raghu Nadmichettu assists, but he's playing in the Easterns. I have a substitute for Saturday, but not for Sunday. So either I or Raghu have to be back by Sunday at 4:30 for the class. What really complicates things is we don't know if Raghu or Derek will play on Sunday. They will if Raghu makes the quarters of the Open, or Derek the quarters of Under 2375. Sameer will finish on Saturday, so either Raghu or I have to go back with Sameer and his dad when they return that night or the following morning. On the other hand, if Raghu advances and can't go back, and Derek advances (and so has a big quarterfinal match in U2375), I might do some last-minute scrambling to get a substitute for the class so I can stay over to coach Derek.

Derek and I have an established way to pass the time on car trips to tournaments (with his parents driving) - brain teasers. I used to give them off the top of my head - I know hundreds - but I've run out after many trips. Last time I printed out a large number from online sites. Yesterday I stopped at the Library and picked up "The Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems." Derek's gotten pretty good at them.

You can see the players in the Easterns by player's list or by event. Top seeds include Zhang Kai (2603), Yu Di (2600), Peter Li (2557, from my club before he went off to college), Eric Zhao (2543), Li Bochao (2500) and Chen Bo Wen (2494, from my club). For a 4-star tournament, it's not particularly strong, but there'll be some strong competition. Under 13 Boys is a powerhouse, with Jack Wang (2338), Gal Alguetti (2252), Derek Nie (2234), and Sharon Alguetti (2176). These ratings are actually old ratings, the ones used for qualification; at the tournament they'll have newer ratings for seeding. We have a large group coming from my area, with an even 20 players from Maryland, Virginia, and DC, almost all who play at MDTTC.

By the way, they will start setting up the playing hall Friday at 4PM, and finish by 7PM. I'm told that players can practice on any available table during that time.

Balance = Rapid-Fire Shots

I was working with an intermediate player today. I was giving him random multiball to his forehand side, and he had to smash every ball. He was struggling - every couple of shots he'd be off balance, and flailing away at the next shot. The problem was just that - balance. But if I only told him to stay balanced, he'd have continued to flail away - the key was to identify why he was going off balance. And that was pretty easy to see - every time he smashed, his whole body would move forward, throwing himself off balance, and then he'd have to move all his weight back to prepare for the next shot. This also threw off his timing.

I pointed out Chen Bowen, a 2500 player, who was looping against block on another table, and told my player to watch Bowen's head - it barely moved when he looped his forehand over and over. Instead, his body rotated rapidly around it, which created great power - and left him in nearly the same position and balanced, weight between his legs, immediately ready for the next shot. (You do this on both forehand loops and drives.) My player tried it out, and greatly improved his ability to play rapid-fire forehands over and over. It's okay for the head to move forward some on very powerful shots (drives or loops), or when rushed when stepping around the backhand corner, but it should be minimized if you want to be ready quickly for the next shot.

To illustrate the above, here are some short videos to study.

McAfee and the ITTF Coaching Program

Here's my article "Man on a Mission: Richard McAfee and the ITTF Coaching Program," published by the ITTF on its Facebook page. The article is also in the current (May/June) issue of USA Table Tennis Magazine.

North American Table Tennis Language Translator

I just noticed a new feature there. Here's the Eastern Open home page. Go to the top right, and see "Select Language." Then start clicking on different languages, and watch the text on the page change! Africaans! Albanian! Arabic! Traditional Chinese! Japanese! Macedonian! Yiddish! Etc. - I had great fun with this.

Ping Pong Prom Proposals

Here's an article and videos from Table Tennis Nation featuring, you guessed it, Ping-Pong Prom Proposals.

Circular Table Tennis?

I have no idea what to call this type of table tennis, so I'm going to call it Circular Table Tennis. Shouldn't they have people on both the inside and outside, rallying back and forth? (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

Send us your own coaching news!

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