Maria Sharapova

June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th, a Full Moon, and a Honey Moon!!!

Jason Vorhees says hello! (It's the first Honey Moon on Friday the 13th in about 100 years.)

Campaign 2100

I've spent most of the last four days focused on the rewrite of my science fiction novel Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates. A publisher is interested in this novel, which features table tennis extensively. The rewrite is done, for now. However, from July 25 - Aug. 2 I'll be at writer's workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the first seven chapters of the novel are being extensively critiqued, so I'll be doing more rewriting on that. And then I send the rewrite to the publisher, and pray to the TT and SF gods. (The publisher really liked the novel, but had specific areas they wanted rewritten or expanded on.)

The novel covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the entire world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. (Why did they do this? It's explained in the novel.) The novel is a drama that satirizes and skewers American politics. I hope for it to come out in January, 2016, as the presidential election takes off. I hope to be on all the political talk shows!

How is table tennis in the novel? Let's see (and there are some spoilers here):

  • One of the four main characters is the highly sarcastic and brilliant Bruce Sims. (Confession: he's really me, unleashed to say whatever I want!) He had helped run the campaign for the current president, but left the campaign over policy disagreements and because he considers the president an idiot. He plays professional table tennis on the college circuit - yes, it's professionalized - and he's quite wealthy from it. He's one of the best in the world, which is dominated by American and Chinese players. There's an entire chapter early on where he's introduced as he's playing the semifinals of the national college championships. At deuce in the fifth, he simultaneously gets into arguments with his opponent, with members of the crowd, and with the referee, all while listening to breaking news (in a mental implant) about the upcoming election and an alien ambassador who just arrived and got into a spat with the president - first contact. He walks off the court on the spot to get involved. Soon he's traveling the world running a quixotic third-party moderate challenge for president of Earth, against the conservative president and the liberal challenger. (Campaign slogan: "Extremism in the pursuit of moderation is no vice.")
  • In the year 2100, nearly all the top athletes, including professional table tennis players, are big, hulking brutes on steroid-type drugs. Bruce is one of the few who refuses to use them, and so is always at a disadvantage against his more powerful opponents. In fact, he names his racket Sling after the weapon used by David against Goliath.
  • Bruce teaches the alien ambassador, Twenty-Two, how to play table tennis. They play regularly as they travel the world during the campaign. Because her ancestors snatched flying insects out of the air, her reflexes and coordination are far beyond human - and she soon starts beating him, to his great chagrin.
  • The publisher said the best chapter of the novel is the Ping-Pong Diplomacy scene in China, where Bruce and Twenty-two play an exhibition for the Chinese leadership while trying to convince them to support their candidate. After the match, on orders from the world president, world security forces show up and arrest Twenty-two on the ping-pong court, causing an international incident.  
  • Bruce's racket Sling is the latest model of ping-pong paddle, a Maestro Prime covered with Spinsey pinhole sponge, both from Trump Sports. When the ball hits it, the Spinsey sponge compresses, forcing air out through the tiny, angled holes that permeate the surface. If he held it one way, the air shoots upward from the parallel holes, creating a topspin. If he flipped the paddle, so the backhand side became the forehand side and vice versa, then the air would shoot downward, creating a backspin. He also has shoes with variable grippiness, depending on the floor.
  • There's a scene where Bruce is walking through the Great Mall of China (500 miles long and growing, paralleling the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World introduced in the novel), and finds a table tennis store, where he buys a new racket. (His old one, Sling, had been broken.)
  • Bruce is running the campaign for president for Toby Platt. Toby's son, Tyler, age 13, is also an active table tennis player and is running for president of his middle school. Despite his running a worldwide campaign for president, Bruce gets very involved in both coaching Tyler and running his campaign for school president.
  • One of Bruce's idiosyncrasies is that he always carries a ping-pong ball around, tossing it back and forth in his hands, fidgeting with it, throwing it against walls, etc. When he's irritated at someone, he smacks him with the ball.

Table Tennis in Recent Movies

Table Tennis has been in three recent movies that I've seen in the past two weeks or so. There was of course Ping Pong Summer, which I reviewed on Monday. Then there's that scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past where we are introduced to the superfast Quicksilver by watching him play table tennis by himself - here's an animated gif of him playing, with Hank/Beast, a young Charles Xavier (in background), and Wolverine looking on. And then last night I saw 22 Jump Street, where there were several table tennis scenes where Jenko (played by Channing Tatum) plays at a college fraternity, using a wood paddle with no covering and the handle broken off. I don't have video of that, but here's video from the movie of Tatum holding up a Beer Pong shirt (link should take you directly to this, 51 seconds in). As an added bonus, here's video (10 sec) of Tatum levitating a ping pong ball with his breath, though this isn't from the movie. (The ball bounces up and down when he does it; when I do this, I not only can keep the ball in one place, but by spinning the ball I can do it sideways so the ball appears to float to the side of my head. I'll post video of this some other time.)

Building Depth Footwork Skills

Here's the coaching article.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-one down, 79 to go!

  • Day 80: Interview with ITTF’s Deputy CEO Glenn Tepper

World Hopes Week Draw

Here's the article. USA's Amy Wang is seeded #1 in girls' singles, and she and USA's Michael Tran are seeded #1 in Teams. (This is for players ages 11-12, and is taking place at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria.)

World Team Championships - Most Watched in History

Here's the article from the ITTF. 188 million watched it.

Johnny Leach's Legacy

Here's the article.

Ariel Hsing, Welcome to China!

Here's how they welcome her.

Name the Game Contest

Here's the video (49 sec) where you are asked to come up with a name for the game. Alas, it's already been done - they are playing gnip gnop (read it backwards), where you hit the ball so it hits your side of the table first instead of directly over the net. I was introduced to this game back when I first started in 1976, and it's been a favorite at camps ever since, and presumably for many years before. I sometimes teach the game to beginning kids, as it's easier for them to rally this way while they develop their hand-eye coordination, but I mostly don't because it's too addictive, and once they get started with gnip gnop it's all they want to play.

Maria Sharapova Plays Table Tennis

Here she is shortly after winning the French Open. For some reason she's playing left-handed, even though she's a righty in tennis. Anyone know who her opponent is? Here are four more pictures of her playing: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4

Herbalife Soccer Ad

Here's video (30 sec) of an ad from three years ago for Herbalife, a nutrition and weight management company. It features Argentina's star player Lionel Messi, who is currently playing for them at the World Cup. This is a rare combination of the world's two most popular participation sports!

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June 27, 2013

MDTTC Camp, My Back, Looping, Stroking, Pushing, Boys versus Girls, and Untying Knots With My Toes

Yesterday's focus was forehand looping. Because of my back injury (see yesterday's blog), I couldn't demonstrate, so I just gave the lecture and then fed multiball to Nathan Hsu, who demoed it against both backspin and topspin. For some reason for many years I've used the top players in the camp for demoes rather than the coaches themselves. We do have a lot of coaches/practice partners in our camps - Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), Chen Jie ("James"), Raghu Nadmichettu, and myself.

Teaching the loop to a beginner with just one ball is very difficult, and is one of the reasons why conventionally it isn't taught until the player has played for many months and has solid forehand and backhand strokes. While the emphasis early on still should be solid forehand and backhand strokes in most cases, multiball allows players to learn to loop much earlier than before, since they can do it over and over, rapid-fire, rather than the old-fashioned one at a time. My theories on when a junior player should learn to loop are constantly evolving, but more and more I'm sort of letting the player decide - over and over they see others doing it and want to learn, and rather than have them try to learn it on their own and develop bad habits, I teach it to them when they feel they are ready. However, I still focus on developing sound forehand and backhand strokes, which later are essentially extended into loop strokes, as per Chinese theory. I also teach more topspin-oriented strokes than I used to, which makes it easier to learn to loop later on. I still remember when I was learning to play and the emphasis on forehand and backhand strokes was to hit the ball deep into the sponge and into the wood, with a loud wood sound. That's no longer the way it is usually taught anymore, where topspin is more important than that satisfying smack from hitting into the wood.

I also introduced the beginner's group to pushing. I used soccer-ball colored ping-pong balls to do this, as well as when teaching serves, since this allows them to see the backspin on the ball, and see if they are returning it with their own backspin. The kids love the balls, and we are in 100% agreement they should be the official ball of table tennis, rather than the bland white or orange ones we use, where you can't really see the spin. (Here's where I get them at Amazon - you have to buy a six-pack which only contains two of the soccer-style balls. You can't really see the spin on the baseball and basketball style balls.)

Because of my back, Coach Raghu substituted for me in the one-hour coaching session I had scheduled during the 1-3PM break. I also had three more hours of private coaching scheduled today, in addition to the six hours of the camp. Because of the back, two of them cancelled, and will start up again after I return from the U.S. Open (hopefully with the back better). I'm going to do 30 min of the other one, with just backhands and multiball, and then Raghu will do the second 30 min. Since I'm free tonight from my coaching, I'm taking a group of kids to see the movie "White House Down," which opens tonight with a 7PM showing. So the kids are happy I hurt my back, right?

Here's a simple observation, make of it what you want. Over and over, in the beginner's group here and in previous camps, the girls just want to rally, while the boys want to compete. I usually try to do a mixture, but the last two days I've sort of thrown up my hands toward the end of each session and divided them into two groups, letting the girls rally while the boys played games. (The games were sometimes regular games, other times Brazilian Teams, other times "King of the Hill.")

Interesting non-table tennis tidbit: one kid was having trouble moving because his shoe kept coming halfway off. When I asked why he didn't tie it tighter, he showed me that the laces had become tightly knotted, and he couldn't untie them so he could retie them properly. Instant nostalgia! Not because I used to have tightly knotted shoelaces, but sort of the opposite. Back when I was about 12 years old (circa 1972, Nixon was president), I became a fan of Harry Houdini, the escape artist. One of the things he was famous for was his ability to tie and untie knots with his toes! This helped facilitate some of his escapes. I became determined to learn to do that, and I spent many weeks sitting on the side of my bed, with shoes and socks off, practicing this. I became very good at it, and would challenge friends and classmates at school to tie my shoelaces into knots as tight as they could, and then I'd untie them with my toes. (I'd use both feet for this.) Anyway, because of that background I consider myself an "expert" on untying knotted shoelaces, and it took me only seconds to untie this kid's tightly knotted shoelaces, though I did use my fingers for this. Now I'm tempted to take my shoes off and see if I can still tie and untie knots as I did over 40 years ago.

Timo Boll Defeats Xu Xin

Last week, in round two of the China Super League, Germany's Timo Boll defeated world #2 and reigning Men's World Champion Zhang Jike. This week, in round three, he defeated world #1 Xu Xin. Here's the article and video of the match (36:22). These are not huge upsets, as Boll is #5 in the world, but it's not often that non-Chinese have these wins against the top Chinese.

Ping Pong Ball Stop Motion Animation

Here's the video (4:03).

Maria Sharapova Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (1:59) which just went up yesterday. She's playing British TV host Jonathan Ross. The pink table they are using is too small, only about three feet wide instead of the legal five feet wide.

Tube Ping-Pong

Here's the picture. I want to play!

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