2013 North American Championships

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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August 27, 2013

Tip of the Week

A Step-by-Step Sequence to Learning Pendulum Serves.

MDTTC Camps

"It's Monday . . . and there's no camp??? No lectures on grip, stance, forehand, and serves?" (Okay, it's really Tuesday, but this is what I was thinking yesterday.) Our ten weeks of camps at MDTTC ended Friday. I've now run about 180 five-day camps, six hours per day, or 900 days and 5400 hours of camp. That's nearly 2.5 years of camps. I've given each of my standard lectures 180 times, or about 1800 lectures in all. I've led in stretching (twice a day) 1800 times. (Well, actually less since I've sometimes missed the afternoon sessions.) And we're not done for the year - we have another camp, our Christmas Camp, Dec. 26-31. (Our camps are primarily for kids, but adults are welcome - we usually get 2-3 each week, sometimes none, sometimes more.)

MDTTC August Open

Here are the results (which I also gave out yesterday) of the August Open this past weekend, run by Charlene Liu. Congrats to Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), who finally broke through and won against Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") after a series of second-place finishes to Wang. It was a dominant performance - he didn't lose a game. Anther having a nice tournament was Nathan Hsu, who's been in a slump recently - but this time he won Under 2400.

I mostly coached Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh in the tournament. (I also coached Tony Li one match, against a Seemiller-style player with antispin, something he'd never seen before. A new experience, and next time he'll be ready.) Derek (12, rated 2291) started well, with wins over a pair of 2150 players - including a mind-numbing win over Lixin Lang (2187) at 16-14, 19-17, 11-8! - but his elbow began to hurt during his match with Lixin. He kept clutching at it, and I almost had him default there. He finished the match, but decided he had to drop out to rest it. Hopefully he'll be okay in a few days.

Derek's other decent win was against Nam Nguyen (2137). They had one of the most incredible three-shot sequences I've ever seen. Nam lobbed a ball short. Derek absolutely crushed it. Nam absolutely crushed a counter-kill from no more than eight feet back, and Derek absolutely crushed a counter-counter-kill off the bounce. It was the fastest three-shot sequence I've ever seen - three forehand smashes/counter-smashes in the blink of an eye. I wish it was on video - it could have gone down as the fastest three-shot sequence ever!!! 

Sameer had a strange tournament - he literally could have won or lost all eight or so of his matches. As it was, he made the final of Under 1150. Down 0-2 in games in the final, he led 5-3 in the fifth before losing 11-8.

During the tournament a player said, "I have to play [higher-rated player]." I pointed out that he had it all wrong - that this [higher-rated player] had to play him! I often quote to my players Rorschach from the movie Watchmen, where he's allowed himself to be taken prisoner and he's surrounded by other prisoners out to get him. After dispatching one in very violent fashion, he says to the group of prisoners gathered around in his gravelly voice, "You don't understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!" Here's the video of the scene (47 sec) - warning, it's pretty violent!!!

North American Championships

The North American Championships end today, Aug. 25-27 in Vancouver Canada. Here's their home page, which includes results, write-ups, photos, video, video interviews, live streaming

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes of a USATT teleconference meeting on July 22 and the email approval vote of those minutes. Here are USATT minutes going back to 1999.

Footwork for a Short Ball

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:46) showing how to step in for a short ball and recover for the next shot.

Zhang Jike Doing Multiball

Here's a video (36 sec) of World Champion Zhang Jike doing multiball. Want to have footwork like Zhang's? Then watch his stance - wide, with left foot off to the side for stability as he rips shots from the backhand side. There needs to be a balance here. If the left foot is too far off to the side, then the follow-through goes too much sideways, and you're not in position for the next shot. If it's more parallel to the table, you lose body torque. (I had a disagreement with a coach recently - not from my club - who insists that when you step around the backhand corner to play a forehand the feet should be parallel to the side of the table. However, not many top players do that, if any.)

Top Ten Shots at the Harmony Open

Here they are (4:38)!

Table Tennis Through Google Glass

Here's an article and video (17 sec) showing table tennis through Google Glass. (Why isn't it called Google Glasses?)

Kim Gilbert After a Two-Hour Session

Here's the picture! So restful....

Mouthful of Pong

Here's another video (14 sec) from the (Tumba Ping Pong Show"! I linked to two other of their videos on my blog on Aug. 16 (at the very end).

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