Karakasevic

October 16, 2014

Lack of Creativity in Serving

I'm always amazed at how simple most players serve. Serving is the most creative part of the game (though receive is close), and yet most players seem to serve with little purpose or variation.

A major reason for this is because most players play the same players at their club over and over. There are all sorts of little nuances you can do with your serve that can give opponents trouble - last second changes of spin and direction (via last-second changes to the racket's motion), widely varying spins and placements, serving the extremes (deep breaking serves to backhand/short to forehand, or short heavy backspin/short side-topspin), or just different serving motions - but few use them. Many probably experiment, but since they play the same players over and over, opponents quickly get used to them, and the advantage of these little nuances mostly goes away.

Now even in practice there are ways to overcome this. If an opponent adjusts to your variations when serving from the backhand corner, for example, try it from the middle or forehand side - you'll be amazed at how much this changes things. Or just come up with variations. The more you have, the harder it is for an opponent to get used to them all. Or just hold back on certain serves for a while, and then, when you come back to them, they are effective again. Meanwhile, while you use those newly effective serves, hold back on some others for a while. (When I say hold back for a while, I mean both for a few games or for a few weeks of play - both ways work.)

When you watch world-class players play, often their serves look all the same. What does this mean? It means the world-class server has been successful at hiding his variations from you! There are nuances in every serve they do; they don't just serve to get the ball in play. If they did, world-class opponents would be all over those serves. Instead, they throw lots of little variations out there, varying the motion, spin, and placement just enough to keep the opponent slightly guessing and not completely comfortable. They may not get outright misses as we see at lower levels, but they force slightly weaker returns.

But a key thing to note from all this is that while all your serve variations might not continue to work in practice matches against the same players, they will work in tournaments. If you have a few serve variations that work at first at the club, but then players get used to them and they are no longer effective, guess what? They will still be effective in tournaments against new players, because for them, it is the first time they've seen them, just as it was for the players at your club before they got used to them.

I face this type of thing every day. All of my students are so used to my serves that most of them return them better than players rated far higher who don't face them regularly. In practice games at the end of sessions I often am split between using serves they'll see in matches, or coming up with new variations of my own serves just to throw them off, knowing that they are unlikely to face those specific serves in tournaments. (Last night, for example, one of my students was playing very well and led against me in two straight games. I fell to the dark side of the force and threw at him a series of Seemiller-grip windshield-wiper serves that he'd never seen before, and "stole" the games. Afterwards I let him practice against them, and they probably won't work next time. But I still feel guilty about "stealing" those games!)

One things I always stress is to find the right balance between "set-up serves" and "trick serves." At lower levels, trick serves are more effective, but as players get better they lose some of their effectiveness, and set-up serves become more important - but you should always have both. (Set-up serves are designed to set up a follow-up attack but don't usually win the point outright, while trick serves are designed to win the point outright or give an easy winner.) There's a lot of gray area between the two - a set-up serve can also be a trick serve in some circumstances. Here's a short tip I wrote on this a while back.

Why Karakasevic's Backhand Deserves Recognition

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. The Serbian star has always been known for his phenomenal backhand. From 2001 to 2013 his world ranking mostly bounced about in the 40 to 70 range, with his highest at #33 in January, 2007.

Ask the Coach

Here's another episode from PingSkills.

Episode 9 (11:51)

  • Question 1: Hi Alois, I've noticed that the quality of the training somehow depends on the mood and the concentration. The same strokes I perform differently and miss more with the higher concentration on the ball. What is an object and level of concentration? Olena
  • Question 2: I play at a local club and have received comments that I have a good serve. However, I have noticed that almost all of my backspin serves (Pendulum) have sidespin as well. Is this taking away from the effectiveness of the backspin? Adam
  • Question 3: While playing with my opponent when I tossed the ball for a serve my opponent asked me to stop as he wasn't ready then after a pause of 4 to 5 seconds I served again and again the same thing happened. Is this legal? Rutvik Thakkar
  • Question 4: Hi, sometimes I see professional players immediately smash the ball when returning a serve, I was wondering in what circumstances could and should you do this. Thanks! Alan C

USATT Tournament Advisory Committee Meeting

They met via teleconference on Sept. 18. Here are the minutes.

PingPongRuler.com

Here's a new website that features equipment reviews, videos, and custom-made paddles. Lots of good stuff there! (One thing that wasn't at first clear - in the Equipment Review section it looked at first like there were only very short reviews of each item. Click on the picture or heading and you get a far more extensive review.)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Visits Piing of Power

Here's the article. (And yes, there are two i's.)

International Articles

As usual Tabletennista has lots of international articles.

Ping Pong Trend Bounces Across the Nation

Here's the article on the rising popularity of the sport.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's his latest entry, "Names, names, names - China Day 47" (4:47).

The Spinning Paddle Bouncing Ball Cookie Jar Trick

Here it is (13 sec) - but is it real?

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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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