North American Tour

January 29, 2014

Angular Momentum Conservation and the Forehand

Ever notice how when a figure skater is spinning, if she brings her arms in she spins faster? Here's an explanation of that; it's the law of angular momentum conservation. Here's an article that explains this.

The laws of angular momentum apply to both figure skating and table tennis. What this means is that you can rotate faster with your arms in. On the forward swing you have to extend the arm some to get power, especially if you use a Chinese-style straight arm forehand loop. But there's no need to extend the arm during the backswing, and it just slows you down. So in theory, table tennis players should bring their arms in during the backswing in fast rallies so the backswings are quicker. What does the videotapes tell us?

Here's a video of Zhang Jike (1:55) and his forehand loop during fast multiball. Compare how far his racket is extended at contact to where it is during the backswing, and sure enough, he brings his arm in during the backswing. Here's a video of Ma Long (32 sec) showing his forehand in slow motion, which makes it even clearer. Again, compare the racket's position at contact with where it is during the backswing.

But now we look at a video of Timo Boll (2:12), and see a discrepancy - he holds the racket out about as much during the backswing as the contact point. But there's a reason for this - Boll uses a European-style loop, with his arm more bent, and so never extends his racket that far from his body. Compare to Zhang Jike and Ma Long and see the difference.

How about hitters? Here's a video (51:06, but you only need to watch the first 7 sec) that shows two-time world champion pips-out penholder Jiang Jialiang hitting forehands. Note how he drops the racket tip down for the backswing, then extends it sideways during the forward swing? This quickens the backswing.

An extended version of this might become a Tip of the Week.

The Growing Significance of the Backhand Loop

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master. Somehow I missed this article when it came out a year ago.

U.S. Open Blog

Here's another blog entry from Dell & Connie Sweeris, co-chairs for the 2014 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids: "My Favorite U.S. Open Experiences"

Zhang Jike Wins Chinese Team Trials

Here's the article and video (36.43) of the final against Ma Long. He started with a loss to Liang Jingkun, then followed that with ten consecutive wins, including wins over his main rivals on the team, Ma Long, Xu Xin, and Fan Zhendong.

Westchester Joins North American Tour

The Westchester Table Tennis Club, which runs monthly 4-star tournaments - something no club has ever done - has joined the North American Tour. There'll be a press release at some point on this and other aspects of the Tour, but for now here is the current list of tournaments in the Tour (which includes links for other info on the Tour). Others will be listed as the paperwork is complete. Special thanks to Bruce Liu, who organizes the Tour.

Ping-Pong Ball Boys?

Here's the cartoon!

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September 26, 2013

Daniel the Lobber

One of my students, Daniel, age 8, has an amazing ability to soft loop, fish, and lob from off the table, with both topspin and amazing amounts of sidespin), as well as sudden counter-kills. His lobbing may be the best I've ever seen of a kid his age. I even suggested they put together a video for the ITTF Trick Shot Competition of him sidespin lobbing from way off to the side and then perhaps counter-killing - his age and size might give him an advantage. (On the forehand he lobs both ways - racket tip down, the conventional way, and racket tip up, the extreme sidespin way.)

The problem with Daniel is he absolutely hates to play at the table. Every rally he wants to back up and soft spin (topspin and sidespin, usually from nearly off the floor), fish, lob, and chop. (He's a pretty good chopper but doesn't want long pips since that'll take away from his lobbing.) He'd rather go to the dentist than stay at the table. When he loops it's always from way off the table. Some kids are successfully trained this way in Europe, where the idea is that it's easier for the kid to learn to loop if he lets the ball drop down to his level, plus you are learning a topspin contact from the very beginning. (I've coached a few players this way.) However, it's about as non-Chinese as you can get. Chinese coaches mostly have players stay at the table. First they learn to hit and counter-hit, bang-bang style. As they get better, the hitting is extended into looping, again without backing up too much. As they get older and they face more powerful opponents, they back up some to counterloop, but usually not as much as European-trained players. Against blocks they loop over and over within a step of the table. It's all about close-to-the-table power, and it's a highly-proven way to develop players.

I've decided to go ahead and train Daniel "European style," and forget hitting and counterhitting, which he hates doing (except when he counter-kills). He can block okay, but prefers to counterspin and fish from well off the table against loops, even on the backhand, sort of a mini-Lupulesku, if you've seen him play. I'm a bit leery as the five full-time Chinese coaches at our club might not agree with this, especially when he fishes and lobs. Even as I practiced with Daniel, his father noted how the kids practicing at other tables were mostly staying at the table, even when they looped. But getting Daniel to do that would be like taking cotton candy from a kid, and he has great fun with this off-table type of play. So we agreed to train him this way; maybe when he's older he'll start playing closer to the table, or perhaps not. I'll try to convince him to focus on mid-distance looping rather than lobbing everything, but he's pretty quick to throw one up - he lives to lob. (Paging James Therriault!)

This reminds me of a year at the Junior Olympics, at least 20 years ago, when there was a very weak field in under 10 boys. The winner was a kid who simply lobbed everyone's serves and returns of his serves (usually pushes) up in the air, often with funny sidespins, and the other kids didn't know what to do with it. So the lobbing kid won Under 10 Boys, but he wasn't really a good lobber - he could only lob back serves and pushes. I don't think we ever saw him again.

North American Tour Gains Momentum

Here's the article! Along with the rise of modern full-time training centers, this could be the best thing happening in our sport - we'll see. (There have been other attempts at setting up such tours, but it only takes one successful attempt to make it successful.)

Waldner Playing in Swedish League

Here's recent video (7:35) of Jan-Ove Waldner playing - he's still got it! What struck me about the video is how return of serve has changed since Waldner's time. Waldner steps around over and over to receive with his forehand, even against short balls. This is almost a lost art; these days players use their backhands over and over against short balls, with "banana flips" (i.e. over-the-table backhand loops with both topspin and sidespin). Also watch how over and over, both in receive and in rallies, he'll be aiming one way and the last second change directions. There's a reason many call him the greatest player of all time.  

Ma Long's Instructional Video

Here's the video (55:29) - I don't think I've linked to this before. (Ma Long has been #1 in the world for the past three months, as he has for 25 months since 2010.) It gives a table of content at the start, so you can skip ahead to the parts that interest you. Here's the listing - see which parts interest you.

1:00 -- (1) Serving With The Shakehand Grip
1:03 -- »» Short Forehand Serve
4:56 -- »» Long Forehand Serve
7:57 -- »» Short Backhand Serve
11:08 -- (2) Shakehand Basics
11:11 -- »» Forehand Drive
11:23 -- »» The Forehand Grip
14:56 -- »» Backhand Drive
18:29 -- »» Transitioning Between Forehand & Backhand
23:40 -- (3) Variations in Service Receive
23:43 -- »» Service Receive, 'Push' & Attack
26:21 -- »» Backhand Flip
31:28 -- (4) Looping Close-to-table Returns
31:32 -- »» Looping Down-the-line from the Forehand Position
35:29 -- (5) Over-the-table Backhand Loop

Great Rally - Timo vs Who?

Here's video (60 sec) of an incredible rally between Timo Boll and someone I can't quite place though I'm sure it'll turn out to be someone I should know. (Anyone know? Neither player is identified in the video. I think the player's name is on his back but I can't make it out. I don't see it in the comments either.) The scoreboard on the far left shows the other player up 3-1 in games on Boll - not too many players can do that!

UPDATE - John Olsen informs me that the other player is Christian Suss. I've met him but didn't recognize him.

Lieutenant Uhura and the Kenya TTA

I've been watching the shopping mall tragedy unfold in Kenya. I can't help notice that the president of Kenya, who has made a number of speeches or announcements, is Uhuru Kenyatta. His first name is just one letter away from Uhura from Star Trek, while his last name is essentially Kenya TTA. This combines the best of my two worlds, science fiction and table tennis. (Kenyatta's father was the founder and first president of Kenya.)

Cat Playing Table Tennis

Here's a pair of repeating gif images of a cat playing table tennis.

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