Maryland Beer Pong Scandal

November 13, 2013

Potomac Open Serves

There were a number of serving "incidents" at the Potomac Open this past weekend. Here's a summary.

In one match a player accused another of hiding his serve. He called for an umpire. The problem was the umpire didn't feel there was enough room between the tables for him to sit without getting in the way of the players on the adjacent table. So he suggested they move to another open table that was on the side of a row of tables, where he could sit without getting in anyone's way. The player who was accused of hiding his serve didn't like that, saying that the lighting for that table wasn't as good. The umpire and two players argued for a time. They were playing on table #2; the players on table #1 interjected and said why not switch tables with us, so the umpire could sit on the far side away from table #2 and so not interfere with anyone. So they switched tables, and all was well. (Ironically, the server accused of hiding his serve was faulted, not for hiding the serve, but for dropping his hand below the table when he served. The other player was also warned for some serving infraction.)

Another player, rated about 1950, had developed a short, high backspin serve that bounced back into the net, sometimes back over the net. A lot of top players fool around with serves like that, but they don't really work against top players, who can reach over the table for the ball, and often smack a winner off it since the serve is high. But this player had two matches where he used the serve effectively over and over. The first was against Charlene Liu, the U.S. Over 50 Women's Champion, rated about 2000 but not much more than five feet tall. She couldn't reach many of the serves, and they had a long battle. Charlene finally pulled the match out, mostly because she was able to barely reach some of the serves.

However, in his very next match he was up against a very short junior player who was rated higher than he was. But the kid couldn't reach these serves. Three years before they had played in the final of Under 1900 and the player had beaten him in five by using the same serve over and over. He still couldn't reach most of them, and had a tough battle on his hands since he was spotting about five points a game to this serve. But he managed to win 3-1, deuce in the fourth (down several game points in the last game, so it almost went five). There was much debate on the sidelines about the sportsmanship of this serve. It's legal, of course, but sort of makes a mockery of the game since it's basically unreturnable by anyone under five feet or so tall. You can run around the side of the table, but the server can do it on either side and by the time you see which side he does it on it's usually too late. He usually does it short to the forehand, and if you do go around to the side to return it, he returns it quickly for a winner to the wide backhand. I also have this serve, but I've never used it in a serious tournament match.

I was coaching Derek Nie in the tournament. The referee told me that he was quite impressed with Derek's serves, which he said were extremely legal. Ironically, the message I got from that is perhaps Derek needs to push the rules a bit more! Most top players have borderline legal serves (and often illegal ones). Even if the serve is (barely) legal, they might nearly obscure contact with their arm or body so the receiver has some difficulty in seeing it. Or they might toss the ball sideways into their body or into their racket. Or toss the ball so it's barely six inches. All of these give the server some advantage.

In 37 years of tournament play (since 1976) and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted on my serve exactly once - and as both the umpire and referee agreed, it was a mistake, the serve I was faulted for was legal. I blogged about this in February of 2012, but here is the story again.

In the early 1980s I was about to play another player about my level, around 2200 or so at the time. This was just before the color rule was passed, and so many players used different racket surfaces with the same color. Often they would flip the racket and serve with either side, and about the only way to tell which side the server used was by sound. And so many players with combination rackets began stamping their foot as they served to hide the different sound. It became a serious problem with all the loud distracting foot stomps, and so foot stomping during the serve became illegal. The wording of the rule roughly said that if the umpire believed you stomped your foot to hide the sound of contact, the serve would be a fault.

Before the match my opponent reminded the umpire of this rule, and incorrectly said that if I lifted my foot during my serve, it was a foot stomp and I should be faulted. I was using inverted on both sides, and did not stomp my foot during my serve - but I did left my left foot slightly off the ground when doing my forehand pendulum high-toss serve, my primary serve.

On the very first point of the match the umpire faulted me for foot stomping. I pointed out the actual wording of the rule, and the umpire looked confused. So I called for the referee. The referee explained the rule to the umpire, and the umpire then changed his ruling, saying that in he had gotten the rule wrong, and that I hadn't tried to foot stomp to hide the sound of contact. So it's a let, right?

Wrong. The opponent then argued that foot stomping is a judgment call, and that an umpire cannot change a judgment call. After thinking it over, the referee agreed, and so the fault stood.

I won the match.

Backhand Counter-Hitting and Topspinning

Here are two nice videos that show these two shots, from William Henzell at NetEdge. Backhand counter-hitting is how most players should start out, and is how most players (including me) played their backhand when I was coming up. These days essentially all top players topspin their backhands from close to the table, as shown in the second video. (In the backhand counter-hitting video Henzell has a rather wristy follow-through; most players wouldn't follow through off to the side quite so much.)

ITTF World Cadet Challenge

Here's the ITTF Report on the event (pdf). USA's Victor Liu is in several pictures.

Top Ten Points at the Polish Open

Here's the video (4:45)! The Polish Open was held this past weekend.

Maryland Beer Pong Sex Scandal

Here's the story from the Washington Post this morning. We've had people suggest we run beer pong tournaments at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, but I think I'm going to continue to veto that idea. 

The Funny Faces of Table Tennis

Here's the article and photo gallery!

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