Ping-Pong Trick Shots

June 27, 2014

Tactics Coaching

Yesterday I had my fourth one-hour tactics session with Kaelin and Billy, with one more session scheduled for today. (See blogs the last three days.) Today we started off by going over the tactics for playing lefties. The most important thing here, of course, is to play lefties so you get used to them. For most, the trickiest part is returning their serves effectively, especially pendulum serves that break away from a righty to his wide forehand. These serves can be deep, they can go off the side, or they can double bounce on the forehand side. There are a number of tricks to returning them. First, anticipate the break so you aren't lunging after the ball. Second, if you do reach for the ball, don't lower your racket as you do so as it'll end up too low, and you'll either have to return it soft, high, or off the end. Also, it's often easier to take these balls down the line, where it's like looping a block; if you go crosscourt, you have to battle the spin more, like looping a backspin, except you probably have more practice against backspin. Finally, since a lefty is often looking to follow this serve up with a big forehand, it's effective to fake as if you are taking it down the line to their forehand, so that they have to guard that side, and at the last second take it to their backhand, thereby taking their forehand out of the equation.

We then revisited doubles tactics, which we'd covered already. This time I wanted them to actually practice circling footwork, where the players circle around clockwise so they can approach the table with their forehands (i.e. from the backhand side). This takes lots of practice, but what they can learn quickly is an adjusted version, where they only circle after the first shot. Whoever is serving or receiving steps back and circles around his partner so he can approach from the backhand side. The complication is if the opponents return the ball to the wide backhand and your partner is over on the backhand side. In this case the server/receiver doesn't circle about and instead stays back and toward the forehand side until he can move in for his shot.

Both players have had trouble with choppers, so I pulled out my long pips racket and we spent about half an hour on playing choppers. There are four basic ways.

With "Asian style" you do long, steady rallies where you lightly topspin the ball (basically rolling it) over and over to the off surface (usually long pips), knowing that all they can do is chop it back with light backspin. This makes it easy for you to topspin over and over until you see an easy one to rip. Then you rip it, usually to the middle, or at a wide angle. If they chop it back effectively, you start over.

With "European style" you move the chopper in and out with short serves and pushes, followed by strong loops. The idea is to bring the chopper in so he doesn't have time to back up and chop your next shot. If he does back up too fast, you push short a second time, catching him going the wrong way.

With "Pick-hitting style," you push steadily until you see a ball to attack, and then go for it. If it's chopped back effectively, you start over. It takes a lot of patience and judgment to do this. The problem here is the chopper can also pick-hit if you push too much, plus a chopper is probably better at pushing.

With "Chiseling style," you simply push over and over, refusing to miss, and turn it into either a battle of patience and attrition, or force the chopper to attack. It usually goes to expedite, and then one player has to attack. I don't like this method.

I had the two of them practice these methods, especially Asian style, where they had to roll softly over and over and over, and finally rip one.

We also went over the penhold and Seemiller grip, long pips, pips-out, antispin, and hardbat. It's all covered in detail in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

North American Cup

The big winners were USA's just-turned-fourteen Kanak Jha and Canadian champion Mo Zhang. Kanak won the Men's final over Adam Hugh, 19,8,9,-6,4, while Mo won over Crystal Wang, 4,-8,11,4,7. Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Here's a story from the ITTF about Kanak and Crystal reaching the final.

The schedule was rather strange. They had the Women's Final scheduled for 9:20 PM, and the Men's Final for 10PM. Why so late? Worse, this was Pacific Time; for me in Maryland, they were three hours later, at 12:20 AM and 1:00AM. I had to get up early to coach at our camp, so I didn't plan to stay up for either. However, at the last minute I was still awake, and so decided to watch Crystal's match, and went to bed right afterwards.

I don't think too many people expected a 12-year-old to be in the Women's Singles Final. At one point things looked pretty close, with the two splitting the first two games, and Crystal coming back from down 7-10 and 10-11 to deuce the third game. Who knows what would have happened if she'd pulled that one out? But it was not to be. My main thoughts on the match: Crystal is usually very good at attacking the opponent's middle, but Mo often stood a bit more centered than most players and so Crystal's shots to her middle were actually into her backhand, and so Mo made strong backhand counter-hits, and so they had a lot of straight backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Crystal also might have tried some heavy pushes to the wide forehand, forcing Mo to open with her short-pips forehand while drawing her out of position and vulnerable to a counter-attack to her backhand side. But this is easier said than done since it can be tricky playing pips-out when you are mostly used to playing inverted. (Crystal does get to play pips-out penholder Heather Wang at our club somewhat regularly, so she is experienced against pips.)

Spinny Loop in Slow Motion Tutorial

Here's a nice video (2:58) that shows a top player demonstrating a spinny loop, both in real time and slow motion, with explanations in English subtitles.

Liu Guoliang: Ma Long Is Likely To Achieve His Dreams in This Cycle

Here's the article, which includes links to two videos of Ma's matches.

Unbelievable Backhand by Ai Fukuhara

Here's the video (41 sec) from the Japan Open this past weekend. Note that Fukuhara of Japan (on the near side, world #10) did this shot at one-game each and down 9-10 game point against Li Fen of Sweden (world #16). However, Li Fen would go on to win the game 12-10 and the match 4-1 before losing in the semifinals to eventual winner Feng Tianwei of Singapore.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (6:07) showing all sorts of trick shots with a ping-pong ball.

Pong-Ping - Why It Never Took Off

Here's the cartoon.

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February 24, 2014

Tip of the Week

Backhand Sidespin Push.

Adham Sharara Interview - More Changes Are Coming!

Here's an interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara. Some of the things he says will make some players nervous or even downright scared. Three of the main things he talks about are ending Chinese domination, slowing down the game by using a ball with less spin and speed (bounce), and starting to restrict rackets with a bounce test. Here are excerpts, and my comments. (Note that I'm saving for last the most revolutionary item - the testing of rackets, i.e. a bounce test, and an apparently new racket approval process.)

When asked why he thinks it's necessary to end Chinese domination, he uses the example of USA basketball, and says, "Hence, we felt it’s necessary to take our sport to other nations and requested China to help others. Table tennis should be played everywhere. Otherwise, it’ll become very boring." I'm a bit leery of the whole idea of making it a goal to end a country's domination, though of course he might have a point about it being more interesting when more countries are competitive.

There does seem to be one difference, however: I believe that when the USA basketball teams dominated, the whole world watched when they played. With China dominating, the world doesn't seem to watch when they play. I think this has more to do with USA media, which is (of course) biased toward USA and tends to dominate or at least influence the rest of the world's media. I'd rather the focus be on China helping to spread table tennis by continuing to do what they are already doing, which is to send their coaches all over the world to train players in other countries. Then it's up to the rest of the world to catch up with China, with the help of these Chinese coaches. That's what we're doing in the U.S., for example. With the help of seemingly zillions of new Chinese coaches and practice partners, and many dozens of new training centers opened in the past 7-8 years, we have by far the best junior and cadet players in our history. In a few years they may be challenging anyone in the world . . . except maybe the Chinese. (USA top juniors and cadets: sic 'em!)

Then they get into balls and rackets. We'd been told that the change to the new poly balls was because celluloid balls are extremely flammable, and it was becoming very difficult to ship them around the reason for insurance reasons. But Sharara says:

"We’re also changing balls. FIFA made the balls lighter and faster, but we’re changing balls from celluloid to plastic for less spin and bounce. We want to slow down the game a little bit. It’ll come into effect from July 1, which, I think, is going to be a very big change in the sport."

We already switched from 38mm to 40mm balls to slow down the sport, and now the change to poly balls is for the same reason. While this might technically slow the ball down and reduce spin, it also will likely have two apparently unforeseen effects, which also happened when we increased the ball's size. First, with a slower ball, players have more time to get into position and throw their entire body into the shot, and so you favor big, power players who rip everything even more - and so the ball speeds are even faster. (On the other hand, a bigger ball does slow down faster due to air resistance, and so is easier to return, as we learned with 40mm balls. But will the new poly ball be slower due to a substantial size increase, or just slower off the racket? Apparently the latter, though the new balls may be slightly larger than the 40mm ball we've grown used to.) Second, with less spin, you make defensive chopping at the higher levels even more difficult as they rely on heavy backspin to succeed.

Finally, we get to the question on rackets. Sharara says:

"In the past, we’ve tried various ways to control the power of the racquet. But players are always ahead of us. They’ve tried other means, which made the action faster. Now we’ve decided to measure the racquet from the outside. The racquets will have a bounce limit as well. We’ll introduce this next year."

Rackets are already tested, mostly for continuity and any traces of illegal glue. This would be a new test, presumably measuring the actual speed of the blade and covering. (There aren't that many rules on blades, which is the racket without covering - they can be of any size, weight, or thickness. About the only rules about blades is that they must be flat and rigid, and at least 85% natural wood. Here are the current ITTF rules on rackets; most of it is about the coverings, not the blade itself.) How far would this new bounce test rule go? Would rackets need to pass a test to be approved, thereby making many older or homemade rackets illegal until tested? Would they be tested at tournaments? That's be another task for referees.

We'll just have to wait and see how these things transpire. Meanwhile, on Saturday one of the kids in our junior class asked me why one of the balls we were using was smaller than the others. It turned out a 38mm ball had been mixed in with the regular 40m ones - the second time this had happened recently. I have no idea where they are coming from; someone at the club must be bringing them in. Later that day I brought one out during a lesson and hit with it, and boy did it bring back some nostalgia! Those balls really react to topspin, curving down like a hawk diving for prey.

Larry's Trademarked Terms

From now on you have to pay me $1 anytime you use any of these terms I've invented. I'm pretty sure I've invented some others but can't remember them.

  • Frobbing (half lobbing, half fishing - sort of a low lob or high fish)
  • Topspinny Backhand (off-the-bounce backhand loops but with a shorter stroke than a conventional backhand loop)
  • Heavy No-Spin (fake spin with a big serving motion but actually no-spin) (Addendum added later: Actually, others were using this term before I did, but I'm trying to steal credit!)
  • No No-spin (fake no-spin serve but actually spinny)

Lily Zhang Qualifies for Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games

Here's the ITTF list of qualifiers (page down to Women's on page 4, and see the third item, "ITTF Under-18 World Ranking). So her world under 18 ranking qualified her for the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games.

Xu Xin Wins Qatar Open

Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's another article on it from Table Tennista.

McConaughey vs. Harrelson

Here's an article on how Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turn table tennis into extreme sport.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's a new video (6:08) with an incredible compilation of trick shots. The first one might be the longest trick shot ever.

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November 27, 2013

Last Blog Until After the Teams

This will be my last blog until Monday. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, so I’m taking the day off, and Fri-Sun I’ll be coaching at the North American Teams in Washington DC. I’ll have lots to write about when I return! Here’s a picture of the facility as they are about to set up the tables.

Preparing for the Teams

This week I’m preparing players for the Teams. Compared to normal, that means fewer rote drills, and more random drills. I do a lot of multiball training, but the focus now is on random shots and simulating match play.  We’re also doing a lot of game-type drills, such as where the student serves backspin, I push back anywhere, he loops, and we play out the point. I’m also making sure they are ready to do the “little” things, such as pushing, blocking, and serving. And we play more games at the end of each session. There’s also the psychological aspect. I keep reminding the players that they need to go into the tournament with their minds clear and ready to play. I also want to keep the sessions fun – I don’t want the players too stressed out over getting ready for three days of almost non-stop competition. I want to see determination, but not grim determination.

USATT Magazine and Membership Rates

I blogged yesterday about the problem with USATT likely moving USATT Magazine in-house. A separate question that comes up periodically is whether it should continue as a print magazine or just go online. There’s an easy solution: go online, with a print option. The editor simply does the magazine as if it’s going to print, which means a PDF version. Then he puts the PDF version online, perhaps with a password required so only members can access it. Those who want a print version, such as myself, would pay extra – and with “print on demand” publishing, it’s easy to send the PDF to the printer and print out only as many copies as needed. This is an obvious solution I’ve pointed out over the years.

The real question is whether current members who are already paying $49/year (too much) should pay still more for the print version, or whether those choosing not to receive the print version should get a discount. I’m for the latter. We keep raising our membership rates and keep wondering why membership stays stagnant; gee, I wonder why? I remember a while back when USATT raised the annual rate in one year from $25 to $40 – and they budgeted as if membership would stay constant! At the time membership had reached 8800. I got into a heated debate with the entire room – all 13 board members – both on the silliness of constantly raising the rates while simultaneously trying to find ways to increase membership, and on the even further silliness of expecting membership to stay constant. All 13 believed raising the rate would have little effect on membership numbers, with one of them explaining to me, “If they’re willing to pay $25, they’re willing to pay $40.” I pointed out that based on that logic, every item in a store that costs $25 should cost $40 (and the logic really applies to all items), but I was told I was wrong. I’m just a coach and a writer, so what do I know about business?

One year later membership had dropped to 7000, and the USATT board spent a marathon session cutting everything since they had budgeted for 8800 members. I was in the room snickering as they did this. And you wonder why I can never convince USATT to do the obvious stuff, not to mention the more difficult things? Maybe if I’d worn a tie at that meeting instead of a warm-up suit I could have been more convincing. (I’m told that, after a decade of slowly recovering, membership is again now close to 9000 or so, though I haven’t seen any membership reports anywhere. I’m guessing at any time the rates will go up again, and we’ll see another big drop. Alas.)

USATT Tips of the Day

Below are the USATT Tips of the Day since last Friday. These are from the 171 Tips of the Week I did for them from 1999-2003 as “Dr. Ping-Pong.” (Click on link for complete tip.)

Nov 26, 2013 Tip of the Day - Inside-Out Forehand Floppy Wrist Flip
When an opponent serves short to the forehand, many players reach in and return it with a nearly stiff wrist, and invariably go crosscourt with a forehand flip.

Nov 25, 2013 Tip of the Day - Back Up Slightly When Opponent Backs Up
Suppose you’ve hit a quick, hard shot, and your opponent has moved five feet back to return the ball with a counterdrive or soft topspin. 

Nov 24, 2013 Tip of the Day - Aim One Way, Go the Other
Many players develop strong rally shots. However, they are often very, very predictable. An opponent can anticipate where each ball is going early in your stroke, and so always has lots of time to get to the ball.

Nov 23, 2013 Tip of the Day - Go Down the Line From Wide Forehand
When an opponent goes to your wide forehand, they give you an extreme angle into their wide forehand.

ITTF Coaching Course in Singapore

Here’s the ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 Course that was just taught in Singapore by USA’s Richard McAfee. (I linked to the photos yesterday.)

Best of the Chinese Super League

Here's the video (7:31).

Xu Xin on the Mini-Table (and an Interview)

Here’s the video (4:18) of world #1 Xu Xin of China versus TableTennisDaily’s Dan, on a mini-table with over-sized rackets! (And yes, Xu the penholder is playing shakehands here.) And for the more serious-minded, here’s Dan’s interview with Xu.

Little Girl Phenom

Here’s video (21 sec) of a girl, maybe five years old, drilling at a rather high level – watch out China! I believe she’s from the Mideast; can anyone translate what the comments say?

Ma Long’s Amazing Shots

Here’s the video (42 sec), with four Chinese players all counterlooping crosscourt, including Ma Long (near right) with Wang Liqin. Watch what happens right after 30 sec. First, Ma Long does a rather interesting forehand sidespin chop-block. Then he switches hands and counterloops the other two player’s ball.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here’s the video (1:57) of someone with a series of great trick shots! I especially like the very last one, where he’s rallying with a girl with two balls, but catching each of her returns and quickly feeding it to continue. I may try that out in my coaching sessions today.

Happy First Birthday to Uberpong

Here’s their birthday cake!

How to Make a Ping-Pong Ball Turkey

Here’s the article!

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