Adham Sharara

October 22, 2014

Studying Table Tennis Videos

Yesterday I spent an hour and a half with one of our top up-and-coming players studying videos of himself and potential opponents. This is one of those things that should be basic to any player who wants to improve. Video cameras and Youtube are your friends!

First we watched two of the player's matches. While you can learn from any video of yourself, you probably get the most out of watching yourself when you are playing your best against a somewhat orthodox player. Whatever is your best is what you want to emulate, so those are the ones to study. (Watching yourself play poorly is a good way to emulate poor play. So only do that to 1. figure out why you played poorly, if you think it was a technical thing, and 2. for tactical reasons to study an opponent so you can learn how to beat him.) In this case, the thing that jumped out from the videos was that our up-and-coming player (whose identity I'm hiding!) has been working so hard on a particular weakness that he/she was overplaying it, at the expense of actual strengths, and so didn't play as well as he/she could.

We also saw a video where our up-and-coming player had a serve that an opponent struggled against every time. But the up-and-coming player used the serve only about once a game rather than perhaps 3-4 times, and probably lost a completely winnable match as a result. 

We next watched videos of two players he/she might have to play, both among the best players in the country. One of them had one huge numbingly obvious weakness, and it was almost entertaining watching some opponents go after it over and over (and win), and others go there only as a "variation," and so lose. When someone has a weakness the size of Mount Everest (or even one much smaller), you should go after it relentlessly, with other tactics the "variation." But too often players fall back into the same old habits and thereby find a way to lose despite a huge sign practically saying "Do this and win!" It was also educational watching the player with the huge weakness using various tactics to cover for the weakness - sometimes successfully, other times not. One player who had been playing him for years ate him alive, going after the weakness essentially every single rally.

One thing that also showed up here and in all the videos we watched - partly coincidentally, but a real trend and tactical problem for most players - was that too many attacks were to the backhand. That's the side where most players block better. In general, players should attack more to the middle and forehand. Here's my Tip of the Week on this - the 3-2-1 rule, i.e. in general, against most players, for every attack to the backhand you should attack twice to the forehand and three times to the middle. Few follow this rule except at the elite level - and in some of those matches they don't follow it because at that level the forehand counterloop is so strong that they have to go more to the backhand. We watched a video of our up-and-coming player where he lost to a player who had trouble when his forehand was attacked, but too often the first attack went to the backhand instead. 

We also studied the receive of some players. Far too many players mindlessly return serves, either with blindingly obvious attacks or blindly obvious control shots. If they aim one way, that's the way they go. Then you watch the better receivers, up until the last second you never know what they are going to do, and often they appear to be doing one thing or placing the ball to a certain spot, and then they do something else. One video that was interesting was watching Eric Boggan - former top 20 in the world, now a way-out-of practice player in his early 50s - completely dominate players with his receive. While he did have the advantage of antispin on one side of his racket (with his Seemiller grip and flipping), what jumped out was how he kept changing his placements at the last second, tying his opponent in knots as he constantly reacted to where he thought Eric was going. Eric not only varied the direction, but also the depth and speed of the shots - if the opponent was too close to the table, he'd get an aggressive receive; if he was farther off the table expecting a deep ball, he wouldn't get it.

More on PBS MDTTC Video

One thing I might have mentioned about the PBS video on MDTTC (featuring Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, and myself, which I linked to in my last two blogs) was that I tried to get coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang into them. I think PBS did video them coaching, but both coaches were busy, and since my English is better, they both asked me to do all the talking for the club. I don't want it to appear that I'm "The" MDTTC coach - we have seven full-time coaches. Cheng, Jack, and I co-founded MDTTC 22 years ago in 1992, but these days they do more of the running of it (along with long hours of coaching), while I just coach and help with some organizing and promoting. (I also do our monthly newsletter.) I was pleasantly surprised that they opened the video by featuring my books!!! The video was featured yesterday on the USATT home page.

Nittaku Premium 40+ Balls

These are the new plastic non-celluloid balls that will be used at the USA Nationals. They are not yet available in the U.S., but (from the Paddle Palace web page, which has other info as well on the ball), "A limited supply [will be] available in November, 2014 only for players entered in the US Nationals. The balls will be more readily available starting in January."

First ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course in U.S.

Here's the ITTF article. Wish I could have been there - hopefully next time.

Ask the Coach

Episode #13 (12:10):

  • Question 1: I was just on a training camp and learned to play early, mid and late forehand topspins against under and topspins. I did quite well there but I guess I still need more training for perfection. I forgot to ask when to play which kind of topspin. Michael W
  • Question 2: I saw a point in the match between Timo Boll v Chun Ting Wong, where Chun Ting was serving and after two or three exchanges Timo pointed out it was a let. Do the rules allow players to do this so late in the point if the umpire has not seen it? Abhinav U
  • Question 3: I am able to do some video analysis of myself playing and was wondering what are the criteria I should be looking for when trying to find weaknesses, also are there tests we can do on strokes to see how consistent we are at them? C Cc
  • Question 4: Hi Alois and Jeff! I have been playing TT for the last 2 years and know the basics (topspin, block, backspin push, etc.), but I struggle against opponents with similar skill but more expensive bats with better grip. Should I change my Tibhar Chila Balsa DHT?
  • Question 5: The rules say that serves must be from behind the baseline, and the baseline should be considered as extending out beyond the edges of the table. On another website video it is said that you must serve from within the edge line. Can you clarify? David M

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Movie

Here's the article about the planned movie, coming from Village Roadshow Pictures, and based on the Nicholas Griffin book, "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World."

Adham Sharara on the New Balls

Here's an article from Tabletennista where past ITTF president and now ITTF Chairman Adham Sharara comments on the new plastic 40+ balls and the Chinese team.

Dog Pong

Here's the video (24 sec) of a dog trying to play!

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June 12, 2014

Is Your Club Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?

Suppose a beginner comes to your club, and wants to learn how to play properly. Does your club have a class for him? Or coaches to work with him? Or is he told to call winners somewhere, he gets killed, and you never see him again?

Suppose a beginner comes to your club, and wants to play others his level. Does your club have a league for all levels, so you can let him know when it's league night, where he can play others his own level? Or is he told to call winners somewhere, he gets killed, and you never see him again?

Suppose a mom comes to your club with two kids, and wants them to learn how to play and to play with others their age. Does your club have a junior program you can put them in? Or is she told her kids should call winners somewhere, they get killed, and you never see them again?

Suppose a beginner comes to your club, and wants to get killed by others. You tell him to call winners somewhere, he gets killed, and he's happy. 

The first three above are the most common new players that come into clubs. Is your club equipped to meet their needs? Does your club have coaches, classes, leagues, and junior programs? Or does it rely on the fourth type? (And we wonder why there are so many crazy people in our sport.) Unfortunately, most clubs rely on the fourth type of player when it comes to getting new players. They probably survive as a club because of a steady influx of experienced players, either from other clubs, or more likely from overseas, where clubs address the needs of the first three types above.

A sport can't take off unless it finds a way to bring in new players. Successful sports like [long list here] learned this long ago, as did table tennis in Europe and Asia - but not in the USA. Is there any doubt as to why table tennis in this country gets so few new players? Most clubs simply aren't equipped to deal with new players, instead relying on experienced players developed by others, or on those crazy types who get killed but keep coming back. 

So . . . is your club equipped to deal with new players? Or does it rely on other clubs and other countries to do this for them? If so, why not become part of the solution? 

Road to Nanjing Training Camp - Shanghai

Here's the video (6:54). This is a must watch. USA players Lily Zhang, Krish Avvari, and Kanak Jha, and Coach Lily Yip are all in it, along with top junior players from all over the world. Coaches include Jorgen Persson, and current or Chinese stars Wang Liqin, Liu Guozheng, Li Xiaodong, and Yan Sen.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty down, 80 to go!

  • Day 81: Interview with Adham Sharara: Growing Pains

These articles are also linked from a special ITTF page. Strangely, each of the stories there is prominently listed at the top as "By: Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor." Ian puts in an intro statement for each of the stories, but Sheri writes them (I verified this yesterday), but that's buried in the text. I don't like this.

Remembering Peter Cua

Here's the article.

Spectacular Point in the Champions League

Here's the video (21 sec), between Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Wang Jian Jun.

Unbreakable 3D printed Ping Pong Ball

Here's the story!

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May 1, 2014

Pips-Out and Other Styles

John Olsen emailed me to point out that two members of the French women's team are shakehanders with short pips on the forehand - Laura Gasnier (age 21, world #144) and Audrey Zarif (age 16, world #148). Here's video of Gasnier - she's the one in the pink shirt. Here's video of Zarif, also wearing pink. I guess pips goes with pink. Is this a sign of this style emerging, perhaps in response to the upcoming plastic balls, which apparently don't spin as well?

Okay, probably not; these players were undoubtedly developing their games long before the announcement that the world was going to non-celluloid balls. And there have always been a sprinkling of shakehanders with short pips on the forehand. In the 1980s and into the 90s Teng Yi was a mainstay on the Chinese National Team (with inverted on the backhand), and Johnny Huang was in the top ten in the world around the late 1990s, with short pips on both sides. Li Jiawei of Singapore was #3 in the world in 2005. And there are a number of others. (Readers, feel free to comment on others below.) So what has happened to this style?

Like most non-looping styles, short pips on the forehand has faced the onslaught of looping reality. The two-winged looping style, and to a lesser degree the one-winged looping style (including chopper/loopers) has pretty much dominated the game for the last decade or more. The reality is this: Why would a coach teach a new player an "inferior" style? And by "inferior," I'm mean a style that might be, say, 1% worse.

Suppose 100 kids were trained at table tennis. Let's suppose 50 were trained as conventional two-winged loopers, and the other 50 at some other style - say, short pips on the forehand or pips-out penholder, or as blockers, or even Seemiller style. Years later, if you examine the results, the two-winged loopers would undoubtedly dominate the ranking list. But guess what? There would be at least a sprinkling of these other styles who would at least battle with the two-winged loopers. But what coach wants to explain years later to his student why he trained him at an "inferior" style? And so essentially everyone is trained as a two-winged looper, with the occasional one-winger, including chopper/loopers. (A number of girls are still trained as hitters, but even that is changing.)

One mystery is why they still train chopper/loopers, but not other "inferior" styles. But there does seem to be some tradition here, and perhaps some players simply like, or are more talented, at a defensive style. But what about, say, pips-out penholders, another traditional style? Very few coaches start out anyone with that style, and so the style is nearly dying out. And so more and more we are getting uniformity in styles. I liked it better when there was more diversity. Most current players under age 30 probably don't even realize how different it was before.

At my club it's the same. Most of the kids we train are shakehanders, with a few penholders, but essentially all are being developed as two-winged loopers, with the penholders all playing reverse penhold backhands. We do have one kid who is developing as a chopper/looper (long pips on backhand), about 1800 at age 12 or so and coming up fast. (Actually, he hits more than he loops, but he'll gradually loop more.) The younger boys and girls tend to hit more, especially on the backhand, but as they develop they'll loop more and more. I had one player who started out about 1.5 years ago at age 11 and did much of his practice time in a basement table with about four feet going back (I went there once or twice a week to coach him there), and so I started to develop him as a hitter - but as soon as he began to understand that most others were loopers, he too wanted to play as a looper, and so now he's a two-winged looper, who even spins his backhand.

Some hypothesize that with the new plastic balls there will be more hitters. My guess is that this won't happen. Like the change to the bigger ball, it just means more emphasis on power, creating even more spin and speed. At the world-class level we're moving down a one-way street, and at the end of the road is a "Loopers Only" sign, with an occasional minority style invited in for diversion.

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll probably run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Adham Sharara Elected to New Position of ITTF Chairman

Here's the article. He's previously announced his upcoming resignation as president. 

Shot of the Day from the Worlds

Here's video (1:09) of a great rally between Feng Tianwei (world #7 from Singapore) and Seo Hyowon (world #8 from South Korea), the latter a chopper. This is one long rally, and we're not talking pushing!

Ma Long Playing with No-Arms Player

Here's the article and video (65 sec) of Ma Long rallying at the Worlds with Ibrahim Elhoseny, who holds the racket in his mouth.

St. Louis Open

Here are three daily press releases by Barbara Wei about the upcoming $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open this weekend. (I linked to the first one previously.)

Slow Motion Table Tennis

Here's the video (5:20). It's not only the best way to study strokes, but it's really the only way to effectively study serves and footwork, which happen too fast in real time to really analyze.

More Giganta Pong

Here's more video (16 sec) of play on a gigantic table made up of four tables and a barrier. They call it 4er table tennis, but I like giganta pong. And here's another version - Angled Pong?

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April 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes & Footwork.

The Six-Inch Toss Rule

I had a question on the six-inch toss rule, so I decided to submit it to USATT's Stump the Ump, where umpire questions are answered by Paul Kovac, an international umpire and certified referee. (He's also a regular at my club, MDTTC, and referees the MDTTC tournaments.) The question was seemingly simple, but as you'll see, may not be as obvious as you'd think. Here's my question:  

Here’s a question that keeps coming up, and I’d like to see an online answer that we can refer to. When serving, does the ball have to go six inches up from the exact point where it leaves the hand, or does it actually require six inches of clearance between the hand and the ball? I thought I knew the answer to this, but when I asked six umpires/referees for their ruling at the Nationals, three said the first, three said the latter.

Here is the answer Paul gave, which is now published at Stump the Ump.

This should not be a topic for discussion because the rule is very clear about it:

2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

The important part is:

"...so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm...."

The first part of the service rule, namely, "2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand" is also important because if the serve does not start with "ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand", it is virtually impossible to judge the toss.

Rule 2.6.2 means that after the toss, the separation of ball and player's palm must be at least 6" before the palm and ball get any closer. We see sometime that after the 6" toss the player's hand follows the ball and gets closer than 6" from the ball as the ball raises, and sometimes also when the ball falls. But as long as the 6" separation of the palm and the ball was satisfied, and the palm and hand is not between the ball and the net (not hiding the ball from receiver), the serve is legal.

Thanks, 
Paul

However, I don't think the answer is that clear, as shown by the 3-3 split by umpires/referees when I asked the question at the Nationals. Here's my response to Paul's answer:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me. However, I don't think the ruling on this is that clear, based on the actual wording of the rules.

The rules say the ball must rise at least 6". Suppose a player serves so that the ball leaves his hand exactly 40 inches above the ground. If the ball then goes up six inches, it has risen six inches, from 40 inches to 46 inches, and it would seem to have fulfilled requirements of the rule, regardless of what the serving hand does. Nowhere does the rule state that there must be six inches clearance between the hand and the ball - that's a common sense interpretation, but I don't see how one can get that from the wording of the rules.

As noted, many umpires and players read the rule as it is written (and interpret it differently than what you wrote), i.e. the ball must rise six inches, and since it isn't indicated otherwise, they measure it from the point where it leaves the hand. Based on that, a player's serving hand could rise and stay with the ball, and still fulfill the requirements of the rules as they are worded as long as he doesn't use it to hide the ball, and as long as he quickly removes the serving arm and hand from the space between the ball and the net. If there is an interpretation that the ball must rise six inches relative to the hand - which would be difficult to justify, based on the wording of the rule - then that needs to be published somewhere so as to remove the confusion.

I'm CCing Roman and Wendell again as I'd like to see if they concur with your ruling, and why. This came up twice at the Nationals (I didn't make an issue of it), and as noted below, six umpires/referees I asked about it split down the middle on the ruling - so it's obviously not clear to everyone, even officials, and I guarantee most players aren't sure about this. Once the wording of a ruling on this is agreed on, I think this should be published in the Stump the Ump column, or somewhere, so it can be referred to. (Ideally, they'd change the wording of the serving rule to make this clear, but that probably won't happen.)

-Larry Hodges

So what do you think? Is there anything in the actual rules that state that there must be six inches of separation between the hand and the ball when serving? I don't see it. All I see is that the ball must rise six inches, and I don't see how that is affected by the location of the serving hand. I'll go by this interpretation even though I don't really agree with it. I haven't received a response yet from Roman Tinyszin (chair of the USATT Officials and Rules Advisory Committee) or Wendell Dillon (former chair).

Have a rules question? Feel free to ask me. If I can't answer it (impossible!!!), then we can submit it to Stump the Ump.

Veep

As I blogged about on Friday, the episode of Veep that would "feature" table tennis was on Sunday night. Alas, while there was some recreational table tennis, all the scenes with the three top players I'd brought in were cut. However, in most of the scenes taking place at the fake Clovis corporation - about half the episode - I'm often standing just behind the camera or off to the side, out of view, watching it as it is filmed. 

ITTF President Adham Sharara to Step Down as ITTF President

Here's the article, where he explains why he wants to deal with the "China" crisis, and will remain involved in the newly created position of ITTF Chairman.

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship.

Incredible Rally, Michael Maze vs. Zoran Primorac

Here's the video (52 sec, including slow motion replay). Maze is on far side (lefty). This'll wake you up before you move on!

WORLD TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS

Here's the home page for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships, April 28 - May 5, in Tokyo, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. It starts today. Since Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead of us, all of the first day action should be complete already. (So 9AM east coast time is 10PM Tokyo time.) Here are more articles involving the Worlds.

USA at the Worlds

  • Men's Video Update #1 (1:37) by Jim Butler (before play began).
  • Women's Video Update #1 (43 sec) by Lily Zhang (before play began).
  • Day One Results (do search for "USA"): USA Men went 2-0, defeating Luxembourg 3-1, and Kazakhstan 3-2. USA Women were apparently in the middle of their first tie, and were listed as 1-1 with Hungary, so by the time you read this that'll probably be done.

Players at Worlds Not Happy With Cameras Next to Net

Here's the article.

Photos from Just Before the Worlds

Here are the photos - click on the photos to see more.  

Table Tennis Billboard at World Championships

Here's the picture.

My Passion for Sports and the State of "Flow"

Here's the new article by Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star.

Ma Long and Zhang Jike Serve

Here's a video (10:11) where they demonstrate and explain (in Chinese) their serves. Even if you can't understand the Chinese you can watch the serves themselves. About halfway through they start showing other players doing other shots.

New Coaching Articles at Table Tennis Master

The Downside of Being Fan Zhendong

Here's the article.

Basketball Star Goran Dragic Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:27), where he talks about his table tennis and shows him playing.

Unique Ping-Pong Paddle

Now that's a unique paddle! I want one. Especially the swimming pool part. Artwork by Milan Mirkovic. 

Beetle Bailey on Friday

Here's the cartoon! So Beetle has learned to serve with heavy backspin?

Chicken Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's the cartoon! Now I'll never look at our own junior program the same way.

Table Tennis Epic

Here's a hilarious video (1:12), showing Michael Maze and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in an "epic" match . . . sort of.

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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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January 6, 2014

Tip of the Week

Three Parts to a Swing.

New Seamless Plastic Poly Balls

I blogged about these on Dec. 26 (see second segment). There's been a lot of discussion online of these non-celluloid balls and how they'd change our sport. Here's my take.

First, a caveat. When I tested the newest poly ball at the Nationals, I was having arm problems at the time and so couldn't loop at full power, so perhaps my judgment on that is suspect. On the other hand, the top juniors who tried the ball out (four of them, all around 2300) thought it played pretty much the same as a regular ball. I wish I had a copy of the ball now so I could try it out again (with my arm mostly okay), along with others at my club. 

At least one other person has tested the ball and posted he believes the ball (even the newest version) has less spin and speed. I'm suspicious that it's substantially different. I know the ball was the same size as a Nittaku, and had the same speed when I bounced them side by side, and seemed substantially the same when I hit with it, including the same weight, grippiness, etc. Serious question: what physical property would cause it to have less spin, and in particular, substantially less spin? Comments are welcome below.  

But let's assume that the new ball does have less speed and spin, as some think. This might be true if, for example, the ball were bigger. (Though the slightly bigger ball I tested previously was actually faster than the current ball, though less spinny.)

If there is less spin with the new ball, I'm pretty sure that'll hurt choppers, even if the ball were slower. Choppers need spin to work with to mess up attackers, so even if they are more consistent with a slower ball, they would be less effective overall. (It'd sort of be like sandpaper matches, where it's easy to chop over and over, but hard to win points that way against the best sandpaper attackers.) However, if the ball were slower, that should help topspin defenders (fishers and lobbers). 

As to hitters, going from 38mm to 40mm balls hurt hitters, and going to a ball with even less speed would do the same - less ball speed gives loopers more time to loop, and hitters (and aggressive blockers) rely on rushing loopers into missing, making weak loops, or backing too much off the table. The same is true of blockers. Inverted and pips-out blockers need to rush loopers, and a slower ball makes that more difficult. Long pips blockers need spin to work with (like choppers), and a less spinny ball gives them less to work with - thereby putting them more at the mercy of smart but powerful loopers. Without those heavy backspin returns of loops, they'll have great difficulty messing loopers up.

The hard-to-call case is the modern defender, who chops and loops. A slower, less spinny ball would make their chops more consistent but less deceptive (and overall chopping alone would be less effective), but the slower ball would allow them to get into position to rip forehand winners. Most likely the change wouldn't affect their level, but it would tilt them toward more aggressive play. 

The surprising truth is that a ball with less spin and speed would likely favor powerful loopers who can still produce great spin and speed. I think it'd move the sport even more in the direction of pure looping, just as the increase from 38mm to 40mm did. It might favor all-out forehand loopers to a degree, since they will have more time to get into position for their powerful forehand loops. If you want to bring back choppers, blockers, and hitters, go back to a smaller, faster, spinnier ball. 

Addendum added later: with less spin and speed, these pure topspin rallies would likely be better than current ones as players relentlessly counterloop back and forth with fewer errors. Some will love this; some will find it repetitively boring. I'm on the fence here. I really miss the greater diversity of styles in the past. If you want to see the future, look at the juniors of today; overwhelmingly they are two-winged loopers, which is what I mostly coach and coach against. There are subtle differences, but in general they play much more similar to each other than players in the past. And yet, with a slower, less spinny ball the given topsin rallies would be better, and there'll fewer errors in returning serves, with the lower amount of spin. But I sure would like to see a bit more variation. 

Baltimore Sun

Yesterday the Baltimore Sun sent a reporter to Maryland Table Tennis Center to do a feature on Crystal Wang, 11, who recently became the youngest player ever to win Under 22 Women's Singles at the USA Nationals. (I'd sent out press releases everywhere afterwards. Here's a short article on this that was already in the Baltimore Sun - with two errors from the original press release, which were my fault: Crystal's actually a 6th grader now in the magnet program at Roberto Clemente Middle School.) The reporter spoke to Crystal and a number of players and coaches, and interviewed me for half an hour. I was able to give her lots of background, explain how she developed, and give details on her modern playing style (close to table looping from both wings).

$100,000 World Championships of Ping Pong

They just completed the third annual World Championships of Ping Pong, which is a sandpaper event - with $100,000 in prize money! Yes, you read that right. For the third year in a row it was won by Russia's Maxim Shmyrev, this time defeating USA's Ilija Lupulesku in the final at 8, 7, 12. (Strangely, games are to 15 in the sandpaper format.) Here's video of the final (24:04). Alas, both players are attacking all out - little chopping in this match.

2014 USA Team Trials

Here's info on the upcoming USA National Team Trials (Men's and Women's), to be held at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth Texas, March 7-9.

Message from ITTF President

Here's the end-of-the-year message from ITTF President Adham Sharara.

Ariel Hsing's Website

Here's the new website for our 18-year-old three-time USA Women's Singles Champion!

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's a review in the New York Times on the book "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin.

Search for Professional Players, Clubs, and Coaches Around the World

Here's a new website that does this. I haven't really tested it out yet, but it looks interesting.

ITTF Monthly Pongcast

Here's the December 2013 issue (11:44).

Chinese National Team in Training

Here's a video (3:31) of the Chinese National Team doing physical training and then table training. With Chinese narration.

Bernoulli's Ping Pong Ball Launcher

Here's the video (60 sec) - it's both table tennis and science!

Jean-Michel Saive vs. Chuang Chih-Yuan

Here are two videos of these two stars doing exhibitions. Tape one (1:35) and tape two (4:10).

Real or Fake?

If this is real (15 sec), then it might be the greatest table tennis trick shot ever.

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April 24, 2013

Looping Placement

Here's something interesting I noted at the Hopes Trials, which I've also seen in the past. When a player backhand loops, he is roughly facing his opponent, and so can see where the opponent's middle is. When a player forehand loops, he faces more sideways, and the opponent is no longer in clear view. Result? Especially at the junior level and below the elite level, players seem to have far more difficulty in attacking the opponent's middle when forehand looping then when backhand looping. (The middle, in table tennis terms, is the switchover point between forehand and backhand, roughly at the playing elbow.) I watched one player nail the opponent's middle over and over with backhand loops, but when forced to do forehand loops, the player was unable to do so. (This is all true as well for basic forehands and backhands, but to a lesser extent, since players tend to turn more sideways to forehand loop than for forehand hitting.)

The solution? Practice. Look to loop at the opponent's middle at least half the time, usually the weakest spot, and see how often you can nail it. Few opponents are actually moving as you are hitting the ball, so you should be able to see where he is just before you take the shot. With practice, you'll be able to hit the middle over and over. (If an opponent is moving, then usually aim behind him, since he'll have to stop and change directions. Unless, of course, he's way out of position, in which case go for the open area.)  

Table Tennis Commentating at the North American Cup

No, I didn't get to hear any of it - I was there coaching. (I'm told I was on video at least one time, coaching Crystal Wang in the Girls' Hopes Trials.) What I've heard and read over and over was what a great job Barbara Wei did through most of the tournament - and how she was then replaced for the "big" matches at the end by someone who spoke broken and heavily accented English, and various officials. C'mon, people, Barbara was on the U.S. Junior Girls Team, trained nearly full-time for years, and speaks very clearly and intelligently. Listeners raved about her performance. What were you thinking??? (Disclaimer: Barbara came from my club, Maryland Table Tennis Center.)

I've been asked numerous times over the years to do table tennis commentating for TV. I've always turned it down. Why? I don't think I have a good speaking voice for TV. When I first began doing group coaching many years ago, I also had trouble. My solution was to take a course in public speaking. This greatly helped for those group sessions. However, I don't think I could do hours of commentating with my "public speaking" voice. I'd fall back into my normal habits, which tends to be somewhat fast and not the type of voice you want on TV. I'm far better writing.

Answers to Brain Teasers

Here are the answers to the four brain teasers from yesterday:

  1. The opponent was a fish and they were playing underwater.
  2. When you play an opossum, you play possum.
  3. There isn't any room over the net for the ball to go over.
  4. The single hair was a hare.

Table Tennista

Once again they have more international articles. Perhaps the most interesting one is the eyebrow-raising first item, where European Table Tennis Union President Stefano Bosi, who is running for ITTF President, accuses the incumbent, Adham Sharara, with this: "We found that Adham Sharara has been involved in a long-term and serious breach of the ITTF regulations and ethical standards. It is even possible that he also has civil violations. In particular, he is involved in serious violations on the Olympic charter. In addition, Sharara has established a complex system to aid him and his relatives to seek benefits from the ITTF." It also accuses him of "abuse of power and malversation of funds amounting to 20 million US dollars." I'll post Sharara's response when/if it comes out.

Testing the Large Hadron Collider with a Ping-Pong Ball

Here's the article from The Atlantic.

Receiving Options

Here's a video from PingSkills (2:07) on your basic options when receiving.

ITTF Ping Pong Paix at the 2012 WTTC

"Ping Pong for Peace" was a program at the Worlds in Dortmund, Germany, where kids from Burundi were brought in to learn about table tennis. Here's the video (7:58).

Ryu Seung Min vs Bojan Tokic (German League 2012/2013) Play-Offs

Here's the video (7:58).

Justin Bieber Table Tennis

Here's an article and a new short video (about 12 sec) from Table Tennis National of Justin Bieber playing table tennis. Yep, he's still using a two-handed backhand.

Ping-Pyong

Here's a nice cartoon of the U.S. and North Korea playing ping-pong on a nuclear missile, from the Washington Post, the result of a contest, with the caption, "Ping-Pyong: A high-stakes game in which two countries smack threats back and forth with lobs, spin and backhand shots."

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December 6, 2011

Sun Ting joins MDTTC Coaching Staff

Sun Ting, a recently retired lefty player from China with a 2716 rating - soon to be higher, after going undefeated at the North American Teams Championships last weekend - has joined the coaching staff at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. He'd coached there much of the past summer, but now is back permanently. He is famous for his serves, and had a win over Ma Lin in the Chinese Super League. He was probably much better than 2716 at his best, considering he got his first USATT rating of 2675 from the Teams in 1998 at age 14! The following year, at age 15, he increased it to 2730. Now 27, he's semi-retired, but he's maintained his 2700+ rating in four tournaments this year, his first U.S. tournaments since 1999. He joins the MDTTC coaching staff of Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and Larry Hodges (me). As posted previously, Donn Olsen is also joining the staff soon. (In January, MDTTC doubles in size from its current 5500 square feet and 12 tables to 11,000 and 20 or so tables with larger courts and all-red rubber flooring.)

Back-up attack

This past weekend I had a nice match with a fast penhold blocker. I started the match out forehand looping every chance, along with steady backhands. He was unable to stop me from looping after my serve, and on his serve I'd be looping after a shot or two. However, he soon got used to my looping, and began blocking side to side more and more aggressively. He was soon so tuned into my loop that he rarely missed. I battled on, but at 51 I wasn't as fast as I used to be, and the rallies were just getting too fast for me to have time to run down ball after ball to loop. So I made a simple tactical change - and went to just hitting on the forehand, a shorter, quicker stroke. The first time I smashed off his block, he had this look of surprise, since I'd been looping all his blocks until then. After a few more, he began grumbling in Chinese. He had no answer and I ended up winning in a rout. (He did switch to blocking almost exclusively to my backhand, but after a few of those I started quick-blocking to his middle and forehand to set up my forehand again. Also, since the blocks to my backhand became predictable, I began smashing backhands and stepping around to smash forehands.)

If I hadn't had a backup to my looping attack, things might have been quite different. Moral - do you have a backup game if your primary game isn't working? This doesn't necessarily mean dropping your primary game; it means finding other ways to win when necessary.

Side note - you can't normally cover as much of the table with your forehand if you focus on smashing instead of looping, and the timing makes smashing riskier, assuming you have time to loop. That's why looping tends to dominate at the higher levels instead of hitting - but not in this match. 

This also reminded me that at the upcoming Nationals next week, when I'm not coaching, I'm playing in the hardbat events. Since my hardbat game is centered on all-out forehand hitting, I'm going to focus on all-out hitting with my sponge racket in practice matches this next week.

Adham Sharara and the Celluloid Ban

Here's an interesting posting at the OOAK forum from someone who emailed with ITTF President Adham Sharara, along with discussion. Sharara states, "There is no upcoming world-wide ban of celluloid, this was a simplification of the current status and the status on the use of celluloid for many years past. Their is also no health issue with the finished product. The issue is in the manufacturing of the celluloid sheets that are used to make the ping pong balls." [You can read the rest of his long posting at the link above.]

Table Tennis, It's Not for the Slow of Wrist

Here's a short article on table tennis from craveonline.com by James LeBeau. Here's an excerpt: "Where reflexes are your primary friend in being a good TT player, you also have to have a good head for strategy as the game isn't so cut and dried as the above description would have you believe. A skilled opponent can take a ball and send it at you in a number of different ways, from pure power to the subtleties of a slight flick and they can, and will, try their hardest to put a spin on the ball that will have it flying off your racket in a number of unpredictable ways."

Before the Frost

Tim Boggan emailed me to let me know about a table tennis passage from the novel Before the Frost by Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell. It's one of eleven novels in the Kurt Wallander series, written in Swedish and translated into English. The character references Swedish star Jan-Ove Waldner, arguably the greatest table tennis player ever. Here's the excerpt:

"He's worried [Inspector Wallander is]. First, the report about the swans, and then a calf named Apple is burned alive."

"Apple," he said. "That's an unusual name for an animal."

"I played table tennis when I was younger. I often name my animals after great Swedish champions. I have an ox called Waldner."

Free online table tennis game

Here's a new online table tennis game someone emailed me about.

Smacking the umpire

Angry at the umpire? Tired of bad calls? Here's a 22-second video that ends with a player inadvertently (we think) smacking the umpire with the ball.

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September 5, 2011

Tip of the Week

Short serves to the middle

Keeping a notebook

Do you keep a table tennis notebook? I did for years, and I recommend you do as well. I used a steno notebook. From front to back, I would take notes on my own play - what I was working on, what drills I was doing, what worked and didn't work in matches, etc. On the other side - back to front - I kept tactical notes on opponents. When the side on me was filled up (it usually went first), I'd simply flip it over, and it would be a permanent record of my notes on opponents, and I'd get a new notebook and start fresh. At tournaments, I'd bring past notebooks (with the ever-growing notes on opponents), and would be ready against any opponent I'd ever played against.

Years later I started transcribing my tactical notes onto my computer, and then all my notes, including the ones on my game. And then, after doing this for perhaps a decade, I realized that I'd been doing it so long that all the notes were in my head, and that I no longer needed to write things down to remember them. So I retired my notebook. Even now, when I see an opponent from long ago, I usually can remember my tactical notes against him.

However, while I no longer have a notebook for my game, I still keep a notebook for players I coach. When I show up at, say, the USA National Cadet Trials, I have about a page of notes on each of the major contenders, which I regularly update.

Back update

Yesterday was the first time I played in three or four weeks. During that time I've had others do my hitting when I coached. But after getting the okay from the sports therapist last week, I did 2.5 hours on Sunday. It was mostly multiball, but that had hurt my back before. Now the back seems almost back to normal - there were no problems during the 2.5 hours. I'm going to continue with light play for perhaps another week or so, and gradually work myself back to regular play. The two things that most hurt the back - forehand looping and forehand pendulum serves - didn't seem to bother it yesterday, but I only did a few to test it out. The real test is if I can do these things repetitively.

In layman's terms, here's roughly what had been the problem with my back. The muscles on the right had grown so tight over they years they had shortened dramatically. As near as I can understand it, they attach to the backbone underneath, and so had pulled the base of the spine out of alignment, so the spine was now pointed off to my left. When the doctor and therapist first saw it, they both wondered how I could even stand up with my spine twisted like that! After a month of doing a ten-minute stretching routine three times a day, and meeting twice a week with the therapist (where she put it through far more), the spine has straightened out. Soon my loops will once again terrorize opponents who don't instead sneer at it and counterloop.

New USATT Hall of Famers

USATT Historian Tim Boggan has done writeups on the latest five members of the USATT Hall of Fame: Amy FengAzmy IbrahimBrian MastersMitch SeidenfeldBill Walk. Congrats to all!

ITTF Interview with Adham Sharara

Here's another interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara where he once again talks about increasing the ball size and increasing the height of the net. Two excerpts:

  • "We already have 42 millimetre balls in a test series and are waiting for the results."
  • "And of course, the increase of the net up to one centimetre is always a topic."

Los Angeles Open

They just ran the $45,000 (!!!) Los Angeles Open this past weekend, and here's the web page, but I can't find any results there. Am I missing something? The web page is packed with great info, but is missing the most important info of all after the tournament - the results! I could piece together most of the results from postings on various table tennis forums (Wang Zeng defeated Zhou Xin in the final, 4-1, etc.), but it sure would be helpful to have the results posted publicly on their web page. Could you imagine, say, a similar tennis tournament where the results were not posted?

New York City Open

Here are the results of the New York City Open held this past weekend. (Make sure to set it to New York City Open in the field at the top, and note that you can then look at all results of any event by selecting that events in the second field.) As you may know, it was schedule for the previous weekend, but it got Irened. So they rescheduled for one week later, and still got 167 entries, down about a hundred. They didn't run the Open - many of the top players were now at the LA Open, and of course when you lose 100 players because of a hurricane, you probably can't afford to run the Open.

Exhibition point

Here's a nice exhibition point by China's Wang Liqin and Ma Lin (1:06) - enjoy!

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September 1, 2011

Sidespin loops

Do you loop with sidespin? If not, why not? There's a common misconception that a loop should be 100% topspin. It's often more natural to loop with some sidespin, as the shoulder is normally higher than ball contact, and so the arm is naturally tilted slightly down at contact, meaning contact would be a bit on the far side of the ball, thereby creating some sidespin. (Some coaches recommend loops have about 15% sidespin.) Or you can create sidespin intentionally by simply dropping the wrist to hook the ball so it breaks left, or raising the wrist so it breaks right. (Lefties should reverse.)

It's not only more natural to loop with some sidespin, it's probably more effective. The sidespin makes the ball curve in the air, jump on the table, and jump sideways off the opponent's racket, giving him great difficulty. Plus the very curving of the ball over the table means it stays over the table a split second longer, giving it more time to drop and actually hit the table, thereby increasing consistency. (At least that's the theory I've been told; more sidespin means less topspin pulling the ball down, so it's a tradeoff.)

When looping from the wide forehand it's especially natural to loop with sidespin as you drop the wrist and hook the ball back to the table, with the ball curving to the left (if looped by a right-hander). When looping from the backhand corner with the forehand you might use less, as you are now contacting the ball on the near side - and now, in fact, may sidespin the other way, so the ball jumps away to the right (if looped by a right-hander). This latter type of sidespin is generally more difficult.

You should generally loop either with whatever sidespin is most natural (without forcing it), or intentionally use sidespin to mess up the opponent (which is why many top players learn to sidespin either way, usually so that the ball breaks away from the opponent).

Here's a nice video from PingSkills (3:08) on looping with sidespin.

And now a little history. At the most extreme end of the sidespin spectrum might have been Istvan Jonyer of Hungary, the 1975 World Men's Singles Champion. He often looped with almost pure sidespin, dropping his racket tip down so as to contact the ball of the far side of the ball and hooking it onto the table. It was his ability to loop around the net, so the ball would often just roll on the table, that caused the ITTF to add the rule that the net must extend six inches past the table. Otherwise, players like Jonyer could take nearly any ball on their forehand side and go around the net.

Here's a short video (0:22) of Jonyer against Chinese star Xie Saike at the 1981 World Champions. The quality isn't good, but in the first four seconds you get to see Jonyer serve and loop two forehands, with the second one a vintage sidespin loop from the wide forehand.

And while we're at it, here's a nice 31-second clip of Jonyer against soon-to-be World Champion Guo Yuehua of China in 1979, with Jonyer looping and smashing over and over while Guo (usually an all-out attacker) lobs.

Another increase in ball size??? (And more on the celluloid ban.)

Read what ITTF President Adham Sharara said in an interview that went up yesterday. The article said, "With regards to the size, Adam Sharara said that the new ball size would be increased. This is to give a chance to defensive players to overcome offensive players. If the ball is bigger, rallies will become slower so defensive players will have more chances to win points." Uh oh.

Regarding the upcoming ban on celluloid balls, he said, "The current plan of the ITTF is to prohibit the use of celluloid ball. Such move is because of two reasons. One is that celluloids are toxic and it will have an impact towards the factory workers. The second is that it is quite dangerous to transport since it highly flammable. The new ball will be seamless and China already counts with two factories that are working in the new ball, one owned by DHS, and the by Double Fish. It will be operational as soon as the London Olympics is over."

He also said, "I need to cut the legs off the Chinese players!" He was joking here. But he wasn't joking about the ball size. Prepare for bowling ball table tennis. surprise

Here's a 53 second video of Sharara talking about the celluloid ban. (He talks the first 19 seconds, the rest is someone talking in Chinese.)

SmartPong table tennis videos

SmartPong has 24 videos on the various strokes and techniques. I just added them to our video library.

ITTF Coaching Seminar in New Jersey

Here's an article on the ITTF page about the ITTF Coaching Seminar being run by Richard McAfee in New Jersey, which includes mention of their battles with Hurricane Irene.

Disney table tennis cartoons

Go to INDUCKS, the worldwide database of Disney cartoons, and in the Keywords/title field put in either "table tennis," "ping pong," or "ping-pong," and watch as zillions of Disney cartoons featuring table tennis come up! Enjoy.

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