2014 Cary Cup

March 18, 2014

Tip of the Week

Three Types of Receive Skills.

Cary Cup

It was a pretty grueling weekend, with lots of driving and coaching. Here's a short synopsis of the Cary Cup, from the perspective of someone who was too busy coaching to see any of the big matches. (I was there primarily to coach Derek Nie.) Here are the results. And here is the final write-up (which features Kewei Li and his upset of Eugene Wang in the final), which didn't come out in time for yesterday's blog (though I just added it).

WEDNESDAY: USATT Hall of Famer Tim Boggan drove down from New York, arriving that morning. We had a nice pizza lunch. Then he spent the day reading and puttering about my townhouse as I coached at MDTTC much of the afternoon and night.

THURSDAY: We left very early that morning for the five-hour drive to Cary, NC. Other than a wrong turn that somehow had us going north on I-95 for ten minutes, all went well. Anyone who accuses Tim of intentionally driving with me in the front passenger seat hanging out over in the next lane, well, it's a figment of your imagination. I hope. But he likes to drive and I don't, so I let him do the driving while I navigated, even if my life did flash before my eyes a few times.

From 4-5PM I ran a Beginner's Clinic at the playing site with about 20 players. Mike Babuin, the tournament director and chair of the USATT Board of Directors, assisted. We covered the basics - grip and stance, forehand, backhand, and serve. The players ranged from about 6 to 60. Then Tim and I went to an Italian restaurant where I had a giant salad and he had some sort of fish.

FRIDAY: I was entered in the Hardbat Open, which started at 10AM. (It was the only event I entered, though I normally use sponge.) We used the old 38mm balls, with matches two out of three to 21, with two groups of eight, top two advancing. I play an all-out forehand attack with hardbat (with some backhand chopping), but at 54 and with various knee, back, and arm problems, I don't move as fast or play as well as I used to. In my group of eight players I went 5-2. Against Xin Peng, a former top Chinese player (2600+ at his peak, and seeded second here), a pips-out penholder, I won the first 23-21, and led the second 7-2. Then it was 10-all, and then 15-all, my serve. I lost four straight points and yelled out, "What just happened?" I ended up losing the last six points in a row, and fell way behind early in the third.

Against A.J. Carney, who has a 2372 hardbat rating and was seeded third, I also battled, but lost the first 21-17. I led much of the second, but he caught up, and led 19-20 match point. We had a nice point where I smashed three balls in a row as he countered from off the table. Then he chopped one, a bit high, the type of ball I'd smashed a million times before and almost never missed. Yep, I missed it, smashed it right into the net. I'd been rushing A.J. by hitting many balls on the rise, and I think I may have hit the ball before it even reached net height, alas. So I didn't advance to the Final Four. Jim Butler won easily, with Xin Peng second, Bin Hai Chui third, and A.J. fourth (after losing a close 21-18 in the third match to Chui).

I'd seen the draw for Saturday and saw who Derek Nie would be playing. So I surreptitiously strolled over and watched one of them, rated 2126, as he played a couple of matches. He had a somewhat unique serve, a good backhand block, and a pretty good forehand.

I coached Joshua Tran in several of his matches that afternoon. (He's another MDTTC junior, rated about 2100.) At 6:30 PM Derek arrived. He's 13 and rated 2301, so I can barely keep up with him at the table these days. We practiced for fifteen minutes, and then Jim Butler came by looking for someone to hit with, so I turned him over to Derek, and the two practice for half an hour. It was quite a contrast, as Derek is about 4'8", while Jim's 6'4". After Jim left I hit with Derek for another half hour, mostly having him serve and attack against push, and then serving to him and catching the returns so he could work on receive.

SATURDAY: Derek had eleven matches. First he had to play a round robin of four players to make it to the "A" Division. Two of the players were about 1550 and 1750, and he had no problem there. The other player was 2126. While Derek was almost 200 points higher, it was a rather important match since if he lost, he'd be in a division of players rated a lot lower, and Derek needed the experience of playing with players his level and higher. As noted above, I'd scouted out the 2126 player, and Derek easily won 3-0, playing very smart so the opponent couldn't get his game going. Derek did have a problem with the serve a few times early on, but quickly adjusted.

Things didn't go as well after that. I'm not going to go over it match by match, but suffice to say Derek lost a few close ones. (Why am I not writing more? That's between  Derek and I, and I don't want him to worry about my blogging about his matches.) He did have one nice win over a player who'll be adjusted to 2300+. From the tournament I jotted down three things Derek needs to really work on. We then left for the five-hour drive home, where we spent much of the time on brain teasers I read to him. He's gotten pretty good at them. 

SUNDAY: I arrived home about midnight, so technically it was about Sunday. I unpacked, checked email, and basically puttered about half the night, unable to sleep. I went to bed with a headache, and woke up with one, as noted in my short blog yesterday.

Famous Table Tennis Writer

Yesterday I challenged readers on who was this famous writer, six letters, with the "O" and "G" filled in:

_O_G_ _

Only one person correctly guessed the answer - Abolaji Ogunshola - and he emailed it to me. I'm a little surprised that even though we had several hundred readers, no one ventured to comment the answer. Some of you must have noticed that my name, "HODGES," fits in there - but I also wrote, "It's not who you think - I think!" It was while driving down to the Cary Cup with USATT Hall of Famer Tim Boggan that I realized that both our names fit the above - and so the answer is BOGGAN! He is the only person who edited USATT Magazine longer than me, 19 years to my 12, and the only one with more than my 1300+ published articles on table tennis - but then he's had more time at age 83! (But if you want to put my name in there, that's okay too.)

2014 North American Tour

Here's the current North American Tour listing, with 21 tournaments now a part of it.

USA World Team

Here's the final roster and pictures. The top four men and women made the team at the recent USA Trials. The "coaches picks" were Kanak Jha and Angela Guan. The World Championships are in Tokyo, April 28 - May 5.

  • Men: Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh, Yahao Zhang, Jim Butler, Kanak Jha. Coach: Stefan Feth
  • Women: Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang, Erica Wu, Angela Guan. Coach: Doru Gheorghe

Stellan Bengtsson Documentary

Here's the video (5:14). He's both the 1971 World Men's Singles Champion and one of the most respected coaches in the world - and he lives in San Diego.

Can Ma Long Claim a Grand Slam?

Here's the article.

Tannehill Exhibition

Here's an article about USATT Hall of Famer John Tannehill doing an exhibition in Syracuse, Ohio, with his son Soren.

The Kuka Robot vs. Timo Boll

Here's an article on it, Two Terrible Messages The KUKA vs Timo Boll Video Sends To The World About Table Tennis. (I blogged about this on March 11.)

Double Turtle-Neck Table Tennis Doubles and Jimmy Fallon

Here's the video (2:40) of Jimmy Fallon and others playing this new sport, where two players share a single over-sized sweater and try to play table tennis.

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March 17, 2014

Maryland weather is at it again - another seven inches of snow here in Germantown. Schools and Federal Government are closed. I'm guessing we've set some records this winter for total snow accumulation and for most separate snowfalls of six inches or more. (Now I have to decide whether to cancel the Beginning/Intermediate class I teach on Mondays, 6:30-8:00 PM.)

Meanwhile, I've had a continuous headache since I returned from the Cary Cup Open this weekend - went to bed with one last night, and woke up with it this morning. So I'm going to do the unforgiveable and take the day off and go back to bed, and postpone the blog and Tip of the Week until tomorrow. I was going to blog about the Cary Cup, but I really didn't see much of it since I was busy coaching. The results are linked from the Cary Cup home page. More on it tomorrow. Below are links to the regular features on the tournament by Barbara Wei.

And now I'll leave you with a tantalizing quiz question: Who is this famous table tennis writer? Six letters, with the "O" and "G" filled in. (It's not who you think - I think! First one who comments with "correct" answer wins.)
 _O_G_ _

March 12, 2014

Cary Cup and No Blog on Thursday and Friday

I'm leaving for the Cary Cup very early Thursday morning, so no blog on Thursday and Friday. (See articles below on Cary Cup.)

As we've done the past four years in a row, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan drove down from New York this morning, arriving around 9:30AM. (He's already here.) He'll spend the day puttering about my house while I work on my new TT book and then go MDTTC for our afterschool program and a few hours of coaching (2:30-7:30PM, plus a 30-minute online writer's meeting I'm attending with my laptop at the club from 7:30-8:00PM). Tim wants to leave for Cary Cup around 4AM Thursday; he keeps strange hours, going to bed around 7PM and getting up at 3AM. We'll compromise and leave around 6 or 7 AM for the 4.5 hour ride. Then I run a beginner's clinic in Cary from 4-5 PM - last year we had about 30 players.

I'm only playing in the hardbat event, which is 10AM-3PM on Friday. I won it three years in a row, 2009-2011, finished third in 2012, and lost in the final in 2013. This year the draw is crazy strong, with Jim & Scott Butler (legends!), Xeng Pong (2364 pips-out penholder), 2293 A.J. Carney (experienced lefty hardbat player), and 2248 pips-out penholder Bin Hai Chu, who's won it the last two years (but I beat him in the 2011 final). But I'm a two-time National/U.S. Open Hardbat Champion (okay, it was over 20 years ago), 4-time U.S. Over 40 Hardbat Champion, and 13-times U.S. Hardbat Doubles Champion. (But I'm normally a sponge player.) I got about ten minutes practice with a hardbat on Sunday; that's the only hardbat play I've had since the U.S. Open last July. But it's like a bicycle - once you learn it, you never forget. Your feet just get slower and slower….

Once I'm done with hardbat I'll be coaching 13-year-old 2301-rated Derek Nie the rest of the way. There's going to be a lot of matches, so I'm stocked up on Trail Mix to energize my coaching.

Saturation and Exaggeration Training

Recently some players have been using my Saturation Training Tip of the Week from last September. I also have one on Changing Bad Technique, which is closely related. And I gave examples of saturation training in this blog entry. One of the examples there was how I developed my steady backhand with some saturation training with Dave Sakai, who was doing the same with his forehand attack.

There's actually a better example of my own saturation training back when I was 20 years old. I was a late starter at age 16, and was only rated 2002 when I went to the Zoran Kosanovic two-week camp up in Canada in the summer of 2000. Now Zoran was a somewhat controversial coach as he tended to push one way for everybody, and stressed physical training at levels never dreamed of in the U.S.  (We started each day with a one-hour run, and when he decided we hadn't pushed ourselves hard enough on the first day, we did a second one-hour run.) What follows is an example of both saturation training, and exaggeration training, where you take something that you don't do properly, and exaggerate it in the other extreme, and end up doing it somewhere in the middle, which is what you want.

On the first day he noticed that when I stepped around my backhand corner to do a forehand, I didn't really rotate clockwise much, and so was still pretty much facing my opponent. This meant that I could only attack effectively down the line. I'd been struggling with this for quite some time; when I tried to go crosscourt (to a righty's backhand), it would be soft and erratic as I wasn't positioned for the shot. So the very first morning, while I was hitting with 12-year-old future U.S. team member Scott Butler, he had me do a drill where I hit forehands from my backhand side to Scott's backhand. But with a twist - he made me exaggerate the foot position. I'd been stepping around so my left foot was way off to the left. Now he made me play with my body rotated clockwise in an exaggerated fashion so my left foot was to the right of my right foot, with my back almost to Scott. He put a cinder block next to my left foot to keep it from moving to the left. I had to peek over my left shoulder to see the incoming ball as I hit each shot. We did this twice a day for 15 minutes for fourteen straight days. By the end of that time I had broken my bad habit and now played forehands from my backhand side in the proper position, as I do to this day.

Let me stress one more thing about saturation training. If you are trying to fix poor technique that has been ingrained into you, your subconscious will fight you at first. So start with lots of shadow practice and simple drills where you can ingrain the proper habits. When drilling, you might exaggerate the proper technique, as in the example above. It'll take time, but if you do this long enough, whether it's every day for fourteen straight days or twice a week for three months (with lots of shadow practice on other day!), it'll pay off.

Cary Cup

Here are two more articles by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Cary Cup this weekend in Cary, NC. (The second article mentions Chen Ruichao, the new lefty practice partner/coach at MDTTC, who is seeded at 2600. We don't know for sure yet, but we have suspicions that might be a bit low for him, but we'll see this weekend.) I'm also including the first article from yesterday.

Crystal Wang

Here's the press release I sent out on Crystal Wang making the USA Women's Team at age twelve last weekend. It went out Monday morning.

China Eyes on the Japanese Team in the World Championships

Here's the article.

The Ping Pong Soundtrack

Here's the article, with links to the chosen soundtracks. (I'm not a music expert, so I'll let others judge this.)

Ping Pong Comic Strip

Here's a comic strip take-off on King Kong from 1953, except here the giant gorilla is called Ping Pong! Sorry, no actual table tennis.

What's the Difference Between Ping Pong and Table Tennis?

Here are 27 responses!

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March 11, 2014

Constant Competition

Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.

While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.

Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given.  Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."

I see the same thing. I see far too many up-and-coming juniors - including from my own club - who train and Train and TRAIN, and don't understand that's just the "given" part. Many partially make up for this with weekly matches with the other top players from their club, but they are playing the same players each week, with little at stake, and so it isn't quite the same. They need at least two tournaments every month, or a larger-scale league where they play more varied players.

Jim also wrote, "When I played this 3 tournament team trials over the 3 day weekend, I was clearly better by the last day.  I left feeling battle hardened, tougher, and sharper.  That has the same effect on the young players also." This is a common thing. Often our top juniors reach their best right as the tournament ends - and then there's no more competition to take advantage of it. Tournaments develop and bring out the best in our players, but it has to be a regular thing, just as training has to be a regular thing.

Ironically, just yesterday I wrote of Jim, "But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard." That's exactly what happened to Jim this past weekend, and exactly what happens to our up-and-coming players whey they are pushed hard in tournaments or other competitions. And guess what? When they are pushed hard, over and over, week after week, they often discover they can play at levels far beyond what they would have if they only trained.

Jim also comments on the strength of our young talent in the country now, and we both agree that it's incredibly strong. I've blogged about it a number of times; with full-time training centers popping up all over the country over the last seven years, the level of our junior and cadet players has skyrocketed, and is stronger than it has ever been. It used to be we'd have maybe one or two really good junior players in each age group. Now we have dozens of them, and with those dozens there are a few who break out and go beyond where anyone has gone before, such as Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang, with others hot on their heels. Who knows which other ones will break out of the field and challenge to be the best? But before we didn't even have a "field" of up-and-coming talent so much as a few isolated good ones.

But for them to reach their potential and keep on pace with their overseas counterparts - both European and Asian - they'll need both the given training and the constant competition. To quote Jim one more time: "This country is going to blow up with success once a tournament infrastructure is built.  Our young talent would thrive and play beyond their teenage years.  The players would become great in time, and the sport will take off. … It would be an incredible loss to watch this young talent die out after their teenage years because no competitive infrastructure has been built yet in the USA."

(Note - I originally ended this with a comparison to tennis. The Williams sisters, for example, didn't follow the conventional route to success, staying out of the junior circuit and mostly training. However, there are a lot of differences between table tennis and tennis, with table tennis having more intricate spins, variations, and instant reactions to complex situations, compared to tennis, where the rallies are more "pure" and the situations less complex. Also, one ad hoc example in tennis doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of top tennis players reached their level from both training and competition. But I don't want to distract from the main topic here and turn this into a table tennis vs. tennis training thing. Perhaps another time.) 

Interview with Jim Butler

While we're on the subject of Jim Butler, here's a rather emotional interview with Jim at the USA Team Trials, right after he'd clinched the final spot on the U.S. Team. (The link should take you directly to it, but if not, the interview starts at 1hr43min39sec, and lasts for 5.5 minutes.)

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot

Here's the video (3:52) of the much hyped man vs. robot table tennis match - but judging from the comments, it's a disappointment. It was obviously staged, and wasn't a real match. (If it had, Timo would have killed the robot with ease.) Most believe that much of the play was cgi, though I'm not sure of that. They even had a landing pit for Timo to dive into when he dove for the ball. After watching the video, read the comments and see if you agree. Here's an article on the event, which found it disappointing. My view? I was a bit disappointed that the video really didn't show us the robot's actual capabilities. It made it appear to be blocking Timo's best loops, but since we only saw snippets of rallies, it's not clear if it was actually doing so, if it was only doing so occasionally, or if it was cgi.

Final Preparations Underway for Star-Studded Butterfly Cary Cup

Here's the article - by Butterfly's new traveling reporter and former MDTTC junior star Barbara Wei! She'll have a daily article up each day until the tournament this weekend, and then a flurry of articles during and after the tournament. (I'll be there, in Cary, NC, just playing hardbat on Friday and coaching the rest of the way.)

Liu Guozheng on the New Plastic Ball

Here's the article on his views after testing it. (Liu, a former Chinese star, is now coach of the second men's team.) One problem - they don't say which of the new balls was tested. By most accounts, they play differently. The one that seems to play best is the Xu Shaofa seamless one, but since he says the ball is more fragile, I'm pretty sure it's not that one, which (due to the seamlessness) is far less fragile than a celluloid ball.

The Missing Key in Table Tennis Footwork

Here's the video (2:02) by Ohio top player and coach Samson Dubina - Improving Your Table Tennis Footwork with Better Anticipation.

Wang Liqin Doing Multiball

Here's 29 sec of three-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin doing multiball.

Around-the-Net Backhand Counterloop (and an almost-nice receive)

Here's the video (60 sec, including slow motion replays). It's a great shot, certainly, but I wonder how many saw something more subtle and more important to your table tennis game? Watch the receive at the start. See how the player reaches in as if he's going to push to the left, and at the last second pushes to the right. That's how advanced receivers push. However, while he made an excellent last-second change of direction, he made another subtle mistake - the push isn't wide enough, and so the server was able to recover and make a strong loop. If the receive had been to the corner or just outside it, it would have been a great receive. If you do these last-second changes of direction, and place the ball well (usually to wide corners when pushing deep), then you are more likely to mess up the server. And that is your goal. 

Attempt on World's Longest Rally

Here's the article. On March 23, Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostrate Cancer UK Charity.

China Primary School Ping Pong Army

Here's a video (2o sec) of a zillion kids in China doing their morning ping-pong.

Crossword Puzzle Pong

Yesterday's Washington Post crossword puzzle had this question for 45 across: "Ping-Pong ball delivery." So what was the answer? It was a bit disappointing: "Random Number." (So more lottery than table tennis.)

Table Tennis Memes

Go to Google. In the search engine put in "table tennis memes pictures." (Or just use this shortcut I created.) And see all the great ones that come up!

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