Waldner

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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October 25, 2011

"The Hammer" dies at 65

Kjell Johnansson of Sweden, 1973 World Men's Singles Finalist (losing on two edge balls at 19-all in the fifth), who teamed with Stellan Bengtsson to battle with the Chinese for years (winning Men's Teams in 1973 and Men's Doubles three times, once with Bengtsson, twice with Hans Alser), and known for his "hammer" forehand, died yesterday at age 65. Here's an NBC Sports obit. He was a hero of mine long ago; I spent huge amounts of time copying his forehand. Along with Yugoslavia's Dragutin Surbek, he proved that you could be tall and still move extremely fast. Here are three clips of him playing in the final of Men's Singles at the 1973 Worlds.

Have a good forehand? Have a tomahawk serve?

If you have a good forehand, do you have a good forehand tomahawk serve that goes short to the opponent's forehand? (This is for two righties or two lefties.) This is the serve where you serve with the racket tip up, and contact the ball on the right side, so it curves to the left, and the spin makes the ball come to your right off the opponent's paddle. It's awkward for many to take a short ball on the forehand side and aim to the right - try it and you'll see why. Until you reach the advanced levels, nearly everyone returns this serve toward the forehand side - you know, your strong side? If you don't overuse it, you'll get a lot of easy balls to attack. Just sayin'.

Why coach table tennis?

Here's an English Table Tennis Association coaching recruitment video. Successful table tennis countries understand the importance of such recruitment. (3:31)

Regional table tennis differences?

I'm always hearing about how this region or that is stronger than other regions, that players from one region beat players from another region with the same rating. However, when I look at the facts, almost always it comes down to local players beating players who had to travel to the tournament. (Another example is when an unorthodox player travels and then beats lots of "stronger" players who are not used to his weird style, but that works only for certain specific players, not for a group of players from one region.)

Below is a posting I did on about.com on the subject, which I thought I'd repost here. Someone had posted at about how players from the east had done poorly playing in the Los Angeles Open, and how this shows that table tennis is stronger on the west coast. Here's my response:

It's not exactly a neutral test when one group has to 1) travel 3000 miles (jet lag) 2) to an unfamiliar area and 3) play almost exclusively unfamiliar players. (Those from the region where the tournament is held have played each other more often, and you get more into a rhythm in tournaments when you play players you are familiar with, which then puts you in a better position to win against unfamiliar players.)

To have a fair comparison, you'd have to see how west coasters do after flying to eastern tournaments, or how they all do in a more neutral area. Also, using anecdotal evidence rarely shows anything. I could just as easily point out that Tong Tong Gong (from Maryland, I coached him) was seeded 9th at the Cadet Trials last year, but made the team (top four) by upsetting three consecutive west coast players. But that's anecdotal. You have to look at a relatively large sampling or you get lots of volatility.

For example, a cursory look at Mark Croitoroo's (2334) results at the LA Open show he lost 20 rating points. A closer look shows that he lost it because he lost 25 points in a deuce in the fifth loss to a 2206 west coaster, while gaining 10 by beating a 2364 west coaster at 10,6,7. An even closer look (at the entry form) shows that he lost to the 2206 in the U2500 even, which started at 1PM on Sat, while defeating the 2364 easily in the Open, which started five hours later, giving him more time to adjust. (His only other match where he lost rating points was a 5-point loss to a 2404 player from Texas.)

When I coach players each year after traveling a distance to the Nationals and Open and other tournaments, one thing that stands out year after year is that they start out relatively poorly but play better and better as the tournament goes on. Sometimes we travel early to make up for this, as in the case of Tong Tong last year, who was there and practicing three days before the Cadet Trials, and who likely would have had very different results otherwise.

Looping long pushes to the backhand

Here's a video from Coach Tao Li from Table Tennis University that shows how to step around and forehand loop those long pushes to your backhand (3:01).

Physical training with Christophe Legout

I think this is physical training for table tennis (2:57) by former French champion Christophe Legout, but I'm not sure - it's all in French. (And no, there is no "r" at the end of Christophe.)

A Waldner point

Here's Jan-Ove Waldner playing the type of incredible point that only he could do.

Table Tennista

Table Tennista is a good place for international table tennis coverage. It's even divided by sections; here's the Americas section.

Future table tennis movies

Here are 40 table tennis movies I'd like to see, in no particular order. Yes, I was bored. Feel free to comment with your own titles. (Here's the IMDB Top 250, if that helps.)

  1. Indiana Jones and the Power of Ping-Pong
  2. Harry Potter and the Ping-Pong Ball
  3. The Pongfather (Parts I, II, III)
  4. Pong Story (Parts 1-3)
  5. Twelve Angry Ping-Pong Players
  6. Pong Fiction
  7. One Flew Over the Ping-Pong Table
  8. Lord of the Table
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ball
  10. Pong Wars
  11. Pong Club
  12. Pong Hard
  13. Pongman
  14. The Ping-Pong Redemption
  15. Seven Pongurai
  16. Goodpongers
  17. Casaponga
  18. The Silence of the Sponge
  19. Dr. Ping-Pong or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sponge
  20. Ping-Pong Now
  21. Ponginator
  22. Saving Private Pong
  23. PONG-E
  24. Lawrence of Ping-Pong
  25. To Kill a Looper
  26. Pong is Beautiful
  27. Back to the Table
  28. Raging Pong
  29. The Net on the Ping-Pong Table
  30. Pongheart
  31. The Wizard of Pong
  32. The Sixth Ball Attack
  33. The Ponger King
  34. Pongface
  35. Jan-Ove Waldner and the Chinese Kid
  36. Gone with the Ball
  37. Ping-Pong Day
  38. The Man who Looped the Ping-Pong Ball
  39. Once Upon a Time on the Table
  40. Mr. Pong Goes to USATT

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September 14, 2011

Develop the non-hitting side

I remember when Coach (and five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) Dan Seemiller talked about this at training camps back in the late 1970s, and for some reason, it didn't make sense at the time. He kept saying how players over-developed their playing side, leaving the other side undeveloped, and as a result couldn't rotate properly and at full power on forehand shots, especially when looping. I didn't see how you needed the left side to rotate your body about. So I spent years developing my right side, to the point where I could do 40 one-arm pushups with my right arm, and couldn't even get off the floor with my left side. My loops never had pure, raw power, and it wasn't until I became a coach that I realized that part of the reason was I wasn't really pulling much with my left side.

As a coach, not only do I realize I don't, but I see most players don't do this very well either, with many players sort of rotating their playing side into the ball, but not pulling equally back with the non-playing side, which is half the equation when rotating - and if you don't pull with that left side, you lose power. Generating the torque needed for full power, in particular when looping, comes from both sides of the body. This doesn't mean you need to spend time at the gym weight training (though that helps!), but remember to use both sides when rotating on forehand shots - imagine a pole going through your head, and rotate around it, with the playing side pushing forward, the non-playing side pulling backward.

Back update

After months of back problems, I'm finally able to play again. I've been seeing a physical therapist twice a week for about six weeks, and doing a ten-minute stretching/strengthening routine three times a day. During much of this time I had locals do my hitting for me while I coached. I got the go ahead from the doctor to start hitting again last week, and so far, while the back still gets sore, and I'm pretty slow (that happens when you take time off!), I'm able to practice with students normally again. As a coach, I'm no longer handicapped; as a player, I'm in mortal fear of our super-fast juniors because right now, my back (and the rest of me) just doesn't want to move very fast. Hopefully that'll come back soon.

Math and English and Creative Writing, Oh My!

I'm working on this morning's blog quickly because I'm off shortly to do my newest sideline, four hours/week tutoring math, English, and creative writing with a local junior table tennis star. Today's math focus is Cramer's Rule, Gauss-Jordan Elimination, Descartes' Rules of Signs, the Rational Roots Test, and other goodies - though we've already started calculus, he's preparing for a pre-calculus test. And we're also working on a fantasy zombie story!

Free Table Tennis e-Book

You can download a free (yes, FREE!) copy of "Boys look at the Stars - Ping-Pong." It's 216 pages, and looks rather interesting as it covers the history of the sport and its stars, with drawings of many of the table tennis greats of the past and present. I downloaded it but haven't read it, just browsed it, so if anyone wants to do a review, I'll post it here. (It comes in either ePub or PDF format.)

Here's what the author (Enzo Pettinelli) wroteabout the book: "Hi all, I'm an Italian table tennis player and I would like present you this free e-book about table tennis history. The e-book "Boys Look at the Stars - Ping-Pong" talks about the history of table tennis in the world. But it is not only ping-pong or table-tennis. It is an adventure lived by children, through their way of being. Love, cruelty, the story of the great table tennis champions from all the world, stimulates their creativity. Dreams, reality, goals morality, the search of oneself, are the ingredients." There's also a video about the book (2:52), though it mostly shows drawings of the stars, leaving the impression that it's a picture book, while the book actually has plenty of text.

Table tennis promo video

Here's a nice table tennis promo video (3:15).

Here's an article on Jan-Ove Waldner...

...because you can never have enough of Jan-Ove Waldner. And here's a video tribute to Waldner (4:36).

Here's an article on Vladimir Samsonov...

...because you can never have enough of Vladimir Samsonov. And here's a video tribute to Samsonov (4:18).

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