2014 World Championships

May 6, 2014

The 27 Types of Spin

How many basic types of spin are there when someone serves to you? The simple answer is that, in theory, there are 27. In practice, there are 25. (Before we go farther, here's my article "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Spin But Were Afraid to Ask." If you are new to the idea of spin, or don't really know what corkscrewspin is - also known as deviation spin - you might want to read it.) In reality, of course, there are an infinite number of spins, but they can generally be categorized as these 27. In fact, you can narrow this down to three main types of spin - topspin/backspin, sidespin left or right, and corkscrewspin left or right. All spins just varying amounts of these three main types.

You don't really need to worry about identifying these 27 or 25 spins when receiving. When I list 27 different spins, these are only of theoretical and intellectual interest. When reading spin, you don't have to identify which combos of these spins it is. You simply have to read the direction the ball is spinning and how fast it is spinning, and then react to it. That's it.

How do you react to these spins? In simple terms, if it's spinning with any corkscrewspin, then if you see it coming you anticipate the sideways jump. (It'll also jump off your racket, but generally less than other spins.) If it's coming with any sidespin, you anticipate the sideways jump off your racket, knowing that a firm return will minimize the effect, and aim your racket to compensate. If it has any backspin, you know you have to lift some or push. If it has any topspin you know you have to drive through it or get on top of it to topspin it. You don't consciously do any of this; with practice, it becomes second nature as you react to the way the ball is spinning. A player doesn't have to know about corkscrewspin if he simply reacts to this type of spin by anticipating the sideways jump. 

Before we go further, here's a video (5:40) where someone explains corkscrew spin, though he's calling it deviation spin, as well as demonstrating other spins. And here's an article (part 1 and part 2) that graphically shows the difference between sidespin and corkscrew spin.

So what are these 27 spins? First a few notes. We're talking about spins when serving, though you can also produce these spins in a rally. Second, we're talking about the spin as it leaves the racket. As soon as it bounces on the table the spin begins to change. And third, note that for every axis of rotation, there are two spins, since the ball can spin in either direction.

The three main categories of spin can be thought of as three different axis of rotation, each perpendicular to each other. They are like the XYZ coordinates when mapping something in 3-D. (Here's a picture that shows this.) All spins can be represented by using varying amounts of each of these spins:

  • Topspin and backspin (which are just opposites of each other), where the axis of rotation (from the point of view of the server) is left to right.
  • Sidespin left and sidespin right, where the axis of rotation is top to bottom.
  • Corkscrewspin (also called Deviation Spin) left and right, where the axis of rotation is between the server and the receiver.

What this means is that every serve, in theory, can have some or none of each of these spins. In simple terms, it means every ball has each of the following:

  1. Topspin, backspin, or neither.
  2. Sidespin left, sidespin right, or neither.
  3. Corkscrewspin left, corkscrewspin right, or neither. 

For example, a topspin/sidespin left serve has topspin from the first category, sidespin left from the second, and neither from the third. A no-spin serve (yes, that's a spin!) has neither from all three categories. And you can combine all three, with, for example, a backspin/sidespin right/corkscrew left serve, taking the corresponding part from each category.

This means there are three to the third possibilities, or 27 total spins. (Remember, this includes no-spin.)

Are all of these actually possible to do? The rotation of a spin from the first two categories includes part of the ball spinning in the direction of the opponent, meaning you can serve this type of spin and make it move forward. However, if you serve a pure corkscrewspin serve, there's no way to make the ball move forward; all of your motion is sideways. So in practice, you have to combine it with one of the other spins. So two of the 27 theoretical spins isn't possible in practice - a pure corkscrewspin left or right. So only 25 are possible in practice. (What this also means is that of all the infinite variations of spin possible, there are only two rotations that are absolutely impossible, the two pure corkscrewspins.)

How can you imagine these 27 spins? Here's one way. Hold a ball up. Mark the top and bottom, i.e. the axis of rotation for a pure sidespin. Now mark off eight equidistant spots around the equator. Now look at the northern hemisphere. Draw a line from each of these eight spots on the equator to the north pole. Put a dot at the midpoint of each of these lines, so you have eight more dots. Now do the same for the southern hemisphere. You now have a total of 26 dots on the ball - the two poles, eight on the equator, eight in the northern hemisphere, and eight in the southern hemisphere. However, each axis of rotation has two dots - one on each side of the ball - so while there are 26 dots on the ball, each is directly opposite one on the other side. So there are now 13 axis of rotation. Since the ball can spin in either direction on each of these axis, that makes 26 spins. Add no-spin, and you have 27!

Wasn't that simple?

Without further ado, here are the 27 types of spin.

  1. No-Spin
  2. Topspin
  3. Backspin
  4. Sidespin left
  5. Sidespin right
  6. Corkscrewspin left
  7. Corkscrewspin right
  8. Topspin/Sidespin left
  9. Topspin/Sidespin right
  10. Topspin/Corkscrewspin left
  11. Topspin/Corkscrewspin right
  12. Backspin/Sidespin left
  13. Backspin/Sidespin right
  14. Backspin/Corkscrewspin left
  15. Backspin/Corkscrewspin right
  16. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  17. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  18. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  19. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  20. Backspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  21. Backspin /Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  22. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  23. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  24. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  25. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  26. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  27. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right

Final Standings from the Worlds

Here's the listing. For some reason there were reports that USA Men finished tied for 49th, but they actually were tied for 53rd, according to the listing. USA Women finished tied for 21st.

How does this compare with how USA Teams in the past have finished? Alas, not very good. (Though the women's team would likely have done a lot better if they'd had Ariel Hsing, who's off to college, alas.) Here's a chart showing the USA Teams' ranking going back to 1935. The trend is rather obvious. Here are two things that jump out. First, going back to ancient history, USA began its long decline when the world went to sponge in the early 1950s. Before that, we were a world power. And second, notice how the men's team reached a modern peak in the early 1980s, with rankings in the 13-15 range? Other than the blip in 1991 when the men were #12, it's been a steady decline since then - and the decline coincides almost exactly with when USATT began getting Olympic windfall money. The women also began a major decline at that time, though they recovered in recent years (due to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang). Considering membership has also stayed about the same, how much has this money really helped us? They money should be helpful, but it's the way it's been used that has been wasted.

However, the trend will end in the next few years. As I've blogged before, we have the strongest group of cadets (under 15) in our history. We could be top ten in the world when they are all reaching 20 years old or so, in about 5-7 years or so. Unless, of course, they all go to college at 18. Yikes.

New World Rankings

Here they are, after the Worlds. That was fast! Lily Zhang jumped from her previous 109 to #66.

Last Newsletter from the Worlds

Here's the final Worlds Newsletter, which came out yesterday.

Videos of Men's and Women's Final

In yesterday's blog I didn't have the women's matches, and I didn't have the Xu Xin- Franziska men's match (though I put that up in the afternoon). Here are videos of both finals, with time between points removed.

Men's Final:

  1. Ma Long (CHN) d. Timo Boll (GER), 6,9,9 (4:07);
  2. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) d. Zhang Jike, 11,8,6 (5:01);
  3. Xu Xin (CHN) d. Patrick Franziska (GER), 5,2,8 (3:33);
  4. Ma Long (CHN) d. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER), 10,5,2 (4:21).

Women's Final:

  1. Ding Ning (CHN) d. Yuka Ishigaki (JPN), 5,-8,2,5 (7:41);
  2. Li Xiaoxia (CHN) d. Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN), 8,7,7 (4:19);
  3. Liu Shiwen (CHN) d. Sayaka Hirano (JPN), 4,2,5 (4:47).

More Worlds Coverage

There are lots of articles on the Worlds at TableTennista.

China Highlight Video

Here's the video (2:08) showing the Chinese players after big wins at the Worlds.

Don't Lose Track of the Basics

Here's a new coaching article by Britt Salter from the Oklahoma Table Tennis Club's webpage.

News from New York

Here's the article, covering the recent Westchester Open.

Kim Jong Un Loves Playing Table Tennis?

Here's a video of Dennis Rodman talking about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At 1:23, he says the dictator "…loves playing table tennis…"

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May 2, 2014

Coaches, Heal Thyself! - and Covering the Wide Forehand

I made an interesting discovery while coaching on Wednesday. Over the last few years I've been having more and more problems covering my wide forehand. In drills or free play, when players go to my wide forehand I simply can't get to them very well. Even when blocking forehands if the ball goes a bit outside the corner - an easy block for me in the past - these days I often don't get to it. At age 54 and with on-and-off again knee problems, this is to be expected. Or is it?

Okay, I'll never move as well as I did in the '80s and '90s, but have I really gotten this slow? Apparently not, as I'll explain. During my peak years one of my big strengths was covering my wide forehand, whether blocking, hitting, or looping. My forehand block has always been better than my backhand block, which is somewhat rare - but I've spent so much time blocking with it with practice partners looping forehands that it became a wall, both in drills and games. But now it's like a big hole over there.

I was doing a drill where my student (about a 1600 player) would serve and loop anywhere. I was getting irritated at myself that he kept getting me with loops to my wide forehand. So I asked him to serve and loop a few to my wide forehand so I could practice my forehand block. The first two times he did this I just waved at the ball as it went by - and that's when I realized I was leaning toward the ball instead of stepping. So I forced myself to step to the next one, and lo and behold, suddenly I was able to cover the shot much more easily. I shadow practiced this basic move a few times, then we went back to the serve and loop anywhere drill. And now I was able to (mostly) cover the wide forehand!

What had happened? It seems that as my feet have slowed down in recent years I've felt rushed covering the forehand, and so had started leaning when rushed, which is a bad habit. To cover the wide forehand (whether blocking or any other shot) you have to step to the ball, which is what I teach, what I've done for most of my 38 years of playing, and what I normally do when I have time. But when rushed is exactly when you most need to focus on stepping to the ball, and that's where I'd fallen into a bad habit without really noticing it. If I were still playing tournaments, where I used to regularly analyze my game, I probably would have caught this a lot sooner, or more likely stopped it from ever happening. So if you see me doing quick steps to my right at the club, or in my office, or at the grocery store, you know what I'm practicing.

How about you, dear reader? Have you fallen into any bad habits without noticing it? It's important to regularly analyze your game. One of the ironies of the sport is that many players are constantly learning new things, but unknowingly are almost as rapidly unlearning other things, which is why some players have difficulty improving.

Extremely Busy - TT and SF

I'm in an extremely busy time right now. In the world of table tennis, I'm about to start the final editing phase of my new book, Table Tennis Tips (with special thanks to proofers Kyle Angeles, Scott Gordon, Stephanie, Hughes, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton). I've got my daily blog and weekly tip. I've got about 25 hours total of private and group coaching. I pick up kids after school five days a week to take to our afterschool program. I've got the new MDTTC Newsletter to finalize. Plus a zillion minor things on my todo list, from U.S. Open arrangements to organizing our new Monday night training sessions to doing the accounting for the junior classes I teach. Meanwhile, I'm gearing up for ten consecutive weeks of Mon-Fri training camps this summer, where I do all the talking and much of the organizing. (I do get two of those weeks off - July 1-5 for the U.S. Open, and July 22-26 for the writing workshop I mention below, so I'll only be doing eight of them.)

But it's the world of science fiction & fantasy that's taking up much of my time at the moment. I've got three big projects I'm working on right now. As some of you know, I'm also a novelist. My first novel, Sorcerers in Space came out in November. (It's cheaper if you buy directly from the publisher, Class Act Books. It's a humorous fantasy retelling of the 1960s U.S.-Soviet space race, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts and cosmonauts.) This is in addition to the anthology of my 30 best published short stories, Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges. ("More Pings and Pongs" will be coming out early next year.)

A publisher is interested in another novel I wrote, "Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates," a SF novel that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100 (where the whole world has adopted the American two-party electoral system - heaven forbid!). But they want rewrites on several parts. So I just began work on that yesterday - some of you may have seen me yesterday disappearing for several hours in the back room at MDTTC to work on it between coaching sessions. I'm also going to a nine-day writer's workshop this summer, which involves reading and critiquing roughly 300 pages of material. (That's my version of an annual vacation.) Finally, I'm in the middle of a new short story. So I'm currently bouncing back and forth between the worlds of TT and SF like a ping-pong ball. (Or like the souls of famous American generals Washington, Grant, Lee, Pershing, Eisenhower, which I pictured bouncing about on a battlefield - like ping-pong balls - in my fantasy horror story War of the Night.)

But rest assured, it's table tennis that mostly pays the bills, and so table tennis gets top priority.

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 run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Interview at the Worlds with Stefan Feth and Kanak Jha

Here's the interview (3:47) with the USA Men's Coach Stefan and 13-year-old USA Team Member Kanak.

Adam Bobrow and Ma Long Messing Around

Here's the video (1:39) where Adam tries to sidespin chop-lob down the Chinese superstar. Wait'll you see at the end who the cameraman is! (Hint - youngest member of Chinese men's team.) Adam won the ITTF "Voice of Table Tennis" contest and is at the Worlds as their primary broadcaster.

St. Louis Open

Here are the daily press releases by Barbara Wei about the upcoming $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open this weekend. (I linked to the previous ones already.)

Ma Long Playing with No-Arms Player

(I ran this yesterday, but had a bad link, so I'm running it again.) Here's the article and video (65 sec) of Ma Long rallying with Ibrahim Elhoseny, who holds the racket in his mouth.

Ten Table Tennis Champs Staring at Ping Pong Balls

Here's the article and pictures.

Butterfly Ad

Here's a video (45 sec) of a rather interesting Butterfly ad. (Disclaimer: I'm sponsored by Butterfly.) It's mostly animated, with an appearance at the end by Timo Boll.

Jimmy Fallon and Diane Keaton Play Beer Pong

Here's the video (3:23). I don't usually post too much about beer pong, but this one was pretty funny as they competed, and then it devolved into a ball fight, and then they just upended the whole baskets of balls on each other. Here's an article about it, with pictures.

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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 30, 2014

Butterfly and My Personal Equipment

Here's some news on the equipment front. First, I'm sponsored by Butterfly again. (They haven't put me up yet in their sponsored list - that'll come later.) I was sponsored by them for something like two decades, but was a casualty of the 2008 financial crisis. I had two great years sponsored by Paddle Palace, but they are moving in a different direction, which freed me to reapply with Butterfly. My club, MDTTC, has been sponsored by Butterfly for many years.

I've used a Butterfly Timo Boll ALC flared blade the last few years. I believe it's the most popular high-end racket right now. I discovered it almost by accident. I was coaching Tong Tong Gong about 3-4 years ago while he was on the USA National Cadet Team (and about to try out to make it again) and sponsored by Butterfly. I needed to warm him up, but my racket was in my bag a distance away, so I borrowed his spare blade. After I hit one ball my eyes shot up - it just felt right. Tong Tong later made the National Cadet team for a second straight year, and as a reward for my coaching him at the Trials they gave me his spare racket, which I'd come to really like. (Butterfly had given him a new backup.) I've been using that blade ever since. You can still see where Tong Tong had etched his name into it!

For the last few years I've been using Tenergy 05 FX 2.1 black on my forehand and Roundell 2.1 red on my backhand. Tenergy is the most popular high-end sponge, but it comes in so many types it's hard to keep track - 05, 25, 64, 80, and all in regular and FX, which means a softer version. You can read about each at the Butterfly site.

I use the FX on the forehand for embarrassing reasons - at 54 and very tight muscles, I don't swing as hard as I used to in a fast rally, and FX is more forgiving, but with less power. It means when someone hits the ball aggressively to my forehand it's easier to loop - the sponge practically does it for me as I just stick my arm out and swing a bit. (It's not quite that simple - you still have to have decent technique and timing, but it sure makes it easier.) With harder sponge you have to swing harder to sink the ball into the sponge, and I don't do that in a fast rally as well as I used to. Against a slower ball, I can still swing hard, but a harder sponge would give even more power. FX is also good for players developing their loop. Having said all this, I'm planning on trying out the regular 05 for a time and see how it works.

On the backhand I mostly counter-drive and block, though I do loop sometimes. Roundell is more of an all-around sponge that allows you to do anything. It's a good looping sponge (though not quite like Tenergy), and very easy to rally with. However, I'm toying with going to one of the Tenergy sponges on my backhand. Tenergy 25 is supposed to be better for close-to-table play, so I'm going to give that a try.

Here's the problem. I had a sheet of Tenergy 25 sent 2-day priority mail last Thursday, nearly a week ago. (It's actually coming from Paddle Palace, the last sheet of sponge they owe me.) According to the tracking number, it was sent out for delivery at 1:35AM on Saturday morning (i.e. late Friday night). It was never delivered. Then it was apparently sent out for delivery again at 1:21AM Tuesday morning (i.e. late Monday night), but again it was never delivered. And here it is Wednesday morning, and still nothing. Apparently there's some drunken delivery guy who's been zigzagging about the last four days with my Tenergy in his truck. If anyone sees him, please flag him down, tackle him, taze him, or whatever it takes.

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.)

MDTTC Coaching Staff

Here's a group picture of the MDTTC coaching staff (including names), taken during our Spring Break Camp two weeks ago.

When to Call Timeouts

Here's the article from PingSkills. One of the things they stress is you should call a timeout whenever it would best help you win a game - even if it's in the first game. I've argued the same thing, but some players are resistant to a timeout in the first game. I'd rather do it when it could make a difference than as a desperation tactic near the end when you are already out of the match. Here's my Tip of the Week on this, and here's a blog entry where I talk about timeouts.

Internet Lag Demonstrated with Table Tennis

Here's the article and video (2:58).

Ping-Pong Tapestry

I have no idea what's going on here, but the guy in the middle appears to be holding a ping-pong paddle. It appears to be some sort of historical Chinese thing, but the guy's a shakehander. Should that be penhold? Can anyone translate?

4er Table Tennis

Here it is! I'd call it Giganta Pong. With four tables and a barrier (with something to prop it up higher), anyone can play this. The sport for the masses.

Player Catches Ball in Mouth

Here's the video (24 sec, including slow motion). After catching it in his mouth in this exhibition the player spits it out on the other player's side for the point. I can't quite tell who the ball-catching lefty player is, but I think that's Jorgen Persson on the other side. (Edit: I didn't recognize him from the video at first, but Bernard Lemal emailed that the one on the right catching the ball in his mouth is '93 World Men's Champion Jean-Philippe Gatien! Now that he's pointed it out, it's kind of obvious. Even his strokes are a giveaway.)

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