2014 St. Louis Open

May 8, 2014

The Point's Not Over Until It's Over!

Last night, one of my students, 12-year-old Matt, told me about an interesting point he had in our Tuesday night league. The opponent was attacking, and Matt had been forced off the table fishing. The opponent's smash hit the net and dropped down in front of Matt, seemingly unreturnable. Matt scooped the ball up almost off the floor and made a sidespin return - but the opponent was off to the side of the table, thinking the point was over, and so couldn't react. So Matt won the point, and went on to win his division in the league that night. (After just 14 months of play, his league rating is now almost 1700.)

This type of thing happens all the time. Over the years I've played many dozens of points where my opponent thought the point was over, and so wasn't ready when I'd make a last-minute lunging return. (Alas, it's happened to me a few times as well.) Players often way under-estimate how fast a player can cover the wide corners. (This is one reason why choppers often do well - opponents keep going to the "open" corners instead of attacking the vulnerable middle.) And in our practice games after our session was over, I had at least one point where I blocked a "winner" to Matt's wide forehand and stood up straight, only to be caught when he somehow ran it down and fished it back, forcing me into an awkward block.

When I coach, it also happens all the time - primarily because of my tendency to volley balls that are off the end to keep the rally going, or even to play balls after they hit the floor. My students are often caught off guard by this, though they soon learn to be ready no matter what. As I often say, "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over."

So it's extremely important to expect every ball to come back until the point is actually over. This means no standing up straight in the middle of a point - stay down in your ready position. Desperation returns happen all the time, and they are usually weak returns that are easily put away - but they are often missed by the unready.

I think the most famous (infamous?) case of a player not realizing the ball was still in play was in the final of the New Jersey Open (or was it the Eastern Open?), circa 1978, between Mike Bush and Rutledge Barry (about age 15, battling with Eric Boggan for the #1 rank among USA juniors), with the score (predictably!) deuce in the fifth. (Games were to 21 back then, so it had been a marathon match.) I was on the sidelines watching when the following happened. Bush was lobbing, and after the lefty Rutledge creamed one, Bush did a lunging, desperation lob, extremely high but way off the end - in fact, I think it was still rising when it crossed Rutledge's side of the table. Rutledge turned his back on the table and yelled in celebration - he thought he had match point. What he didn't see, but what we saw from the stands, was the ball change directions as it neared a fan in the ceiling. The fan blew the ball straight backwards, so the ball landed on Rutledge's side of the table, and bounced back to Mike's, hitting his side before going off the end. So whose point was it?

The rules say that the rally shall be a let "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." But the fan had been there at the start of the rally, and so wasn't a "disturbance." And so the umpire (after consulting with the referee) ruled that the ball was still in play, and so Mike's lob, despite its essentially 90 degree turn in mid-air, was a point-winning "ace"! Rutledge was not happy, especially as Mike won the next point and the championship.

U.S. Open Deadline is Saturday

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee is Saturday. "Postmarked after May 10, 2014 will be accepted with a $75 late fee. Entries postmarked after May 17, 2014 WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED." Here's more info:

I'll be there, as usual, mostly coaching, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) When I'm not coaching or playing I'll probably be hanging out by the Butterfly booth, so come by and say hello, and perhaps buy a few of my books!!! (I can sign them.)

ITTF Legends Tour

The first event of the ITTF Legends Tour was held last night, with Jan-Ove Waldner defeating Jean-Michel Saive in the final, 3-2. Here's video of the entire night (about three hours), showing all five matches. Here are pictures from the event. Here's the home page for the event (strangely, no results are given other than the final), and here's the Facebook page. Here are the results.

Final: Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) d. Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), 3-2; SF: Waldner d. Jorgen Persson (SWE), 3-1; Saive d. Jiang Jialiang (CHN), 3-0; QF: Saive d. Jean-Philippe Gatien (FRA), 3-0; Persson d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE), 3-0; Waldner & Jiang byes.

Here's one interesting picture, showing Saive receiving serve. Note how far he is around his backhand corner? This is sort of a dying art, the all-out forehand receive of serve. These days players mostly favor backhand receive against short serves. Players like Saive (and often me many years ago) focused on returning essentially all serves with their forehand, even short ones, which they'd flip with the forehand, even if the serve was short to the backhand.

"I Wanted to Remind the World That I'm Number One"

Here's the article about why Xu Xin pointed to his player number (where his player number was #1) after winning against Germany's Patrick Franziska, with the two playing in the #3 spot (and so only playing one match, while the top two players would play two each if the team match went five).

Forlorn Superstar

Here's a picture of the Chinese Team reacting during the Men's Team Final at the Worlds. Note Zhang Jike (reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion) on the far left - he's just lost to Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's an interview with Zhang (2:10) after the team match (through an interpreter).

ITTF Facts from the World Championships

A total of 178,527 points were played. Just thought you should know.

Why Restricting China is Bad for the Sport

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. This is in regard to changes made by the ITTF discussed in this article and this ITTF Press Release, which I linked to on Monday.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Here are two more follow-up articles by Barbara Wei on the St. Louis Open held this past weekend. Other articles were linked to in my May 5 blog (Monday).

A Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:44), created by Jim Butler.

Michael Mezyan's Latest TT Artwork

Here it is. This could inspire a table tennis fantasy story I may write, involving black magic to create the perfect paddle, etc.

Table Tennis on Veep

I blogged about this on April 28, but didn't have pictures or video. Here's the video (15 sec), care of Table Tennis Nation. And one correction to my blog on this, where I said I didn't see any of the three top table tennis players who were brought in. That's Toby Kutler on the far right, a 2200 player from my club, though of course his table tennis skills weren't actually needed in the scene. But he does have a good look of distress as the VP's aide yells at them for hitting the VP with the ball! (Here's my blog from Oct. 10, 2013, where I wrote about our experiences on the set of Veep.)

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May 5, 2014

Tip of the Week

Returning Smashes and Loop Kills.

World Championships

The World Championships finished today, and by today I mean Tokyo time, meaning it's already over. And guess what? It's hard to believe, but once again China came out of NOWHERE to sweep everything . . . again. Okay, that's sarcasm; I figured there was about a 90% chance they'd sweep it all. It would have taken an earthquake to stop them - and there was an earthquake in Tokyo just yesterday, just not enough to stop the unstoppable from being unstoppable.

On the men's side, Germany gave them a good battle in the final, but Ma Long proved to be the Chinese hero. Ma started things off by defeating Timo Boll at 6,9,9. Timo actually led all three games but Ma came back each time. In the second match things got interesting as Dimitrij Ovtcharov upset reigning men's world champion Zhang Jike at 11,8,6. Then Xu Xin dispatched the German #3, Patrick Franziska, at 5,2,8. Then it was Dimitrij against Ma, with the German hoping to find lightning a second time and send things into the fifth and final set - but Ma was way too much, winning at 10,5,2.

Here are videos of the men's matches:

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

The women's final between China and Japan was taking place as I write this, and I plan on posting this as soon as it's done. In the first match Ding Ning of China defeated Yuka Ishigaki at 5,-8,2,5. In the second match it was Li Xiaoxia over Kasumi Ishikawa, 8,7,7. In the third and final match (which just finished as I write this), it was Liu Shiwen over Sayaka Hirano at 4,2,5.

I'll post video of the women's final tomorrow - it doesn't seem to be up yet at TTCountenance. (I prefer to use them because they take the time out between points. It's possible others do this as well, but I'm not sure.)

China has now won Men's Teams at the Worlds seven consecutive times, and nine of the last ten. Due to a blip in 2010 where they were upset by Singapore, China has won Women's Teams "only" two consecutive times (ending a streak of eight consecutive wins) - but they've won it all but twice since 1975, including ten of the last eleven and 18 of the last 20.

You can get complete results and articles at the ITTF World Championship Page. You can find videos of all the great action at the tt-news page. (TTCountenance has also been putting the videos up, with time between points removed.) Here are Daily Video Reviews. And here are the daily World Championship Newsletters, with one more to come.

  • April 28
  • April 29
  • April 30
  • May 1
  • May 2
  • May 3
  • May 4
  • May 5 (this one is not yet up, but I know the address it'll have when ready, so you can keep checking on it until it goes up. It should be the final one, with news on the Men's and Women's Team Final.)

And speaking of Chinese domination…

ITTF Introduces Changes. Are They to Reduce Chinese Domination?

Here's the ITTF Press Release. And  here's an article on it. 

USA at the Worlds

You can get coverage of the USA Team at the USA at the Worlds Page. (The men finished tied for 49th, the women tied for 21st.) Here's a slideshow tribute to Team USA.

Bruce Liu did daily rundowns on the USA Team. Here they are:

  1. Day 1: Men and Women
  2. Day 2: Women Men
  3. Day 3: Women Men
  4. Day 4: Women Men
  5. Day 5: Men and Women

Lily Zhang was the women's team star. She went in with a world ranking of #109 from March (but off the list in April due to inactivity), and compiled the following 7-2 record (with special thanks to compiler John Olsen):

WINS:

  • Viktoria Pavlovich, world #11
  • Georgina Pota, world #35
  • Szandra Pergel, world #90
  • Ana-Maria Erdelji, world #101
  • Alexandra Privalova, world #102
  • Andrea Todorovic, world #157
  • Miao Miao, world #224 in February

LOSSES:

  • Yuka Ishigaki, world #38
  • Chen Szu-Yu, world #54

Day 7 Shot of the Day at the Worlds

Here's video (52 sec, shown twice from different angles) of an incredible rally in the Men's Semifinals between Japan's Jun Mizutani and Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here are other Shots and Moments of the Day from the Worlds.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Want more of a USA table tennis fix? Here are all of Barbara Wei's articles on the $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open, held this weekend. I linked to the early ones on Friday, but here are all eight articles.

Robots vs. Multiball

Here's the article and video (3:45) from PingSkills.

Meet Penn State's Own Marcus "Pingpong" Jackson

Here's the article on this former MDTTC prodigy!

Ariel Hsing vs. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett

As they do every year, at an annual gathering of gadzillionaires, they brought in Ariel Hsing to play the two she calls "Uncle Bill" and "Uncle Warren." (I think she won.) Here is video (after an irritating 30 sec commercial), and here are ten photos (click on photo to see the next one).

Phoenix - Trying To Be Cool

Here's video of this music video. The link should take you directly to 2:25, where there's several seconds of rather intense table tennis action!

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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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