Johnny Leach

June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th, a Full Moon, and a Honey Moon!!!

Jason Vorhees says hello! (It's the first Honey Moon on Friday the 13th in about 100 years.)

Campaign 2100

I've spent most of the last four days focused on the rewrite of my science fiction novel Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates. A publisher is interested in this novel, which features table tennis extensively. The rewrite is done, for now. However, from July 25 - Aug. 2 I'll be at writer's workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the first seven chapters of the novel are being extensively critiqued, so I'll be doing more rewriting on that. And then I send the rewrite to the publisher, and pray to the TT and SF gods. (The publisher really liked the novel, but had specific areas they wanted rewritten or expanded on.)

The novel covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the entire world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. (Why did they do this? It's explained in the novel.) The novel is a drama that satirizes and skewers American politics. I hope for it to come out in January, 2016, as the presidential election takes off. I hope to be on all the political talk shows!

How is table tennis in the novel? Let's see (and there are some spoilers here):

  • One of the four main characters is the highly sarcastic and brilliant Bruce Sims. (Confession: he's really me, unleashed to say whatever I want!) He had helped run the campaign for the current president, but left the campaign over policy disagreements and because he considers the president an idiot. He plays professional table tennis on the college circuit - yes, it's professionalized - and he's quite wealthy from it. He's one of the best in the world, which is dominated by American and Chinese players. There's an entire chapter early on where he's introduced as he's playing the semifinals of the national college championships. At deuce in the fifth, he simultaneously gets into arguments with his opponent, with members of the crowd, and with the referee, all while listening to breaking news (in a mental implant) about the upcoming election and an alien ambassador who just arrived and got into a spat with the president - first contact. He walks off the court on the spot to get involved. Soon he's traveling the world running a quixotic third-party moderate challenge for president of Earth, against the conservative president and the liberal challenger. (Campaign slogan: "Extremism in the pursuit of moderation is no vice.")
  • In the year 2100, nearly all the top athletes, including professional table tennis players, are big, hulking brutes on steroid-type drugs. Bruce is one of the few who refuses to use them, and so is always at a disadvantage against his more powerful opponents. In fact, he names his racket Sling after the weapon used by David against Goliath.
  • Bruce teaches the alien ambassador, Twenty-Two, how to play table tennis. They play regularly as they travel the world during the campaign. Because her ancestors snatched flying insects out of the air, her reflexes and coordination are far beyond human - and she soon starts beating him, to his great chagrin.
  • The publisher said the best chapter of the novel is the Ping-Pong Diplomacy scene in China, where Bruce and Twenty-two play an exhibition for the Chinese leadership while trying to convince them to support their candidate. After the match, on orders from the world president, world security forces show up and arrest Twenty-two on the ping-pong court, causing an international incident.  
  • Bruce's racket Sling is the latest model of ping-pong paddle, a Maestro Prime covered with Spinsey pinhole sponge, both from Trump Sports. When the ball hits it, the Spinsey sponge compresses, forcing air out through the tiny, angled holes that permeate the surface. If he held it one way, the air shoots upward from the parallel holes, creating a topspin. If he flipped the paddle, so the backhand side became the forehand side and vice versa, then the air would shoot downward, creating a backspin. He also has shoes with variable grippiness, depending on the floor.
  • There's a scene where Bruce is walking through the Great Mall of China (500 miles long and growing, paralleling the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World introduced in the novel), and finds a table tennis store, where he buys a new racket. (His old one, Sling, had been broken.)
  • Bruce is running the campaign for president for Toby Platt. Toby's son, Tyler, age 13, is also an active table tennis player and is running for president of his middle school. Despite his running a worldwide campaign for president, Bruce gets very involved in both coaching Tyler and running his campaign for school president.
  • One of Bruce's idiosyncrasies is that he always carries a ping-pong ball around, tossing it back and forth in his hands, fidgeting with it, throwing it against walls, etc. When he's irritated at someone, he smacks him with the ball.

Table Tennis in Recent Movies

Table Tennis has been in three recent movies that I've seen in the past two weeks or so. There was of course Ping Pong Summer, which I reviewed on Monday. Then there's that scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past where we are introduced to the superfast Quicksilver by watching him play table tennis by himself - here's an animated gif of him playing, with Hank/Beast, a young Charles Xavier (in background), and Wolverine looking on. And then last night I saw 22 Jump Street, where there were several table tennis scenes where Jenko (played by Channing Tatum) plays at a college fraternity, using a wood paddle with no covering and the handle broken off. I don't have video of that, but here's video from the movie of Tatum holding up a Beer Pong shirt (link should take you directly to this, 51 seconds in). As an added bonus, here's video (10 sec) of Tatum levitating a ping pong ball with his breath, though this isn't from the movie. (The ball bounces up and down when he does it; when I do this, I not only can keep the ball in one place, but by spinning the ball I can do it sideways so the ball appears to float to the side of my head. I'll post video of this some other time.)

Building Depth Footwork Skills

Here's the coaching article.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-one down, 79 to go!

  • Day 80: Interview with ITTF’s Deputy CEO Glenn Tepper

World Hopes Week Draw

Here's the article. USA's Amy Wang is seeded #1 in girls' singles, and she and USA's Michael Tran are seeded #1 in Teams. (This is for players ages 11-12, and is taking place at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria.)

World Team Championships - Most Watched in History

Here's the article from the ITTF. 188 million watched it.

Johnny Leach's Legacy

Here's the article.

Ariel Hsing, Welcome to China!

Here's how they welcome her.

Name the Game Contest

Here's the video (49 sec) where you are asked to come up with a name for the game. Alas, it's already been done - they are playing gnip gnop (read it backwards), where you hit the ball so it hits your side of the table first instead of directly over the net. I was introduced to this game back when I first started in 1976, and it's been a favorite at camps ever since, and presumably for many years before. I sometimes teach the game to beginning kids, as it's easier for them to rally this way while they develop their hand-eye coordination, but I mostly don't because it's too addictive, and once they get started with gnip gnop it's all they want to play.

Maria Sharapova Plays Table Tennis

Here she is shortly after winning the French Open. For some reason she's playing left-handed, even though she's a righty in tennis. Anyone know who her opponent is? Here are four more pictures of her playing: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4

Herbalife Soccer Ad

Here's video (30 sec) of an ad from three years ago for Herbalife, a nutrition and weight management company. It features Argentina's star player Lionel Messi, who is currently playing for them at the World Cup. This is a rare combination of the world's two most popular participation sports!

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June 6, 2014

Short Serves and Half-Long Serves

Most players serve long, over and over. A short serve is one where, if given the chance, the second bounce would be on the table, while with a long serve it goes off. So long serves are easier to attack by looping, while short serves, if kept low, are harder to attack, and are usually pushed back. (Unless it's a short sidespin or topspin serve, without backspin, in which case it's usually flipped – but most players can't serve short this way except at higher levels. Here's a related article, Serving Short with Spin. Here's another, Serving Low. Here's one on long serves, Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves.)

It's important to be able to serve both long and short. If you only serve long, stronger players will start attacking your serves. If you only serve short, it becomes predictable and you'll win fewer points outright on the serve. (The serves that win outright the most tend to be long, breaking serves. But if overdone, and at higher levels, they get attacked. Short serves don't win as many points outright, but they set up a third-ball attack more often.) 

Many players go the other extreme, serving too short. I was watching one of our top juniors play a match recently and noticed that his opponent was taking the serve right off the bounce, and either returning it at wide angles or dropping it short. The junior couldn't get any good attacks off his serve. I watched closely, and realized that his serves were too short. The second bounce, given the chance, would have been well over the table. Because they were so short, the opponent was able to both rush him and angle him with quick pushes and flips, as well as drop the ball short with ease. By serving a little bit longer, the opponent would have to contact the ball later, and would be less effective at rushing and angling the server, or at dropping it short. 

So work on your short serves so that the second bounce is as close to the end-line as possible. There are exceptions - sometimes you want an extra short serve to make the opponent lean over the table, especially short to the forehand. And you also might want to serve sometimes where the second bounce would go slightly off the end, forcing the receiver to make a split-second judgment on whether he can attack it, while forcing him to contact the ball even later. If he does try to loop it, it's often a very soft loop that you can counter-attack. (If they loop it hard, then the serve probably went too long or too high.)

USATT's New Rating Platform and the USATT League

Last night I wrote a rather long segment about the USATT's new rating platform, pointing out more problems with it and again urging USATT to go back to the old platform until the new one is functional. It was not going to be a complimentary blog. I was also involved in a number of late night emailing/messaging sessions about this – a lot of people were urging the same. Result? This morning the old ratings platform is back. So I'll put my previous words in another file and hopefully forget about them. (Fortunately I also wrote out the blog item above on Short Serves and Half-Long Serves, and planned to run that first anyway. Normally I do all the blogging in the morning.) Thank you USATT for fixing the problem. 

So now we can relax and give RailStation and USATT time to perfect their new platform, and if their smart, turn it into something that'll be an actual improvement.

One small mistake - the first line of the explanation says, "This site is being replaced by the one at http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/Ratings." But this links right back to the ratings page it's on rather than the new ratings platform from RailStation. I've emailed the USATT Webmaster about this and it'll likely be fixed.

One thing I am worried about. RailStation is supposed to also take over the USATT League and its rating system. This is one of those relatively successful programs that flies under the radar until something goes wrong. Currently every month about 45 leagues play about 6000 rated USATT league matches, which is about the same number as USATT tournament matches. (Last month 44 leagues played 5818 league matches; some months have as many as 57 active leagues.) If something goes wrong with this, there are going to be a lot of unhappy league directors and players. (The USATT League was created in 2003 and was originally intended to become a team league as well, but USATT had no interest at the time and so it's become a singles league only.)

Long Pimples for Beginners

Here's an interesting article that explains and graphically shows (with animation) how Long Pips work.

Training Graph

Here's a training graph that applies both to table tennis and all other sports. Follow it closely.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fourteen down, 86 to go!

  • Day 87: Striving to Be Ranked in the Top 5 in All We Do

Great Point

Here's video (44 sec) of a great point between Ma Long and Timo Boll. Timo's on the near side defending most of the point before the tables get turned.

RIP Johnny Leach

The 1949 and 1951 World Men's Singles Champion and one of the greatest choppers in history has died at age 91. Here's the article.

Zhang Jike Won't Allow His Future Children to Play Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Table Tennis Dance Moves

Here's the pictures and other ones from the China Open.

Baby Pong

Here's the picture. As you can see he's returning a short ball to his forehand. To do so he's loosened his grip and tilted the racket backwards with the obvious intent of flipping down the line to the opposing baby's backhand. He's also stepped in over the table with his right leg to get maximum reach toward the ball. Both eyes are focused intently on the ball, something we should all emulate. His left ear is thrust out and extended, allowing him to pick up on the sounds of the ball, which give him clues as to the ball's spin and speed, and, along with his right ear (not visible), allows him to triangulate the position of the ball acoustically. Since he's a relative beginner, he has extremely thin sponge on his racket, allowing maximum control. He has a wide stance allowing quick side-to-side scooting. His left arm rests comfortably on his leg, keeping it rested so it'll be ready for a rapid and powerful rotation as he pulls with his left side on follow-up forehand loops. He's using a legal ITTF certified mouth gear, allowing proper protection of teeth when he clenches his teeth in tense moments of a rally and when he's teething. The long-sleeved shirt keep his playing arm warm during long training sessions in cold weather. All in all, I'd say very nice form and kudos to his coach.

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