Crystal Wang

December 17, 2012

Last Blog Until January 2

This will be my last blog (and Tip of the Week) until Jan. 2, 2013. I leave in a few hours for the USA Nationals in Las Vegas (Dec. 18-22), then Christmas with family in Santa Barbara (Dec. 22-25), then I'll be coaching non-stop at the MDTTC Christmas Camp (Dec. 26-31). Then I'm going to sleep in on Jan. 1. See you in 2013!

Tip of the Week

Distance from Table.

Ratings - Crystal and Derek

Wow. Just wow. The North American Teams were processed, and two of our MDTTC juniors have mind-boggling ratings. Let me once again start off by reminding readers (and myself) that ratings are just indicators of level, and fluctuate up and down quite a bit. But there are times when they are a lot of fun.

We'll start with Crystal Wang, 10, who saw her rating go from 2245 to 2353. (I coached three of her matches, where she went 2-1.) This makes her the following:

  • The highest rated 10-year-old in U.S. history, boys or girls, breaking the record that had been set by Kanak Jha, who was 2265 as a 10-year-old two years ago. (The 2245 had already made her the highest rated 10-year-old girl ever and second highest overall.)
  • #1 Under 11 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 12 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 13 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 14 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 15 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 16 Girl in the U.S.
  • #2 Under 17 Girl in the U.S.
  • #4 Under 18 Girl in the U.S.
  • #9 Under 22 Girl in the U.S.

Here's her record at the Teams, where she went 23-3 in leading her team (which included Derek Nie, below, Bernard Lemal, and Heather Wang) to winning Division Two:

Wins
2347: 7,13,-7,9
2291: 7,5,-4,6
2287: -10,7,10,-7,3
2256: -11,9,6,-5,7
2223: 8,-2,5,-9,6
2199: 7,3,10
2194: 8,3,7
2183: 6,-8,6,10
2183: -10,7,8,3
2160: 7,9,-3-10
2156: 8,9,7
2152: 5,6,4
2149: 5,12,-4,-8,7
2123: 8,4,6
2119: 4,5,8
2113: 9,5,4
2097: 6,6,10
2092: 4,-7,7,7
2091: -9,5,7,-10,4
2064: 5,6,4
2064: -5,9,3,1
2014: 7,4,3
1902: 8,10,5
Losses
2369: 10,3,-18,7
2319: -5,6,7,6
2280: 9,10,6

Between Crystal and New Jersey's Amy Wang (2177, just turned 10), the east coast has a dynamic duo following in the footsteps of the west coast's Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

Meanwhile, Crystal's teammate, Derek Nie, 11, the U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Singles Champion, saw his rating go from 2139 to 2221 as he went 17-9 at the Teams. (He's been as high as 2170 recently. I coached about a dozen of his matches at the Teams.) While this "only" brings him up to #3 in Under 12 Boys in the U.S., it does something else. At only 65 pounds, he is almost for certain the best player in the U.S., pound for pound, and the lightest player ever to break 2200. We're talking 34.17 rating points per pound!!! (I come in at 11.67 points per pound. How about you?) Derek might be the shortest to break 2200 as well, at 4'5". (Mitch Seidenfeld, how tall are you?)

I must also point out that it was a crime against humanity that John Olsen, after training so hard with the goal of breaking 2000, came out of the Teams in Baltimore with a rating of 1999. The table tennis gods are laughing!

Nationals

I'll be coaching at the Nationals, primarily Tong Tong Gong and Derek Nie, and sometimes other MDTTC players. I usually play in the hardbat events, where I've won a bunch of titles, but this year I'm just coaching - just too busy to play. I'll also be attending some meetings, since I'm on several USATT advisory committees, plus the USATT Assembly (Tuesday 7:30 PM) and the Hall of Fame Banquet, assuming it doesn't interfere with my coaching duties (Thursday 6:30 PM).

This year's Nationals has a lot of players (781), and a lot of players in Men's Singles (160). There's no single standout player this year, with the top seed Mark Hazinski at 2621), followed by Timothy Wang (2601), Jim Butler (2583), Adam Hugh (2567), Stefan Manousoff (2560), Han Xiao (2536), Dan Seemiller (2521), Li Yu Xiang (2510), Zhang Yahao (2509), Razvan Cretu (2508), and Shao Yu (2503). In newer ratings after the Teams in Baltimore and Columbus and the ICC tournament last weekend, Hazinski is down to 2590, and Timothy Wang is down to 2585. In fact, in the newer ratings, Adam Hugh would be top seed at 2599. I'm pretty sure it's been literally decades since we had a Nationals where the top seed in Men's Singles was under 2600. (And this despite an apparent slow inflation of the rating system!) 

Who are my picks to win? In Men's Singles, I'm biased, so I'm picking the same two finalists from last year when we had the all-Maryland final with Peter Li winning over Han Xiao in the final. (But Peter, now in college, has dropped to 2475.) However, putting aside biases, I suggest viewers watch Jim Butler. The current top U.S. players simply don't know yet how to play the recently un-retired Butler, with his tricky serves and big backhand smash. Another to watch is Adam Hugh, who's been playing very well recently, now that he's out of college and (I'm told) coaching and playing full-time.

On the women's side, the top four seeds easily lap the other players: Jasna Rather (2588), Ariel Hsing (2538), Judy Hugh (2533), and Lily Zhang (2520). However, in new ratings, Judy is back out of the stratosphere with a 2394 rating, while Jasna has mostly been around 2400 for years until one tournament shot her up to 2588. Perhaps she's back to her former world-class level, but for now, I'd bet on an Ariel-Lily final for the third year in row. Who will win? One of them. I'll leave it at that.

World Junior Championships

USA's Lily Zhang made the quarterfinals of Under 18 Girls' Singles at the World Junior Championships, held in Hyderabad, India, Dec. 9-16. Here's the home page, with complete results, articles, and photos. This is probably the best showing of a U.S. junior at the World Junior Championships. (They didn't have them in the old days, when the U.S. was a power.) In reaching the quarterfinals, Lily knocked off the #5 seed (Bernadette Szocs of Romania) and #6 seed (Petrissa Solja of Germany), before losing to the #4 seed (Gu Rouchen of China).

Alas, the eight members of the U.S. Junior Team (which included Crystal Wang - see above - the youngest player at the tournament) will have to fly back and compete at the USA Nationals two days after finishing in India. They will face major problems with the time zone changes and jet lag. 

Prachi Jha

Here's an article from the ITTF that features USA's Prachi Jha and her performance in the team competition at the World Junior Championships.

The Backhand Push

Here's a 45-second video from U.S. Men's Singles Champion Peter Li explaining the basics of the backhand push.

Hitting a Forehand from Below Table Level

Here's a video from PingSkills (2:21) on returning a ball from below table level.

ITTF Development Funds

Here's an article on new funding from the ITTF for continental development. "A quite staggering sum of $1,000,000 is to be made available annually for continents affiliated to the International Table Tennis Federation for development in the next four years, the period from 2013 to 2016."

Look what Michael Found at the Supermarket!

Yes, it's a picture of Michael Landers on the Kelloggs Corn Flakes box! It breaks a 76-year cereal box drought for table tennis since George Hendry made the Wheaties box in 1936.

Santa Claus

In honor of Christmas, here are two pictures of Santa Claus playing table tennis. Here he is with rock star Alice Cooper on right, and here he is again with actress Ginger Rogers on right.

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December 13, 2012

USA Nationals Entrants

This year's Nationals (Las Vegas, Dec. 18-22) has 782 entries, a nice increase over last year's near-record low of 502 in Virginia Beach. In actuality, the numbers last year were a bit higher than 502 since that number, taken from the online ratings database, doesn't include players who entered only doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper events. So they probably had closer to 550 last year - but that's still the lowest number ever for a USA Nationals since the 1980s.

What do these numbers say about location, location, location? But the numbers are also a bit higher than the Nationals in Las Vegas two years ago, which had 686 (again, players in rated events only). We still have a ways to go to return to the heydays of 2005 and 2006, which had 829 and 837 players in rated events.

Here's a chart showing the number of entries in rated events at the Nationals every year from 1994-2011. I have not included the 2012 figures yet because they include all entries. When the tournament is processed and the number of players in rated events is known, it'll be a bit lower than 782, almost for certain under 750. We'll see. (While we're at it, here's a chart showing the number of entries in the U.S. Open, 1994-2012.)

How many players only enter in doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper? This year's U.S. Open had 611 total entries, but only 564 in rated events. So 47 played only doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper, about 7.7% of the total. Based on that, of the 782 entries in this year's Nationals, about 60 will only play doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper, leaving about 722 in rated events.

The number of entries listed on the charts for earlier years is closer to the actual number. After I won the Hardbat Open at the 1991 Nationals and 1992 U.S. Open, the event was discontinued. (They must not have liked me.) The event was restored in 1997. Now there are six hardbat events - Hardbat Open, Over 40, Over 60, Doubles, Under 2000, Under 1800, and Under 1500. And over the last couple of years they've added the sandpaper event. (At the Open, they had two sandpaper events - the Open, and Liha Sandpaper, which has somewhat different rules.) So there are more and more players entered these days in non-rated events. I wish there were a way of getting actual entry numbers for all these U.S. Opens and Nationals, but all I have to go on are the online ratings lists.

Crystal Wang and Lily Yip

Yesterday I linked to the ITTF article that featured Crystal Wang. Now they've done a video interview of Crystal (2:26, she's a bit nervous) and USA Junior Coach Lily Yip (2:43). Poor Crystal and the others on the USA Junior Team (eight of them) just spent a week in India at the World Junior Championships, and will have exactly two days to travel halfway around the world to play in Las Vegas at the USA Nationals. When they play a match in Las Vegas at, say, 4PM, which is middle of the night for them this past week. (And the same for their matches in India, where their daytime matches were like middle of the night matches in U.S. time.)

Petition for Table Tennis in School Curriculums

Here's a petition to do the following:

Include and recognize the sport of Table Tennis Aka "Ping Pong" as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice.

Table Tennis should be included as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice to participate and play. The sport isn't only a recreational past time but also an Olympic sport. The sport is considered and recognized relevant by other cultures. The sport is cost effective, fights the obesity problem among young Americans, and is non discriminatory. The sport can be easily incorporated in a schools current athletic curriculum, and easily be taught. Tables should be put on all middle schools to encourage start up programs. There are plenty of qualified coaches in the United States that would love the opportunity to teach and coach this fast growing sport. Starting in middle schools will also identify talented kids and Olympic hopefuls. This is the way It's done in China and Europe.

It just got started, and I went ahead and signed it. (I'm the fifth signee; they need 25,000 by Jan. 11, 2013.) Let's see if it takes off.

Return Boards

Here's a video (2:03) highlighting their use. (The first two players shown are USA Junior Team Members (and sister and brother) Prachi Jha and Kanak Jha.) I have to get one!!!

1998 Olympics Gold Medal Match

Here's a highlights video (2:04) of the Men's Singles Final at the 1988 Olympics, the debut of table tennis as an Olympic Sport. It was held in Seoul, Korea, and (coincidentally?), it was an all-Korean final, with Yoo Nam Kyu defeating Kim Ki Taek in the final, 3-1. Players back in those days had great forehands and footwork, and lobbed more, but backhands were generally weaker, though most Europeans were looping their backhands. (Both of these penholders were backhand blockers, using conventional penhold backhands, which has mostly died out at the world-class level.)

Humans are Awesome

Here's a video (4:29) that shows humans doing various spectacular stunts. It includes a great table tennis rally from 0:21 to 0:33. (The player on the near side is Dimitri Ovtcharov. Anyone recognize the Asian lefty shakehander on the far side?)
Addendum: Julian Waters, and a few minutes later Bruce Liu, both informed me that the player on the far side is Mizutani Jun of Japan. Julian also corrected my original belief that the player on the near side was Primorac - oops!

Another Four-Person Table

Here it is!

Table Tennis Birthday Cake

Here it is!

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November 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Serving Short to Forehand and Long to Backhand.

JOOLA North American Teams

I spent the weekend mostly coaching at the Teams in Baltimore. Since my family lives on the west coast (Oregon and California), I spent my third straight Thanksgiving with Tong Tong Gong and his family - they served a vintage Thanksgiving meal with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry juice, an incredibly good bread that's a family recipe, and a number of other items, including a few Chinese dishes. (They also had 17 relatives over.) I ate more at that meal than I have at any meal in years - and I mean this literally. Since they live only 20 minutes from the playing hall, I stayed at their house for the weekend, as I did the last two years. (I live an hour away.)

The number of teams was down a bit, from last year's 196 to 158. Part of this is because of the new Butterfly Teams in Columbus - see segment below. Some have written that that tournament had no effect on the Teams in Baltimore, but that's absurd - I know of at least 10-12 teams that regularly play in Baltimore that went to Columbus this year, and that's just the ones I know. I'd guess they lost at least 20 or more teams to Columbus. At $800/team, that's at least $16,000 in lost revenue.

While I'm never happy playing on cement, as most matches at the Teams (both Baltimore and Columbus), Open, and Nationals are played on, there's not a lot that can be done about that. However, I was happy to see (yes, that's a pun) that the lighting was greatly improved this year, as part of a renovation at the Baltimore Convention Center. The tournament ran on time, with two tables assigned to every team match we played. They also had much better prizes this year, giving out nice crystal prizes to the division winners that the players seemed happy with.

Here's a picture of the Division One Champions, Atlanta Table Tennis Academy, holding the crystal prizes. (Picture is care of Tom Nguyen from North American Table Tennis.) L-R: Tournament President Richard Lee, Feng Yijun, Liu Jikang, Li Kewei, Coach Wang, Timothy Wang, Wang (Eugene) Zhen, and Referee Bill Walk.

However, this will be the last year it'll be in Baltimore. Next year it's moving to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at the National Harbor, just south of Washington D.C.

Because I was there primarily as a coach, I didn't see much of the finals - just the last match in fact. I played as a part-time player for the NOVA team, playing in three ties where I beat a couple of 2150 to 2200 players and several 1950 players, went five with a 2300+ player, and lost to a 2050 player who moved me around on the slippery cement and then smashed over and over. When I did win points, it was usually off my serves, which gave everyone fits and covered up for my growing lack of mobility. Alas, I don't practice any more (I'm just a coach), and at 52 I'm too stiff and slow to play the way I used to. In my mind, I'm still greased lightning, but once at the table....

It is a grueling tournament, designed for true table tennis warriors. Play began Friday at 9AM, with most teams playing team matches at 9AM, 11AM, 2PM and 4PM, with these matches deciding what division you would get into. (Most teams played two higher teams and two lower teams, though of course this was adjusted for the highest and lowest teams.) On Saturday teams played five more team matches (9AM, 11AM, 2PM, 4PM, and 7PM), and two more on Sunday (9AM and 11AM), with crossovers at 2PM and 4PM. This is a true players tournament.

Tong Tong, just turned 15, didn't start out well, and I'm not going to get into that. He played well on Saturday night, and if he plays like that he might be in the mix for the USA junior team trials coming up in three weeks. He's been on the cadet team the last two years - top four in country - but is now ineligible, but has three years to try out for the junior team. I coached him here, and will be coaching him and Derek Nie at Nationals. Derek, 11, will be trying out for the mini-cadet and cadet teams.

I coached Derek in a number of his matches, and he had a great tournament. He came in at 2139 (from a high of 2170 recently), and pretty much blitzed everyone. He beat about ten players between 2100 and 2200 with, I think, only one loss in that range. He beat three or four players in the 2250 range (one of them from down 5-10 in the fifth), and he beat a 2438 player. He, Crystal Wang, Heather Wang, and Bernard Lemal combined to win Division 3, going 7-0 in the round robin and then winning the crossover semifinals and final for a combined 9-0. (So Crystal won crystal!) I'm wondering if Derek is the first person ever under 70 pounds to beat a 2400+ player?

Derek's best mach might have been the win over the 2438 player, but his gutsiest took place in the Division 3 Final. He was up against I think a 2180 player who could attack from both wings as well as lob over and over, and who played very smart. Derek led most of the first game but lost 11-9. He led 9-8 in the second and was basically lobbed down three straight points. Between games we talked tactics, then I told him if he wanted to win this match, he'd have to win it here (I tapped his head) and here (I tapped his heart). He nodded, and I knew we were in for a long match. Derek won the next game somewhat close, and the fourth easily. In the fifth, the opponent made a diving, lobbing return on the edge, looped a winner, and then got a net dribbler to go up 3-0. After a timeout, Derek only gave up one more point as he won, 11-4.

Crystal, 10, also had an amazing tournament. (I coached a few of her matches.) She beat a 2500+ player, a number of 2250 players, and I don't think lost to anyone below her 2245, though I'm not sure of all her matches. I'll talk more about her when the ratings are processed - but almost for sure she'll achieve the highest rating ever for a 10-year-old, boys or girls, probably well over 2300. There's a chance she or Derek may be adjusted to an absurdly high rating - we'll see. I'm wondering if she's the youngest player ever to beat a 2500+ player?

One strange incident took place. Derek was in a battle with Ray Mack, a 2150 player, and led 10-8 in the fifth. He went for his towel and drink bottle and took a sip. An umpire who was walking by interrupted the match, telling Derek that it was not legal to drink during the towel break every six points! Many or most players regularly do this; I've been doing it for 36 years. While the rules do not specifically say you can take a drink during the break every six points, I've never seen an umpire forbid it. I checked with the tournament referee, Bill Walk, and he agreed that it was okay to take a brief drink during the towel break. It was a rather scary moment when the umpire interrupted the match as it could have disrupted Derek's focus. The umpire got into an argument with Derek's parents and teammates while Derek walked about, looking perplexed. As it was, he scored the next point. I don't think umpires are supposed to interrupt matches in progress to enforce perceived rules violations.

As noted, I didn't see much of the action taking place on the feature courts where the top players were playing. I saw bits and pieces, but not one entire match. I did see the last few games of the last match in the final, where chopper/looper Chen Weixing kept coming from behind before finally losing close in the fifth as Atlanta Table Tennis Academy defeated Team JOOLA, 3-1.

It was a fun but exhausting weekend, which culminated in my getting a mild cold yesterday, though it seems to have mostly gone away already. Maybe I was just tired, though I went through a bunch of Kleenex yesterday. Here are the final division results - playoff results are at the end.

Butterfly Teams in Columbus

While the JOOLA North American Teams were held in Baltimore, the Butterfly Teams were held in Columbus, Ohio. Here are the results, and here's a listing of the players on each team so you can match them with the teams in the results.

Ariel's Speech

Here's Ariel Hsing's acceptance speech as San Jose Female High School Athlete of the Year (3:11). Ariel, 17, has been the U.S. Women's Singles Champion the last two years, and is a 2012 Olympian.

Table Tennis Legends

Here's a video (54:27) of old-time legends playing in the English Table Tennis Association 70-year anniversary gala in 1994. Names include Istvan Jonyer, Gabor Gergely, Klampar Tibor, Milan Orlowski, Janos Takacs, Jacques Secretin, Vincent Purkart, Ferenc Sido, Janos Fahazy, Mihaly Bellak, Tibor Kreisz. Perhaps most interesting is 73-year-old Ferenc Sido (6'4", 240 lbs at his peak, yet still able to move around and chop!), the last hardbat player to win Men's Singles at the Worlds (in 1953, also making the final in 1959). He is shown from 0:52 to 4:54.

Time-Stopping Exhibition Video

This video (1:39) starts as a regular exhibition, with a behind-the-back return, etc., but watch what happens about 13 seconds in!

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November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

See my Thanksgiving links at the end of this blog.

Malware warnings all gone

It took a while, and I had to hire Sucuri Securities, but all the problems are over with Google blacklisting the site for malware that was long gone. Our long national nightmare is over. Or at least mine is. (One complication - apparently you might get a false malware warning if you visited the site recently. If so, clear your cache - sorry! - and it'll go away. That's what happened to me.)

No Blog Friday

I'll be coaching (and playing part-time) Fri-Sun at the North American Team Championships. Here's a preview picture!

Crystal Wang Enters the Stratosphere

Crystal Wang, age 10, is now rated 2245. This is by far the highest rating ever achieved by a girl at that age, and the second highest for anyone that age, boys or girls. The highest rating ever achieved by a 10-year-old is Kanak Jha two years ago at 2265. (And Crystal still has three months to gain 20+ points before she turns 11.) No one else has even been close to breaking 2200 at that age. For perspective, Ariel Hsing's highest rating as a 10-year-old was 2066, and Lily Zhang's was 1887 - and these two are now both our best junior girls and our best women as well.

To recap what I wrote in my blog last week (Nov. 13), Crystal already had achieved the highest rating ever for a 9-year-old last year, boys or girls, at an even 2150. She was rated 2166 earlier this year when she began complaining of wrist problems, and had three poor tournaments in a row, dropping to 2099 - still #1 in the country for Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13. They x-rayed the wrist and discovered she'd been playing with a fractured (i.e. broken) wrist. So she had to take most of the summer off. She started up again at the end of the summer, and now she's even better than before. At the Potomac Open she defeated players rated 2334, 2240, 2205, and 2149, without losing to anyone under 2200. It's no fluke as she just before the Potomac Open she defeated two players over 2300 to make the final of the MDTTC Elite League. (Crystal trains at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.)

Crystal (yes, she was born in the U.S.) plays a very modern two-winged looping game, hitting and looping on both sides. She's a member of the USA Cadet Girls' Team, making the team last year as a 9-year-old competing in an under 15 event. She trains long hours, day after day, with Coach Jack Huang her primary coach, though she also trains with the MDTTC coaches and players. She and Amy Wang (no relation, a year younger, coincidentally rated 2099, from NJ) are essentially Ariel & Lily, Part II, east coast version - the new Dynamic Duo, but rated even higher for their ages. The Walloping Wangs? But they both have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to follow in the huge footsteps of Ariel and Lily. 

And to think I'll have to write about this all over again if Crystal breaks 2265 in the next three months....Jeez.

Just to be clear, I'm not obsessed with ratings, and in fact believe they often hurt the sport, especially at the junior stage. (Here's my article on Juniors and Ratings, which I also linked to yesterday.) But they are usually a pretty decent indicator of level.

Update: 2013 USA Junior and Cadet National Team Selection Procedures

There's a mysterious change in the USA Junior and Cadet Team Selection Procedures. Here's the note from the USATT web page - it sure would be helpful to have some hint on why they withdrew the previous procedures. Below is the text from the message:

  • The previously published selection procedures for the 2013 Junior and Cadet National Teams are hereby withdrawn.  The High Performance Committee will promptly review and revise those procedures, subject to the approval of the Athletes’ Advisory Council.   The selection procedures then will be republished.
  • As previously announced, the 2013 Junior and Cadet Trials will be conducted in Las Vegas at the U.S. National Championships on Dec 18 – 22, 2012.  All entries have been received, and all who entered will compete for spots on the National Team.
  • The revised 2013 Selection Procedures will be posted on the USATT website NO LATER THAN Dec. 10, 2012.

The Power of Zhang Jike

Here's a musical highlights video of World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (6:07).

Jean-Philippe Gatien

Here's a highlights reel (5:02) of 1993 World Men's Singles Champion Jean-Philippe Gatien, often called the fastest man in table tennis. (He and 2004 Olympic Men's Singles Gold Medalist Ryu Seung Min should have a race!) The key thing to see when you watch Gatien play is how much of the table he covers with his forehand without backing up.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Last year I did an entire blog on Thanksgiving and Table Tennis. Rather than try to up that, I'll simply link to it so you can again enjoy these nine items, including the Table Tennis Thanksgiving Turkey.

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November 13, 2012

Tip of the Week

Complex or Simple Tactics?

Crystal Wang

This past weekend 10-year-old Crystal Wang (from MDTTC) had a great tournament at the Potomac Open. You don't know who she is? Last year Crystal achieved a rating of 2150, the highest rating ever for a 9-year-old, boys or girls. She also made both the USA Mini-Cadet Girls' National Team (Under 12) and the USA Cadet Girls' Team (Under 15) at age 9, competing against girls much older. Unfortunately, this year she played three tournaments in a row where she struggled (including the U.S. Open), complaining her wrist hurt. They finally had it x-rayed, and discovered she had been playing with a fractured wrist from a fall! Her rating had dropped from 2166 to 2099, and she couldn't play for a couple months.

But now she's BACK! At the Potomac Open, at age 10, she beat players rated 2334, 2240, 2205, and 2149, while making the final of Under 2300. She didn't lose to anyone lower than 2200. I'm pretty sure she'll be adjusted well over 2200, which could definitely be the highest rating ever for a 10-year-old girl, and possibly for boys as well. (I'm pretty sure Kanak Jha is the only 10-year-old boy to break 2200.)

It's no fluke. In the MDTTC Elite League last week she knocked off two players over 2300 without losing to anyone below 2300. Even at 2099, she was the top rated girl in the U.S. in Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13.

Crystal plays a very modern two-winged looping game, hitting and looping on both sides. I've watched as she's gradually gone from basically hitting to looping from both wings, and her off-the-bounce backhand loop can now be a terror. She and Amy Wang (a year younger, rated 2069, from NJ) are essentially Ariel & Lily, Part II, east coast version - the new Dynamic Duo.

Potomac Open

Here are results, photos, and videos from the Potomac Open in Maryland this past weekend. Wang Qing Liang came back from down 0-3 to win against Sean Lonergan in the final. Sean upset Chen Bo Wen in the semifinals, also in seven games. Sean's been in China the last few years - not playing table tennis much - but started training recently to get ready for the North American Teams and the USA Nationals. You can see all of the final in the video page above, and many other big matches.

"He's the One" - Starring Derek Nie

Here's a funny music video (4:02) by the band E.D. Sedgwick that features U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Singles Champion Derek Nie. (Derek is from my club, MDTTC - I coached him in all his U.S. Open matches.) They had been planning this video for some time, and were originally going to use a regular actor to play the kid, and put the ball in via computer afterwards, but then they saw this Washington Post video (3:26) in August on the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which featured our juniors, including Derek - and thought he'd be perfect for the role. All the action scenes where you see one player playing I'm feeding multiball to the player, both to Derek and to the members of the band. It was great fun helping them put this together. It also taught us what I already knew but hadn't really experienced - that much of film-making is waiting around. Derek and I filled the time with lots of smashing and lobbing and various trick shots.

World Cadet Challenge

Here's an article on the USATT web page on the recent World Cadet Challenge, which included several USA cadets.

USATT Minutes

Last week the minutes to the April 19, 2012 USATT Board meeting finally went up. Now there's been a flurry of activity, and the minutes to the July 16 and Sept. 22 meetings have also gone up. Here are the USATT minutes dating back to 1999, including the new entries.

2012 World Fair Play Awards

Here's info on the awards. "If you had a fair play act within your association’s activity in 2012 or you consider a person or organization worth to be nominated for the Trophies, please submit your your application on the attached form before 1st December 2012."

Dancing Table Tennis

Here's a dance video tribute to table tennis (2:10).

OK Go Ping Pong Tips

Here's a humorous "how to" video on table tennis (4:34). It's from 2006, but I don't think I'd seen it before.

Non-Table Tennis - Update on U.S. Presidential Election

As I noted last week, I called all 50 states and the exact electoral count (332-206) in my blog last Tuesday morning. Now we have the essentially final popular vote. I predicted Obama over Romney, 50.5% to 48.5%. Final count was 50.6% to 47.9%. Not bad, considering everyone over at Fox News thought Romney was going to win, many predicting a landslide. (It's tricky predicting the vote turnout for third-party candidates, since many who say they will vote for one change their mind at the last minute rather than "waste" their vote. In this case I thought they'd get about 1% of the vote, but they got 1.5%, which is why I over-estimated Romney's final numbers.)

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June 10, 2011

What do you know, and when did you know it?

Sometimes, as an experienced table tennis player and coach, I watch newer, younger players as they move up the rankings, and think, "If only they knew what I know." So much of table tennis is "getting it," i.e. knowing how to win - and there are all sorts of ways to doing this. But they all come from learning the frame of mind that allows you to pick through the fog of war (I mean match play) and find a way to win, both in developing your game (strategic development) and tactically (tactical development). This is probably true of most experienced players, at least those who have also gotten through the "learn how to win" barrier.

How do you learn how to win? Some do it by consciously being aware of what wins and what doesn't, and working toward maximizing the type of play that wins, both in strategic development by practicing those techniques that win when developing their game, and tactical development as they learn to use these winning techniques. Others do this instinctively - especially the tactical part - never really "knowing" what they are doing, and yet seemingly able to feel their way through matches with smart tactics. However, I don't think you can really develop your game to its full potential by feel - you should spend time thinking and analyzing.

I've never bought into the "thinking too much" myth - you can never think too much, you can only think at the wrong times and about the wrong things, and of course you can think poorly - but you also have to learn to play by feel so you can take advantage of instincts developed from years of playing. Most go the other way and don't think enough - and not enough thinking makes you just another dumb player at the mercy of a thinking opponent, both strategically and tactically. And that's exactly where far too many players are at - they don't yet "get it" in terms of learning how to win.

Music and Table Tennis - and "Magic Ball"

Table tennis has inspired the music to the 2012 Olympics! However, I still prefer Magic Ball (3:09), the theme song of the 1989 World Championships. The video shows scenes from the 1989 Worlds, especially featuring the Swedes, who won Men's Teams over China. This has got to be the most inspirational table tennis music ever made. If you are a serious table tennis player, you really should listen to it.

Two other table tennis music videos that I think you'll like are the Ping-Pong Song (3:40) and the Stiga St. Louis Junior Table Tennis Team Dance (3:56, though it doesn't really start until 0.53 in), performed at the 2005 Chinese New Year Festival in St. Louis. (Here are more humorous table tennis videos.)

For Alzheimer's and dementia patients, ping-pong is a game - and therapy

An article in the LA Times on table tennis as a therapeutic sport. "Maybe he's using more of his brain when he plays ping-pong. Afterward, he has more energy, he talks more, he walks twice as fast - it's amazing to me."

2150 at age 9!

In April, I blogged about Crystal Wang (from Maryland Table Tennis Center, where I coach) achieving a rating of 2031 at age 9 years 1 months, the youngest ever to break 2000, boys or girls. Well, she's at it again! At the Eastern Open, at age 9 years 3 months, she broke 2100 and shot right up to an even 2150! (Remarkably, in April of 2010, just 14 months ago, she was still languishing with a 1013 rating.)

Interesting ratings note: Due to confusions about rating cutoffs in rating events, USATT always takes a point off of ratings that end in 00 or 50. (The point is added back on when the rating changes to one not ending in the offending digits.) Many people would wonder, for example, whether Crystal, with her 2150 rating, is eligible for Under 2150. (My thought on this is simple - 2150 is not under 2150, so she's obviously not eligible - but apparently many people don't think like that, which still confuses me.) If you look up Crystal's rating in the ratings database, it comes up 2149. But if you look at the actual rating results from the Easterns, she's listed as 2150, the "correct" rating. And so instead of being listed as 2150, Crystal is now listed as 2149 - which means she is eligible for Under 2150!

Following close behind Crystal is Amy Wang of New Jersey, 8, who is now rated 2020! (And so is now the youngest to 2000.) It looks like the East coast has an up-and-coming pair (the "Wonder Wangs"?) that may soon follow in the footsteps of California's bay area Dynamic Duo of Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

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May 19, 2011

 

Talent Revisited

Yao Siu-Long ("Siu") emailed me the following question, after reading in my April 27 blog entry about Crystal Wang, who recently became the youngest player ever to break 2000, at age 9 years 1 month. (She's rated 2031, but at the recent unprocessed Potomac Open, should go up even more.)  Siu asked the following:

"I read your blog about Crystal Wang.  It sounds like she was progressing but suddenly took off.  Why?  What approach to learning and practicing do you think is key to such spectacular success?  Is it the number of hours practiced?  The coach? Going to China?

"Before you answer "talent", I've read quite a bit of research (and maybe this could be something for you to blog about as well).  There is a large body of research that suggests that talent is overrated (take a look at the book "Bounce" by Matthew Syed, a table tennis player).  You need a certain level of talent, but after that it's hard work and, perhaps, the training methods.  For example, "deliberate practice" is key.  That is, practicing with intent and goals.

"What do you see as making the difference for the successful players that you've coached?

This is an excellent question. I actually wrote my thoughts on talent in my March 11, 2011 blog entry. And I definitely agree that talent is way over-rated. On the other hand, there is no question that talent exists - we are not all born with identical brains. However, as argued in "Bounce," it's not that there's no such thing as talent, it's that, at the world-class level, it's only a small aspect. I believe that at the beginning stages, talent does dominate, but if you start early enough with good coaching, and work hard, then deliberate practice dominates. I'm still on the fence as to whether an "untalented" player who starts very early - say, age 4 or 5 - and undergoes such deliberate practice can become one of the best in the world, but they can definitely become very good.

For Crystal specifically, she's been taking regular lessons from Coach Jack Huang since she started playing in the summer of 2008 at age six. Is she talented? For a six-year-old, she definitely had nice hand-eye coordination from the start, and yet in April of 2010 (when she turned 8) she was still rated "only" 1013. I put "only" in quotes because a 1000+ rating for a 7-year-old is still pretty good. However, it takes time for all the basics to really get ingrained.

Here's where the mental game counts. For her age, she's very focused and hard-working. Few players under age 10 (or older) have the focus and work ethic she had from the beginning. And so much of her first two years were spent building a formidable foundation. When you see her strokes and other techniques, they aren't something she just "picked up" because of talent. They were meticulously developed, one training session at a time, until they became the fearsome combos that now strike fear into anyone rated under 2300. Forehands and backhands? Forehand and backhand loops off underspin? Pushing and blocking? Serve and receive? Footwork? None of it came about without incredibly hard work and excellent coaching.

Was she more talented than most? She seemed that way. But two points on this.

First, a "less talented" player might do the same thing if they started even younger, i.e. age four or so. This is problematic in the U.S., since the tables are too high. In China and other countries, kids often start out on shortened tables. If we did the same, then by the time they are age six they could already have a few years of playing. I used to take tennis lessons, and was amazed to discover they have tennis sessions for three-year-olds. You don't need to be older than that to hit a ball - you just need a table that fits your size.

Second, there's little doubt that since Crystal seemed to pick things up early, it inspired her and her parents to really focus on table tennis. And now that she's really taking off, it's not only paying off, but now they are probably inspired to go all the way, and see just how good Crystal can be.

Here's a picture of an unsmiling Crystal after losing the final of Under 1600 in the May, 2010 MDTTC Open. Coming into the tournament, she was rated 1013, but she beat players rated 1381 and 1424 to reach the final before losing to Mort Greenberg in the final. I don't think Mort wants a rematch!!!

Chinese Immigrants

Here's a front page (sports section) story that ran in the New York Times on May 14, about Chinese players coming to the U.S. and other countries and dominating. (I'm quoted and mentioned in the article.) 

Space and Time Magazine

In non-table tennis news, my science fiction story "The Awakening" is in the upcoming issue of Space and Time Magazine, with my name on the cover. The story was the Grand Prize winner at the 16th Annual 2010 Garden State Horror Writers Short Story Contest in November. It was a unanimous choice of the judges!!! Here's the trophy. Here's a description: "A 4-D being plays around with the 3-D universe (ours), and just for fun, makes a fly super intelligent. The fly goes to war first with a woman who tries to swat it, then with the 4-D being, and eventually with the entire 4-D and 3-D universes. You don't want to know where it lays its eggs!!!" (Here's my science fiction and fantasy page.)

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April 27, 2011

Crystal Wang: 2031 at age 9!

Recently Lily Zhang became the youngest player to break 2500 at 14 years 9 months. Now I think another record has been broken. Crystal Wang (from Maryland Table Tennis Center), recently achieved a rating of 2031 at age 9 years 1 month. While a few players have broken 2000 at age 10, and possibly even age 9, I don't think any have done so this young.

She could have been rated even higher. In her last three tournaments, she's gone five games with players rated 2329 (up 2-1!), 2260 (up 2-1!), 2210, and 2176 (up 2-0!), and gotten games off players rated 2361, 2280, 2266, 2260, 2176, 2148, and a 2105 player twice. Her best win was a 2144 player in her last tournament. (Hopefully she won't get infatuated by ratings - but we can!)

She started in the summer of 2008. Her first rating was 602 in Sept. 2008. She didn't break 1000 until November 2009. Exactly one year ago, she was rated 1013, and that was her highest rating. Starting in May, 2010, she's been shooting up. At the Nationals in December, Crystal was 8 and rated "only" 1839.

Coached by Jack Huang, she plays a pretty orthodox shakehands inverted game, looping backspin from both wings, and then mostly hitting. She has surprising power - if you think you can beat her blocking or even lobbing, good luck! (I play her regularly at MDTTC.)

Seven minutes of the Best Points Ever?

Here's a compilation of some of the best points ever.

Touring San Francisco with ping-pong balls

Yes, you can tour a toothpick San Francisco with ping-pong balls! It's about four minutes long.

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