Tactics Coaching

June 30, 2014

Last Blog Until Tuesday, July 8, and the U.S. Open

This morning I'm flying out to the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, along with a large group of other Maryland players. So no more blogs until after I return next week. I'm mostly coaching, though I'm entered in two hardbat doubles events (Open and Over 50 Hardbat Doubles, but I normally play with sponge). When I'm free I'll probably be watching matches or hanging out at the Butterfly booth - stop by and say hello! Better still, buy one of my books (likely on sale at the Butterfly and Paddle Palace booths), and I'll sign it. Prove to me that you read my blog by saying the secret password: "I'm a pushy pushover for power pushing pushers." (Better write that down!) 

Here's the U.S. Open press release, which went out on June 18. Here's the U.S. Open Program Booklet. And here's the U.S. Open Home page. Here's the player listing of the 705 players entered (click on their name and you can see what events they are entered in), the event listing (which shows who is entered in each event), and the results (which won't show results for this Open until events start coming in on Tuesday, though can see results of past Opens and Nationals there).

Tip of the Week

Forehand or Backhand Serve & Attack.

Tactics Coaching

I had my final tactics coaching session with Kaelin and Billy on Friday. We revisited the tactics of playing choppers to go over how to play chopper/loopers, which are a bit different than playing more passive choppers. (For one thing, you can't just topspin soft over and over or they'll attack.) Then we went over playing long pips blockers, and I pulled out one of my long pips rackets, the one with no sponge, and demonstrated what good long pips players can do if you don't play them smart - not just blocking back loops with heavy backspin, but also how they can push-block aggressively against backspin, essentially doing a drive with a pushing motion.

Next we covered the tactics of pushing. The thing I stressed most is that it's not enough to be very good at a few aspects of pushing; you have to be pretty good at all aspects. This means being able to push pretty quick off the bounce, with pretty good speed, pretty good backspin, pretty low to the net, pretty deep, pretty well angled, and be pretty good at last second changes of direction. If you do all of these things pretty well, you'll give even advanced players major fits. If you do four or five these things well, and perhaps even very well, but are weak at one or two of them, a top player will make you pay for it. We also went over pushing short, and how you can also change directions with them at the last second.

Then we covered the tactics of playing different styles - loopers (both one-winged and two-winged loopers); the "flat" styles (blockers, counter-hitters, and hitters); and playing fishers & lobbers. When you play a fisher or lobber, mostly smash at the wide backhand and middle. The goal isn't to win the point outright, though that'll often happen with a good smash. The goal is to get a lob that lands shorter on the table, which you can smash for a wide-angle winner, either inside-out with sidespin to the wide backhand, or a clean winner to the forehand. You don't want to challenge the forehand of most lobbers as they usually have more range and spin on that side, and can counter-attack much better there.

I'd given them an assignment the day before to come with an example of one player that they had trouble playing against so we could go over the tactics that might work there. By an amazing coincidence, they independently chose the same player, a top lefty from their club. So we went over how to play that player. Poor guy doesn't know what's about to hit him!

And so ended our five hours of tactics coaching. But it's all written down in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!

Coach Chen Jian

The last few days before the U.S. Open we had some guests from China, who came to MDTTC to train before the U.S. Open. Heading the group was Coach Chen Jian. He's the former National Junior Coach for China, who coached Zhang Jike and Ma Long as juniors in international events. Now he's the head coach of the full-time Ni Rui club in Hang Zhou, China. Since I was busy coaching in our camp, I only barely noticed him the first few days. But on Friday, after the camp finished, I got to watch him do a session with one of our top players, Nathan Hsu. Nathan just turned 18, and is about to spend three months training in China, including at least a month under Coach Chen. The session was great to watch as he made some changes in Nathan's footwork and strokes. It was all in Chinese, but Ryan Dabbs gave a running translation for me, and Nathan told me about it afterwards.

MDTTC Camp

On Friday we finished Week Two of our ten weeks of summer camps. Because of the U.S. Open I'll be missing Week Three, but coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang are staying home to run that, along with Raghu Nadmichettu and others.

During a short lecture and demo on forehand looping against heavy backspin, I demoed the stroke, and as I often do, held a ball in my playing hand as I did this, releasing it at the end of the stroke to show how the power is going both forward and up. Except this time the ball went up and got stuck in an air conditioning fixture! The kids found that very funny, and we're out another ball.

I also verified something I've always known: given a choice, younger kids seem to like scorekeeping with a scoreboard more than actually playing matches. We did an informal tournament on Friday, and I brought out a scoreboard, which some of them had never seen before. At least two kids were near tears when told they had to play matches, and so couldn't scorekeep. ("But I want to keep score!!!") They battled over control of the scoreboard, and most matches ended up with two or three kids simultaneously and together flipping the score each time.

As I've noted in past blogs, I spend most of these camps working with the beginners and younger players. It wasn't like this for most of our 22 years, but three years ago coaches Cheng and Jack asked if I'd do that during our summer camps. But on Friday I finally did a session with some of the advanced players, and had a great time. We focused on multiball training where I fed backspin followed by topspin, and the player had to loop the first, and either loop or smash the second (depending on their style and level of development).

Table Tennis Lawsuit

Here's a strange one. I received an email this weekend from a lawyer representing a woman who was injured while playing table tennis on a cruise, and was suing the cruise ship! They asked if I could be their table tennis advisor. I don't think that knowing about table tennis is going to help deciding whether the ship was liable for the woman's injuries. She apparently received her injury when she went to retrieve the ball and "struck her face on an unmarked stairwell railing immediately adjacent to the table where she was playing." I told them I didn't have much experience in the safety aspects of table tennis pertaining to this and didn't have time anyway, and gave them contact info for USATT. (Sorry, USATT!)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Physical Training

Here's the page with links to numerous videos - his trainer is creative!

Kanak Jha and Mo Zhang win North American Titles

Here's the ITTF article.

Photos from the North America Cup

Here they are

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, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirty-six down, 65 to go!

  • Day 64: The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part I
  • Day 65: Dr. Amen Questions: "Table tennis is the perfect brain exercise"
  • Day 66: Junior Commission Chair Dennis Davis

Zhang Jike Used Ma Long to Prove Something

Here's the article.

Thomas Weikert on Chinese Domination

Here's the interview with the incoming ITTF President. 

Table Tennis: Like a Fish and Water

Here's the article on junior star Michael Tran. 

Xu Xin Shows the Power of Lob

Here's the video (50 sec) as he lobs and counter-attacks against Ma Long.

Ariel Hsing - Photos from Princeton

Here are seven photos of our three-time National Women's Singles Champion in various poses, including some table tennis ones.

Justin Timberlake Plays Table Tennis!

Here's the picture

Miller Light Commercial

Here's video (31 sec) of a new Miller Light Commercial, with "water" table tennis four seconds in (but only for a second). 

Net-hugging Cat Playing Ping-Pong

It's been a while since I've posted a new video of a cat playing table tennis, so here's 27 seconds of a cat playing while hugging the net.

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June 27, 2014

Tactics Coaching

Yesterday I had my fourth one-hour tactics session with Kaelin and Billy, with one more session scheduled for today. (See blogs the last three days.) Today we started off by going over the tactics for playing lefties. The most important thing here, of course, is to play lefties so you get used to them. For most, the trickiest part is returning their serves effectively, especially pendulum serves that break away from a righty to his wide forehand. These serves can be deep, they can go off the side, or they can double bounce on the forehand side. There are a number of tricks to returning them. First, anticipate the break so you aren't lunging after the ball. Second, if you do reach for the ball, don't lower your racket as you do so as it'll end up too low, and you'll either have to return it soft, high, or off the end. Also, it's often easier to take these balls down the line, where it's like looping a block; if you go crosscourt, you have to battle the spin more, like looping a backspin, except you probably have more practice against backspin. Finally, since a lefty is often looking to follow this serve up with a big forehand, it's effective to fake as if you are taking it down the line to their forehand, so that they have to guard that side, and at the last second take it to their backhand, thereby taking their forehand out of the equation.

We then revisited doubles tactics, which we'd covered already. This time I wanted them to actually practice circling footwork, where the players circle around clockwise so they can approach the table with their forehands (i.e. from the backhand side). This takes lots of practice, but what they can learn quickly is an adjusted version, where they only circle after the first shot. Whoever is serving or receiving steps back and circles around his partner so he can approach from the backhand side. The complication is if the opponents return the ball to the wide backhand and your partner is over on the backhand side. In this case the server/receiver doesn't circle about and instead stays back and toward the forehand side until he can move in for his shot.

Both players have had trouble with choppers, so I pulled out my long pips racket and we spent about half an hour on playing choppers. There are four basic ways.

With "Asian style" you do long, steady rallies where you lightly topspin the ball (basically rolling it) over and over to the off surface (usually long pips), knowing that all they can do is chop it back with light backspin. This makes it easy for you to topspin over and over until you see an easy one to rip. Then you rip it, usually to the middle, or at a wide angle. If they chop it back effectively, you start over.

With "European style" you move the chopper in and out with short serves and pushes, followed by strong loops. The idea is to bring the chopper in so he doesn't have time to back up and chop your next shot. If he does back up too fast, you push short a second time, catching him going the wrong way.

With "Pick-hitting style," you push steadily until you see a ball to attack, and then go for it. If it's chopped back effectively, you start over. It takes a lot of patience and judgment to do this. The problem here is the chopper can also pick-hit if you push too much, plus a chopper is probably better at pushing.

With "Chiseling style," you simply push over and over, refusing to miss, and turn it into either a battle of patience and attrition, or force the chopper to attack. It usually goes to expedite, and then one player has to attack. I don't like this method.

I had the two of them practice these methods, especially Asian style, where they had to roll softly over and over and over, and finally rip one.

We also went over the penhold and Seemiller grip, long pips, pips-out, antispin, and hardbat. It's all covered in detail in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

North American Cup

The big winners were USA's just-turned-fourteen Kanak Jha and Canadian champion Mo Zhang. Kanak won the Men's final over Adam Hugh, 19,8,9,-6,4, while Mo won over Crystal Wang, 4,-8,11,4,7. Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Here's a story from the ITTF about Kanak and Crystal reaching the final.

The schedule was rather strange. They had the Women's Final scheduled for 9:20 PM, and the Men's Final for 10PM. Why so late? Worse, this was Pacific Time; for me in Maryland, they were three hours later, at 12:20 AM and 1:00AM. I had to get up early to coach at our camp, so I didn't plan to stay up for either. However, at the last minute I was still awake, and so decided to watch Crystal's match, and went to bed right afterwards.

I don't think too many people expected a 12-year-old to be in the Women's Singles Final. At one point things looked pretty close, with the two splitting the first two games, and Crystal coming back from down 7-10 and 10-11 to deuce the third game. Who knows what would have happened if she'd pulled that one out? But it was not to be. My main thoughts on the match: Crystal is usually very good at attacking the opponent's middle, but Mo often stood a bit more centered than most players and so Crystal's shots to her middle were actually into her backhand, and so Mo made strong backhand counter-hits, and so they had a lot of straight backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Crystal also might have tried some heavy pushes to the wide forehand, forcing Mo to open with her short-pips forehand while drawing her out of position and vulnerable to a counter-attack to her backhand side. But this is easier said than done since it can be tricky playing pips-out when you are mostly used to playing inverted. (Crystal does get to play pips-out penholder Heather Wang at our club somewhat regularly, so she is experienced against pips.)

Spinny Loop in Slow Motion Tutorial

Here's a nice video (2:58) that shows a top player demonstrating a spinny loop, both in real time and slow motion, with explanations in English subtitles.

Liu Guoliang: Ma Long Is Likely To Achieve His Dreams in This Cycle

Here's the article, which includes links to two videos of Ma's matches.

Unbelievable Backhand by Ai Fukuhara

Here's the video (41 sec) from the Japan Open this past weekend. Note that Fukuhara of Japan (on the near side, world #10) did this shot at one-game each and down 9-10 game point against Li Fen of Sweden (world #16). However, Li Fen would go on to win the game 12-10 and the match 4-1 before losing in the semifinals to eventual winner Feng Tianwei of Singapore.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (6:07) showing all sorts of trick shots with a ping-pong ball.

Pong-Ping - Why It Never Took Off

Here's the cartoon.

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June 26, 2014

North American Cup

Kind of a big upset last night - 12-year-old Crystal Wang upset top seeded Lily Zhang in the semifinals of Women's Singles in a nail-biting seven-gamer (8,5,5,-3,-9,-6,7)  where Lily almost came back from down 0-3. Lots of incredible rallies. I was up late watching it - it started at 8PM western time, which is 11PM eastern time here in Maryland. Worse, I was up much later discussing the match and other issues with others via Facebook and messaging with Han Xiao, one of Crystal's regular practice partners. We're pretty proud of Crystal, who is from my club. She's too fast for me now, but for years I was one of her regular training partners and I coached her in many tournaments. She was training here at MDTTC (as she does essentially every day) just the day before, and then flew out to Vancouver, Canada. (Tournament was held in nearby Burnaby.) To get to the final Crystal had 4-1 wins over Liu Jiabao of Canada and USA's Erica Wu. In the final Crystal will play Mo Zhang of Canada.

In the Men's side, it's an all-USA final between Adam Hugh and Kanak Jha. That match starts at 8PM (i.e. 11 pm my time). Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Men's and Women's finals are tonight at 8PM and 9:20PM (that's 11PM and 12:20 AM eastern time, alas). Here's where you can watch the live streaming.

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was Day Three of Week Two of our Ten Weeks of Summer Camps. I could write about the camp - kids are making breakthroughs right and left, everyone's getting better (except us coaches, alas), and every day's highlight is the daily trip to 7-11. But for me, the dominating feature is physical and mental exhaustion. Ever spend an entire day coaching kids in the 6-8 age range? With a five-second attention span? And do this day after day? We have almost the same kids as the previous week, so they're into their eighth day of this. So I'm not just a coach, I'm their entertainer. However, the key thing to remember here is the rule of five - you have to say everything at least five times to get their attention. And getting them to pick up balls? It wasn't so hard on day one and two, but by day eight it's like pulling teeth. But somehow, inadvertently, and often against their will, they are rapidly improving. Now if I can only keep my sanity and not collapse physically, I'll be just fine! (My legs are pretty much dying right now.) 

Tactics Coaching

I had another tactics coaching session yesterday with Kaelin and Billy during the lunch break. The focus was on deceptive serving and serve variations, the tactics of long serves, receive, and rallying tactics. 

We went over the tactics of serving short. These including varying the placement, even of simple backspin serves; serving to the middle; serving very, very low; heavy no-spin serves; varying the backspin in side-backspin serves; serving with extra-heavy backspin; mixing in sidespin and side-top serves; serving with both sidespins with good placement; deceptive follow-throughs on serves; and serving half-long (so second bounce would be near the end-line); 

We went over the advantages of the various service depths, noting that the emphasis of short serves should be half-long serves, where the second bounce would be near the end-line. But we also went over the advantages of shorter serves - forcing a player to reach more for short serves to the forehand, and bringing a player in over the table so they aren't ready for the next shot. This latter is especially effective if you serve very short to the forehand, bringing the receiver in over the table, and then going after the deep backhand. But it's also somewhat risky as it gives the receiver a chance to flip aggressively into the very wide forehand, or down the line if you move to cover the forehand.

I also went over my Ten-Point Plan to Serving Success - and we spent some time going over each of these. (I wrote quite a bit about these and everything else I'm covering in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

  1. Serve legally
  2. Serve with a plan
  3. Maximize spin
  4. Vary your spin
  5. Disguise your spin
  6. Speed
  7. Low bounce
  8. Direction
  9. Depth
  10. Follow-up

We talked about serve deception, and the four main ways of doing this: sheer spin, semi-circular motion, exaggerating the opposite motion, and spin/no-spin serves by varying the contact point on the racket. We also went over the advantages of specific serves. For example, a primary advantage of the pendulum serve is that you can do either type of sidespin with the same motion until just before contact. A primary advantage of the backhand serve is that you see your opponent throughout the serve, and so see if he reacts to the serve too soon, allowing the server to change serves, such as a sudden fast serve if the opponent is reaching in or stepping around the backhand. We also talked about where to serve from, and why too many players repetitively serve from the backhand corner, ignoring the advantages of sometimes varying this. If you sometimes serve from the middle or forehand side, you mess up the opponent who's not used to this - try it and you'll be surprised how much trouble players have with this. Plus it gives you an angle into the forehand, especially the short forehand against players who like to receive short serves with their backhand. 

We went over what are commonly the most effective long serves. Every opponent is different, but I'd say the most essential serves - the ones that all players should develop, and yes, I mean you - are (for this I'm assuming righty vs. righty - others adjust): 

  • To the Backhand: Big breaking sidespin serves to the wide backhand that break to the right into the wide backhand, ranging from side-topspin, pure sidespin, and side-backspin, as well as a fast no-spin. The reverse sidespin serve can be almost as effective as a variation as it often catches the receiver off guard, and the returns tend to go to the server's forehand. 
  • To the Middle: Fast no-spin serves, and at least one side-top variation. Often a reverse pendulum serve is effective here. 
  • To the Forehand: Fast topspin serves where the direction is well disguised, along with at least one other sidespin or no-spin variation. 

We went over the tactics of receive. Against deep serves, you have to be aggressive unless you are a very defensive player. Against short serves, you can be either passive, disarming, or aggressive. Passive returns are common at lower levels, but unless the opponent is a weak attacker, they aren't too effective at higher levels if used too often. The most common passive receives are long pushes, though soft topspins may also be passive returns, depending on the opponent and how he handles them. Long pushes can be a bit more aggressive (or disarming) if done quick off the bounce and pretty fast. A disarming receive is one designed to stop the server's attack and get into a neutral rally. The classic disarming receive is a short push. Another is a quick flip to the server's weaker side. An aggressive push can also be disarming if the server isn't able to make a strong attack off it. An aggressive receive against a short serve is usually an aggressive flip. Ambitious players should learn all three types of these receives against short serves, but focus roughly equally on disarming and aggressive receives. 

We spent the rest of the session going over rallying tactics. This included when to respond. Usually you respond when you see what and where the opponent's shot is. But sometimes you can anticipate a shot, and move for the shot in the split second between when the opponent has committed to a shot and when you can see what the shot will be. 

We talked about the tools needed when rallying: at least one scary rallying shot (a big loop, a fast, aggressive backhand, etc.); quickness; speed; spin; depth (mostly deep on the table, other times short); placement (wide angles, elbow); variety; misdirection; and finally consistency, which is king. Then we went over the tactics of playing the weaker side (often by playing the stronger side first to draw the player out of position); down the line play; going to the same spot twice; placement of backhand attacks; forehand deception with shoulder rotation; changing the pace; rallying down faster, quicker players; where to place your put-aways; and developing an overpowering strength. (We ran out of time, so have one last item to cover here - playing lefties, which we'll talk about tomorrow.) 

Tomorrow we'll start going over the tactics against various styles, grips, and surfaces. 

Xu Xin: No Regrets in Choosing Penhold

Here's the interview.

Stiga ITTF Approved Plastic/Poly Ball Review

Here's the detailed video review (11:15) by Table Tennis Daily. It seems to play a bit different than the Nittaku poly ball I reviewed on June 16. Much of this was probably because the Nittaku ball was noticeably bigger and heavier while the Stiga ball was the same weight as a celluloid ball. With the bounce test, the Nittaku poly ball bounced higher than the celluloid, while Stiga poly ball they reviewed bounced lower. Both poly balls were harder to spin when looping. You can go straight to their conclusion at 9:10, where they sum things up in about 90 sec.

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, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirty-four down, 66 to go!

  • Day 67: Mikael Andersson Details Creation of the ITTF’s Junior Program
  • Day 68: Jean-Michel Saive Recounts His Past and Present Successes

Lion Table Tennis

You can come up with your own caption for this table tennis cartoon. How about, "No, we don't want to play winners. We want to eat winners."

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