Pongcast

June 14, 2013

Fundamentals and a Strong Foundation

I had a 1200-rated 11-year-old student recently at a tournament who faced long pips for the first time, against a higher-rated player. The opponent was a long pips blocker, no sponge, and pretty much covered the entire table with the long pips on the backhand, i.e. a "pushblocker." My student went in having no idea what to do, other than my admonition to give lots of deep no-spin, play steady, and patiently wait for an easy ball to put away. However, it became obvious very quickly that even against a high ball, he wasn't going to be smashing the high balls with any consistency; the long pips returns were just too different for him.

So pretty much on his own he stopped smashing, and simply rolled ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after . . . (I think you get the idea). The rallies were extremely long, but his patience won out; he won, 11-9 in the fifth. (The opponent went on to have a great tournament - probably because my student warmed him up!)

Later, in a training session, I mentioned that in tournaments you are going to face all sorts of different and strange styles like this one, and there were just too many to prepare him for everything. I also told him that at some point, I'd bring out a sheet of long pips for him to practice against, but not now; it wasn't worth it, and would just take away from other training. I wanted to install strong fundamentals, not worry about learning to play all the different styles this early in his development. He'll learn that later.

I told him something that I thought should be highlighted for others developing their games:

"If I try to prepare you for everything, you'll be prepared for nothing. If I give you a solid foundation, you can adjust to anything."

The point was that if I tried to prepare him for [and here I started to write a LONG list of weird styles, but decided I'd leave it to your imagination instead - there's a lot], then he'd know what to do against all of them, but would have less of a foundation in his game since we'd have wasted so much time preparing for things he'll rarely face. And so even if he knew how to play these weird styles, he wouldn't have the foundation to execute what was needed to win, and so he wouldn't be prepared against anyone. Instead, I told him to develop the foundation of his game (i.e. the fundamentals) so that his foundation is stronger than his opponents, and learn to adjust to them. If he did, I assured him he'd go right through opponents that he would otherwise have struggled with.  

Another way to think of it is this: if the opponent has a "weird" game, then he's not playing like most players. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's a reason certain techniques are considered "good" and others "not so good." If you have "good" technique, and the other has "not so good" technique, then his only overall advantage over you is the very weirdness of his game. His weakness is that his technique is flawed, and if you have better technique, then you can adjust to his weirdness and win because of the sounder technique.

Rest assured there are many players with so-called "not so good" technique who are very good. They have honed these "not so good" techniques to the point where they are pretty good. But overwhelmingly they would be even better if they had spent the same amount of time and energy developing more proper technique. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, there's a reason why good technique is considered as such. (The biggest exception to this might be the very style mentioned above, "pushblockers," where players who are not as physically "athletic" as others can often reach a pretty high level by just blocking with long pips instead of conventional technique - but with long pips no sponge, that could be considered "proper technique." But that's a whole other essay for another time.)

I do believe that players should experiment and learn to do a few things different, especially on the serve, and perhaps on at least one receive or rally shot. Having something different can throw off an opponent. Just don't overdo it for the sake of doing it if your goal is to reach your maximum potential.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Due to near-hurricane thunderstorms, three of my four students cancelled (normally not "good," but I needed the rest); I got a bunch of writing and reading done; the Orioles, in a four-team AL East Divisional race, beat the rival Red Sox while the other two in the race, the Yankees and Rays, both lost (and as noted in yesterday's blog, Orioles Hangout published my Top Ten List); and I got to see the midnight showing of "Man of Steel."

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Here's an ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 coaching seminar in Austin, Texas run by Richard McAfee, starting last Monday and ending today. I ran a similar one in Maryland in 2011, and am running another in South Bend, IN, Oct. 2-6. More info on that soon - probably Monday.

Chinese Versus European Loop

Here's an article that highlights the difference between the "Chinese" and "European" loops.

USATT Board Chair Blog

Here's a blog entry posted yesterday by the Chair of the USATT Board Mike Babuin. Here's the opening paragraph: "Recently I had the distinct pleasure to introduce table tennis into Valor Games. For those unfamiliar with Valor Games it is a competition designed and geared towards military personnel and veterans who are physically disabled and/or who have suffered from one of several conditions, traumas, or disorders as a result of their service to our country.  While many people may be familiar with the Wounded Warrior Program, Valor Games is a similar yet distinct competition that is gaining in recognition and participation across the United States."

The Pongcast

Here's the latest Pongcast (18:46). "This month the Pongcast reviews the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships and looks at what has been happening at the ITTF in May."

Lily and Ariel at China Open

Below is a summary of how the USA girls are doing in the China Open, as posted this morning by Bruce Liu. (Here's the ITTF China Open Page with results, pictures, and articles, and here are a few matches of Lily, Ariel, and Wu Yue on iTV. The China Open ends this Sunday.)

June 14 (China time) Summary:
Women's Singles:

  • Lily upset the #16 seed BARTHEL Zhenqi (#66 in the world) in the round of 32. It was another wild 7-gamer (11-5, 12-10, 7-11, 7-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-1).Her round of 16 opponent will be World Champion/World Cup Champion/Olympic Gold Medalist, aka the Grand Slammer, GUO Yue from China. We will see how wild Lily can be. It will be tough for sure. But that why it is worth fighting for.
  • Ariel fought hard as usual. She lost to GUO Yan (#5) in 5 (9-11, 5-11, 11-9, 5-11, 5-11). A great effort. 

Women's Doubles:

  • Lily and Ariel are in the quarterfinals at the China Open! Not too shabby for two 17-year-old. Due to their busy schedule, they really did not have much time practice doubles. Imagine if they can practice more together... Their opponents in the quarterfinal will be GUO Yue(#16) / LIU Shiwen (#2) from China. I'm pretty sure other than Lily and Ariel, all other players still in the Women's Doubles are full-time professional players! In fact, most likely the majority of the players in the whole tournament are professional players. 

U21 Girls' Singles:

  • Lily played twice today in the event. In the round of 16, she duly stopped the dangerous HIRANO Miu 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 14-12, 18-16). Alas, lost to ZHOU Yihan (#102) from Singapore 4-1 in the quarterfinals. It is a great accomplish already, especially in China.
  • Ariel lost 0-3 to the red hot So Eka is out but don't let the game counts fool you. It was a highly competitive match. You can see it yourselves from the score (13-15, 9-11, 8-11).

Go girls! 

Musical Ping-Pong Table

Yes, an interactive musical ping-pong table, on display at Union Depot in St. Paul, MN!

Apparently this table plays music as the ball hits the surface.

Kim Kardashian Plays Ping-Pong With Her Family

Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation. The apocalypse has occurred.

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October 22, 2012

Tip of the Week

Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves.

MDTTC October Open

I ran the MDTTC Open this weekend, a rather exhausting ordeal since I also did four hours of coaching. Here is my write-up and results of the event, followed by the usual blog stuff. 

$2600 Butterfly MDTTC October Open
MarylandTable Tennis Center
Gaithersburg, MD • Oct. 20-21, 2012
By Larry Hodges

This month there were extra large trophies waiting for winners of most of the Sunday events, in addition to $2600 in prize money mostly given out in Saturday events at the October Open at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. The larger trophies went over very well, and hopefully will attract more players in our next tournament, sometime early in 2013.

Wang Qing Liang, rated 2621, defended his title from last month, once again defeating fellow MDTTC coach Chen Bo Wen, rated 2516, in another 4-2 battle, this time at -9,10,-9,7,8,5. There's an old adage that choppers tend to get better as the match goes on as they adjust to the opponent's attack, and that's exactly what happened. By the end of the match there seemed no way to get through Wang's chopping defense, and his forehand loop was as spectacular as ever when he'd swoop in against a push or counterloop from off the table. Chen had actually spit matches with Wang at the recent Badger Open, knocking Wang's rating down from the 2642 he'd achieved mostly from making the semifinals of Men's Singles at the U.S. Open. Wang won $1000 to Chen's $400.

Both had semifinal battles. Former MDTTC junior star Richard Lee (rated 2424 and the long-time owner of North American Table Tennis) led 10-9 and 11-10 in the first (going for the possibly the most powerful forehand rip in the history of the universe at 11-10 that just missed) and 10-8 in the second before losing at 11,10,7,8. In the other semifinals, Larry Abass (rated 2320) came from way behind to win the first against Chen, and then made it to deuce in the fifth game, but in between it was all two-winged looping penholder Chen, winning at -9,4,5,4,10. Abass, who also used to be a big two-winged looper (but shakehand style), is now using one millimeter sponge on his backhand, which he uses to backhand loop against backspin but mostly chop against topspin. He caught both Chen and many spectators by surprise with his excellent chopping game, including Raghu Nadmichettu in the quarterfinals. Between him and Wang, the chopping game is alive and well in Maryland. Lee and Abass each pocketed $200 for the semifinals.

Hung Duy Vo, who'd lost the final of Under 2350 last month (to Raghu Nadmichettu), mostly dominated Under 2300 this month for $200, defeating Nasruddin Asgarali (who won $100) in the final, -8,11,6,8, and Roy Ke (age 13, rated 2188) in the semifinals, 7,7,-7,5. Asgarali took out Lixin Lang in the semifinals, 8,-10,6,4, allowing him to return to his greatly appreciated help at the desk.

Chen Qiming won Under 2150 ($150), 7,7,-10,-9,4 over Arsha Kuds ($75), whose comeback from down 0-2 in games fell short. But Kuds then surprised everyone by making the quarterfinals of the Open with wins over Hung Duy Vo and Lixin Lang. Both finalists did Houdini comebacks in the semifinals, with Chen coming back against Lilly Lin, -5,-8,7,11,6, and Kuds against Richard Bowling, -9,-7,6,9,6.

The semifinals of Under 2000 was a battle of experienced veterans against aspiring juniors, with the veterans prevailing in five as Mahesh Balagangadhar defeated Jason Wei (14), 5,-7,5,-6,8, and Gordon Gregg defeated Amy Lu (U.S. #3 Under 12 girl at 1852), 4,-8,7,-7,9. In the final, it was Balagangadhar ($100) over Gregg ($50) with his Seemiller grip variation that seems to give junior players so much trouble.

Mohamed Kamara won $80 by defeating Princess Ke ($40 for the U.S. #4 Under 12 girl at 1821 until she turned 12 in August) in the final of Under 1850, -9,6,11,-9,6.

Timothy La, with his two-winged smashing game, seems to like to go five games. This month he changed the trend from last month (where he kept losing five-gamers), to prevailing deuce in the fifth, defeating David Goldstein in the Under 1600 final, -8,7,4,-8,11, and stopping Alexander Beaulieu's comeback in the semifinals, 8,9,-9,-12,12. In the other semifinal, Goldstein defeated Kyle Wang, 3,-8,4,9, to the great relief of the control desk, since Kyle was holding up many matches by making the semifinals here, and also...

...winning Under 1350 over Michael Zangwill, 7,7,11. Kyle, 13, had a semifinal battle with Daniel Yang (12), -9,4,9,-4,6, while Zangwill defeated an exhausted Ken Chia in the other semifinals, 4,4,2. Why was Ken Chia exhausted?

Leon Bi won Under 1100, exhausting the inexhaustible Ken Chia in the final, 5,8,6. Leon, however, could only lament how he'd been in a three-way tie to advance out of both his Under 1350 and Under 1600 round robins, only to finish in third each time by a single game as two advanced. Not bad for a 12-year-old with a rating of 637 before a full summer of training!

Special thanks goes to tournament sponsors Butterfly and Llewellyn Realtor James Wu.

(NOTE - Click on the names below for a photo of the finalists, or all four semifinalists in the Open.)

Open - Final: Wang Qing Liang d. Chen Bo Wen, -9,10,-9,7,8,5; SF: Wang d. Richard Lee, 11,10,7,8; Chen d. Larry Bass, -9,4,5,4,10; QF: Wang d. Richard Doverman, 4,10,9; Lee d. Nathan Hsu, 6,6,6; Abass d. Raghu Nadmichettu, 6,6,8; Chen d. Arsha Kuds, 8,17.
Under 2300 - Final: Hung Duy Vo d. Nasruddin Asgarali, -8,11,6,8; SF: Vo d. Roy Ke, 7,7,-7,5; Asgarali d. Lixin Lang, 8,-10,6,4.
Under 2150 - Final: Chen Qiming d. Arsha Kuds, 7,7,-10,-9,4; SF: Chen d. Lilly Lin, -5,-8,7,11,6; Kuds d. Richard Bowling, -9,-7,6,9,6.
Under 2000 - Final: Mahesh Balagangadhar d. Gordon Gregg, 10,8,-10,8; SF: Balagangadhar d. Jason Wei, 5,-7,5,-6,8; Gregg d. Amy Lu, 4,-8,7,-7,9.
Under 1850 - Final: Mohamed Kamara d. Princess Ke, -9,6,11,-9,6; SF: Kamara d. Mort Greenberg, 9,4,11; Ke d. Tony Li, 8,4,3.
Under 1600 - Final: Timothy La d. David Goldstein, -8,7,4,-8,11; SF: La d. Alexander Beaulieu, 8,9,-9,-12,12; Goldstein d. Kyle Wang, 3,-8,4,9.
Under 1350 - Final: Kyle Wang d. Michael Zangwill, 7,7,11; SF: Wang d. Daniel Yang, -9,4,9,-4,6; Zangwill d. Ken Chia, 4,4,2.
Under 1100 - Final: Leon Bi d. Ken Chia, 5,8,6; SF: Bi d. Douglas Harley, 2,7,7; Chia d. Michael Borek, -4,8,-7,7,4.

European Championships

The European Championships, though of course somewhat upstaged by the MDTTC Open, were held this weekend in Herning, Denmark. Timo Boll of Germany won Men's Singles for the sixth time, this time over surprise finalist Ruiwu Tan of Croatia, while Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus won Women's Singles for the second time, over Yi Fang Xian of France. Here are ITTF articles on it, and here's the home page for the event, with complete results.

Simple Tactical Advice

"Tactics isn't about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. Tactics is about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work." This is the advice I regularly give. I've expanded on this in my upcoming book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," which will be out in December.

Rajul Sheth for Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship of the Year Award

He's one of the nine nominees - go here to vote!!! The awards will be presented on Nov. 18. Here's a description of the award: "Silicon Valley Awards 2012 'Making a Difference' is all about the people who live in Silicon Valley and who make a difference in one way or another to help the Valley grow and become a better and richer place, culturally and professionally. The objective of the SVA 2012 'Making a Difference,' is to recognize these individuals in Silicon Valley who epitomize the Silicon Valley culture, its philosophy; these people work in a way which creates successful endeavors.

ITTF Coaching Seminars in India

Here's another ITTF article about the last of the three ITTF Coaching Seminars run in India by USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.

Pongcast Episode 17

Here's their latest video (12:07), this time showcasing the 2012 China National Championships and the 2012-2013 Chinese Super League. (Did you know the Chinese Super League was originally put together by Xu Huazhang, the former Chinese National Team Member who lived in the U.S. for much of the 1990s, at one point achieving a rating of 2777? He lived and trained at MDTTC, and shared a house with me for two years.)

The Lord of the Ping?

I think his hand is cupped.

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March 20, 2012

Balance

Yesterday I coached a player who moved to his wide forehand to loop pretty well, but always ended up off balance. His center of gravity would go outside his outer foot as he stepped toward the ball, and so after the shot would have great difficulty getting back into position for the next shot. It's extremely important to keep your center of gravity between your feet so that you are always balanced. Sure, there are extreme situations where you have to lunge or even dive for the ball, but those rare exceptions. Notice how the top players are able to hit power shots over and over in quick succession? It's because they stay balanced, and so their recovery time from each shot is extremely fast. When going for a powerful forehand loop it helps to think of a rod going through your head, and try to rotate around that rod as much as possible. That'll help keep your balance.

Jim Butler at the Cary Cup

He's 41, and came out of retirement just a few months ago. Sure, he was U.S. National Champion three times, but the last time was in 1993, nineteen years ago, during Bill Clinton's first year in office. So what does he do? He defeats both U.S. National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li and Runner-up Han Xiao. Both are fellow Marylanders who practically grew up and still play at MDTTC. (He defeated Li in the preliminary RR, but both advanced. He defeated Xiao in the 8ths. He lost to Hongtao Chen in the quarterfinals.) Here's a picture of Butler at the Cary Cup. (Butler on right, Greg Robertshaw on left.) Here's his Hall of Fame profile.

I wish I could have coached my fellow Marylanders for that one. I watched (and coached against) Butler for many years, and I might have had some insight about his somewhat unique game, which revolves around his serves and flat backhand kill. His forehand isn't particularly good for his level, and yet he knows how to use it to maximize its effectiveness. He probably blocks better than any of the U.S. players who recently competed at the USA Olympic and World Team Trials. These days most top players topspin their backhands, and probably had difficulty against Jim's flatter shot. Jim's backhand smash, even now, is easily the best with inverted in the U.S.  (Shao Yu's pips-out backhand smash may be as good.)

I've had five articles published about Jim Butler, but alas, none are online. Perhaps later on I'll scan them. (I've also written extensively about him while doing coverage of major U.S. tournaments.) The articles are listed below. (The "Showdown" articles were tactical analysis of what these two players did when they played each other.)

  • The Showdown: Sean O'Neill vs. Jim Butler, Table Tennis Topics, Nov/Dec 1990
  • The Showdown: Jim Butler vs. John Onifade, Table Tennis Topics, Jan/Feb 1991
  • Jim Butler's Backhand, Table Tennis Topics, May/June 1992
  • Jim Butler Most Improved Player, Table Tennis Today, May/June 1993
  • Interview with Jim Butler, Table Tennis World, Mar/Apr 1996

Maryland Table Tennis Center Update

You ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO MISS the MDTTC Open House and Grand Re-Opening on Saturday, April 7. I'll be doing an exhibition and a seminar on serving, and running the various demos. If you are not there we will talk about you behind your back, and it won't be nice things.

Yesterday new red flooring was installed in the new playing area, as part of the MDTTC expansion. Unfortunately, they also took out the old red flooring for half the current club, leaving us with just four tables for a few days. Since we have four full-time coaches, and the four of us were using all four tables last night, there isn't any open play for a few days.

There have been delays to the expansion, leading to the following cancellation note about our scheduled tournament this weekend.

"Due to an unexpected delay with the renovation/expansion project, we have decided to combine the 2012 Butterfly MDTTC March Open and the May Open Tournaments, which will take place on May 5 & 6. The Total Prize Money will be increased significantly. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused and ask for your kind understanding."

Now the good news. In a week or so the expansion will be done, and we'll have 18 full-sized courts (possibly more for junior training), all-new red flooring, showers, and a weight room. Plus wireless web was installed yesterday.

For more info on the club, including tournament schedule, coaching, camps, etc., see the new MDTTC website.

The Pongcast - Episode 11

The latest Pongcast (21:00) features the European Champions League . . . and TableTennisCoaching.com! The site is discussed from 3:45 to 4:50.

Commercial with table tennis

Here's a 33 second Miller 64 commercial with a few seconds of table tennis - twice.

College Republican National Committee

They have turned to ping-pong balls to promote themselves! Table Tennis Nation has the picture and the story. The note on the ping-pong ball box says, "The Best Party on Campus." I think this refers to beer pong.

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March 2, 2012

A way to handle fast opponents

This won't work for everyone, but it works for me. Suppose you are playing someone who plays very fast at the table, such as one of those super-quick bang-bang playing junior players. Suppose he pins you down with fast, quick shots to your backhand and middle, and wins points either on your backhand mistakes and pop-ups, or with sudden shots to the forehand. You struggle to keep up the pace, but it's too fast, and the table is too wide. Let's supposed you have a somewhat steady backhand and a good forehand when you are in position and not too rushed. (If not, work on that.)

What I often do is stand toward the backhand side but in a slight forehand stance, with my right foot slightly back (I'm right-handed). Then I just stick my racket up and rebound back anything hit to my backhand or middle with my backhand, using my opponent's own speed to so that I barely have to stroke the ball. (It's almost like playing a video game.) Try to keep the ball deep, and pin your opponent on his own backhand by going wide there. The strategy is to either outlast the opponent, or when he finally goes to my forehand, to tee off on that shot since I'm standing in a forehand stance.

I've been coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center for over two decades, and most of my practice matches during that time have been as a practice partner against our up-and-coming juniors. The strategy outlined above has been honed for twenty years.

Arm problems update

As noted in my blog this week, I hurt my arm on Sunday. I've coached at least two hours every day this week, but so far haven't aggravated it. The key? I haven't looped or smashed a ball. While coaching I'm mostly blocking. There have been a few times where I started to reflexively loop or smash, but each time something in my arm sent a red alert signal and I stopped. Perhaps the arm can heal without taking time off. I am doing lots of stretching and massage before and after playing.

USATT Job Openings

Pongcast TV Episode 10 - 2012 Kuwait Open

Here it is (20:23)!

1946 English Open

Here's a video of the 1946 English Open Table Tennis Championships (8:40), and here are links to lots of other vintage table tennis footage.

Table Tennis Cartoons

Here are 30 table tennis cartoons by Marek Zochowski that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.

Non-Table Tennis: SF story in Story Quest

My science fiction story Rationalized was just published in the online magazine Story Quest Magazine. The story won the Story Quest Short Story Contest in November. (See second column at top.) It's about a future dystopian society where everyone has an operation on their brain at age 13 to remove all emotions, and the underground society that secretly avoids this operation, but must pretend to always be unemotional - and the lengths they must go to hide their secret when a terrible accident occurs. (Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.) 

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January 9, 2012

Tip of the Week

Proper Care of Your Racket.

Serve practice

A few days ago a practiced my serves for 15 minutes, something I hadn't done in a few months. (Remember, I'm 99% coach, 1% player these days.) Last night at the club everyone had absolute fits with them. One player even asked me when I'd developed the new serves - and all I was doing was using my normal serves, but with a bit more spin, lower to the net, and with a quicker, and so more deceptive motion. This has actually happened many times in the past. Serves are one of the most under-practiced techniques in table tennis. I've never understood why more players don't understand this - but it might be because you have to develop your serves to a certain level before the huge advantage from service practice starts to really pay off. Suffice to say that players who usually challenge me struggled to get five points against me last night.

Baltimore Sun and other press coverage

How do you get press coverage for table tennis? By sending out press releases. I've sent out three since the U.S. Nationals in late December. Yesterday the Baltimore Sun sent a reporter out to do a feature story on Tong Tong Gong, who made the U.S. National Cadet Team for the second straight year. He interviewed most of "Team Tong Tong" - me (tactical coach), Cheng Yinghua (who along with Jack Huang and Jeffrey Zeng Xu, are his main drilling coaches), his dad (manager), and we also talked about Tong Tong's physical trainer (he meets with him once week, does other physical training on his own as assigned). The only downside - the players I was coaching during this time (hi John, Kevin) had their sessions interrupted several times as I spoke with the reporter. (I now owe them big time, or as I told them, time and a half.)

Later this week a reporter from the Howard Country Time is also sending a reporter out to do a story on Tong Tong. As I told the Sun reporter, I will not rest until I see a major newspaper headline that says, "The Tong Tong Gong of Ping-Pong." (The Sun already did a short article on the results from the Nationals, featuring Maryland players, including the all-Maryland men's final between Peter Li and Han Xiao.)

Dan Seemiller Ping-Pong Waiter Dream

I had the weirdest dream last night. I was at a restaurant with some of our top junior players. They were asking about how much money they could make at table tennis, and in the dream I was trying to convince them of all the wonderful riches they'd make if they became champions. Then five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller came over as our waiter! Now dreams can be weird, and I spent the rest of the meal trying to convince the kids of how much money Dan made as a waiter because of his table tennis skills. (Sorry, Dan! Just for the record, Dan's a professional coach in South Bend, Indiana, and other than his wife and kids, I don't think he waits on anyone.)

Pongcast TV Episode 07 - 2011 Year in Review Part 2

Here is part 2 (23:18), which reviews the world of table tennis for the second half of 2011. "A certain Chinese player goes on a stunning winning streak, just before the end of the year a certain European player makes a comeback, and my pick for the best finals of the year!" Part 1 (22:47) went up last Thursday, covering the first half of 2011.

Justin Bieber to Unveil New Ping-Pong Playing Robot at CES

I've blogged about Topio, the ping-pong playing robot that looks like the Terminator. Now Justin Bieber will introduce us to his new brother, Tosy! (And here are Justin Bieber's ping-pong playing credentials.)

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November 15, 2011

Tip of the Week

Forehands from the Backhand Corner

Wang Hao's Illegal Serve

Here's Wang Hao against Zhang Jike in the final of the Men's World Cup this past weekend. Over and over Wang's serves are blatantly illegal. And yet, in one of the biggest matches of the year, with huge numbers of spectators (live or online), with coaches, players, and up-and-coming juniors watching, the umpires very publicly do not call it.

First, when Wang serves, notice how he always leaves his arm out until the last second, when the rules say, "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net." I'm using his second serve in the video as an example (the first one was partly cut off), which starts eight seconds in. Here's a picture just before the ball drops behind his arm. He clearly did not remove his arm "as soon as the ball has been projected." Essentially all his serves are like this.

Second, notice how he hides contact with the arm? Here's another picture, a split second after the one above, where the ball has now disappeared from view - and note that he still has not removed his arm. Zhang is to our left and has a slightly better view, but contact is easily hidden from him by the arm in this picture. And yet, the rules state, "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

Here's his first serve in game two.  Look at the racket, ball, and arm. His arm is directly between the ball and the opponent. Can anyone possibly say this is even remotely legal? Or this one, his second serve in game two, right at contact with his arm hiding it? Essentially every one of his serves are like these. (Earlier I had put up this randomly-chosen picture from later in the match, but I decided that made it looked like I was picking and choosing, so I changed to the ones he did right at the start of games one and two.)

Any umpire should be able to see that Wang is obviously not removing his arm from between the ball and the net, and that he is hiding contact with his arm. Even if they aren't 100% sure whether he is hiding contact, the rules state, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect." And yet, it doesn't get called.

This is frustrating to watch because if umpires will not call illegal serves, then the players who practice illegal hidden serves have a tremendous advantage. It's almost impossible to return hidden serves effectively unless you practice regularly against them, and you can't do that unless the other players you train with are also hiding their serves. If you are coaching a junior program, you can either 1) teach the juniors to serve illegally, or 2) don't teach them to serve illegally, and watch them lose to those who do because umpires won't follow the rules, and so are cheating the honest players.

Training with Timo Boll

Here are four great training segments with Timo Boll, world #2 and European #1.

Each segment is about 2.5 minutes, totaling just over ten minutes. For segments 2-4, his partner is Vladimir Samsonov. (You'll need to spend a lot of time in the Jim, I mean gym, to get the long and short of this shot. This is my way of mentioning that Jim Short first posted this video.)

  • 0:30: Forehand pendulum serve, including reverse pendulum. See how fast he whips the racket into the shot at the last second.
  • 2:27: Receive - flips, short push, long push, and loops.
  • 5:28: Forehand Loop - the Europeans just call it "topspin." One interesting note - Timo is known for changing his grip to a forehand grip when he forehand loops, but in the demonstration here he is using a neutral grip. You should always learn to loop that way or you risk developing bad habits. Some advanced players adjust their grip after their shots are ingrained.
  • 8:02: Backhand Loop. Watch the slow motion of the backhand loop, and see the shoulder motion? (Here it is again from a different angle.) I had a big argument with a U.S. National coach over this, who said the shoulder should be still during a backhand loop, with the entire shot rotating around the stationary elbow only. Actually, the shoulder moves early in the stroke, essentially dragging the arm up and setting the elbow rotation into motion like a whip. I know this not just from watching and learning from top players and coaches, but also because I have a very tight shoulder that makes the motion somewhat difficult for me. I actually have a decent backhand loop in drills, but in a match situation, because of the stiffness, my hitting zone seems about the size of a ping-pong ball. Recently it's improved, and I'm using it more against deep pushes instead of doing more usual step around forehand loop from the backhand corner.

Pongcast TV Episode 03 - 2011 World Team Cup

Here's Pongcast's video on the 2011 World Team Cup, their third video, just over 30 minutes long.

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 2 (7:47).

Table Tennis on the Simpsons

Yes, here's Bart Simpson playing table tennis! This segment is only 14 seconds, and he's only playing part of it, but in the actual episode (which I saw), the table tennis playing goes on a bit longer.

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