Table Tennis Spectacular

November 16, 2011

Short push and loop drill

Here's a simple drill that covers four basic skills in three shots. Your partner serves short backspin anywhere on the table. You push it back short anywhere - try and hide the direction and at the last second maneuver it somewhere on the table short. Your partner quick pushes to your backhand. You backhand loop (or drive) crosscourt. Your partner blocks crosscourt. You step around and try to end the point with your forehand. You've practiced your short push, your backhand loop, your step around backhand footwork (as well as other footwork for the other shots), and your forehand.

Variations: You can backhand loop anywhere, and then it's free play. Or instead of stepping around with a forehand, you can try to end the point with your backhand. Or backhand loop down the line, partner blocks or counterloops to your forehand, you loop/counterloop, and it's free play. Or any other variation you can think of that fits your game, or how you want to play.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion

Now it can be told! In January, the Maryland Table Tennis Center (my club) is doubling in size. The full-time club and training center has been open since 1991, and in the same location since 1997, with 5500 square feet and 12 tables. In January, the wall between us and the identical space next door goes down, and the club becomes a full-time 11,000 square foot facility, with 22-24 tables. Coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and myself will continue, plus new coaches will be brought in, probably some from China. Donn Olsen is also joining our coaching staff.

The entire playing area will have the red rubberized flooring that currently covers only half the club. The bathroom in the middle is moving to the side. (Finally!) We'll even have wireless Internet. Lots of new programs are planned - my hours will soon increase dramatically. I'll be in charge of promoting, setting up, and running numerous programs, including the after-school junior training program; a beginning class; intermediate and advanced training; and a monthly e-newsletter.

The Lefty Penhold Hardbat Coach with a Federer Forehand

After one of his 2250 junior students struggled with a lefty at a tournament this past weekend, Coach Cheng Yinghua switched hands during a training session last night at MDTTC and proceeded to dominate the rallies as a lefty! Much of this was from shock as the poor junior couldn't believe this was happening. (Neither could I.) But Cheng looked solid 2200 as a lefty. Add in the fact that he's a proven 2400+ as a penholder and dominates in hardbat when he chooses, and you start to wonder what he can't he do. Did I mention he also has a Federer-like forehand in tennis? I've played him. (But he serves underhand.) It turns out that while the Europeans goof off by lobbing, the Chinese goof off by playing opposite hand and opposite grip.

More seriously, Cheng was able to mimic the lefty's tricky forehand pendulum serve, and so the junior was able to practice against it - though with great difficulty at first. The fact that Cheng kept following up the serve with lefty forehand and backhand loops, giving even more practice against a lefty, was just icing.

Counterlooping Video

Here's a good instructional video on forehand counterlooping (1:48).

2011 Para Pan Am USA Results

Here they are - singles results so far. So far, Tahl Leibovitz won a gold in Class 9 (standing disabled); Pam Fontaine a Silver in Class 1-3 (wheelchair); and Andre Scott a Silver in Class 5 (wheelchair). Daryl Sterling, Jr. finished fourth in Class 7. Team events are next. Here's an article on the opening ceremonies that includes a lengthy quote from Sterling.

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 3 (4:10).

How Mean People Serve Aces

In just 20 seconds.

Non-Table Tennis - my story wins Story Quest Contest!

This morning I found out that my dystopian science fiction story "Rationalized" won the Story Quest Short Story Contest! It's about a future 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 page. Yes, I have a life outside table tennis!)

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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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