March 22, 2012

What's your secret weapon?

What do you do when you absolutely, positively have to win the next point? How do you serve and follow, or receive, when the game is on the line?

Note that this is somewhat of a trick question as you should be using these plans throughout a match, often to keep you from actually reaching a point where you absolutely, positively have to win the next point. And if you do reach that point, you should have tried out so many of these plans that you'll know which ones work.

Here are my "go to" plans, the secret weapons I pull out when I absolutely, positively have to win the next point.

On serve:

  • Short forehand pendulum serve with a big downward motion that looks like backspin, but actually has sidespin-topspin. With a subtle snap of the wrist at contact, the inner part of the paddle moves up on contact, creating topspin. Opponents pop it up or return it weakly over and over, setting up easy smashes and loop kills.
  • Deep breaking forehand pendulum serve into the backhand that jumps away from the opponent. If the opponent doesn't have a good backhand loop, or can't step around and forehand loop it (and still cover the wide forehand on the next ball), then this serve sets up many easy smashes and loops. Because it goes so deep I have time to get my forehand on the next ball over and over.
  • Heavy no-spin short to the middle. ("Heavy no-spin" means that I fake lots of spin but put no spin on the ball.) As long as I keep it very low to the net, I almost always get a relatively weak ball, usually a push, that goes deep, setting up an easy loop. It comes back with less backspin than if I served backspin, and flips off it are usually softer than off a sidespin serve.
  • Forehand pendulum serve with heavy sidespin-backspin, short to the forehand. As long as I hang back toward my backhand side this tends to get returned to the forehand or middle, setting up an easy forehand loop.
  • Fast no-spin to the middle (opponent's elbow) with my forehand pendulum motion. The opponent has to decide quickly whether to return forehand or backhand, has to swing harder than usual to overcome the no-spin (as opposed to a fast topspin serve, where the topspin makes it jump off their paddle), and they usually end up returning it into the net. If they do return it, they are out of position (from covering the middle), and so usually open to an attack to the wide corners.
  • Forehand tomahawk serve short to the forehand. Most opponents make weak returns to my forehand, setting up an easy forehand loop.
  • Forehand tomahawk serve deep to the forehand. This works against players with weaker loops. Since it breaks away from them, they often lunge for the ball at the last second, which means they both lose control and lower their racket (meaning they will lift the ball too much, usually off the end).

On receive:

  • My favorite go-to receive is to receive anything on the backhand or middle with my backhand, right off the bounce, and topspin to the opponent's deep backhand. This usually takes away their serve advantage and forces a straight backhand-to-backhand rally. (And I'm confident that NOBODY can beat me straight backhand-to-backhand. This might not be true, but as long as I'm convinced of it, I can outlast most opponents with my steady but not-too-powerful backhand.)
  • Against short backspin serves either drop the ball short or quick push wide to the backhand, sometimes deep wide to the forehand. In either case I try to aim the ball one way and change directions at the last second. This is effective on both short and long pushes. On short pushes, I generally aim to the backhand, and at the last second drop it short to the forehand, where players are generally a little slower reacting to. On long pushes I mostly go long to the backhand, often aiming to the forehand side until the last second. But since many opponents anticipate this, I can get a couple of "freebies" in many games by switching directions at the last second and going to the forehand.
  • Against someone who consistently serves long, just loop the serve, but focus on spin, depth, and consistency.
  • Against a forehand pendulum serve (or other serves with spin that breaks away from me on my backhand) I have a pretty good forehand loop, and I see the serve coming, even under pressure I can often step around and loop it away with my forehand. I would normally only do this against a player who not only predictably serves long, but doesn't have much variety on his serve. Against someone who has great spin variety looping too aggressively is usually too risky.

Korean table tennis movie?

This video (1:06) seems to be a preview of a historical Korean table tennis movie. Can anyone translate what it's about? Added bonus - go to 0:32, and you'll see two Chinese women playing doubles on the far side. The one who starts on the right (while the other woman is hitting the ball), and then moves to the left is Gao Jun, former Chinese star (world #3, 1991 world women's doubles champion) who emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1990s and was USA Women's Singles National Champion nine times.

The table tennis fantasy tour

While we're on the subject of table tennis movies, here's an article I had published in Fantasy Magazine three years ago on fantasy table tennis in movies and on TV.

Nominations open for U.S. Olympic Foundation’s George M. Steinbrenner III Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2011 George M. Steinbrenner III Sport Leadership Award, which annually honors a member of the U.S. Olympic family who has made outstanding contributions to sport.

Day off

After coaching table tennis eight straight days and 18 of the last 19, I'm off today. The bad news: I'm going to spend all day working through my todo list. It's long. Really long. Really, really long. (Will I have enough energy left to see a midnight showing of "The Hunger Games"? We'll see. I read all three books.)

Marty Reisman in slow motion

Yes, now you can stretch out those few seconds of Marty bliss to a full minute and a half!


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June 3, 2011

How do you want to follow up your serve?

Have you thought about this recently? Really thought about it? What's your best shot - hopefully an aggressive shot - and how can you serve to set it up? Or do you mostly serve and push? Conventionally, you should serve & loop the return if at all possible; do you? At the higher levels, the most common strategy is to serve short (but usually not too short - second bounce near the endline), usually with backspin or no-spin (disguised so opponent can't always tell which), and follow with a loop. Or do you have an alternate plan? For example, if you have really tricky serves (relative to your level), you might serve over and over to win the point outright (or at least get an easy pop-up). If you have a nice backhand, you might serve topspin to get right into a backhand-to-backhand contest.

Team USA Table Tennis Page

The USATT's sister web page with the USOC is rapidly growing. (Sean O'Neill is in charge of it.) Make sure to check out the coaching page.  At some point I think they need to decide which is USATT's main web page, the USOC page or the regular USATT web page, which isn't updated nearly as frequently, but has the more obvious and more easily remembered web address ( vs. The two have a lot of overlap. At some point, probably at the Open next month, I'm going to ask about what the future plans for the two sites are - it's not yet clear to me, and it does seem redundant to have both. But perhaps they already have plans for the future.  

2011 CCY Open Table Tennis Tournament

I'll be coaching tomorrow (Saturday) at the CCY Open Table Tennis Tournament in Alexandria, Virginia. (I'm coaching Tong Tong Gong in singles, and in U3400 Doubles with Allison Wu.) It's a Korean-run tournament; the web page is in Korean, but it's open to anyone. However, I have an English-version entry form. The strange thing about it is that the biggest event is not just the Open (1st $600, 2nd $300, 3rd $200, 4th $100), but Under 3400 Doubles (1st Air Ticket to Korea, 2nd $500, 3rd $200, 4th $100). They also offer (with good prize money, including for the semifinals in all except U1050) six other events: U2100, U1850, U1650, U1450, U1250, and U1050. One team in U3400 Doubles told me that if they reach the final, they plan on dumping so they can get the $500, since they don't want a ticket to Korea. Not sure if that prize is transferable or if they can get the cash equivalent instead.

Back and knee woes

It's tough being a table tennis coach when you have to do a roll call each day to see what's injured. My back has been killing me for over a month, and in the last few days my right knee has started complaining. For now, the left knee and right shoulder and arm are on good behavior, but that could change at any time. (Yes, I stretch before each playing session.) The summer "rush" is coming, and with school out, there'll be a lot more coaching hours, plus five 5-day training camps I help run at MDTTC. Cross your fingers for me.


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May 6, 2011


A journey of nine feet begins at contact

When you serve, do you just serve? Or do you stop and visualize the serve first? And when you visualize the serve, do you visualize all of it, or just part of it? You should visualize the entire journey the serve takes - the contact height, amount and type of spin, how fast it will go out, where it hits on your side of the table (this is most overlooked part), where and how low it crosses the net, how it curves through the air, where it bounces on far side, how it bounces each time, and where second bounce on far side should be? (A longer version of this might be next Monday's Tip of the Week.)

Brian Pace and Richard McAfee . . . reminiscing

Championship player and coach Brian Pace sits down with longtime friend, coach, and mentor Richard McAfee (USATT Coaching Chair), and they talk about their relationship that has spanned over 25 years. (24:10)

Catty Table Tennis

Here's vintage footage of a cat playing table tennis (0.29) - really! - just for fun. There are actually dozens of videos of cats and table tennis in the video section of the Fun and Games section here at - why not have some quality time and take a tour? Who knows what you'll find. Maybe W.C. Fields playing hilarious table tennis from the 1939 movie "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man" (2:33) or a picture of the horse Mr. Ed playing table tennis (for real, not photoshopped, from TV show "Mister Ed").


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