Ma Long

June 5, 2012

Bad Sportsmanship and Cheaters

Yesterday I blogged about the Eastern Open, including the extremely bad sportsmanship of one player. Here are some examples of really bad sportsmanship or cheating I've experienced in the past.

  • I was coaching a top 13-year-old against a much higher-rated player in a best of five to 21. The 13-year-old won the first two games. The opponent won the first point of the third game. He then walked over to the 13-year-old's side of the table, put his fist in the kid's face, and screamed very loudly, "Yeah!" He then walked back to his side of the table. The kid was stunned, and didn't want to play. I called for the referee, who actually had seen it, but all he did was give a warning and send out an umpire. The kid barely tried the rest of the way, saying before they started up again, "If he wants to win that bad, then let him."
  • Back when foot stomping was illegal when serving (since players were using it to cover up the sound of contact with combination rackets), a player I was about to play convinced the umpire in advance that if a player lifts his foot during the service motion, it's an illegal foot stomp. The umpire fell for it, and since I do lift my foot up slightly on my forehand pendulum serve, he faulted me on the very first point. I called the referee, who explained to the umpire that it was a foot stomp only if, in the umpire's opinion, the stomp was loud enough to cover the sound of contact. The umpire then tried to change his call to a let, but my opponent insisted it was a judgment call, and an umpire can't change a judgment call after the fact. The referee reluctantly agreed, and the point stood. (The opponent admitted he'd planned the whole thing.) This is still the only time in 36 years and probably over 500 tournaments that I've been faulted.
  • I discovered an opponent had great difficulties with my forehand tomahawk serve. When I served it to him at 19-all (games to 21), he caught the ball saying he wasn't ready. I served it again, and again he caught the ball. This happened four times in a row! I called for an umpire. Again I served the tomahawk serve, and the opponent again caught the ball saying he wasn't ready. The umpire then asked him specifically if he was ready before each of the next two points, the opponent reluctantly agreed, I gave him two tomahawk serves, and forced to actually return them, he missed both. He admitted afterwards he'd decided he was going to catch it and say he wasn't ready anytime I gave him that serve.
  • Two top players were battling it out, and the score reached 17-12 in the third (best of three to 21). Both agreed on the score, but both claimed to be up 17-12. Havoc ensued. The referee finally had them replay the game from scratch.
  • In the 1980s there was a player who was notorious for cheating. Opponents basically called an umpire against him nearly every match. I played him once, and he kept calling lets whenever I hit a winner even if there was no ball anywhere ("Yes there was!" he'd claim), and then he simply called the score wrong, giving himself a lead when I was winning. I had to call an umpire, and then beat him easily. (Fortunately, there were a number of spectators who were watching, who all verified to the umpire what the score was.)
  • I was watching play from a balcony on a hot and humid day when Dan Seemiller called me over and pointed at a top player who was about to serve. The player was a chopper who, surprisingly, had long pips on both sides of his racket. Just before serving, over and over, he'd turn his back on his opponent, spit on the ball (!), and then serve. The opponent would put it in the net, and thought it was just the humidity.
  • There have been a number of times I've watched grown men berate little kids throughout a match in an attempt to intimidate them, such as the example I blogged about yesterday at the Easterns. One time I was playing Perry Schwartzberg a match, and we kept getting interrupted by the antics of a grown man on the next table, who kept badgering the little kid he was playing. Finally Perry walked over and let the guy have it. I wish I had done it.
  • Here's a controversial one. In the final of Men's Singles at the 1987 World Championships, defending champion Jiang Jialiang of China was up 2-1 in games on Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden. Waldner led 20-16 game point, and it seemed they were about to go into the fifth and final game. Jiang won four in a row to get to 20-all. He then did his infamous walk around the table: With his fist in the air, he circled the table, walking right in front of Waldner on his side of the table. Waldner later admitted this bothered him, and Jiang won in deuce to win the championship. Here's the video of the match (17:26). At 10:07 Waldner is leading 20-16. At 11:27 they start the spectacular point where Jiang deuces it, and then you see him walk around the table. Poor sportsmanship, over-exuberance, or basic gamesmanship?

Fast Serves

How many players have confidence they can pull of a very fast serve at a key moment in a match? It's risky, since most players don't practice this serve just before a tournament to get the timing down. Key phrase: "most players don't practice this serve just before a tournament." Fast serves need more precision and timing then spin serves or they are easy to miss, and so they need more warm-up and practice before a serious match. So, how do you think you can fix this? Duh!!! (When I warm up a player I'm coaching at a tournament, I almost always finish by having them practice their serves, including the fast ones.)

Want to Find Your Record Against Anyone?

Go to the TTSPIN ratings page, search for your name (see "player search" at top, since it seems to have David Zhuang as the default), choose your opponent, and your complete record (going back to 1995) will appear! (Green means you won, red you lost.)

Final of the China Open

Here's Xu Xin defeating Ma Long 4-2 (-6, 5,10,-9,7,4) in the final of the China Open in Shanghai, May 23-27. Time between points is taken out so entire match takes just nine minutes. (Xu is the penholder.)

Easterns and Meiklejohn Results

There were two major 4-star tournaments this past weekend, the Eastern Open at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the Meiklejohn Senior Championships in Laguna Woods, California. Here are the results:

100 ping-ping balls. 100 mousetraps

Here's the result (34 seconds).

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May 31, 2012

Forehand Looping from Backhand Corner

There's a discussion at the about.com forum about a point showing Larry Bavly (Heavyspin) winning a point with a "relatively low speed block to show that all points do not have to be won by hitting the ball hard." He does this against an opponent who had forehand looped from the wide backhand corner. There was some debate as to how this happened. The basic problem was that the woman looping against Bavly was rushed, and so was left off balance at the end of the stroke, and unable to recover back into position for the next shot. Here's the video. (This will download the video as a wmv file, which you should be able to play.) See how she is off-balanced at the end of the stroke, leaning to her left (our right)?

Now watch this example (in the point starting at 2:41) on youtube of a player doing the same shot and having no trouble covering the wide forehand for the next shot. This is a match between Wang Liqin (near side, in yellow shirt) versus Ma Long (far side, purple shirt). Wang is serving. Ma pushes the serve back, blocks the next ball, then steps way around his backhand to forehand loop. Wang blocks the ball to Ma's wide forehand, and Ma has no trouble covering it. Throughout the match watch how both players take turns ripping forehand loops, and see how fast they recover - because they are balanced throughout the shot, and so are able to recover almost instantly for the next shot. (Watch the slow motion replay.) There's another example of Ma doing this at 4:35, though this time he barely is able to cover the wide forehand  Note how the players sometimes even use their momentum from the previous shot to get back into position.

A similar point happens in the second point shown, starting 22 seconds in. This time it's Wang Liqin who steps around to forehand loop, and is ready to cover the wide forehand. Ma actually blocks more to the middle of the table, but you can see Wang was ready to cover the wide forehand - and since the ball wasn't so wide, he is able to take this ball right off the bounce. (Watch the slow motion replay of this point.) There's another point like this starting at 2:24, where Wang again steps around to forehand loop, and is immediately able to cover the wide forehand - but this time, while he's there, he misses. There's another one at 3:43 where Wang against steps around, and this time Ma has an extremely wide angle to block to. Watch how easily Wang recovers and moves to cover the wide forehand, though Ma misses the block.

Regardless of where you are looping from, or even what stroke you are doing, balance throughout the stroke and rally is one of the key differences between elite and non-elite players. Players who can do repeated attacks in the same rally can do so because they are balanced and in control of their positioning and momentum; players who can only do one or at most two good shots in a row are usually off-balanced and not really in control. This doesn't mean you should always be perfectly centered between your feet, but that your weight should almost always be centered somewhere between your feet, with you in control of your body positioning, regardless of the momentum from the previous shot.

We won't talk about the rather awkward (but effective this time) "Seemiller" style block Bavly uses this point. Some things better remain unspoken.

Serving Short and Low

Are you playing in the Easterns this weekend, or any other upcoming tournaments? Have you been practicing your spinny serves so you can keep them short and low? No? Good. Then if you play anyone I'm coaching (and I'm coaching at the Easterns), we're going to loop or flip your serve in, and like the piggy with no roast beef, you'll cry all the way home. Oh, you've changed your mind, and decided to practice your serves? (Monday's Tip of the Week will be on how to do this. And no, you don't have to serve short all the time, just most of the time, or at least when facing an opponent who can effectively loop your serve.)

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Overcoming Fear of Defending (1:32)

Joint Table Tennis and Golf Scholarship

Austin Preiss is going to Lindenwood College on a joint table tennis and golf scholarship, which must be a first. Here's the article. Some of you may know Austin both as a top junior player the last few years and for doing exhibitions around the country with his father Scott.

Stop-Motion Video Ping-Pong

This was a school project by someone, but it's hilarious, and gets better and better as it goes on (2:26).

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April 25, 2012

Set-up serves versus point-winning serves

I was teaching serves to a new student recently, and started to launch into my usual speech about the purpose of serves. Before I could finish, he interrupted and said, "I don't want to focus on serves that opponents miss. I want serves that set me up to do my best shots." He then explained how he wouldn't feel comfortable if he tried to win points on the serve outright, since if the serve did come back it likely wouldn't be setting up his strengths. Instead, he wanted serves that allowed him to use his relatively strong backhand. He also wanted to use serves to help set up his developing forehand and backhand, since the practice he'd get from using these serves and following up with a loop would make his attack stronger. 

I was stunned - this was exactly what I was about to explain, and this relative beginner already understood this. (Okay, he later admitted he'd read some articles of mine on the subject, such as this one, and in past blogs.) But that meant he'd done his research before signing up for lessons with me, which is always a good thing.) The key point is that while your serves should put pressure on an opponent (and thereby win many points outright), they should primarily be used to set up your best shot, or to help develop your attacking shots (which then become your best shots).

Because of his strong backhand, I showed the player how to serve various sidespin and topspin serves, both short and long, and with placements that would primarily favor returns to his backhand. (I also gave him the example of Dave Sakai, a USATT Hall of Fame player with a similar style of play that favored the backhand, and explained how Dave served to force opponents into backhand exchanges, often with short side-top serves to the backhand.) We also worked on short backspin serves that would set up his forehand and backhand loops, often placing these shots so as to force returns to his backhand. By mixing up these type of serves he'll develop a strong set of tactical weapons to use against anybody.

But we didn't completely leave out "trick" serves - as I explained (and he'd already read), you are handicapping yourself if you don't develop some trick serves that are designed to win points outright. Such trick serves tend to either win points outright or give opponents a ball to attack, so if they are over-used they lose their value. But used here and there, they not only win points, they give the opponent one more thing to watch for, thereby making your other serves even better.

Tim Boggan seeing red

Poor Tim Boggan. He was quite comfortable in the typewriter age, and then the world had to go and invent the computer. He uses one for his writing now (using Microsoft Word), along with that Internet thing (for email), but he and the computer have an adversarial relationship. Yesterday all of the text of the article he was writing turned red. In a state of hysteria, he called me and pleaded for help. (He called my cell phone, another device that continually amazes him. Keep in mind that he gave me permission to make fun of him in return for my help.) I was in the middle of a coaching session, but I called him back later that day. At first thinking he had actually turned the text red, I explained how to change font colors. However, that didn't work. I finally figured out that he'd somehow gotten into "Track Changes" mode, and the red was how Word kept track of changes, i.e. new text. I painstakingly explained what was happening and how to fix it, which is similar to explaining calculus to my dog Sheeba. Fortunately, Sheeba is very smart, and Tim is as well (well, in non-technical matters), and we finally got the text back to normal. But I fear it won't be the last time he will see red in his interactions with that confounded computer thing.

ICC's Three Olympians

There are zillions of articles on the USA Olympic Trials and the four Americans who qualified. Here's a good one that features the three that trained at the ICC club.

Koki Niwa upsets Ma Long

Here's the video of Koki Niwa of Japan, world #19, upsetting world #1 Ma Long of China (8:00) 4-2 (-8, 4, 8, 10, -5, 9) at the Asian Olympic Qualification, Apr. 19-22, with the time between points removed.

The most nonchalant point-winning block ever made

Watch this 28-second video and see Waldner basically stroll over and block a forehand winner against Timo Boll!

Adoni Maropis being silly

Yes, this is Adoni Maropis, the guy who nuked Valencia, California (on "24," season six) and is the reigning National Hardbat Champ. Click on the pictures and you'll see two more of Adoni, and if you keep clicking, you'll find a bunch more, including a number of table tennis action shots.

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April 16, 2012

Tip of the Week

Where to Place Your Spin Serves.

Modern juniors

I blogged on last Wednesday (April 11) about how modern sponges make looping so much easier. Even younger kids in the U.S. are playing looping games that would have been almost unimaginable 5-10 years ago. While the sponge makes much of this possible, much of this is because there are far more full-time training centers now than before, and so far more full-time junior programs, and so far more juniors training regularly at a high level. The level and depth of cadets and junior players is now stronger than ever in our history. (I blogged about this on Jan. 4, 2012).

The down side is that, at any given level, while the looping is spectacular, the table game is probably a bit weaker, especially return of serve. For example, I think previous generations of juniors were more sophisticated in their receive, since they couldn't rely on all-out attack and counterlooping as much, plus their sponge wasn't as bouncy, so they had more touch. This is especially true on short serves to the forehand, where many modern junior players in the U.S. seem weak. I think previous generations could push short better, while the modern generation can attack short serves better.

I'm tempted to say blocking is not as good among modern juniors, but that's not quite true - there's so much looping going on that this generation of juniors is probably as good blocking as previous ones, at least on the backhand. However, on the forehand, where everyone's mostly counterlooping, the somewhat infrequent blocks aren't as good.

College Championships results

The National Collegiate Championships were held this past weekend - and here are the results!

Michael Landers Wheaties box

Following the footsteps of George Hendry (who appeared on the back of a Wheaties box in 1936 at age 15, before they started putting athletes on the cover), 17-year-old Michael Landers will be on the cover of an upcoming Wheaties box - and here's the picture!

Ma Long Multiball

Here's a video (1:08) of China's world #1 Ma Long doing backhand loop multiball with China's men's head coach Liu Guoliang. Look at the power of those shots!

Primorac vs. Maze

Here's a TV news report (1:06) from 2008 of a great point played at match point between Zoran Primorac of Croatia and Michael Maze of Denmark.

AAAA

At our recent Spring Break Camp, we had three inseparable girls, all about age 9, and all named Emily. (I blogged about this.) Now I'm teaching a small group of four beginners, and their names are Ava, Anton, Ambo, Anmo. Forget Triple A; we've got Quadruple A!

Top Ten Signs Your Table Tennis Club is Too Big

The following was inspired by watching a bunch of kids actually playing hide and seek at the newly expanded Maryland Table Tennis Center. The place is huge, and full of prime hiding spots.

  1. The kids play hide and seek on break. The hiders usually win.
  2. Opponents can't hear you call the score because of the echo.
  3. If they raise the Titanic, they plan to store it at your club.
  4. Lewis and Clark are exploring the club.
  5. The club has its own zip code, its own area code, its own flag, and in the morning kids at school put their hands over their hearts and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Club.
  6. From the front you can't see the tables in the back because of the Earth's curvature.
  7. Lobbers James Therriault and Nison Aronov have enough room to play.
  8. White balls aren't allowed because when you play a lobber you can't see them against the cumulus clouds in the rafters.
  9. There's a football stadium in the lobby.
  10.  You can fit about 90 million ping-pong balls in the club, according to Kepler's Conjecture. (Assuming 10,000 square feet, 15' ceiling, 74% packing efficiency, and the volume of a ball at 2.14 square inches.)

Ultrabook Table Tennis Tournament

Here's a hilarious video (4:59) of the Toshiba Intel Ultrabook Challenge - a tournament where players used these super-thin laptop computers are rackets!

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March 30, 2012

It's not fair! Another reason why top players dominate. 

I once complained to U.S. Olympian Todd Sweeris during a match, "It's not fair. You're not winning by playing 2600; you're winning by being 2600." I said the same thing last night to former Pan Am Team Member Scott Butler (who was in town for a couple days), who was seemingly winning "cheap" points in a practice match with local Raghu Nadmichettu. I told Raghu, "You never miss those shots against me."

The point was that it is often the very threat of high-level play that freezes opponents into immobility against shots they would have no trouble with against lower-level players.

There are two ways you can take advantage of this. First, you can become a very good player, and then your potential for high-level play will freeze many opponents into immobility. That's the hard way.

The easy way is to simply diversify your game by developing versatility and unpredictability. If you threaten opponents with lots of options on any given shot, many will also be frozen into immobility as they wait to see which of your many options you choose. For example, against a short serve, many players predictably push over and over, usually to the backhand. What if you instead moved the push around (changing directions at the last second), sometimes flipped, and perhaps even dropped the ball short sometimes? Or against a loop to the forehand most players can only block crosscourt. Learn to block your forehand down the line, and watch the havoc it causes. Or simply learn to vary the pace of your blocks and watch your opponents' timing all apart. Or vary the placement, pace, spin, and depth on your loops (or drives), with last-second changes of direction. There are so many options, and so few are developed by most players.

Another way of doing this is to simply vary your serves. This doesn't mean just varying a limited number of serves; it means developing more varied serves that you can throw at an opponent. And then, once you've established that threat, and your opponent is gibbering in fear of all the possibilities, you can then focus on using your most basic and dependable serves.

Most players spend years honing "their game," and stick to that game whenever possible, often leading to a relatively strong but one- or perhaps two-dimensional game. Why not go for a few extra dimensions?

How I spend my days

  • Coaching table tennis
  • Organizing table tennis
  • Writing about table tennis
  • Reading about table tennis
  • Actually playing table tennis
  • Catering to the whims of Sheeba, who loves bacon.
  • Writing science fiction & fantasy. (I've sold 58 short stories, and have 35 more plus 2 novels making the rounds. Keeping them in submission is practically a full-time job.)
  • Reading science fiction & fantasy, plus history, and (alas) politics and newspapers.
  • Studying calculus, since I'm regularly tutoring it and it's been a while since I last studied it. (I'm toying with starting a math & English tutoring service at my table tennis club.)
  • Watching NCIS, The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, The Walking Dead, and A Game of Thrones (back this Sunday!)
  • Rooting for the Baltimore Orioles (please pity me)
  • Planning how to spend my $540,000,000 when I win the Mega Millions lottery tonight
  • Planning what movie to see to console myself when I don't win the Mega Millions lottery tonight (either Wrath of the Titans or Mirror Mirror)
  • Trying to ignore the political mess our country is in.

World Team Championships
Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1, 2012

Robert Floras vs. Werner Schlager at the Worlds

Here's Poland's Robert Floras 3-1 upset win over Austria's 2003 World Men's Champion Werner Schlager, with the time between points removed so the whole match takes less than four minutes. Lots of great points. However, Austria defeated Poland to reach the quarterfinals of the World Team Championships. Here's the ITTF article.

Three photos from the Worlds

Here are three interesting photos of Chinese players at the World Championships:

Futurama table tennis

There are two table tennis segments here from Futurama (1:28). (In this episode, "Put Your Head on my Shoulder," Fry's head has been surgically implanted on Amy Wong's body.)

JC Penny commercial with ping-pong

There's about two seconds of "ping-pong" in this 31-second JC Penny commercial, starting at the 11-second mark.

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March 1, 2012

Peter Li

Imagine a country that has an 18-year-old National Men's Singles Champion. Suppose that country decides to fund four players to the World Championships. You'd think that winning that Men's Singles title would automatically qualify you for the team. Right? Wrong.

That's the story of Peter Li, who won Men's Singles at the USA Nationals a little over two months ago in December when he was 18. However, at the USA Team Trials (just after turning 19), he finished in a four-way tie for second place with a record of 8-3. But after the tie-breaker (going to matches and games among those tied), he finished in fifth place, just missing the top four. He was then offered the fifth spot as an unfunded position, meaning he would have to pay his own way to the worlds. His family is already spending over $10,000/year on his training, and simply couldn't afford to pay more. And so he will not be going to the Worlds, and will not gain the experience he would get there.

Can anyone imagine this happening in any serious table tennis country? I don't think there are very many countries that fund teams to the Worlds that would not fund a teenaged National Men's or Women's Singles Champion.  

There's little chance USATT will change their procedures for this Worlds. The question is if they will look at the result of their procedure, and ask themselves if that procedure is really getting them the best result. Perhaps anyone winning or making the final of Men's and Women's Singles at the Nationals should automatically qualify. (Conflict of interest note - Peter developed at MDTTC, my club, and still trains and coaches part-time there on weekends.) 

Hit the ball harder!

I'm coaching an eight-year-old girl whose forehand is coming along pretty well, except for one problem: she absolutely will not hit the ball hard. Every shot is the same soft keep-it-in-play stroke that wouldn't break wet tissue paper. I've tried to get her to gradually hit the ball harder, to no avail. She just doesn't want to. So what did I do?

I did the obvious thing. I tricked her.

Near the end of our session yesterday, while feeding multiball, I put a half-filled water bottle on the table. I told her if she could knock it over, she could have a chocolate. (I conveniently had a stash handy.) It took her a few shots to hit the bottle, and she discovered she'd have to hit it harder to knock it over. That's when she started hitting harder, and with good form. She won two chocolates. Afterwards I told her mom about what I'd done, and she promised not to tell her daughter. (Shhhhhhh everyone! Hopefully she's not reading this blog.)

Sol Schiff

Here's the obit on Sol Schiff by his longtime friend Dean Johnson.

The Ma Long serve

He's #1 in the world, and here's his serve (2:31). Here's another video of it (0:55), showing it in action. Both videos show it in regular time and slow motion.

Table Tennis in Bed

Yes, you too can play table tennis in bed, using your hands and feet to rally back and forth!

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February 8, 2012

NO BLOG ON THURSDAY & FRIDAY

I'm off this morning to coach at the U.S. Olympic Trials (Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12), so no blog entries the next two days. See you all again on Monday - hopefully with lots of news from the Trials!

U.S. Olympic Trials Live Streaming and Schedule

Yes, you can watch the U.S. Olympic Trials live! They are care of NBC Universal Sports Live Feeds. (Trials are Feb. 9-12, Thur-Sun, in Cary, NC.)

Here is the basic format of the Trials. For both men and women, the top ten seeded players are seeded to the Top Twelve. The rest play a qualifier on Thursday, Feb. 9, for the final two spots. On the men's side, 32 players (13 of them rated over 2400, led by Jeff Huang and Dan Seemiller at 2504 and 2494) will play single elimination to the final two, who will advance to the Top Twelve. On the women's side, there are only three in the qualifier, so they will play a rather short round robin to see which two advance to the Top Twelve. (See player listing below to see who the players are in the Qualifiers.)

The players in the Top Twelve then play a complete round robin, eleven matches each, four on Friday, four on Saturday, and three on Sunday. All matches are best 4 out of 7.

Schedule

Note that the tentative playing times are listed in the Prospectus above.

  • Thursday, February 9, Qualifying Tournament, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Friday, February 10, Final Round Robins, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. 
  • Saturday, February 11, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. 
  • Sunday, February 12, 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. 

Live Streaming

The non-playing arm

While coaching yesterday I found myself having trouble moving to my left to block against a student's loop. Something felt wrong. I grabbed my towel, and stalled while trying to figure it out. Then it hit me - I'd been coaching for three hours, and I'd gotten lazy with my left (non-playing) arm. Instead of holding it out for balance, it was hanging loosely by my side. Without it to counterbalance my playing arm, and to actually initiate rotations to the left by pulling, my movements were sluggish. I raised the arm, and the problem was gone. I felt like greased lightning again. (Okay, tired greased lightning.)

The irony is that I'm always harping on my students to use their non-playing arm for balance. Many players, especially beginners, simply do not use it, letting it hang down like a limp rag. You not only need it for balance, but in any rotation to the left (moving to play a backhand, any forehand stroke) you should pull with that side.

Special note to coaches: It's very easy for a coach to get lazy or tired from hours of coaching, and to let the non-playing arm hang loosely. Most coaches are strong enough players that it won't greatly affect their play. However, this puts great pressure on your upper back to rotate the upper body without any help from the non-playing arm, which should be both balancing as well as initiating many movements. If you do this, you'll probably end up with back problems. I know now that this is one of the reasons I had so many back problems last year.

Why red and black?

For those not historically-endowed, the two-color rule was passed in 1983 so that players could tell which side an opponent with two surfaces used to hit the ball. Originally the rule was that the surface colors must be "clearly different." Players and manufacturers immediately began the search for "clearly different" colors that look the same in action - and they found it in black and maroon. When examined, they are clearly different, but when the racket is moving and ten or so feet away, they are hard to tell apart. Confusion reigned.

So the ITTF ruled that the two surfaces must be black and cherry red. The latter was later changed to bright red.

An interesting side issue is that for many years the die used for the black side dye slowed the surface down. Because of this, most players put black on their backhands, red on the forehands. (There was a study on this once, and found that 70% of tournament players had red on the forehand. I was one of the rebels - I've had black on my forehand since 1983! I like a springy backhand.) This isn't a problem anymore, but perhaps because players tend to copy other players, I think players still tend to have the red on the forehand. At the U.S. Olympic Trials (I leave for them tomorrow) I'll try to remember to do a count among the players on this.

U.S. Champ Timothy Wang hopes to bring table tennis out of the basement

Here's an interview with Timothy Wang . . . in Sports Illustrated! See, we've made it out of the basement.

USATT Videos Archive

Here's USATT's video archive, with 60 videos, including most of the major matches from the 2011 USA Nationals.

Pongcast TV Episode 9

Here's Pongcast TV Episode 9 (25:37), which covers the 2012 Slovenian Open.

Jan-Ove Waldner vs. Ma Long?

I think Waldner wins this one on a landslide. Ma Long's a great player, but to become an all-time great, you have to actually win the big events. Give him time, and perhaps we'll have this discussion in five years.

Baby doing multiball is Internet hit

On Feb. 3, I blogged about and linked to the video of Jamie Myska-Buddell, 18 months old, doing multiball training. The video is now an Internet sensation, attracting over 800,000 hits. Here's the article.

Highlights Video

Here's another highlights video (6:44). I sometimes think there's a sweatshop somewhere in China or Africa that churns these things out.

One-year-old "Joy Se Hyuk" demonstrates her long-pips chopping skills

Someday she will beat you (1:51).

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February 7, 2012

Seven-year-old looper

He's been playing only about six weeks. Last week he learned to loop for the first time. Normally I start players looping against backspin with multiball, but he'd seen others looping against block and wanted to try it, so we started with that. Apparently he practiced it all week. Yesterday he showed up, and he's looping against my block like a pro! He lets the ball drop very low, since he's very short, but he was getting very good spin with textbook technique. Wow. Can't wait to see how he develops.

You may remember this kid - he's the one I blogged about last week, on Jan. 31. Here's what I wrote: "A third kid, age seven, has the weird habit of hitting until the ball is high. Then he'll wait for it to drop, and loop it! He has loop written all over him, and will probably be looping everything soon. The interesting thing here is that at age seven, he already knows all the best players in the world, and likes to mimic them. Yesterday he was showing off his 'Ma Lin backhands,' mimicking both Ma's conventional and reverse penhold backhands, though he's a shakehander. He also tried to mimic Timo Boll's loop - needs work." Okay, now he has the Timo Boll loop down cold.

This is how many Europeans coaches teach kids - starting them off early looping against the block, where the kid lets the ball drop down to his level, so contact is below table level. This kid's going to be counterlooping in another month.

Next week I'm going to spend a good portion of the session split between looping against block and looping against backspin, using multiball for the latter. When he's ready I'll get out my hardbat chopping blade and have him loop against my chop.

U.S. Olympic Trials

Here's USATT's news item on the U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12, including the rough schedule and the broadcasting schedule at the end. I'll be there coaching. My notes on potential opponents (from many hours of watching videos and past experience) are ready. I'm coaching John Hsu in the Qualifier and Han Xiao in the Final Twelve. Han also write extensive notes on each of the other top ten players.

All that's left to do is laundry, packing, and four hours of coaching tonight. Then I'm off to the Trials early tomorrow morning. I'm going down with Cheng Yinghua and the Hsu's - John, Nathan, and their mom, Wen. We'll have an afternoon practice and then the jury meeting at 6PM, where we'll see the draws for the Qualifier, and find out who will be John & Nathan victims there - but first we'll adjourn to the room to watch videos of these potential victims.

Dan Seemiller and Joey Cochran in the News

Here's an article and video on these two from South Bend, IN, about their training for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Ma Long Tribute

Here's a tribute video to Chinese star and world #1 Ma Long (3:18).

The Magic of Table Tennis

Here's another table tennis music video (5:16).

How to Hit the Forehand

Here's Chris Grace's humorous video on how to hit the forehand (1:43).

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January 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Forcing an Opponent Out of Position.

Changing tactics

I had an interesting practice match this weekend - a best four out of seven. My opponent was an extremely steady blocker without a strong attack, rated about 2100. When I say "extremely steady blocker," I mean she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. So how to play her?

I started out well, winning the first game easily on third ball loops, attacking her forehand, and steady countering, taking advantage of the fact that in any rally I could suddenly attack hard, while she mostly just blocked side to side. She often served deep, and I was often able to loop those. 

However, three things began to happen. First, she began wear me down to the point that I felt like I'd just run a marathon - and we were only into the second game. Second, her forehand, which has only missed twice since the Reagan Administration, wasn't missing. Third, she was pinning me down to my backhand, and while I can hit a hundred backhands in a row when needed, she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. Like Romney, what I was hoping would be a quick run to victory instead turned into a war of attrition. And she wasn't attritioning.

And so I found myself down 2-3 in games. At this point I simply was too tired to continuously attack forehands when needed or to run around and loop her serves (I don't have a strong backhand loop, alas), and my 1% backhand miss rate was way too high against a backhand with a 0% miss rate. So I began to look for chances to chop to get out of these backhand rallies. I chopped her deep topspin serves back (so I didn't have to run around to forehand loop them, and because I get more spin when looping backspin), and if we got into a fast rally, after a few shots I'd find a ball to chop on the backhand. She'd push, and I'd get to loop, usually to her forehand or middle, about 2/3 of the time going for slow, spinny and deep loops, about 1/3 of the time going for rips, usually to the forehand side. 

And lo and behold, it through off her rhythm, and I started getting balls to smash or loop kill when she blocked my loops! I won game six. I started game seven with a barrage of attacks that put me in a 1-4 hole. So I went back to mixing in chopping and looping, and finally won, 11-8 in the seventh. If I'd stuck with my normal steady backhand countering game in rallies, and continued to attack the deep serve (as I'm always coaching players to do, since 90% of the time it's the right strategy), I'd have lost. 

This strategy was reminiscent of how Dan Seemiller won the men's singles at the USA Nationals one year over Eric Boggan.

Beginners learning forehand and backhand

Recently I've coached a lot of beginners, especially new kids. I've noticed an interesting dynamic. In nearly every case, by the end of the first session they had picked up either the forehand or backhand pretty well, but struggled on the other side. None had trouble on both; none were good on both. In each case, they so mastered the proper technique on one side that by the end of the session I was able to challenge them to see how many they could hit in a row - something I never do until I'm confident they'll do so with good technique. But on the other side we never got to that stage. In most cases they got it down in the second or third session, but even then it was obvious they were more comfortable on the other side. I wonder if this is something that'll be true the rest of their table tennis playing days?

Twelve Tips to Table Tennis Perfection

Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina. They are all great items; I find #1 (goals) and #10 (visualizing) the two that players most overlook. Until you set specific goals (and then work out what you need to do to achieve those goals), it's hard to improve. It's like going on a journey without a destination. As to visualizing, it's the most underused way to improve.

Returning the forehand pendulum serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:53) that shows how to return a forehand pendulum serve into the backhand.

2012 Hungarian Men's Singles Final

This was a great match from this past weekend, where shakehand attacker Ma Long of China (#1 in the world) barely defeats South Korea's chopper/looper Joo Se Hyuk (2003 World Men's Singles Finalist), -7,4,-4,4,-7,7,8, in the final of the Hungarian Open. Time between points is taken out so you can see the entire match in about ten minutes. Joo upset current World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (also of China) in the quarterfinals by the unlikely scores of 5,7,7,4. (Here's that match on youtube, but it's shown continuously, so takes about 30 minutes.) Here are articles, pictures, and results.

Liu Guoliang teaching his one-year-old daughter table tennis!

Yes, former World and Olympic Champion and current Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang is already teaching the next generation the family business (1:09).

The bearded Liv Tyler paddle

Here's actress Liv Tyler with her bearded paddle! And the sixth picture down shows her playing with the paddle. She's promoting her upcoming movie "Robot and Frank," but is probably best known for her roles in Lord of the Rings (she's Arwen!), Armageddon, and The Incredible Hulk.

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January 12, 2012

Do you like this blog?

Then spread the word! I'm getting about 300+ readers per day. That means there are over seven billion people who are not reading it. Oh, the inhumanity!

Proper use of free arm

A lot of problems arise when players don't use their free arm properly. I've been emphasizing this with students a lot recently - some are getting lazy with this. Here are two common problems.

First, many players let their free arm just sort of hang down instead of holding it up as a counterbalance to the playing arm. Every time they stroke the ball there is no counterbalancing arm to act as a counterweight, and so they are thrown slightly off balance with each shot. Worse, they become so used to this they don't even realize it is happening. The cure - hold the free arm up for balance at all time, and let it naturally counterbalance your playing arm. Note that this is true on backhands as well as forehands. On the forehand, the counterbalancing is more obvious. On the backhand, as you extend your playing arm out, the free hand needs to counterbalance this by naturally pulling back.

Second, when hitting forehands, players don't use their non-playing side. Instead, pull with the non-playing arm as you rotate around on the forehand. The non-playing side (the left side for righties) is just as important as the playing side when you hit a forehand. Your body can't rotate unless both sides rotate.

Here's a video of probably the two best players in the world right now, Ma Long and Zhang Jike of China (15:29), playing the final of the Austrian Open in September. Watch the way they use their free arm on each shot. (Of course, you can learn a lot from this video besides just the use of the free arm!)

An expanded version of this may end up being a Tip of the Week.

USATT Coach of the Year Awards

And the winners are. . . .

How to do the Ma Lin serve

And you can learn it in just 2:14! (I may have posted this link once before, but it's worth watching twice.)

McDonald's table tennis commercial

How to lose your McNuggets to a "little old lady" in 32 seconds. This isn't the only time McDonald's has used table tennis - here's a video (1:40) where they had customers play video ping-pong on a huge screen in Stockholm.

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