Tong Tong Gong

March 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Dummy Loops.

$16,700 Cary Cup Championships

It's been a long journey. I left for the Cary Cup Championships in North Carolina, five hours drive away last Thursday morning, going down with Tim Boggan, who drove down from New York. (After the tournament he and his wife, who met him there on Sunday, go on vacation in various locations down there.) Tim had some early problems in that his credit card stopped working, most likely because he was suddenly using it in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, when he usually uses it in New York. But he's traveled extensively, using the credit card all over, and he said this had never happened. I had to put his hotel room for the first night on my credit card.

Here's the Cary Cup Championships web page, which includes complete results.

One major thing that jumped out at me this tournament was that the Maryland players who had played in recent tournaments tended to do well, while those who hadn't played tournaments in a while didn't do so well. This is actually an ongoing thing, as all the training in the world doesn't make up for a lack of "tournament toughness." When you play lots of tournaments, you get used to tournament pressures, to adjusting to different serves and playing styles, and to figuring out what serves and rallying shots you should use against various players. Players who hadn't played tournaments since, say, the Nationals in December didn't seem to have this tournament toughness, and it showed, especially in return of serve.

Two players from Maryland played great. Roy Ke, 13, rated 2174 (but perhaps a bit under-rated) won the "B" Division, going 11-0 in the division and defeating Bin Hai Chu (2233) in the final. Here's a picture of the Final Four - that's Roy on the far right, holding the biggest trophy, with Chu on the far left. I kept running into Chu this tournament. I played him in the final of the Hardbat event (see below), coached Crystal Wang in her "upset" win against him to make the "A" Division, and told Roy how to play him in the "B" Division final.

Crystal Wang also had an excellent tournament. At age 10 she'd reached 2355 in rating going into the Nationals in December. As 10-year-olds sometimes do, she wasn't there mentally that tournament, and had an almost historic rating loss, dropping all the way to 2112. Now that rating is sort of a joke for her, as she's been competing and sometimes winning the Elite League on Sundays at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, often beating 2400 players. (She'd won the Elite League the week before, with wins over two players over 2350.) She'd also won Under 2250 at the MDTTC Open two weeks before (and was up 2-0 in the Open on Raghu Nadmichettu, rated 2363), which was just processed last night - and she was up to 2264, a bit closer to her real level. In the "A" Division, where she was seeded last in her group of nine players, she pulled off three big wins, including one player over 2400, and should be back over 2300 after the tournament is processed, which will cause many sighs of relief among rating-worried players in the 2200 range who were terrified of that 2112 rating. Not bad for someone who turned 11 just a few weeks ago!

Much of the tournament I was coaching Derek Nie (12, 2234) and Tong Tong Gong (15, 2258). Neither had played a tournament since the Nationals in December, and neither had good tournaments. Both had Houdini-like escapes in the preliminaries to make it to the "A" Division. Derek's was especially scary. Against D.J. Settle, rated 2140, Derek lost the first two games and was down 10-6 quadruple match point in the third! But he came back to win, 11-9 in the fifth. Tong Tong was down 2-1 in games to Corey VanWagner (2063) before also winning 11-9 in the fifth. We found out afterwards that Corey had studied Tong Tong on video, which explained why he played such smart tactics and could have easily pulled off the upset. Both had trouble receiving serves this tournament, and Derek's looping game was off - and he picked up this nasty habit of missing pop-ups when up game point!

For the fourth year in a row I came up early to play the Hardbat Event on Friday before switching to coaching the rest of the way. I'd won the event in 2010 and 2011, defeating Bin Hai Chu (see above) in the 2011 final. I'd lost to him in 2012. Once again I played him in the final (going 8-0 to get there). He's a pips-out penholder already, so going to hardbat is rather easy for him. He won the first game easily as he played well and I kept missing. After I fell way behind I switched to chopping to see if that would mess him up. We had some good points, but he played great and won 21-10. (Matches were best of three to 21, using 38mm balls supplied by Tournament Director Mike Babuin that were made in 1958 - I kid you not! But they played fine.) In the second game I was on a rampage, and played one of my best hardbat games ever. However, life and table tennis are not fair, and neither are nine nets and edges to my zero, including two pop-up net-edges. Match to Chu, 21-10, 21-16. Alas, but I did get a huge trophy and $200 (to Chu's $400). I also managed to pull a muscle in my left thigh halfway through game two. I ignored it and it didn't affect my play, but I was limping the rest of the tournament. Fortunately I wasn't needed as a practice partner as we had plenty of players.

My only minor gripe about the tournament was a meaningless match I had to play in hardbat. The event had 14 players, two groups of seven, with the top two advancing to a final RR of four players. The problem was there was no carry-over, and so I had to play the runner-up from my preliminary RR a second time. That wasn't a problem. The problem was that I had to play him in the last match of the preliminary RR, where we had both clinched a top two finish. Since there would be no carry-over matches, despite my protest before the event began, it meant that this match was meaningless - and what would count would not be this match, but the one we'd play shortly afterwards, in the Final Four RR. I don't mind playing an occasional meaningless match, but the problem was I didn't want the player to get used to my serves and rallying tactics. So I found myself mostly holding back on my best serves and tactics. I won the first at deuce, lost the second 21-11, before winning the third 21-14. When we played again, I no longer had to hold back, and this time won 21-7, 21-14. He probably did play better the first time around, but I was gritting my teeth as I mostly avoided using certain serves and tactics. Hopefully next year we can either have carry-over matches or go to direct single elimination after the preliminary RR's.

Because I was busy coaching I didn't get to see many of the big matches. I coached Tong Tong and Derek in matches against Eugene Wang (who'd win the tournament) and Jim Butler (with Derek almost winning a game), and hopefully they learned something there - especially about Wang's receive and Jim's serve.  

On the drive back I entertained Derek Nie with non-stop brain teasers. He solved most of them, and I had fun giving humorous hints.

A special thanks goes to Mike Babuin (recently elected the Chair of the USATT Board of Directors) and the Cary staff for putting on a great event. I look forward to going down again next year to this great tournament and continuing my rivalry with Bin Hai Chu!

Twenty Winning Tips

Here are 20 winning tips from Tahl Leibovitz, and top player and coach from New York City. I especially like the first three, which I'm always stressing to players.

Asia Defeats Europe

Here's an article on the first leg of the 2013 Asia-Euro All Star Challenge, where Asia wins, 7-3. Perhaps the most interesting match was a rare loss by Zhang Jike to a non-Chinese player - here's the video (15:25, with time between points removed, and some of the better points replayed in slow motion) of Vladimir Samsonov's win over Zhang.

The Health Benefits of Table Tennis

Here's an article on the health benefits of table tennis, from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). "It's like aerobic chess. It's great for hand-eye coordination and reflexes (cerebellum and parietal lobes). You have to focus (prefrontal cortex) so you can track the ball through space (parietal lobes and occipital lobes), figure out spins (parietal lobes and occipital lobes), and plan shots and strategies (prefrontal cortex and cerebellum). Then you have to follow through and execute those tactics successfully (prefrontal cortex and cerebellum). All the while, you have to stay calm so you don't get too nervous on game point (basal ganglia). And you can't dwell on the point you blew a few minutes ago (anterior cingulate gyrus) or blow your top when you make a mistake (temporal lobes)."

Han Xiao Marries

Here are the wedding pictures of the event where Han (many-time U.S. team member, 3-time Men's Doubles Champion and one-time Men's Singles Finalist) and Genna Shaw tied the knot on Saturday, March 16 (two days ago).

2013 BATTF Tour Grand Final Trailer

Here's the trailer (1:16) for the 2013 Bay Area Table Tennis Federation Grand Final.

The Making of Table Tennis Bats and Rubbers in Japan

Here's a video (13:09) on how the manufacturing process in Japan. It's a fascinating process. I once toured a Double Happiness factory in China and watched them make sponge and rackets.

Young Ping-Pong Zen

Here's a picture of kids - future monks? - playing table tennis in full monk attire. Both players seem to be standing on stones to increase their height!

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November 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Serving Short to Forehand and Long to Backhand.

JOOLA North American Teams

I spent the weekend mostly coaching at the Teams in Baltimore. Since my family lives on the west coast (Oregon and California), I spent my third straight Thanksgiving with Tong Tong Gong and his family - they served a vintage Thanksgiving meal with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry juice, an incredibly good bread that's a family recipe, and a number of other items, including a few Chinese dishes. (They also had 17 relatives over.) I ate more at that meal than I have at any meal in years - and I mean this literally. Since they live only 20 minutes from the playing hall, I stayed at their house for the weekend, as I did the last two years. (I live an hour away.)

The number of teams was down a bit, from last year's 196 to 158. Part of this is because of the new Butterfly Teams in Columbus - see segment below. Some have written that that tournament had no effect on the Teams in Baltimore, but that's absurd - I know of at least 10-12 teams that regularly play in Baltimore that went to Columbus this year, and that's just the ones I know. I'd guess they lost at least 20 or more teams to Columbus. At $800/team, that's at least $16,000 in lost revenue.

While I'm never happy playing on cement, as most matches at the Teams (both Baltimore and Columbus), Open, and Nationals are played on, there's not a lot that can be done about that. However, I was happy to see (yes, that's a pun) that the lighting was greatly improved this year, as part of a renovation at the Baltimore Convention Center. The tournament ran on time, with two tables assigned to every team match we played. They also had much better prizes this year, giving out nice crystal prizes to the division winners that the players seemed happy with.

Here's a picture of the Division One Champions, Atlanta Table Tennis Academy, holding the crystal prizes. (Picture is care of Tom Nguyen from North American Table Tennis.) L-R: Tournament President Richard Lee, Feng Yijun, Liu Jikang, Li Kewei, Coach Wang, Timothy Wang, Wang (Eugene) Zhen, and Referee Bill Walk.

However, this will be the last year it'll be in Baltimore. Next year it's moving to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at the National Harbor, just south of Washington D.C.

Because I was there primarily as a coach, I didn't see much of the finals - just the last match in fact. I played as a part-time player for the NOVA team, playing in three ties where I beat a couple of 2150 to 2200 players and several 1950 players, went five with a 2300+ player, and lost to a 2050 player who moved me around on the slippery cement and then smashed over and over. When I did win points, it was usually off my serves, which gave everyone fits and covered up for my growing lack of mobility. Alas, I don't practice any more (I'm just a coach), and at 52 I'm too stiff and slow to play the way I used to. In my mind, I'm still greased lightning, but once at the table....

It is a grueling tournament, designed for true table tennis warriors. Play began Friday at 9AM, with most teams playing team matches at 9AM, 11AM, 2PM and 4PM, with these matches deciding what division you would get into. (Most teams played two higher teams and two lower teams, though of course this was adjusted for the highest and lowest teams.) On Saturday teams played five more team matches (9AM, 11AM, 2PM, 4PM, and 7PM), and two more on Sunday (9AM and 11AM), with crossovers at 2PM and 4PM. This is a true players tournament.

Tong Tong, just turned 15, didn't start out well, and I'm not going to get into that. He played well on Saturday night, and if he plays like that he might be in the mix for the USA junior team trials coming up in three weeks. He's been on the cadet team the last two years - top four in country - but is now ineligible, but has three years to try out for the junior team. I coached him here, and will be coaching him and Derek Nie at Nationals. Derek, 11, will be trying out for the mini-cadet and cadet teams.

I coached Derek in a number of his matches, and he had a great tournament. He came in at 2139 (from a high of 2170 recently), and pretty much blitzed everyone. He beat about ten players between 2100 and 2200 with, I think, only one loss in that range. He beat three or four players in the 2250 range (one of them from down 5-10 in the fifth), and he beat a 2438 player. He, Crystal Wang, Heather Wang, and Bernard Lemal combined to win Division 3, going 7-0 in the round robin and then winning the crossover semifinals and final for a combined 9-0. (So Crystal won crystal!) I'm wondering if Derek is the first person ever under 70 pounds to beat a 2400+ player?

Derek's best mach might have been the win over the 2438 player, but his gutsiest took place in the Division 3 Final. He was up against I think a 2180 player who could attack from both wings as well as lob over and over, and who played very smart. Derek led most of the first game but lost 11-9. He led 9-8 in the second and was basically lobbed down three straight points. Between games we talked tactics, then I told him if he wanted to win this match, he'd have to win it here (I tapped his head) and here (I tapped his heart). He nodded, and I knew we were in for a long match. Derek won the next game somewhat close, and the fourth easily. In the fifth, the opponent made a diving, lobbing return on the edge, looped a winner, and then got a net dribbler to go up 3-0. After a timeout, Derek only gave up one more point as he won, 11-4.

Crystal, 10, also had an amazing tournament. (I coached a few of her matches.) She beat a 2500+ player, a number of 2250 players, and I don't think lost to anyone below her 2245, though I'm not sure of all her matches. I'll talk more about her when the ratings are processed - but almost for sure she'll achieve the highest rating ever for a 10-year-old, boys or girls, probably well over 2300. There's a chance she or Derek may be adjusted to an absurdly high rating - we'll see. I'm wondering if she's the youngest player ever to beat a 2500+ player?

One strange incident took place. Derek was in a battle with Ray Mack, a 2150 player, and led 10-8 in the fifth. He went for his towel and drink bottle and took a sip. An umpire who was walking by interrupted the match, telling Derek that it was not legal to drink during the towel break every six points! Many or most players regularly do this; I've been doing it for 36 years. While the rules do not specifically say you can take a drink during the break every six points, I've never seen an umpire forbid it. I checked with the tournament referee, Bill Walk, and he agreed that it was okay to take a brief drink during the towel break. It was a rather scary moment when the umpire interrupted the match as it could have disrupted Derek's focus. The umpire got into an argument with Derek's parents and teammates while Derek walked about, looking perplexed. As it was, he scored the next point. I don't think umpires are supposed to interrupt matches in progress to enforce perceived rules violations.

As noted, I didn't see much of the action taking place on the feature courts where the top players were playing. I saw bits and pieces, but not one entire match. I did see the last few games of the last match in the final, where chopper/looper Chen Weixing kept coming from behind before finally losing close in the fifth as Atlanta Table Tennis Academy defeated Team JOOLA, 3-1.

It was a fun but exhausting weekend, which culminated in my getting a mild cold yesterday, though it seems to have mostly gone away already. Maybe I was just tired, though I went through a bunch of Kleenex yesterday. Here are the final division results - playoff results are at the end.

Butterfly Teams in Columbus

While the JOOLA North American Teams were held in Baltimore, the Butterfly Teams were held in Columbus, Ohio. Here are the results, and here's a listing of the players on each team so you can match them with the teams in the results.

Ariel's Speech

Here's Ariel Hsing's acceptance speech as San Jose Female High School Athlete of the Year (3:11). Ariel, 17, has been the U.S. Women's Singles Champion the last two years, and is a 2012 Olympian.

Table Tennis Legends

Here's a video (54:27) of old-time legends playing in the English Table Tennis Association 70-year anniversary gala in 1994. Names include Istvan Jonyer, Gabor Gergely, Klampar Tibor, Milan Orlowski, Janos Takacs, Jacques Secretin, Vincent Purkart, Ferenc Sido, Janos Fahazy, Mihaly Bellak, Tibor Kreisz. Perhaps most interesting is 73-year-old Ferenc Sido (6'4", 240 lbs at his peak, yet still able to move around and chop!), the last hardbat player to win Men's Singles at the Worlds (in 1953, also making the final in 1959). He is shown from 0:52 to 4:54.

Time-Stopping Exhibition Video

This video (1:39) starts as a regular exhibition, with a behind-the-back return, etc., but watch what happens about 13 seconds in!

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January 19, 2012

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide - Update

First, let me think the reviewers for their help editing/proofing/critiquing the first draft of the book, which should be available later this year. They are (alphabetically) Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton.

I'd told them I would be starting the (hopefully) finally rewrite from their comments starting this past Tuesday, two days ago. However, with fellow MDTTC coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun temporarily in China, my coaching hours have doubled. Add that I'm still tired from having a cold from Jan. 1-12, that I started weight training again this week (so I'm exhausted from that - see my blog entry from Monday on my back problems), that I'm continually hungry from dieting (after gaining four pounds over the holidays), and that 523 new things came up this week (most involving MDTTC), I'm sorry to say I haven't been able to get started on it yet. Tentatively, in my mind, I'm still going to start on Tuesday, but it'll be next Tuesday. (My weekends and Mondays are busy.)

Backswing on forehand

I was working with a kid yesterday who kept hitting forehands off the end. Like many beginning and even intermediate players, he tended to hit up too much on the ball, focusing on getting the ball over the net even though most misses are off the end. So I told him to shadow stroke his forehand, but freeze at the end of his backswing. Then I went to his side, and shadow stroked my forehand, and also froze at the end of my backswing. My racket was about four inches higher than his. (It doesn't make a difference how tall the player is, the racket should backswing to about the same spot, which for me is about elbow height, while for the kid, about shoulder height.) So he raised his racket to match mine, shadow stroked with the new backswing height (with me harping on remembering the feel of it), and then we went back to hitting. Magically, his forehand smash came alive! (There are differences in backswings based on how much topspin you put on the ball. A player with a very topspinny backhand will have a lower backswing than one who hits flatter. In the case above, both of us were hitting pretty much standard forehands, not too topspinny and not too flat.)

Chocolate quote

I've blogged about how I sometimes give out chocolates as a reward for kids who achieve a certain task, such as hitting a certain number of shots in a row or hitting a target I put on the table. Yesterday I was hitting with an 8-year-old girl who was having trouble getting the thirty forehands in a row she needed to win a chocolate. I jokingly warned her that if she didn't hit thirty, she'd get to watch me eat the chocolate. Her response? "I know you'll give me chocolate because you're a big softy!" (Soon afterward she got the thirty and got the chocolate. And three more before the session was over.)

Tong Tong Gong in Howard County Times

Here's another article about Tong Tong making the USA National Cadet Team. (And that's me in the background! I'm one of Tong Tong's coaches.) Strangely, the Howard Country Times seems to use the Baltimore Sun webspace for their online version. He was also in the Baltimore Sun on Sunday. Here's the print version, with a large picture of Tong Tong.)

Peter Li vs. Timothy Wang

In case you missed it, here's the epic men's singles semifinal match at the 2011 Nationals between 2010 champion Timothy Wang and 2011 champ-to-be Peter Li, where Peter comes back from down 0-3 and multiple match points in the seventh to win, -6,-6,-4,9,10,8,14. It's a long one, just over an hour. And here's the other semifinal, Han Xiao over Chance Friend (7,6,8,-10,8), and the final, Peter Li over Han Xiao (9,7,7,6).

Ping-pong table made of ice!

Yes, it's all part of the Hunter Ice Festival

Racket Repertoire

Here's a hilarious video (2:39) of Wade Sun using just about any available item for a racket. I do the same thing!

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January 16, 2012

Tip of the Week

Larry's Law.

Back problems

It's Baaaaaaaack!  Some of you may remember I spent much of last year suffering from serious back problems which were muscular related. I finally had to take a month off (getting locals to do my hitting for me when I coached), underwent major physical therapy with a physical therapist, and began a strict regimen of weight training and stretching. The back got better, and all was well. Then, after the Nationals in December, I figured my back problems were cured, and I stopped the weight training and relaxed the stretching routine to just basic stretches before and after playing. BIG MISTAKE. The back has been tightening up over the last couple weeks, and now I'm struggling with my play again. After an hour or so of coaching, the back is back to agony again. So starting today, I'm back on the weight training and stretching regimen. Alas.

Serves and Strategy and nothing else

Here's a lesson for all of us - how to win when you are not playing well, and how to win ever more when you are playing well.

On Friday and Saturday, besides coaching, I played in a pair of two-hour match sessions. Until my last match on Saturday (where I lost a close one) I had a dubious distinction of playing perhaps the worst I've ever played at the club and gone undefeated. My back was titanium stiff, my forehand was like a hummingbird with a broken wing, I moved like a crippled snail, and I had the reflexes of a napping sloth. And yet I kept pulling out matches against players at or near my level, almost exclusively on serves and placement. I beat a 2200 player with two basic strategies: short sidespin serves to forehand (both types of sidespins) which he missed or popped up over and over, and quick pushes to the middle off the serve, where he kept making mistakes as he'd hesitate on whether to use his forehand or backhand. Then I beat a 2150 player by cycling serves and quick hitting his serves off the bounce. ("Cycling serves" is my term for throwing every imaginable serve you have at the opponent, essentially cycling through them all and then starting over.)

Now if I can only do this when my back gets better! The lesson here is that players often forget how to win when they are "playing well," and instead rely on (drum roll please) playing well. Instead, when you are playing well, imagine that you have to do whatever it takes to win, and at the same time actually play well, and watch how much better you play.

The Tong Tong Gong of Ping-Pong in the Baltimore Sun

Here's a feature article on USA Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong in the Sunday Baltimore Sun. The print version has a much larger version of this picture. I'm quoted in the story several times - I'm one of Tong Tong's coaches.

Timo Boll serve

Here are slow motions of Germany's Timo Boll's serve (1:30), both forehand pendulum and forehand reverse pendulum. They are shown from two angles. If you are a righty, you can mimic the version on the left of the lefty Boll's serve by being a mirror image. (Boll, currently #4 in the world, was #1 for three months last year.) 

Sport & Art Educational Foundation

The Sport & Education Foundation features table tennis to help senior citizens, in particular to help offset Alzheimer's and dementia. See their intro (where they say, "Current research by renowned psychiatrists has confirmed that ping-pong is the world's best brain sport") as well their "Why Table Tennis" page, and then explore the rest of their web pages.

Senior citizens,

World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Vitali Klitschko

Here's an article about boxing champ Vitali Klitschko and how playing table tennis daily prepares him for fights.

Top Ten Shots of 2011?

And here they are (3:47)!

Table tennis commercial

Here's a humorous table tennis commercial, though you don't find out what the commercial is for until 1:24 into this 1:40 commercial - it's for some sort of 24-hour Energy Drink. Actually, I don't think it's advertising any real drink, just a satire of one. Make sure to see the deadly warning at the end.

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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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December 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Time-out Tactics.

Christmas Sabbatical

As noted last week, I'll be away for Christmas, so my next blog entry will be right after Christmas. Then I'll return to blogging every morning, Mon-Fri.

USA Nationals

I had a great time last week at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach. Here are the results. (Make sure to set the tournament field to "2011 US Nationals.") Ty Hoff and I won Hardbat Doubles (my 12th time at the Nationals or Open, eight of them with Ty, the other four with Steve Berger). However, I was mostly there to coach. Below are a number of segments about the Nationals.

USA Cadet Trials

Tong Tong started out poorly, losing numerous close games and matches the first three days, Tues-Thur, Dec. 13-15. However, the BIG event for him was the Cadet Trials, which were on days four and five. Last year he had gone in seeded #9 in the ratings, but made the team (top four) by pulling off four upsets to grab the fourth spot. This year he went in seeded #10 in the ratings, but made the team (finishing third) by pulling off five consecutive upsets! So he made the team two straight years by pulling off nine upsets without losing to anyone below him - not bad. If he had lost any of those nine matches or to anyone below him, he wouldn't have made the team that year. He's the only one to make the team both years. Key to his turnabout in the Trials - stronger mental focus and more two-winged attack. (He'd been playing too much forehand.) We also came very prepared tactically.

Between matches we spent as much time discussing NCIS and the Baltimore Ravens as we did table tennis tactics. He knew that I was doing this just to get his mind off table tennis, making it easier to clear his mind and focus when the time came, and he was smart enough to play along.

All-Maryland Men's Final

18-year-old Peter Li made an incredible comeback in the semifinals against defending champion Timothy Wang - who had beaten him in the final the year before - coming back from down 0-3 in games and from two match points in the fifth (after blowing a 9-4 lead!) to win, -6,-6,-4, 9,10, 8, 14. This led to an all-Maryland final between Peter and Han Xiao. (Han had his own deuce-in-the-seventh win in the quarters over Michael Landers.) During their junior years I played Han and Peter probably 700 matches and countless hours of training. (They were both primarily students of Cheng Yinghua.) Han also won men's doubles for the third time, teaming this time with Timothy Wang. Peter made the final of Mixed Doubles with Lily Zhang.

Other Marylanders who did well: Derek Nie made the final of Boys' 10 and Under Singles, losing the final 11-9 in the fifth (after leading 9-7, alas). Crystal Wang made both the cadet and mini-cadet girls' teams and got second in Girls 10 and Under Singles. Amy Feng made the quarters of Women's Singles. Charlene Liu won Over 50 Women's Singles. Mort Greenberg won over 80. Steve Hochman and Jeff Smart pulled off a flurry of upsets to make the final of Over 50 Doubles. Timothy La got second in Standing Disabled. And as noted, Tong Tong Gong made the National Cadet Team. 

Enez

Several people were calling this Nationals the Enez Nationals. Enez is the device that reads whether a racket has illegal vapors coming out of it, indicating illegal gluing or some other substance. There are some problems with this as sometimes new sponge right out of the package fails the test, so you have to air the rubber out for a bit. The device devastated the men's draw. Here's a short rundown - I'm sure I'm missing some, so feel free to chat if there are any I missed. Top seed David Zhuang was defaulted when both his rackets failed the test. Dan Seemiller's primary racket failed the test, so he had to use a backup. Barney Reed's racket failed the test, and he had to play with a borrowed racket.

Umpiring at the Nationals

Nearly all of the umpires did a fantastic job, and I tried to remember to thank them after each match (though I sometimes forgot in all the excitement - my apologies). They are often the forgotten and unthanked ones. We should make it a policy to really thank umpires when they do a good job, and understand the pressures they are under when they don't seem to be doing so well. It happens.

There were some problems. One cadet in the final twelve used illegal hidden serves over and over, and many of the umpires wouldn't call it. Ironically, his serves were faulted numerous times - forcing him to change to a legal motion - in the match before and after playing Tong Tong, but in their match the umpire wouldn't call the serves, putting Tong Tong at a huge disadvantage. However, Tong Tong persevered and barely won, deuce in the fifth after being down match point. The umpire graciously admitted after the match that he simply couldn't tell that the serves were hidden, that the motion was simply too fast, and in a future match he was scheduled to umpire that involved that cadet, he switched with another umpire. (I actually came prepared with printouts of this cadet's serve, showing it was illegal, but it really does happen so fast that umpires are hesitant to call it - but there is that rule that says the umpire must be satisfied that the serve is legal, so if he's not sure, he should warn and then fault.)

If Tong Tong had lost this match because of these illegal serves, it would have knocked him off the team. But how can you enforce the hidden serve rule in the cadet trials when anyone could see that many or most of the top men were clearing hiding their serves, and that it wasn't being called?

During one break, I chatted with an umpire, and made the jaw-dropping discovery that he thought that the service rule said that receiver must only see contact, and that there was no rule about removing the playing arm as long as it doesn't hide contact. Actually, receiver must be able to see the ball throughout the service motion (not just the split second at contact), and the non-playing arm must be removed immediately after tossing the ball up from the area between the ball and the net. (I'm just paraphrasing the rules.) I showed him the actual rules, and he was rather surprised.

Tong Tong got faulted in one match for dropping his hand below the table level while projecting the ball upward. In that situation, it's a rather petty rule, and yet it's a rule, correctly called - but few umpires call this. I'd never noticed how Tong Tong sometimes drops his hand during his toss, but it was an easy fix. This same umpire was one of the few who also correctly faulted players for hiding their serves.

The big umpiring problem in the Cadet Trials

There was one really serious umpiring problem that's going to bother me for a long time. In the crossovers for the top four, Tong Tong was faulted several times by an umpire for apparently hiding his serve, which he absolutely does not do. During the match, I was stunned by this, as was Tong Tong. He was forced to change his well-practice and legal service motion. After the match, which Tong Tong lost 11-8 in the fifth, I asked the umpire why he had faulted Tong Tong's serve. He said that the rules state that throughout the service motion, the ball must be visible to the receiver and the umpire! That simply is not true. (However, I wish it were a rule - but if it were, players would learn to serve that way.) A number of people probably saw my reaction to this in the arena, and it wasn't happy time.

I pulled out the USATT rules and showed him the actual wording of the rule, but he brushed that off, saying that the tournament was being played under ITTF rules, and that their rules were different. I was quite surprised that the USA Nationals would be using ITTF rules instead of USATT rules, but it didn't matter - the service rules for both are identical, as was shortly verified at the control desk. The umpire said it didn't matter, that it was impossible to tell if the serve was visible to the receiver unless the umpire could see the ball throughout the serve - again, this is false. A player hides the ball from the receiver by sticking his arm or shoulder out, or turning his back partly to his opponent at contact, and if he doesn't, then he's not hiding the serve, even if the umpire cannot see the ball throughout the serve. When a player lines up sideways to serve forehand, the umpire often cannot see the ball, but it's obvious to the umpire that the ball is visible to the opponent, which is what the rules require. If the intent of the rule was that the receiver and the umpire should both see the ball throughout the serve, then that's what the rule would say.

By this umpire's definition, essentially every forehand serve would be illegal on one side of the table if there were one umpire, including Tong Tong's opponent, whose serves were not called, despite his also having his back to the umpire when he started this serve. (Perhaps because Tong Tong is bigger and turns his back more to the umpire, but in both cases there is no way the umpire saw the ball throughout the service motion of either player when they were on the umpire's right.) If umpires do want to rule that they must be able to see the ball throughout the serve, then make that clear so players can practice their serves that way - and then enforce the rule with everyone.

The umpire said that if there had been an assistant umpire, then the serve would have been legal. And sure enough, in Tong Tong's next and final crossover match (for third and fourth), the same umpire was sent out. I requested a second umpire, and it was approved. Tong Tong went back to his regular service motion, neither umpire warned or faulted him, and he won the match.

One of the more experienced umpires explained to me later what almost for certain happened here. The current rules say that the umpire must be satisfied that the server is serving legally. However, the wording used to be that the umpire must see that the server is serving legally, and this had been misinterpreted as saying that the umpire must see the ball throughout the service motion. Because of this common misinterpretation, the wording was changed from "see" to "satisfied." It is likely that the umpire was going by the misinterpretation of the previous rule. I actually feel bad for the umpire - he must realize by now that he made a mistake, and that Tong Tong's serve was completely legal. Calling the service rule is by far the hardest thing to do in umpiring, and I don't envy their jobs. 

Alas, we'll never know what would have happened in that match had the umpire not improperly intervened. The two were about as evenly matched as possible; they had played earlier in the tournament in a different event, and that time Tong Tong had been up 10-8 match point before losing deuce in the fifth. It's possible the service interruptions hurt the opponent's focus as well. Without the service problem, it might have been another deuce-in-the-fifth battle. Who knows.

Regardless of that match, the cadets this year were without a doubt the strongest ever in U.S. history in terms of depth. Players that made the team a few years ago likely wouldn't have made the final twelve this year. Congratulations to the four team members - Teddy Tran, Kanak Jha, Tong Tong Gong, and Kunal Chodri!

Sandpaper

I was primarily coaching Tong Tong Gong. However, I was also coaching Ty Hoff in the sandpaper event - yes, I'm now a "professional sandpaper coach" - but he unfortunately lost in the semifinals. I also coached several others.

Table Tennis Videos from Elie

Here's a series of short table tennis coaching videos from Coach Elie Zainabudinova from the Gilbert Table Tennis Center. (Some of them start with a short advertisement.)

Table Tennis Dance

Here's a dance tribute to table tennis (2:40)! (Starts with a short ad.) And here's the St. Louis Junior Team Table Tennis Dance at the 2005 Chinese New Year Festival (3:55), and the Adam Bobrow's Victory Dance (1:11, make sure to watch to the end, starts with short ad).

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