Ai Fukuhara

June 27, 2014

Tactics Coaching

Yesterday I had my fourth one-hour tactics session with Kaelin and Billy, with one more session scheduled for today. (See blogs the last three days.) Today we started off by going over the tactics for playing lefties. The most important thing here, of course, is to play lefties so you get used to them. For most, the trickiest part is returning their serves effectively, especially pendulum serves that break away from a righty to his wide forehand. These serves can be deep, they can go off the side, or they can double bounce on the forehand side. There are a number of tricks to returning them. First, anticipate the break so you aren't lunging after the ball. Second, if you do reach for the ball, don't lower your racket as you do so as it'll end up too low, and you'll either have to return it soft, high, or off the end. Also, it's often easier to take these balls down the line, where it's like looping a block; if you go crosscourt, you have to battle the spin more, like looping a backspin, except you probably have more practice against backspin. Finally, since a lefty is often looking to follow this serve up with a big forehand, it's effective to fake as if you are taking it down the line to their forehand, so that they have to guard that side, and at the last second take it to their backhand, thereby taking their forehand out of the equation.

We then revisited doubles tactics, which we'd covered already. This time I wanted them to actually practice circling footwork, where the players circle around clockwise so they can approach the table with their forehands (i.e. from the backhand side). This takes lots of practice, but what they can learn quickly is an adjusted version, where they only circle after the first shot. Whoever is serving or receiving steps back and circles around his partner so he can approach from the backhand side. The complication is if the opponents return the ball to the wide backhand and your partner is over on the backhand side. In this case the server/receiver doesn't circle about and instead stays back and toward the forehand side until he can move in for his shot.

Both players have had trouble with choppers, so I pulled out my long pips racket and we spent about half an hour on playing choppers. There are four basic ways.

With "Asian style" you do long, steady rallies where you lightly topspin the ball (basically rolling it) over and over to the off surface (usually long pips), knowing that all they can do is chop it back with light backspin. This makes it easy for you to topspin over and over until you see an easy one to rip. Then you rip it, usually to the middle, or at a wide angle. If they chop it back effectively, you start over.

With "European style" you move the chopper in and out with short serves and pushes, followed by strong loops. The idea is to bring the chopper in so he doesn't have time to back up and chop your next shot. If he does back up too fast, you push short a second time, catching him going the wrong way.

With "Pick-hitting style," you push steadily until you see a ball to attack, and then go for it. If it's chopped back effectively, you start over. It takes a lot of patience and judgment to do this. The problem here is the chopper can also pick-hit if you push too much, plus a chopper is probably better at pushing.

With "Chiseling style," you simply push over and over, refusing to miss, and turn it into either a battle of patience and attrition, or force the chopper to attack. It usually goes to expedite, and then one player has to attack. I don't like this method.

I had the two of them practice these methods, especially Asian style, where they had to roll softly over and over and over, and finally rip one.

We also went over the penhold and Seemiller grip, long pips, pips-out, antispin, and hardbat. It's all covered in detail in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

North American Cup

The big winners were USA's just-turned-fourteen Kanak Jha and Canadian champion Mo Zhang. Kanak won the Men's final over Adam Hugh, 19,8,9,-6,4, while Mo won over Crystal Wang, 4,-8,11,4,7. Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Here's a story from the ITTF about Kanak and Crystal reaching the final.

The schedule was rather strange. They had the Women's Final scheduled for 9:20 PM, and the Men's Final for 10PM. Why so late? Worse, this was Pacific Time; for me in Maryland, they were three hours later, at 12:20 AM and 1:00AM. I had to get up early to coach at our camp, so I didn't plan to stay up for either. However, at the last minute I was still awake, and so decided to watch Crystal's match, and went to bed right afterwards.

I don't think too many people expected a 12-year-old to be in the Women's Singles Final. At one point things looked pretty close, with the two splitting the first two games, and Crystal coming back from down 7-10 and 10-11 to deuce the third game. Who knows what would have happened if she'd pulled that one out? But it was not to be. My main thoughts on the match: Crystal is usually very good at attacking the opponent's middle, but Mo often stood a bit more centered than most players and so Crystal's shots to her middle were actually into her backhand, and so Mo made strong backhand counter-hits, and so they had a lot of straight backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Crystal also might have tried some heavy pushes to the wide forehand, forcing Mo to open with her short-pips forehand while drawing her out of position and vulnerable to a counter-attack to her backhand side. But this is easier said than done since it can be tricky playing pips-out when you are mostly used to playing inverted. (Crystal does get to play pips-out penholder Heather Wang at our club somewhat regularly, so she is experienced against pips.)

Spinny Loop in Slow Motion Tutorial

Here's a nice video (2:58) that shows a top player demonstrating a spinny loop, both in real time and slow motion, with explanations in English subtitles.

Liu Guoliang: Ma Long Is Likely To Achieve His Dreams in This Cycle

Here's the article, which includes links to two videos of Ma's matches.

Unbelievable Backhand by Ai Fukuhara

Here's the video (41 sec) from the Japan Open this past weekend. Note that Fukuhara of Japan (on the near side, world #10) did this shot at one-game each and down 9-10 game point against Li Fen of Sweden (world #16). However, Li Fen would go on to win the game 12-10 and the match 4-1 before losing in the semifinals to eventual winner Feng Tianwei of Singapore.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (6:07) showing all sorts of trick shots with a ping-pong ball.

Pong-Ping - Why It Never Took Off

Here's the cartoon.

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February 14, 2012

Tip of the Week

Those Dizzying No-Spin Serves.

Happy Valentines Day!

Here's your Ping-Pong Champion Valentine!

Results for U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials

Here are the Final Twelve results for Men and Women. (The top ten men and women were seeded into the Final Twelve, with a Qualifier held for the final two spots in each. Here's the Men's Qualifier and the Women's Qualifier.) The top four made the U.S. National Team and advance to the North American Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, April 20-22, where they will compete against the top four Canadians for the three available spots each for men and women. Making the team and advancing were:

Men: Michael Landers, Barney Reed, Adam Hugh, Timothy Wang
Women: Gao Jun, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu

U.S. Olympic Trials News

Here's a rundown of my four days at the Trials, where I coached John Hsu in the Qualifier and Han Xiao in the Final Twelve.

  • John Hsu's (18 years old, rated 2236) first match on Thursday was against Brian Pace (rated 2410). Brian, who spent years in the 2550 range, was staging a comeback, and had been training in Austria. John's a two-winged looper who often opens with spinny backhand loops. Brian, who had switched to short pips on his backhand a while ago (he used to use inverted) is a big forehand looper whose loops prove ping-pong balls can travel faster than light. John moved him around with his two-winged looping, and often took control with his serve and follows, but Brian's "opportunistic" forehand howitzers (opportunistic as in any ball that went long on his side of the table) finally wore him down - barely. Down 6-10 in the seventh, John deuced it, but lost the next two points and the match, -3,9,-8,7,-7,7,10.
  • Han Xiao, alas, also did not make the team, going 6-5 to finish seventh. He was hampered on the last day by a shoulder problem as well as general exhaustion, which everyone seemed to suffer from, so it sort of evened things out. Razvan Cretu said he thought he was going to die during several matches - I think he died a thousand deaths. It's a grueling schedule to play table tennis at the highest level and go through eleven matches in three days, all best 4 out of 7. It was even worse for Razvan, who had to go through the Qualifier the day before. (Perhaps next time have the Qualifier at the Nationals?)
  • Going into the last round, there was a good chance that there would be a five-way tie for the first five positions, all at 8-3. If Han had won his last two matches that's exactly what would have happened. However, after going up 3-0 on Adam Hugh, he lost in seven, and then lost to Michael Landers 4-2. If he'd won those two (coulda, woulda, shoulda) then Han, Landers, Timothy Wang, Barney Reed, and Peter Li would have all been 8-3. (If Adam had won his last match against Timothy, then he would have been the fifth player at 8-3.)
  • I felt uncomfortable coaching against Peter Li, since he was from my club, and I've spent many hours practicing with him, and coached him in many matches during his junior years. However, his dad wanted to coach him that match, so I had to coach Han. In a rematch of the Final of Men's Singles at the USA Nationals in December, Peter won again, 8,-9,9,-2,3,9. Peter had a lot of service faults called against him in the tournament, alas. He tends to throw the ball back and behind his head on his forehand pendulum serves (his best serve), and seemed unable to adjust his service motion. It probably cost him his last match against Mark Hazinski, and he finished fifth and did not make the team or advance. However, I believe there is a coach's pick for the fifth spot on the World Team, and it would be a crime against humanity if Peter, the U.S. National Champion at age 18, is not selected.
  • Grant Li, age 17, was sort of the unsung breakout star at the Trials. Though he only finished 8th, he challenged a lot of players, with wins over Barney Reed, Razvan Cretu, Lubovic Gombos, and Chance Friend, as well as losing 11-9 in the 7th against Han Xiao (leading 9-7 in the last game), going seven games with Michael Landers, and getting two games each against Fan Yiyong and Timothy Wang. He made it through the Qualifier with wins over Jeff Huang and De Tran, the second and third seeds there, both 2500 players.
  • One spectator had brought a very loud noisemaker, and played it over and over when the player he was rooting for won a point.
    • In Han's match against that player, the spectator with the noisemaker sat almost directly behind me, so I was stuck with this blaring sound every couple of points. It gave me a massive headache. There's a difference between a bunch of people with noisemakers in a stands of thousand of people, and a sometimes sparse crowd with one person with such a loud noisemaker. But to each his own.
    • After the match I spoke with the spectator, and pointed out that though they have these things at the World Championships, there the sound blends into the noise from thousands of people in the stands, plus they are much farther from the playing area. In the match against Han, there were only a few dozen in the stands. (In later rounds the stands would fill up with many hundreds.) So the blaring was a real nuisance. However, the spectator insisted on using it throughout the Trials, and I decided not to make an issue of it. The headache never went away - I literally had it the rest of the Trials.
    • There was some discussion of it in the players' lounge, where the consensus was that it was irritating, but to just ignore it. I also sometimes saw something I had seen at the Worlds - a sort of bubble would form around the noise-making spectator as others edged away so as not to have their ears blasted. One elderly spectator complained about it to one of the officials, but was shrugged off. He returned to the stands and sat as far away from the noisemaker as possible.
    • I was disappointed that the spectator didn't care that he was giving me (and presumably others) a massive headache, and that the blaring interrupted the other matches that were going on at that time. His argument was that he was there to cheer on his player. I disagree with his view, but understand it. Ultimately, this was a difference of opinion. (But I'm the one who had to spend three days with a percussion orchestra pounding away in my head.)
    • Unfortunately, the player he was rooting for overheard this and came over and went on a personal attack tirade that I won't repeat here. Not a civilized response. The spectator and I disagreed, but didn't resort to personal attacks. This player did, and was way out of line. 
    • Maybe at the next Trials I'll bring a jackhammer to play between points. :)

Yahoo for Ariel!

Here's an article at Yahoo about U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing and her Olympic hopes.

173 hits in 60 seconds

12-year-old Ai Fukuhara sets the record for most hits in 60 seconds. This is from the TV show "Ultimate Guinness World Records from a few years ago. She is now #9 in the world, and was #7 for two months last year. Here's a more recent photo, and her Wikipedia page.

Lemonade or Tea?

Here's a Snapples commercial that features table tennis.

Swing Pong

How's this for a new type of table tennis (1:01)? The Swing Pong table is a radical take on ping pong. The table tilts at the whim of the referee, the net moves across the table based on the score as to give the losing player an advantage, and photo flashes blind the players through the table.

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