Tuesday 9 December 2014

Pride of Africa Takes the World By Storm: MHTT Interview with Quadri Aruna

Quadri Aruna has set the world stage on fire by making an enormous leap in the ITTF World Rankings in 2014. Following his stellar performances at the Commonwealth Games, Czech Open and World Cup he has leaped over 200 places to assert himself among the best players in the world. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Washington DC at the North American Teams, he is a true champion, humble and kind and I had the unique pleasure of interviewing him on his career.

Be sure to give your vote to Aruna for the ITTF Star Awards Best Male Player at www.ittfstarawards.com

Quadri Aruna in action in Glasgow

Full Name: Aruna Quadri Akiande
Age: 26
Date of Birth: 8/9/1988
Highest World Ranking: 30

Equipment Used:
Blade: Joola Rosskopf Emotion
FH Rubber: Joola Rhyzm-P
BH Rubber: Joola Rhyzm-P

How long have you been playing table tennis for? When and how did you start?

I started playing when I was 7 years old and it was just to have some fun on the street. After some years I improved and in 2000 I started playing tournaments in Lagos, Nigera.

Tell us a bit more about Table Tennis in Nigeria, the playing conditions and resources etc. Has it been difficult to try and develop into a professional player?

Table Tennis is a popular sport in Nigeria. The playing conditions are average, not as good as in Europe. Table Tennis is not getting enough resources in terms of funding and that is the main problem of taking table tennis to a higher level in Nigeria. The main priority is based on some sports and not others.

Taking the game to professional level in Nigeria is not easy because we don't have sponsors for tournaments or playing leagues but we pray that things get back to normal positions. Presently their is no local league in Nigeria.

You currently play league in Portugal, how is the competition level there and has this been a big step in developing your game?

The level in Portugal is moderate, not too low and not too high, but it's ok to keep myself busy throughout this season. I can say that I improved a lot in Portugal since I came here in 2010 and have continued to improve to this moment. I have good training partners in Portugal and with that I improved rapidly.

What is your biggest dream for your table tennis career?

My biggest dream is to be ranked top 10 in the world and winning several titles is another objective. I also hope to have an academy in the future, provided I can get

Aruna defeats Apologia at Czech Open

You had great success at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year where you beat Zhan Jian from Singapore who was the eventual Gold Medallist. How did you feel after winning that match?

Winning against Zhan Jian was my biggest win at that time in Glasgow and I was so happy then. I seriously believed that I had worked hard to this level and I believed that I deserved it.

You had a string of exceptional results starting with the Czech Open where you defeated Marc Duran, Alexey Liventsov, Alexander Shibaev and Tiago Apolonia. What do you think helped your level rise before that event?

Playing tournaments regularly helped a lot because the more I played the more I improved. I was lucky to get a little funding which helped me to play tournaments regularly and sometimes I had to put in my own money as well because the government is not helping the sport in Nigeria and the main priority is giving to Football.

You seem to be very comfortable with the new ball, how do you feel about competing with it so far?

I can say that no one is comfortable with the new ball and it is very different. It has less spin and it changes position. I really don't have any advantage with the new ball but I am the kind of player that doesn't care about changes much as we are all playing in the same conditions. I feel normal with the new ball the only real difference is the spin.

Post-Match Selfie of Aruna and Zhang Jike at 2014 World Cup

Congratulations on your results at the World Cup, what was your goal going into the competition?

My main goal before the World Cup was to qualify from the group stage which everyone sees as the main difficult, then after the group stage I said I believed going to quarterfinal because nothing is impossible in the knockout stages. My confidence worked really well for me and I played without fear and was relaxed throughout the tournament.

How did you feel about your performance against World Champion Zhang Jike? We saw a great fight by you to win 2 games, did you feel like you had a strong chance during the match?

Playing against Zhang Jike was a dream come true and I initially believed it was going to be 4-0. I won the first set easily with service and in the second set he easily corrected some of his mistakes which changed the game. After the first set my confidence increased and I believed I could win. I really gave my 100% best and I was just unfortunate to miss some easy balls which made me lose the match.

What is your big goal for 2015?

I want to retain my African Cup title and if possible surpass my World Cup record. I would love to be in the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals next year. Egypt has ruled Africa for years and by God's grace my target is to dethrone Egypt in the next African Games.

Playing in a better league is another objective and I think I stand a chance of playing in a better club next season. My aim is to play in France, Poland or Germany.

ITTF Shot of the Day (Day 2 World Cup 2014)
Aruna shows Zhang Jike some footwork skills

Off the Topic Questions

Favourite Food?
Nigerian food called Amala, which is made from dried Cassava

What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?
I love to be on the internet when I am not practicing, I love listening to music and also playing Candy Crush is my second hobby after table tennis.

Dream Car?
I don't have a strong affinity for cars but I love different types of Toyota model.

Ideal Holiday Destination?
I always prefer to spend my holidays in Nigeria because there is no place like home.

First thing you would do if you won $1 million?
I would invest in different areas to ensure the money grows well. I would buy a nice house and a good car and be sure to take care of my parents very well with the money.

And Lastly...

Would you like to add one last tip, or inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?

They should believe in themselves all the time, they should be positive all the time and finally they should believe that nothing is impossible if they work harder towards it.

Hard work really pays a lot which might be difficult in the beginning.

Thank you so much for taking the time Aruna and good luck for 2015!

Wednesday 19 November 2014

New Ball Prices are Extortionate

The new ball is finally spreading around the globe and one thing which has become apparent is the high prices. I recently heard that the price for a 3 pack of 3 star Butterfly plastic balls would be $10USD. That's over $3USD per ball. The Nittaku premium plastic balls also near that mark as well.

New 40+ ball pricing is insane
It is understandable that prices may be higher as companies adjust their production systems and techniques but these prices are insane for one table tennis ball. Couple the expensive pricing with the high rate of breakage and you have to wonder what the sport is coming to!

I recall when the ball was being introduced that one of the reasons for the change was the high cost of shipping celluloid balls as they were flammable and transportation had become more expensive. In all honesty I would rather pay $3 per ball to keep the old ones and cover the shipping costs than have to pay this much for a ball which may not even last an hour during practice. Before hitting us with such extortionate prices you would think they would at least do a lot more work on the quality and durability of the plastic balls.

How does everybody else feel about the match of price and quality for the new balls?

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Should ITTF Legalise Boosting?

One of the hottest debates in table tennis is the moral argument of whether or not to boost. I personally don't boost and choose not to purely because it is the rule of the sport that boosting is not legal. In saying that I believe that boosting should be made legal for a few very simple reasons.

The New Ball

The new ball is designed to slow the game down, we all know that rubber manufacturers around the world are already doing their absolute best to combat the reduction in speed and spin by turning out generations of rubbers which are spinner and faster than ever before. We love this sport because of speed, we love it because of spin, so why reduce both? Why not allow booster so we can balance out longer rallies and still great speed, spin and control? We could avoid the frustrations of changing technique as much and having to deal with everything lagging. Of course this is not so important and is by no means the main reason why I think boosting should be legalized.

I do however believe that reducing speed and spin in the game has become a goal of the ITTF and this is the real reason why boosting is banned and not, in fact, the reason that it creates an unfair playing field as I will mention more below.

It's Not Harmful

Speed glue was originally banned because of it's VOC content which was deemed to be harmful, some clever individual decided to consume come of it for reasons unknown to any intelligent human being. Most boosters on the other hand are VOC free, hence why they are undetectable by the ITTF in racket testing. If they are not harmful then there is no real reason to ban them in that aspect.

It Creates An Unfair Playing Field

This is the ultimate reason why boosting should be legalised. Face it, the ITTF can't detect boosters and for that reason they are also unable to police it. They are wasting time and resources to try and crack down on something unimportant. They want people to stop boosting out of fairness for those who follow the rules. Easier solution. Legalise boosting. This way the people who want to follow the rules, like me, are not disadvantaged against people who don't care about the rule and boost. It is difficult to play against a Chinese player with a freshly boosted bat when you are back in the dinosaur ages with your slower water based glued rubbers. They have an uncanny ability to make your loops look like trash. Granted a good player will be able to do this anyway, but sometimes you can see quite clearly how boosted rubber is giving them the advantage in the game.

So the real question is which scenario creates more of an unfair playing field? Booster being illegal where the players who abide by the rules are at a disadvantage, or booster being legal where everyone has a fair chance to be on the same playing field by choice and disadvantage is only upon those who opt not to boost because they don't want to.

Why Do I Care About the Rule?

You might say, well if you think the rule against boosting is so unfair and since ITTF can't detect it then why don't you just join the masses and boost anyway? Well in my opinion rules are rules and I like to follow them and so do many others. This rule, as stupid as it is, is in place regardless and so I follow it.

So what is your opinion? Should boosters be legalised, is the rule sane or stupid? Are boosters just illegal so we have to constantly buy the latest upgraded rubber constantly as we had to with the new tensor rubbers to combat speed glue illegality and again now we need new rubber to combat the new ball?

Always interested to hear people's thoughts on the topic! :)

Monday 3 November 2014

Was the New Ball More Entertaining?

The ITTF change to the new ball was meant to bring about more exciting rallies and longer points in table tennis. Rather than throw my own opinion in the mix again I want to throw out a small reflection on the men's and women's world cup events and hopefully get some feedback from you guys.

First of all it was said that the slower ball was meant to reduce Chinese dominance by slowing the game down. In both the men's and women's world cups we saw an all Chinese final, so any hopes of a change in ball ending China's reign at the top are a bit lost and to be fair we all know a new ball isn't going to be the saving grace for the rest of the world, so no surprises there.

In saying that we did see Zhang Jike and Li Xiaoxia challenged in the events. Jike dropped 2 sets to the man of the limelight, Quadri Aruna of Nigeria and also went all the way to 7 with Timo Boll. Li Xiaoxia had to battle through a 7 set match with Liu Jia of Austria. So what does that mean? Well for Boll it isn't the first time he has pushed Jike, also it appeared Xiaoxia was having quite a bit of trouble adapting to the new ball, especially after her one sided loss to Ding Ning in the final.

Were the points longer? There were some great points, you can see below the DHS Top 10 video from the Men's World Cup. There were decent rallies in a lot of the matches but also lots of easy errors and some matches which were bordering on disappointing. It is important to focus on the good points as we can expect the errors to be reduced as players get used to the new ball. How did you feel the quality of the rallies stacked up in comparison to World Majors from previous years? Worse, the same or better?

Aside from interesting points there were some intruiging results. Kamal pushed Ovtcharov to 7, Boll decimated Dima in straight games, as did Apolonia to his teammate Marcos Freitas. We saw Georgina Pota and her old school style go down 4-3 against Kasumi Ishikawa in the bronze medal match. Quadri Aruna of course cleared his group stage by defeating Shibaev and Kenta Matsudaira, carrying on to beat Tang Peng in the first round before losing in 6 to Jike. The results were exciting, the matches were just as exciting in terms of their intensity and uncertain nature.

Let's not also forget we were treated to an outstanding men's final a full driven 7 set duel between Ma Long and Zhang Jike, where the Grand Slam Champion asserted his dominance of the past few years to take the crown again. Can't complain about that match! :)

Essentially we saw some less expected players thrive and some fair not so well, this is to be expected. The outlook is uncertain but I think it can only go up from here as the players start to get a handle on the new ball and develop ideas and feeling for it.

Would love to get as much feedback as possible on this one! :)

Sunday 26 October 2014

ITTF Fine on Zhang Jike No Less Than Absurd

The ITTF posted after Zhang Jike's victory at the ITTF World Cup stating that the newly crowned champion will not be receiving ANY of the prize money after his less than acceptable victory celebration. After defeating his teammate Ma Long in an incredibly tense 7 set duel, Jike ran to the barriers on each end of the table and kicked them, damaging a few of the barriers.

Zhang Jike fined 45,000 euros for breaking barriers
The ITTF decision is that as punishment Zhang Jike will not receive a cent of his well earned prize money, the sum of 45,000 euros. Even the infamous John MacEnroe who was famous for his outbursts in Tennis was never fined an amount like that and he verbally assaulted umpires and referees and smashed his tennis rackets all the time.

While it is clear that Zhang Jike should be reprimanded somewhat for his actions, this is way beyond the call of duty from ITTF. Considering the pathetic amount of prize money in international table tennis already, 45,000 euros is proportionally an enormous fine (despite how much Zhang Jike may earn himself). So as always we face more amazing (insert sarcasm here) decisions by the international body who are of course deluded enough to believe they are doing the right thing for the sport.

I think a fine of 5,000 euros would have been acceptable. Zhang Jike pulls crowds and supporters and is good for marketing table tennis, this is a grossly overrated punishment. You could say it's the principle but I think it's a little heavy handed. For sure we don't want this kind of action to be displayed in front of young aspiring players or to influence them in their futures and I whole heartedly agree that a punishment is necessary. However...overkill.

Also ask yourself his, if ITTF deem his actions as a bad example and it's worthy of a 45k fine, why have they uploaded the video to their YouTube channel? Hoping for vitality and more ad revenue? If you are willing to fine him all his prize money then don't act to condone his actions by publicizing them further.

Zhang Jike expressed his apologies for the outburst after the match. Please let me know your thoughts on this ridiculous punishment!

Saturday 18 October 2014

Top 5 Veteran Table Tennis Ladies You Don't Want to Mess With!

As we all know table tennis is a sport for all backgrounds and conquers all barriers of race, physical ability and age. This spurred on a fun article on the top 5 over 40 women you really don't want to pick a fight with out on the table tennis table. Prepare to be inspired by these still amazing veterans who are still competing at top international level and are as youthful as ever! Please note these are not in any particular order :D

1. Li Jiao - Netherlands

Li Jiao at the WTTC
Li Jiao is a youthful 41 years of age and has been knocking on the door of the top 10 women in the world for many years in the sport. Currently ranked 20th in the world on the October 2014 ITTF World Ranking List, she is still as cunning as ever out on the table. A traditional style penholder from China, Li has represented the Netherlands for many years, and proudly so. She was the winner of the European Top 12 on 4 occasions (2007,08,10,11), European Champion in 2007 and a quarterfinalist at the 2005 World Table Tennis Championships in Shanghai.

In this year's world championships she scored 2 points in the Netherlands 3-2 loss to Japan in the quarterfinals, with 5 set wins over Kasumi Ishikawa and Sayaka Hirano. Exhibiting an impressive arsenal of serves, she also commands excellent control on her backhand, impeccable placement and a powerful forehand attack.

2. Ni Xia Lian - Luxembourg

51 year old Ni Xia Lian 
Over the hill at 51 years old, Ni Xia Lian is still a hotshot on the table tennis table. A former Chinese professional player, Ni was a gold medallist in the 1983 WTTC China team, a bronze medallist in the doubles and gold medallist with Guo Yuehua in the mixed doubles. She also won a doubles silver medal 2 years later at the 85 World Champs. In Europe, she was a 3 time European Championships finalist, winning on two occasions in 98 and 02.

Her penhold style and twiddling combination of short and long pimpled rubbers caused havoc for many of her opponents with her being able to control and vary the pace and spin to an incredibly frustrating level. She reached a peak World Ranking of 8th in 2002 and still remains 63rd this month (Oct 2014), well within the top 100 international players in the world.

3. Jian Fang Lay - Australia

Australia's Jian Fang Lay
Jian Fang Lay is as competitive as ever at 41 years of age. The winner of this year's Oceania World Cup Qualification and 12 other historic Oceania Championship medals, she is one of Australia's top female players. Lay moved to Australia from China and has been in the Australian National team for the last 20 years. She was a competitive junior player in China and peaked at a World Ranking of 45th in 1996. She remains 120th in the World today and shows no sign of slowing down.

With a reputation for lightning fast penhold twiddling between her inverted attacking rubber and long pimple rubber, Lay is able to alter the ball spin and speed to extremes, combining the slow and awkward long pimple returns with spinny or high paced topspin strokes with her normal rubber. This has caused her to continue to compete at the highest international level.

4. Li Chunli - New Zealand

Li Chunli - New Zealand
At 52 years old and after a period in retirement, Li Chunli is back out on the table chasing the Olympic Dream. A member of the Chinese National Team for 3 years from 1981, Chunli moved to New Zealand and quickly established herself as number 1 with 9 National Singles titles in a row from 1987 to 1995. Chunli was a bronze medallist at the 1997 World Cup and 4th in 1998, defeating the World Number 2, Li Ju in the competition. She peaked at a World Ranking of 19th.

Li was the first Commonwealth Games Champion in 2002, winning a gold in the singles over Li Jiawei of Singapore. She also won medals in the teams, doubles and mixed doubles events. She retired after the 2004 Athens games, but returned and qualified 2nd at the 2012 Olympic Games Qualification in Oceania. She was Oceania Cup champion in 2012 and still holds a World Ranking today of 144th. With a rapid penhold, short pimple attacking game, Li Chunli plays traditionally using the same side for all her backhand strokes. With a strong focus on service and fast drives and smashes, Li proves she still has the speed to keep up with many opponents out on the table. She was part of the team which won 3rd division at this year's World Team Championships.

5. Krisztina Toth - Hungary

Krisztina Toth - Hungary
Krisztina Toth turned 40 years old this year and has a wealth of experience. She is a left handed inverted rubber shakehand player who peaked at 13th in the ITTF World Rankings and remained top 100 in the world until November 2013, leaving the World Ranking list at 112th in January 2014. She is a 4 time European Championships singles medallist and boasted wins in her career over such players as Feng Tianwei, Georgina Pota, Tie Yana, Kim Jong and many others. She finished in the Top 3 in the European Top 12 on 3 occasions.

Toth earned over 20 European Championship medals in her career and had class in her game style, often resorting to creative shots and world class lobbing. She could in style terms be compared as a female Jan-Ove Waldner, with her masterful control and superb looping game.

A wealth of experience among these 5 champions of table tennis and all the respect in the world for their level of skill, commitment and passion to the sport. We salute you!

Thursday 16 October 2014

Can Zhang Jike Take Another Piece of the Grand Slam Puzzle?

Zhang Jike rapidly took to his new goal of claiming a second Grand Slam by claiming gold at the 2013 World Table Tennis Championships. With the Olympics in the near distance, the ultimate priority for Jike now is to claim a second World Cup title. Can he claim that piece of his second puzzle?

Can Zhang Jike win a second World Cup?

The ITTF Leibherr World Cup will take place in Dusseldorf, Germany which poses a dangerous environment for the top 2 seeds, Ma Long and Zhang Jike. No doubt a strong European crowd will be in place behind the top European competitors. The crowds will surely be putting their support behind their home athletes, 3rd seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov and 5 time World Cup medallist Timo Boll (twice a winner in 2002 and 2005).

In order to win Zhang Jike will have to put all his reservations aside. In the 4th seed position is Jun Mizutani of Japan who Zhang is all too familiar with. In 2010 Jike found himself battling back from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 at his first World Cup appearance. Jike went on to lose the final to Wang Hao. At that World Cup only one other player defeated Zhang Jike, in the group stages, and that player was 5th seed Chuang Chih-Yuan who exceeded expectation in a spectacular match. Check it out below!

Marcos Freitas also enters the mix, having excellent results to help Portugal at the recent European Champs where they made history by defeating Germany in the final on their home turf. Tang Peng is the final player in the top 8, though Jike maintains a flawless win record against the player from Hong Kong.

A wealth of experience lies within the World Cup field and we all know on the right day any of these athletes has potential to upset any of the top seeds, however the real task for Zhang Jike will be against one of his biggest rivals, Ma Long.

Ma Long was the 2012 World Cup champion and holds a record 15 ITTF Pro Tour titles to his name. His international performances against Zhang Jike have mostly been in Ma's favour though the players have drawn closer together in the last couple of years.

Can Zhang Jike rise to the occasion as he so often does in the major world events. This will be a true test of how determined Zhang Jike is to rise to head coach Liu Guoliang's challenge. Can Zhang Jike move on great step forward in his mission to be the first player to win 2 Grand Slams?

Deng Yaping has been the closest to achieving this feat thus far, being the only player to win 2 Olympic Games titles, combined with her 3 World Championship singles titles and a lonely single World Cup title. This is the moment for Zhang Jike, winning here would restore Liu Guoliang's faith in his ability to complete the task at the Rio Olympic Games. Can he do it? What do you think?

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Why Karakasevic's Backhand Deserves Recognition

Having watched a relatively large quantity of table tennis videos in my time and a few specific ones about the best backhands I decided to write this blog post about one of the more lesser recognised players. I was also reading over something about the top 10 backhand players of all time. Granted these 10 players were all great players, but the backhand of Serbia's Aleksandar Karakasevic in my opinion stands in ability to equal the 10 on the list.

The Power of Backhand Video

Of course Kreanga is noted as the backhand player of the modern age for his wild swings and powerful backhands far from the table. The man is able to counterloop with equal power on both wings. So with such status in the world of backhand, how does Karakasevic stack up with the Greek God of Backhands?

Karakasevic, a worthy backhand player!

Well, if you have ever watched Karakasevic play, many of you may not have, he is all class. Not the most orthodox style in the world but the versatility of his backhand is incredible. The left hander has such an impressive range of options on his backhand. From soft blocking to blocking early in the bounce, counterlooping and punching, slow spinning and third balling.

Not only this but he displays an amazing level of confidence in his backhand, so much so that he has been known to cover a large area of the table with it, even coming well across onto his forehand side to favour his backhand. This is the true definition of a backhand dominant player. There also aren't many players who are comfortable playing full strength counterloop off their backhand side when back from the table. Karakasevic is truly an anomaly player in this regard.

Karakasevic was a European Championships bronze medallist in 2011 and had a highly notable win at the 1997 World Championships where he beat 1996 Olympic Champion Liu Guoliang.

Take a moment to watch the match above where Aleksandar Karakasevic defeated Tiago Apolonia 3-1 in the 2012/2013 Bundesliga season. The number of incredible backhand plays is beyond impressive. Granted the Serbian doesn't have the best physical form or footwork, his touch on the backhand is fantastic.

After seeing this and perhaps some other matches you may choose to agree that Karakasevic is in fact one of the best backhand players of the modern era of table tennis. Would love to hear feedback and opinions on this one! :)

Thursday 11 September 2014

The 5 Coolest Table Tennis Tables in Existence

Well after seeing what I saw last week I couldn't resist but form a small list of what I think are the ultimate table tennis tables in the universe. Definitely all on my wishlist!

1. The Ultimate Party Machine - The Stiga Studio

The Stiga Studio Table Tennis Table
Stiga have given the answer that ping pong partygoers were waiting for. The ultimate party table. With a price tag of $14,500USD this robust groove machine boasts 2800 Watts of sound system with Bluetooth capability and 360 degrees of music overload. This has to be the coolest table yet!

2. A Touch of Ninja - Eleven Ravens Stealth Premier Table 

Eleven Ravens Stealth Premier Table
Designed with the T17 Nighthawk Stealth Bomber in mind, this sleek and luxuriously designed table tennis table is composed of high grade jet aircraft aluminium and carbon fibre. Prior to production the company announced that only 5 will be made, hence the exclusive $70,000USD price tag on these unique tables.

3. The Gold Standard - SPiN Dubai's Gold Plated Table

SPiN Dubai's Gold Plated Table
When the concept of SPiN Table Tennis nightclubs headed to Dubai we all knew that grandeur was going to be high on the priority list. We weren't wrong, the nightclub hosts special events for those looking for a great night out and is home to the world's first (if not only) gold plated table tennis table. Now that sets the gold standard!

4. To be a Ping Pong Superhero... - Eleven Ravens Spiderman Table

Eleven Ravens Spiderman Table Tennis Table
Eleven Ravens once again showed why they are the most exclusive table tennis table design company in the USA, if not the world. This limited edition table themed after the Amazing Spiderman Film is just another example of why Eleven Ravens are so far ahead of the rest!

5. One Love for Table Tennis - The Earth Table

The Earth Table Tennis Table - WTTC 2012
Possibly the most sophisticated international competitions table we have seen to date. The Earth table design featured a globe beneath the table which glowed brightly. Symbolising the unity table tennis has brought the world. A throwback to Ping Pong Diplomacy.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Zhang Secures History for USA

Lily Zhang has secured a momentous victory for herself and for team USA by winning the bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Having already beaten the nerves of the prestigious competition, Lily had battled hard to progress through the quarterfinal round. Her big chance first presented itself in the semifinal where she played against Doo Hoi Kem, the top seed from Hong Kong.

Lily Zhang claims Bronze in Nanjing
The top seed from Hong Kong proved to be too tough a match for Lily, winning out in all the crucial stages of the match to win in 5 sets. We hadn't seen the best from Lily yet though and it was her display for sheer determination in the bronze medal match which showed why the USA and fans around the world were so firmly behind her in support.

Facing Miyu Kato from Japan, Lily had to rise to the occasion for her chance to reach her big goal, to win a Youth Olympic Games medal. She did just that. Executing highly accurate placement on her backhand was the opening weapon of choice for Zhang, effective at first it was Kato who was still fighting hard to keep on the ball. Every game was incredibly close, fans were on the edges of their seat and there was a full audience in the stadium. In fact it was the first 5 games which were all sealed with a 2 point difference, showing the passion and drive of both players in this once in a lifetime occasion.

Kato took the first set in deuce but Zhang was just finding herself in the match, as we had seen in many of her matches in the tournament. The second set fell in Lily's favour and drew the match to 1-1. We started to see longer rallies as both players clung on for each point with a high percentage of backhand exchanges where Zhang tried to focus on pulling the ball across the middle and then wider out to the backhand line. Some of these exchanges were successful but in others it was Kato who forced the error to take the point. Zhang took the lead 2-1 and was ahead in the 4th but a string of lucky points from Kato brought her back into the game and she stormed back from 9-5 down to win the game 11-9. This would prove to be a test of confidence and character for Lily Zhang as the match drew at 2-2.

The remainder of the match was no less close than the beginning, but we started to see Lily Zhang taking more control in the points, her placement becoming a little stronger and more tactical, some variation beginning to force errors from Kato. The end result closed in and Lily Zhang clenched a 3-2 lead and stormed onwards towards the finish line.

U21 finalist earlier this year now a bronze at YOG for Lily Zhang
with US coach Lily Yip.
With a match point on her side and a rally which pushed both players to their limits, it was Lily Zhang who claimed victory and achieved her goal of winning a medal at YOG 2014. Hands in the air with excitement and tears of joy for Zhang and a big show of support and congratulations from a smiling and excited Lily Yip who stood in the coaches corner. A long and exhausting campaign for both Zhang, Yip and Avvari but a successful result for the USA in Nanjing with still the teams event to go! Well done team USA!

Monday 18 August 2014

Zhang Advances to Semifinals Stage

The excitement of one of the biggest sporting events on the globe is reaching its peak as the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing progresses. Lily Zhang has been hot on the radar of US table tennis fans and spectators around the globe as she heads for success at the games. The ITTF have been keeping us constantly updated with the YOG Live Blog which can be found here: YOG Live Blog

The playing arena
Youth Olympic Games 2014, Nanjing, China
Lily has been well supported in Nanjing with her teammate and fellow US competitor Krish Avvari and of course Youth Olympic Games coach Lily Yip who has been heavily involved in the campaign over the past few months including travel and support at numerous international junior events and training camps. While it has been an exhausting experience for Zhang so far who has had a very busy schedule to prepare and even endured the Japan Open whilst ill, she has pushed through in order to be at her best in Nanjing and the results are showing.

Coming through her group in first place was the first hurdle but Zhang was well prepared, largely in part to having high quality practice partners organised to help her every step of the way. Here is a clip of her training with a high level Chinese practice partner on the table adjacent to China's Youth Olympic Games competitor.

In her group Lily worked hard and had victory against her opponents, including stiff competition from her South Korean opponent. She advanced into the round of 16 where she faced Lisa Lung from Belgium. While Zhang always maintained a lead in the match, her opponent showed determination throughout and the match stretched to 6 games before Lily closed out with a convincing 11-5 win to end the match 4-2.

Into the quarterfinal stages and Lily was edging ever closer to her goal of achieving a medal finish. Her opponent Tamolwan Khetkhuan from Thailand, again Lily took off to a strong start. The sets in this match were close and her opponent really kept the pressure on each point. Lily showed a high level of mental strength to close out the games by winning the crucial points. While the Thai player was able to steal away a set in the match, it was Lily who showed she is a force to be reckoned with who claimed the 5th game 11-3 to win 4-1 and advance to the semifinal round.

Lily moves on to play against Doo Hoi Kem, the top seed from Hong Kong. Of course we wish her the best of luck and hope she achieves her goal of a Youth Olympic Games medal!

Be sure to keep up with all the action on ITTF and the YOG Live Blog!

Sunday 10 August 2014

The Top 10 Places to Play Ping Pong

Thought I'd have a little bit of fun with this one, obviously I cannot claim to have played table tennis in all of these places but if I haven't they are definitely on my wishlist. Let's show the world how versatile table tennis is, because it can almost be played anywhere!

1. In the Swimming Pool
Table Tennis in the water, everyone loves to swim and pools are directly linked with relaxation and vacation. So why not include table tennis in your holiday fun!

Ping Pong in the Pool :)

2. Underwater
Why not take it a step further like the guys at Piing of Power and play table tennis underwater? Are they crazy? To answer in short, yes, crazy for Ping Pong :D Check them out on Facebook: Piing of Power.

Piing of Power's Christian and Joachim playing underwater.

3. In a Nightclub
One place I can say I have ventured, the hub of table tennis meets fun times...SPiN New York. A nightclub fused with ping pong, the ultimate social night out. Now these clubs are appearing all over the globe, but New York is where it's at!

SPiN New York, the ultimate Ping Pong Night Out!
4. In the Work Office
Cut the boredom and start your day with something a little less work oriented by transforming your morning meeting desk into something more exciting!

Screw Meetings. Start your day with Ping Pong!
5. The Helipad at Burj El Arab in Dubai
Well the Chinese National Team have been there and left their mark, we saw golfers tee off here, tennis stars battle it out...then came table tennis to one of the world's most spectacular hotels.

Chinese Table Tennis Team at Burj El Arab
6. On the Beach
Now this is my kind of paradise, a few cocktails, some sun, sand and some table tennis. Is there anywhere this sport can't go?!

Ping Pong on the Beach. Paradise!
7. In a Shopping Mall
This pic was snapped at Market City Mall in Sydney Australia where they hosted a small tournament with the best players in the country for some good prize money. What a spectacle!

Table Tennis in Market City Mall, Sydney, Australia
8. In Your Garage
Where the grassroots of social table tennis holds strong. The man-cave of ping pong. The Garage. Not the most original of places but one you can always come home to, gather friends around, convert to beer pong with ease. So much versatility and character!

Garage Ping Pong, The Real Grassroots.
9. In a Park
A peaceful afternoon outdoors, a great place to locate a concrete table tennis table and have a game? Sure!

Awesome outdoor Table Tennis Table.
10. In a Professional Venue
Where the real fun begins, competitive table tennis has a score of amazing venues around the world for all players, social to competitive, beginner to professional. Check out Uberpong's ultimate Table Tennis Map Guide to find a club near you anywhere in the world! Link Here: Uberpong Map

Bercy Stadium. Home of the 2013 World Championships.
There are many more awesome places you can play table tennis, it's a sport for anywhere and anytime. So get creative and tell me where the best place you've played is!

Dodean-Monteiro Continues to Set the Bar High For Rio 2016

Just over a year on from her marriage to Portugese National Team player Joao Monteiro, Daniela Dodean has recovered from a knee injury and is looking to come back better than ever with her sights firmly set on success at the European Championships with team Romania and the not so far off Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Thanks Daniela for doing this interview with me! :)

Full Name: Daniela Dodean Monteiro
Age: 26
Date Of Birth: 13.01.1988
Nation represented: Romania
Highest World Ranking: 19

Daniela Dodean-Monteiro from Romania

Equipment Used?
Blade: Primorac FL
FH Rubber: Tenergy 05
BH Rubber: Tenergy 05

Your Career How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?
I started when I was 6 years old, I followed my brother.

You left home at a young age to train at the Olympic Centre, how difficult was that at such a young age, do you think it was important in developing you into the player you became?
I left home when I was 10 and it was really hard but I think it was a good choice because I developed a lot and I became a strong girl.

Daniela and Husband Joao Monteiro at their wedding
What does it mean to you to have a family involved in table tennis, first through your siblings and now through your husband also? It must be special to have the people you care about in your life share the same vision and passion as you for one sport?
In one way is good because we understand our jobs and we help each other but in other way is very hard because gives a lot of emotions following from outside.

What has been the highlight of your table tennis career so far?
Reaching quarter finals in World Championship and the European titles.

What is your next big goal for table tennis?
Next goal is to win European Championship in teams, We were always too close but haven't won yet.

Who has been your biggest rival out on the table since you started playing?
I don´t have one biggest rival but I think most of them were the players that were around the same age as me.

Congratulations on your recent wedding to Joao Monteiro, will being married change either of your goals for table tennis in the near future, or will you continue to train hard and compete for now?
We had one year of marriage on 7 July and in this year nothing changed, we just get older:)

You won 2 gold medals in doubles at the European Championships with Eliza Samara, what is your goal for 2014? Do you think playing at WSA will bring some extra luck or advantage to you?
I hope 2014 will be better then 2013, WSA for sure can give me advantage.

Where do you think you are currently in your table tennis career? Do you think you have reached your peak or do you think you can still do better and go higher?
In my head is always more, never enough and I think I can do much better.

A big match here for Daniela at the 2012 WTTTC

Are you aiming to compete in Rio 2016?
Yes for sure.

Off the Topic Questions
Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Nadia Comaneci
Favourite food?
Italian kitchen
What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?
Spending time with the family,cinema,shopping...
Dream Car? 
Ferrari 458 Italia black-Red Mat color:)
Ideal holiday destination?
Maldives or Bora Bora
First thing you would do if you won $1million.
Hard question…Big party I think:)

And Lastly

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?
My tip is, work your body to be prepared for a high level in table tennis.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Why Catering For Spectators Has Backfired

I realise some of my blog posts can take on a very cynical and negative approach to some things but after seeing the two toned ball in the super league semifinal I felt like writing this!

Anyone who is not blindfolded can see that the popularity of table tennis in live arenas is decreasing. While the World Championships have drawn reasonable crowds, most World Tour Events, particularly those not in the Super Series, have a pretty poor showing. Once upon a time table tennis was a hugely popular sport. Now our proud statistics are distorted by enormous numbers of players within China. The truth is table tennis was (and still is) a great sport, it drew great crowds and was a popular game.

Lots of empty seat at Athens 2004 Olympics
Then somewhere along the line things started to change, the crowds were there already but other indoor sports were starting to compete and table tennis had to change to survive. To please the spectators the ball was changed to a 40mm ball, they wanted to slow the sport down and also make the games shorter. You ask any international players from that era and they will tell you they preferred the 38mm ball and the game to 21. In my recent interview with Petr Korbel he also states this fact. The game was faster and fiercer. But ITTF catered for the spectators instead of the players. What happened? The number of players decreased, people were drawn to other sports, spectator numbers fell.

China were the first to ascend through the phase of the new game and their dominance began, a dominance people grew tired of. As magnificent as the Chinese are to watch and admire, nobody wants to see the same country win over and over again without so much as a challenge, sport is about seeing competition especially on an international level. So excitement dwindled, what's the point in watching if you already know which country is going to win the World Champs, Olympic Games, World Team Champs etc. Then move along a few years and speed glue gets banned because it's toxic. Another measure to slow the game down and bring in water based glue which offers no speed effect at all. Players like Kreanga, the big hitters, take a long period of time to adjust. China excels again, mainly for their creativity in discovering means by which to boost their rubbers which spread eventually around the globe. Once again ITTF tried to make these methods illegal also. They want the game to be slower so that people can watch. Who suffers? The players.

Are we heading back to this?
Maybe the next rule will be to wear long pants again
Now we come again to a new phase of the game, the plastic ball, we are slowing down again. For the spectators. While there are other factors in play like the nature of shipping flammable celluloid balls, the players will again take the hit and the game will slow down again. There are active players who will have to suffer through 3 different phases of the game in their lifetime, possibly even 4 at this rate, all for the spectator. So we will all go back and adjust to the plastic ball and it's slower and lower bounce, less power and speed and spin. Why don't we just go back to playing on a dining room table with sandpaper paddles?

The sport is growing online, viewership is growing online, but not so much in venues where it still suffers. On the internet, slow motion replays can be employed to help spectators see what is happening. Different camera angles and make rallies easier to watch. Higher quality streams and replays will ultimately feed the growing number of fans online. Why do we need to continually slow the game down for the spectators? Take the hint, it's not working. Events like Kuwait and Qatar Open bolster a handful of mildly excitable fans clapping...in the finals.

Table Tennis was a game of speed and spin, we are gradually degrading to a simpleton sport of hitting a ball back and forward, the skill is diminishing. The focus on promoting the sport for spectators is wrong, sport is for playing. How many sports have we seen make this many changes in equipment and rules in the past couple of decades? I think just 1, table tennis.

The Two-Toned Ball
Now CTTA are proposing to introduces a two toned ball, half orange, half white. This is...for the spectators. We want to help them understand spin. Imagine playing with a two toned ball. You serve and your opponent can see the spin on the ball. You try and fool them with no spin, too bad, they can see the ball rotation. I was just watching the Super League semifinals, you can't even see the colours of the ball on the live stream, let alone the rotation. I doubt anybody watching live will be able to see the detail of the ball either. So why are we doing this again? The players are constantly losing out to cater for spectators, the numbers of which are continuously falling and the sport is becoming less popular. It is not the sport it once was.

ITTF should be using speed and spin as it's headline marketing campaign, they should be showing the skill and reflexes of the best players in the world and building up the reputation of the sport. Also they should stick to one equipment regime so that we don't have to keep changing all the time. Every time we change, China gets one step ahead because they already have a new generation of players in the wings ready to adapt to any new systems, rules or equipment changes that can be thrown at them. The popularity of the sport depends entirely on image and big events. Build the grandeur of the events and people will come to watch them live.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

My Review of the DHS 3 Star Plastic Ball

Here is my review with www.tabletennis11.com of the DHS 3 Star Plastic Ball. Be sure to check out their site for all your equipment needs and of course to get your hands on the new plastic balls from a range of brands!

Topspin Annual Charity Table Tennis Tournament

I was fortunate enough to attend the Topspin Annual Charity Table Tennis Tournament at the Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas last Saturday. This is an event hosted by Chris Paul where NBA players face off on the ping pong table to raise money for the Topspin Charity. Wally Green landed in town along with Soo Yeon Lee and Kim Gilbert to add a bit more table tennis presence to the occasion. I headed down there with Carmencita and Cynthia Alexandrescu and of course Sam Larab who captured some great photos during the evening!

Me with Wally Green, Carmencita and Cynthia Alexandrescu and Katherine Wu
Topspin Charity Event 2014
Photo by Sam Larab
The draw was full of NBA players and the smash talk was pretty fierce, there were some great laughs and some funny points during the event. Soo Yeon and Wally did a short exhibition on the main table. I slid off to the Practice Lounge for a little while to play some games with people who were coming in to check out the event.

The Player's Lounge
Topspin Charity Event
Photo by Sam Larab
I had the pleasure of playing for a little while with Al-Farouq Aminu from the New Orleans Pelicans and then also played some fun doubles with Camy against random challengers. It was great fun to get out in Vegas and be part of the event in such a great environment, these are the kinds of events which are superb for the sport.

Matt Hetherington and Soo Yeon Lee
Photo by Sam Larab
I also had the opportunity to catch up with Soo Yeon Lee. I remembered Soo Yeon from the year she spent in New Zealand ten years ago when she was crowned 2004 NZ Open Champion in the women's singles. She had flown to Vegas at the last minute after deciding she just had to be there for the Topspin Event.

You can see the video from the event here. Chris Paul won in outstanding fashion, beating Jerome Williams in the final and making two years in a row. Now everybody is out to get him for next year. I had great fun at the event, it was a good opportunity to have a great evening with my good friends, especially Wally Green who did a fantastic job hosting the event. I definitely hope I can go to more events like this one again! :)

Sunday 3 August 2014

European Stalwart Aims for Academy: MHTT Exclusive Interview with Petr Korbel

It was a huge honour for me to interview Petr Korbel. He is certainly a player to be admired, still a force to be reckoned with on the international stage, many years after his best performances. I used to watch Petr as a junior at the age of 14 years old when I was (at the time) also using his Butterfly blade which has been and remains to be very popular. Petr is now focusing on starting his own table tennis academy in the Czech Republic.

Name: Petr Korbel
Age: 43
Date of Birth: 6.6.1971
Nation Represented: Czech Republic
Highest World Ranking: 15

Petr Korbel (Czech Republic)
Image from ITTF
How and when did you start playing table tennis?
I start to play at the age of 7 years old, but only once a week. After the age of 11 I started to play table tennis every day. 

Petr is still active in international competition, making him one of the most experienced players still active along with other legends, the likes of Jean-Michel Saive and Jorgen Persson.

What has been your most memorable moment in your table tennis career?
To beat China at World Championships 1991 in Japan
Olympic Games Atlanta 1996 (4th place in singles)

How do you feel about the changes in the sport over the years? Which era of the game did you prefer playing in?
I prefer to play the time before changing the scoring system (score to 21, 5 serves each) and with 38mm ball. 

Which international table tennis player have you held the most respect for over the years for their playing ability and attitude to the sport and competing?
Guo Yue Hua
Jan-Ove Waldner
Andrzej Grubba
Jorgen Persson
Jorg Rosskopf

You placed 4th in the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, what can you tell us about your match with Rosskopf? There must have been a lot of mental pressure?
I would not to say mental pressure. For both of us(we are very good friends) the match was difficult to be ready and to be focused for this match after both losing in the semifinal stage.

Petr Korbel stretches Mizutani to 7 games in 2011 Japan Open

How important do you think experience is in table tennis? You still managed to beat players like Koki Niwa and had a very close match with Mizutani a couple of years ago, well after your peak level. Was it experience that allowed you to still continue to achieve results against formidable rising players at that time?
I think experience, concentration and the right tactics. Basically experience makes a lot in TT.

What is your current table tennis focus? Will we be seeing you on the World Tour this year?
Focus is on my own Team in Czech Republic(STEN Marketing HB Ostrov) and I want to play some World Tour tournaments. This year I also started with APEKO(Academy Petr Korbel).

Petr is in the early stages of starting his academy APEKO which opened 3 weeks ago but is looking to build to a permanent venue.

Butterfly's Petr Korbel OFF blade

What is your opinion on Zhang Jike? Do you think he has what it takes to be the first player to achieve 2 Grand Slams?
At the moment he is the best TT Player that is why he can do it. On the big tournaments like Olympic Games and World Championships he is the strongest player mentally.

How do you feel about the level of play in Czech Republic within Europe? Do you think there is a lot of promise for the future with the current juniors and the strength of the league system?
My opinion is, we have a few talented young players, but a bad system...We have to start to invest in the coaches, make a system for the young players like practise system etc. This is for a long discussion, which I try to explain to our TT Asociation already since more than 10 years. But most important is that the players need to work very hard.

Across your career who were your toughest opponents internationally and what made them so difficult to play?
I did not like to play against any crazy-risky players...

Off Topic Questions

Favourite Food: Japanese and Czech food
Favourite Holiday Destination: Florida in summer, Austria in winter
Favourite Sportsperson: Pete Sampras, Phil Mickelson
Favourite Music Band: U2
Favourite Actors: Al Pacino,R. DeNiro, Morgan Freeman

What do you like to do when not playing table tennis?
To have my own Academy and teach TT. In free time play Golf....

What advice can you offer to anyone aspiring to play table tennis at international level?
Hard work and never give up.

Thanks Petr! It's a great honour and privilege to be able to do this interview with you! :)

With Pleasure, Matt!