Thursday 27 March 2014

Risk Taking out on the Table

One of the hardest things to balance in table tennis is when to take risks and how to balance and control those risks in a match. Even professional players often state one of the most difficult elements of the game is when to take the big risks and when to play safe, or how to incorporate elements of safety into a risky game. See more from my Coaching Blog.

Kalinkos Kreanga
Image courtesy of ITTFWorld
A player renowned for the risk game is Kalinikos Kreanga from Greece, he is well known for his big swings and all out offensive style, never scared to take the big shots. As his game has progressed and matured we now see more safety coming into his game, more elements of control. So how do you balance risk and safety? Well  it's all about shot selection, choosing the moment and making the most of chances and opportunities.

A common method for approaching the situation is to play controlled angle plays and when the gaps open up, make the risk play. An appropriate example of this is when a player is lobbing and the attacker often pins them into the backhand corner, pushing them further and further out of the table. When the comfortable shot arrives and a large enough defensive gap is created, the player then adjusts to play the shorter angle down the line to the forehand, an attacking stroke which is notoriously harder to control.

Any player who loves to take risks and play the big shots might also be tempted to hit the table tennis slots where risk and reward meet each other. Often with the right element of control and safety, the experienced players can turn the risks into reward!

One thing which proves difficult in risk taking is the timing, it is important to ensure the following when taking risks:

- Be Decisive: Once you have chosen to make a shot, you must follow through with it. Only 100% commitment to a decision will have a good chance of success, hesitation or less than full commitment will often result in a weak play or in failure.

- Choose the Moment: It is important to create the opportunity for risk taking, set the ball up, make the position correct and do your best to increase the odds of success.

- Don't Play a High Risk Percentage Game: A high risk percentage game will more often than not lead to inconsistent results. While some days all your risks may pay off, all the shots may land and the results will be amazing, other days when the feeling and timing is a little off the results can be somewhat catastrophic. The way to beat this is to experience what the right balance of risk and safety is.

Don't forget that in such a high paced game the odds are forever changing and risk taking is necessary to take full advantage of every situation. So find the right balance of risk for your game and may the odds be in your favour! :)

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Who Will Win the 2014 New York Table Tennis Open?

Although table tennis is a popular sport in many countries, especially in America (where there is even a governing body for Team USA - the USATT) it is still not a sport that is covered to any great extent by the big online bookmakers. There is a serious interest in the sport, as can be witnessed by the numbers of people who choose to enter the big tournaments each year, but at the moment the betting sites do not reflect that interest. This makes it harder for those who wish to place wagers on who will win the likes of the Rochester, New York Table Tennis Open to do so.

This particular tournament, which takes place between the 7th and 9th of March at the Rochester Sports Garden, is one of the bigger American table tennis tournaments. For those who are able to find bookies offering table tennis gambling markets, the likes of Ray Mack - who claimed two wins at the 2013 US Nationals, held in Las Vegas - are likely to be amongst the hot favourites to win it. However, given how tough it is to find places to put bets on it, or even odds information, some table tennis fans who also like betting, might find it simpler to play a slots game instead.

The five-reel video slot game 'Tennis Stars' at JackpotCity may be based on the grass court version of tennis, rather than the table type, but a 5000-coin jackpot represents roughly 5000 reasons for even the most hardened of table tennis aficionados to give it a spin. The chances are they will also enjoy all the other bonuses provided with this game, such as the additional Championship round and the unlimited free games that can be secured by scoring three of the gold trophy wil symbols - meaning you could end up scoring an ace of a payout. You can also play it at a mobile casino, making it convenient - unlike trying to bet on the New York Table Tennis Open.

Monday 17 March 2014

Can Ma Long Claim a Grand Slam?

A couple of years ago Ma Long was the player which everyone was talking about as the greatest player of this era in the leadup to the 2011 World Table Tennis Championships. He had a phenomenal run on the ITTF Pro Tour and had cemented himself as possibly the most formidable opponent in the world at the time. After his defeat at the 2011 WTTC, questions were raised about whether he had the mental capacity to perform at large scale world events. That question is being posed more and more frequently as questions about his ability continue.

Can Ma Long claim a Grand Slam?

There is no doubt that Ma Long is a strong contender when it comes to any world class international event, but while once upon a time he was noted as a grand slam contender, now the talk seems to have faded as people doubt his ability to raise the bar for the big events. While Ma Long was able to win win a World Cup title in 2012, he has never made the final of a World Championships, having won 3 bronze medals in the previous 3 competitions.

While there is still a chance for Ma Long to raise the bar and win a world championships, he still faces an even greater challenge and that is representing China in the singles competition at the Olympic Games. 2 years out from the 2016 Rio Games and he faces tough competition from his teammates. So who are his biggest threats on his way to winning a Grand Slam now?

Zhang Jike: Zhang Jike has cemented himself as potentially the world's best big stage player, having completed a Grand Slam in the shortest amount of time and being the first player to hold each of the big titles simultaneously. He has proved his ability to raise the bar on the highest international level of competition and is now aiming to complete a second Grand Slam, already having defended his World Championship title in 2013. There is no doubt in my mind that if Zhang Jike maintains his form for the next 2 years then he will be guaranteed as an individual competitor in Rio, especially if he is able to win a World Cup in that space of time, this would leave the Olympics as the final hurdle for his second Grand Slam and would realistically likely be his last chance to achieve the feat.

Xu Xin: The creative left handed penholder has been a thorn in Ma Long's side on more than a few occasions. Winner of the 2013 World Cup and a bronze medallist in the 2013 Paris World Championships, he is a big opponent on the world stage. The big contention for Olympic Games currently would be between Ma Long and Xu Xin, as Xu Xin sits behind Ma Long as number 2 on the ITTF World Rankings. He has also won the World Tour Grand Finals for the last 2 years.

Fan Zhendong: Fan Zhendong is the world's emerging star. Currently the youngest member of the Chinese National Team and the 2012 World Junior Champion. Fan Zhendong has already won 3 ITTF World Tour titles and currently sits at number 3 on the ITTF World Rankings, ahead of Grand Slam title holder Zhang Jike. What Fan Zhendong can achieve in the next 2 years of his career will be the big test as to whether he can represent China at an Olympic Games, this reveals a big threat to Ma Long, can he keep a hold on his place with the youth rising to compete for places?

The best battles of Ma Long and Zhang Jike

Besides the competition to get selected to represent China, Ma Long will have to overcome the mental pressure. This is no small task, Ma Lin and Wang Hao were among the strongest players in the last era of the Chinese National Team and the pressure even defeated them. Ma Lin a 3 time finalist at the World Championships, Wang Hao a 3 time Olympic Finalist. If they had won the first time, would they have potentially won on all 3 occasions? We will never know.

For Ma Long the challenge is monumental. Personally while I would love to see Ma Long rise the position that was so hoped for him, but I'm not sure if he will be able to achieve the Grand Slam in his career. I look forward to seeing him give it his all though! Would love your thoughts and contributions!

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Man vs. Robot Video an Entertaining Disappointment

Like many people around the globe I was intruiged to see the match between Agilus, the Kuka Robot proclaimed the fastest robot in the world and former World Number 1 Timo Boll. After watching the teaser I took quite an interest and like others I eagerly awaited the release of the 'deathmatch' between Man and Robot. You can watch the teaser below.

So finally the video was released of the showdown between the two. There are positives and negatives but overall I found the video disappointing. On the plus side the camera work and quality of the video are fantastic, it is perfect as a promotional video. The storyline is a bit predictable, robot wins first 6 points and looks untouchable then Timo comes back to win in the clutches of the set 11-9. It's a bit cliche.

Here is the actual match below

Perhaps most disappointing of all is the amount of CGI (computer graphics) used, this is (as labelled in one news article) a 'glorified commercial'. We did not get the real match we were waiting for, just a partially entertaining, over-edited and terribly cliche performance.

I think in reality Timo would destroy the robot in a match, he is far too clever to lose 9 points. Please excuse the negative slur on the article but I was a bit disappointed with it! Would be interested to know what others thought of the showdown.

Why Sharara has it All Wrong About Plastic Balls

The closer we get to the much anticipated (feared) release of the plastic ball, the more we seem to be moving away from the first tragic excuse for the balls instatement in the first place. Mentions of celluloids banned production and its flammable nature have seemingly diminished as we move to more of the same old ideas about slowing the game down and making it more spectator friendly.

ITTF President Adam Sharara

One question that has been asked above all is this, is it worth it? Is this really the best move to improve the sport? Is this the right step to increase the popularity of the sport? Well I'm not so sure. In order to make the game easier for people to watch you are reducing the very two elements which have made table tennis so popular to play and to watch.

There have also been strong claims that this is a sad attempt to put a dampner on the increasing dominance of the Chinese National Team. This in itself is a huge joke, as if any team is going to quickly adapt to any changes in the sport, it is China, and they will do it 4 times faster than any other nation. There is no doubt in my mind that China will have a firm grasp on the plastic ball by the time it is internationally adopted as the official competition ball.

Having played with some plastic balls from Palio (which I don't think have been ITTF approved) it is clear that the speed and spin will diminish. DHS announced that they were trying to get as close to the celluloid ball as possible, but it is clear that this is not ITTF's motive.

The new ball will be marginally bigger than 40mm

While there are complaints all around, I think we will adjust to the new ball and life will go on, but in reality I don't believe this is going to be the big answer to improving viewership. Remember the game was slowed down once already and while popularity on the web has gone from strength to strength (partially a result of a high amount of online promotion), the number of people attending live events has continued to diminish from the times of the 38mm ball.

The only real way to judge the scale of the new balls success or failure will be to wait until it is finally transitioned into the sport and see the true impact. For now I think this is a huge slap in the face to the players and won't achieve all that much for the sport.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Franziska Heads to New Heights

Patrick Franziska has been one of the big movers in the German National Team in 2014, leading Fulda Maberzell TTC to the top position currently in the German League's First Division and also jumping to his highest world ranking yet at number 33. I spoke to Patrick about his new ranking and the German League, as well as his signing for next season with Borussia Dusseldorf. You can follow Patrick on his Facebook Fan Page HERE.

Patrick Franziska rises to WR33

How do you feel about your new World Ranking of 33rd? Do you have a goal for 2014?

I'm happy that I reached 33rd, it's my highest ranking so far but of course I want to go higher, top 30 maybe top 25. It gets harder the higher I go up.

Are you happy to be joining Borussia Dusseldorf in the next season of the German League?

Yes! I'm very happy to play in one of the best clubs in Europe. But for now I will focus on my last games in Fulda and try to beat Dusseldorf one more time ;)

How have you results been with Fulda this season?

We are first in the league now, we only lost one match so far in the season. I'm playing my best season with a 13:3 win ratio.

Some people are calling you the next Timo Boll, how do you feel about that?

It's a big pleasure for me but Timo is a big talent and maybe we won't see a player like him in the next 50 years I think. He has so much feeling for the ball and the game. I just focus on my own game and practice hard to reach my goals.

Franziska will represent Germany at WTTC 2014 in Tokyo

Will you be playing in the World Championships for Germany this year? Do you have a goal for the team?

Yes I will play. We want to make the final again. It will be very hard because the Asian countries have really good teams but we will try to keep them behind us and of course we try to give China a hard fight!

Who would you say is the hardest player for you in the German League?

Timo Boll because he plays so safe and is just a world class player.

How do you feel about playing Chinese players at the moment in competition?

They play unbelievably fast and it's hard to beat them, but as you can see at the Qatar Open this year, it is possible to beat them if you believe you can win.

What is it that keeps you going, that helps you to train day after day and to compete?

It's the goal I want to reach. I want to be a world class player and that is only possible with hard training day after day.

Patrick takes on Chuang Chih-Yuan in his most recent World Tour
in the round of 16 at the Qatar Open 2014.

Thank you so much Patrick, best of luck to you and Fulda for the rest of the season and we look forward to seeing you in action in Tokyo at the World Team Championships!!! :)