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!