Wednesday 29 April 2015

Choppers Excel in Early Rounds at WTTC 2015

We are seeing so far an amazing World Championships in Suzhou, China. This is the first World Individual Championships since the introduction of the plastic ball which came in 2014. Before the introduction of the plastic ball the rumour was that the plastic ball would favour the defensive player. Are the results so far in the draw and indication that this may be true?

Pattantyus On Fire

Hungary's Adam Pattantyus is showing superb form and has so far had the best world championships he could hope for. In the first round he showed absolute class by upsetting Chuang Chih-Yuan from Chinese Taipei, currently ranked 10th in the world and a solid top 15 player for the past decade. Chuang's early exit rang around the table tennis world as Pattantyus leaped from obscurity into the limelight. He is currently ranked 90th in the world. It wasn't until May 2012 that the hungarian defender entered the top 100 in the world, reaching 77th as his peak world ranking. No doubt that will change after his performance in Suzhou.

Going into the next round he again demonstrated his consistent defence and balance of attacking strokes by defeating Adrian Crisan from Romania. Crisan is a consistent control spinner and has been strong against defenders in the past. Pattantyus faced Lei Kou from Ukraine in the round of 32. The two played at the Czech Open in 2014 with the plastic ball and the hungarian was able to clutch the match 11-6 in the 7th game.

In the men's draw there are 3 more defensive players in the round of 32. Joo Se Hyuk will face Liam Pitchford, Gionis Panagiotis has the tough draw against Ma Long and Chen Weixing will play Gao Ning.

Ukraine Bolsters Defence in the Women's Draw

As Chuang fell to a European defender, his compatriot Lee I-Chen faced defeat at the hands of Ganna Gaponova from Ukraine. Lee stands at 53 in the world ranking, while her successor in the draw sits at 100th position. It will be a defensive showdown for Gaponova as she reaches the round of 32 and will face Wu Yang of China.

Tetyana Bilenko defeats Ai Fukuhara at WTTC 2015
Image from ITTF
Teammate and defensive star, Tetyana Bilenko also made waves in her round of 64 match by defeating Ai Fukuhara. The Japanese legend is currently ranked 8th in the world, compared to Bilenko's current 63rd. Bilenko's highest world ranking to date is 55th, so no doubt she will soar higher after her amazing win. Just like her teammate she will also face another defender in the round of 32, Maria Dolgikh from Russia who has been performing well in the draw also after winning against Lee Ho Ching in the previous round.

The Real Question

Is this enough evidence that the plastic ball is in favour of defensive players? Or are these players just in amazing form? This is a hot discussion at the moment, what do you think? Are the rumours true? Perhaps a few more rounds closer to the final may give more clues :)

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Don't Regret in Hindsight: Why Short Term Goals Are Important

Most players have some big goals they are aiming towards, perhaps one day you would like to play the Olympics, maybe you are aiming to make a national team. These are the major goals you strive towards over the course of a year or maybe even longer. This is where the goal needs to be broken down. See more from my Coaching Blog.

Why Short Term Goals Are Important
Me back in 2012
When I was in University I was training to make the National Team. I had multiple training sessions in a week, usually I would average 6-7 per week. I thought I was training pretty hard during my first year, everything seemed much tougher than before when I had not really been able to train at all. This felt like the real deal. I was 19 years old and for the first time, I could finally dedicate some time to training properly with training partners above my level. I was living the dream.

I was 192nd in the men's rating positions and by the end of the year I had reached 71st. A considerable increase. At the end of the year I hadn't made the national team, I was still quite a way off. I looked back on the year and thought in hindsight. I hadn't done enough. I could have done more. The next year I endeavoured to try harder. I trained an extra 1-2 times per week at 5:30am with one of the country's top ranked players. I represented New Zealand in the Under 21 and Men's individual events at the Oceania Championships. It was a moderate success. I was moving closer to the top 50 but I didn't make it. Again I looked back as the end of the year neared and thought, there was more that could have been done. Two years had passed and I hadn't achieved my major goal.

Each year I always looked back and thought so much time had been wasted. I was a late starter already and I had to put in a lot of hard work to catch up to my peers by the time I moved to University. I didn't have more years to waste.

In my third year of university I set 5 short term goals. One of them was to win an under 21 men's singles title at a tournament. I failed. I was working hard to achieve that goal. I made the final in one tournament. Despite my failure at that short term goal I went one further, I successfully won my first Men's Singles title. I had tasted success by evaluating myself more frequently. This was also a confidence boost moving forward.

Updated: Eventually after battling health issues for a few years, I gave myself 2 years (starting in 2015, to achieve my goal or give it up), that ultimatum made me really evaluate how hard I was working and what needed to be done further. I trained in both China and Europe during those 2 years and went on to compete at 3 World Table Tennis Championships.

Me winning my first men's singles title in 2011 at the Northland Open

How to Avoid Disappointment in Hindsight:

You can't just create one major goal and not break it down into shorter term goals or at least points of evaluation. Perhaps you can look back on a week and say that wasn't enough, next week I need to work harder. This way you are in a constant state of improvement.

A sportsperson, like any ordinary human being, should look to constantly better themselves. A constant state of constructive critique and self-evaluation are necessary in short term periods in order to reach a long term goal.

Look at it this way. You think you are working hard. Are you working harder than your teammates? Are you working harder than everyone at your club? Are you working harder than the people who are also competing with you to reach the same goal?

If the answer is no, you need to change something. If someone is working harder than you, then you are not doing enough.

If I could go back and have those years to train again, I would do things completely differently and could probably increase my potential output a great deal. Don't wait until you start tasting the sour taste of failure to evaluate and change things, create short term goals and evaluate more constantly in order to improve yourself steadily over the period of your long term goals.

So I say to you now. Don't live in hindsight, make the best of yourself today, or tomorrow, but don't wait until failure strikes you down to make the changes you need now!

Saturday 18 April 2015

Focusing on Strong Placement Skills

I received another question today from a player who struggles with placement. Placement is a key tool for winning points in table tennis and can often be a more effective skill than being able to play with absolute power. Good placement is key in controlling the table and being able to anticipate plays by forcing more probable returns from your opponent. See more from my Coaching Blog.

Samsonov, one of the masters of angles and placement
Image from
So what are some important points for developing strong placement?

Avoid Strength Zones: Your opponent will have some key strengths and you want to avoid them in order to stay dominant in a point. Weak placements usually involve the middle of the forehand and backhand zones and the middle depending on your opponents table position. The middle offers the ability to play at an angle to the backhand and forehand both breaking the table, if the opposition is in position to take advantage of it.

Be Aware of Opponent Table Position: It is imperative that your placement takes into full account where the opposition player is. You need to play table placements which will either produce a particular return for your next shot, target an open space, or aim to create a space to attack. You need to focus on making the ball difficult for your opponent.

Key Target Areas: Wide backhand and forehand along with the body shot (a.k.a playing to the elbow) are known as strong target areas and can be effective against most opponents. Sometimes you may need to move the ball around and open up the opportunity to make this placement most effective.

Avoid Continuous Placement: Some players make the mistake of playing a similar ball back to the same point many times in succession, this gives the opponent time to move into the right position or to take control of the point and become comfortable with your returns until such a time as they open up a weakness in your play. It is important to try and keep moving the ball around, unless you have exploited a weakness and are slowly playing the opponent off balance or are having success with the repetition (less likely on most occasions).

Mix Placement with Shot Selection: Different placement can be paired with variation in the spin and speed of your shots. A prime example is playing the opponent into the corner or wide on the backhand, increasing the spin to invoke a softer block and then playing with more pace to the forehand corner. Mixing the pace and spin in combination with strong placements is a real skill which will help your table tennis improve a lot.

Get in Position Fast: Being in position is pivotal in being able to direct the ball and create good placement. If you are off balance or out of position, your placement options are limited, as is your ability to produce a quality stroke. Be sure to get your body in position so that you can direct the ball and be more accurate with your placements.

Waldner shows placement is the winner against Boll

Practice Placement:

Practising your placement is vital, you can do random drills with blocking from the backhand to the entire table. Similarly you can have a player block from anywhere to your forehand as you attack to your opponent anywhere on their half. There are many drills which can help and remember it is not just on attack where placement is vital, every shot you make must have  strategic placement value.

I received some great feedback on my article yesterday about pendulum service which I really appreciated. Please if you have any other ideas or comments along with other questions or topics for me to write on, do not hesitate to contact me via the blog contact page or via my facebook page at MHTableTennis.

Friday 17 April 2015

How to Generate Heavy Spin on the Pendulum Serve

Today's question comes from Ankush Arora, 'How do you develop a heavy sidespin pendulum serve, or other powerful service?' For this post I will focus on the heavy sidespin pendulum serve. As with any table tennis skill there are a number of key points which you need to focus on in order to develop the skill. Service can be a difficult skill to master but it's role in table tennis is pivotal for success. See more from my Coaching Blog.

Fan Zhendong Serving
Key Points for Developing a Heavy Sidespin Pendulum Service

Contact The Side of the Ball: Many players make the error of changing their stroke so that on the ball contact they are hitting into the ball directly instead of brushing the ball, this means the serve has very little spin and often floats a little high. In order to maximise the sidespin on the ball, you need to ensure that you are contacting the side of the ball. This means your bat is often closer to parallel with your body upon contact.

Maximise Contact Time: Spin is generated through the contact time, this is the amount of time the ball spends on the rubber. The longer the contact time, the greater the spin. So how do you maximise the contact time? You want to make sure that you are contacting the ball towards the edge of the rubber so it may dwell across the rubber. Often players make the mistake of contacting the ball in the middle of their bat which reduces the amount of grip which can be achieved. Acceleration is also important, the ball doesn't remain on your bat for long so you need to maximise the amount of friction created. In order to do this try and 'drag' the ball contact closer to the head (top 1/3) of your racket where speed generated is greatest.

Utilise Wrist to Accelerate for More Spin: Acceleration is very important. A slow contact often doesn't allow the rubber to generate spin, this causes a float or low spin serve. You need to make sure you utilise acceleration through use of the wrist in order to create the necessary acceleration to achieve heavy spin. The wrist is able to generate the most acceleration into the ball, many players focus too much on the forearm, which while it is an important part of the pendulum serve, is not able to provide enough acceleration for heavy spin.

Timing and Core is Vital: Often when players use the pendulum serve you will notice they turn into the ball in order to create even more acceleration and drive, use of the core is important in service and is often overlooked. Also it is important to get the right timing, taking the ball too high or too low will produce a less effective result.

Use of the Thumb and Fingers to Maximize Rotation: Tightening of the thumb and fingers to create a rapid contact motion is very important for creating the most spin possible. You can see my YouTube tutorial video below which outlines this point.

Videos to Help Reinforce the Above Points: 

Here are some videos to help you with your service. I believe that, while writing points can help a little, technical aspects of the game are better demonstrated with video or in person. Here are some of the best tutorial videos available for pendulum service.

My video on maximizing service spin.

A Video on where to place the index finger when Pendulum Serving by Pingskills

Things to Consider When Practicing Serve:
Often in order to maximise the amount of spin that can be achieved, it pays to simplify your service action and concentrate on the absolute key points. Once you can generate a high amount of spin then you can personalise your service style again and implement the improved skills you have learned. This means that service practice should follow some simple guidelines:

- Always maintain a focus on key areas, for example set a service practice session on 'improving the quantity of spin on the short backspin serve' and really focus on that one aspect for 20-30 mins. Requires discipline!

- Focus on the core mechanisms of the service stroke, what parts of the serve come together to generate spin? You need to focus heavily on the tiny moments before, during and after the ball contact and see how they align to create spin on the serve. Also you need to evaluate how you can improve these moments in order to create maximum spin.

- Lift the core out of the serve for practice. You don't need to use your whole service action, you can take out a very simple backspin serve motion and work on improve the spin contact during service practice, this 'core action' can then be put back into any service action - you learn the feeling for the spin generation and the contact rather than just for one specific service action.

Hope this helps you with your service Ankush. If you have any questions you would like me to write about, please use the contact form on my blog or via my facebook page at MHTableTennis

Thursday 16 April 2015

Devising Tactics for Playing Left Handers

Left handers have always been a little more rare in competition and training centres than your usual right hander. I'm a little biased and can say we are a bit special, being a left hander myself. Because of a lesser exposure to training and competing against left handers, some players can struggle with them and for good reason. As with any style we are not used to, it is difficult to try and win a match against that style. Today I was asked to give some advice on playing left handers by Kris Sabas, so here we go! See more from my Coaching Blog.

Here hopefully I can shed some light on some useful tactics for playing left handers, it should be easy as I know what I'm bad at in matches, hopefully none of you will come after me once you have read this :)

Left Hander Zhou Yu in the Chinese National Team
In the current world rankings there are 4 left handed players in the top 10 ranked men, Xu Xin, Jun Mizutani, Timo Boll and Marcos Freitas, this shows that the lefties are up with the best of them and as only 10% of the population are left handed, there appears to be a greater proportion of high level left handed players in table tennis, showing a potential advantage. So what do left handers do well and what do they struggle with?

Strengths of Left Handed Players

Service: Left handers are known for developing strong and creative service, not only this but the conventional spin that players are used to from right handed players is reversed. This is an area that can often trip players up as they struggle to read service from left handed players. Having a strong serve means that left handed players are able to set points up from the word go and if you are unable to read the serve of make a quality return then you can end up playing into their hands.

How can you improve to deal with left handed serves? You can have practice partners mimic the service type and 'feed' serves to you. A common serve is the left handed pendulum serve which goes short to the forehand, the side spin carries towards the edge of the table. You can mimic this by doing a right handed sidespin variation serve from the forehand corner or the middle of the table, short to your forehand.

You can also have practice partners serve reverse pendulum serves, they are slightly different but can still help you develop a feel for your service receive.

Wide Angle Forehand to Backhand: A left hander's forehand can produce devastating results cross-court into a right hander's backhand. Because of the opposite angles and common practice with right handers, we sometimes see left handers imparting more sidespin into their shots, players like Xu Xin and Michael Maze and also at national and club level. The angles played by a left hander can be different and hard to get used to.

Strength in Backhand: As most left handers are used to training with and playing right handers, we are used to dealing with the brunt of cross-court play from the forehand and a lot of other play into the backhand corner. This means many left handers have developed either strong backhands or notable pivot forehand strokes. Players like Michael Maze and Timo Boll have great backhand strokes, while Xu Xin and Mizutani favour the pivot forehand more often. Personally my backhand is probably just as effective as my forehand for opening loops and countering, if not stronger on occasion.

Familiarity with Right Handers: As left handers we spend a lot of our time training with right handed players, we have played many of you in competition and as such we have learnt your tricks. Left handers see playing right handers as a normal thing, perhaps we don't play left handers often either, but we know our own weaknesses. This gives us an advantage, we gain more experience playing with right handers than you gain with left handers. This helps us develop good touch and feel for receiving serves and angles and of where the best places to place the ball are, we are more tactically aware of how to play right handers than potentially vice versa.

Despite the above points, I'm not saying that left handers are vastly superior to right handers, I'm just pointing out some potential advantages that some left handed players may have developed or taken advantage of.

Tips from Pingskills on returning left handed wide serve

Weaknesses of Left Handed Players

Pinning the Backhand Corner: Some left handers can be weaker in the backhand corner in their developing stages. Also players who favour the forehand pivot can have vulnerable backhands. It is sometimes possible to pin a forehand player into the corner by forcing a pivot forehand and pushing the player wider into the corner and off the table in the hopes of squeezing them in the corner and forcing a weak shot or a loss of balance.

The Wide Forehand: We like to try and cut this angle off and our lefty pendulum serves help with that. A confident backhand corner oriented left hander is often looking to stay in their comfort zone and play to their strengths and this can lead to a weak wide forehand. Sometimes a left hander can become more focused on guarding the commonly attacked backhand corner and can leave a small opening in the wide forehand. Also you can combine tactics by forcing the opening forehand pivot on the corner and then playing wide to the forehand. This is a textbook tactic used against left handers.

Pendulum to the Forehand: Just like right handers hate our short pendulum serves to the forehand, we are also less comfortable with this serve. Let's face it, not many players are very fond of receiving pendulum serves on their forehand side. For left handers playing left handers, the reverse pendulum to the forehand provides a great setup sometimes also. As I mentioned we like to guard our backhand corner and anything which pulls us away from there can be less than convenient for us.

Fast Serve Down the Line: Some left handers are susceptible to a long fast serve down the line to their backhand side as it is hard to have confidence when opening against that serve with the backhand. This is a good way to try and score a couple of easy points or in a pressure situation.

So What are the Key Ideas for Playing Left Handers?

  • Practice with a left hander as much as possible if you can, get a feel for the service and the angles that we play.
  • Take the initiative, a right hander also has the angle to play forehand into a left handers backhand side. You want to set the point up to attack first, this means focusing on receiving well and effective service.
  • Serve short to the forehand frequently and throw in the occasional deep push to the forehand corner. 
  • Try and pin the player in the corner, a strong push receive can force the player to pivot forehand and you can try and play them into the corner and force an error or opportunity to focus the next weakness.
  • Target the wide forehand, particularly as a follow-up if you have pinned them on their forehand in the backhand corner.
  • Try and close off angles. Your placement is imperative to protect yourself. A left hander can play with sidespin on the forehand and carry the ball wide to your backhand, this is less than ideal. The ball wide to the forehand should be as a surprise, in the pivot zone a lefty is much less likely to hook the ball as they are out on the forehand side.
  • Serve long and fast down the line to the backhand, this can be effective against some left handed players and is worth trying out earlier in the match as a test.
Every player is different and tactics need to be monitored and developed and constantly improved during a match. These are some base tactics to try against left handers, some may work, others may not, it depends on the opponent. It is important to remember that just because something did not work against one lefty doesn't mean it won't work on another.

Thanks for your question Kris! If you have more questions do not hesitate to use the contact form on my blog or contact me via the MHTableTennis Facebook Page :)