Tuesday, July 29, 2008

water glue: the switch -steph

The days of speed glue are over. Starting in September, after the Olympics, everybody will be required to switch to water-based glue (except for cadets and juniors, who had to make the switch in January 2008). For anyone who has not tried out water glue and for anyone who plans on waiting until they absolutely need to switch, I just have one thing to say: the change is huge, and you should not take it lightly. I first tried out water glue in the spring just to see how it would feel, and it was an... experience. Now of course, everyone will react differently, but the change is going to affect everyone.

With water glue, the first thing you'll notice is that everything gets slowed down; no matter how hard you rip the ball, your shot is not going to be anywhere near as fast, spinny, or powerful as with your old glue. While this may seem distressing, think of it this way: 1) everyone will be in the same boat, 2) with slower shots, it will be easier to keep up with better players, rallies will be longer, and what all of that means is that the playing field is somewhat leveled.

Also, glue becomes an almost obsolete. There is an upside and a downside to this: the upside is, I kid you not, you only need to glue once per rubber. No lie, you glue once, and three weeks later, your rubber feels exactly the same. Sure, you could reglue if you want to, but it would make absolutely no difference at all. The downside, which may not apply to everyone, is that glue will no longer give your shots an edge; with speed glue, the more you used, the more cork your rubber would have, and the faster and stronger your shots would be, but with water glue, you could pile it on if you really wanted to, but it wouldn't make a difference. Before, people could rely on their glue and their rubber to make good shots, but now, you actually need to make good shots, and this means making full strokes-not cheating on them.

Everyone is or will start trying to get a feel for the equipment of the future (with new glue inevitably comes new rubber and other accessories), including myself. This will be an on-going process until companies come out with working products, and everyone should get started on trying things out sooner rather than later.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

a message from atha

Atha says hello to the rest of the world! She is currently in Hong Kong and unfortunately has no access to the blog, which is why she hasn't been able to post anything for the last week. We'll have her back soon, though, I promise =]

Monday, July 21, 2008

the swing -steph

I gotta say, I'm in a pretty good mood. The Yankees just swept the Oakland A's and have just clobbered the Minnesota Twins. I figure now is a good time to talk about another connection between baseball and table tennis: the swing of the bat and the swing of the racket. The biggest aspect the swings share is this: the key to a perfect swing is not your arms. What people often don't realize is your arm strength is not the most important factor in hitting the ball solidly. It's really all in the combination of your legs and your waist. Shots' power comes from effectively shifting your weight from your back leg (plant leg) to your front leg, and the torque in your waist and hips. To make comparisons, there will be photos of a good, fundamental baseball swing (our lovely model is my good friend, Reynold Graham) and forehand (modeled by my dad, Santos Shih).

For both swings, you begin with your weight on your back leg (right leg for righties, left leg for lefties). You should be the most relaxed at this point. Note that in the following photos, his front foot (circled in red) is off the ground, showing that his weight is on his back foot.

However, there is a major difference: in table tennis, the backswing is critical. Without a good, full backswing, for forehands and backhands, you will not be able to generate any power on or have any control of your shots; imagine trying to knock out someone's teeth without pulling back your fist. The timing of your backswing should match the timing of the oncoming ball- in other words, if the ball is coming toward you slowly, your backswing should be slow, if the ball is coming quickly, your backswing should be fast. When you hit a solid shot in both baseball and table tennis, it should feel as if the ball was holding still and just waiting for you to do whatever you want with it. The following photos show a full, sufficient backswing for a forehand from the back, side, and front. Note that his weight is clearly on his right leg.

The next part of both swings is turning/contacting. Before you actually contact the ball is when you start generating power, but you should still be relatively relaxed. As soon as you make contact, that's when you really uncork it and let it all go in a compact burst. To do this, you have to shift your weight, rotate your hips, and push off of your plant leg. Again, your arms aren't doing the work, and it absolutely does not matter how hard you swing; it is a matter of how suddenly you can unleash the power of your stroke. You know you've made a quality shot when the ball appears to explode off your bat/racket and you don't have to swing very hard; everything seems like it's in slow motion except for that half-second that you contact the ball. Your plant leg does the majority of the work, supporting the weight of your whole body, and your obliques/lower abs do the rest, turning and giving momentum to your upper body and arm. The common misconception in both sports is that the harder you swing your arms, the harder you're going to hit the ball. In reality, your timing and the momentum generated by your legs and your body are what make a good shot; your arm just controls the direction and angle of your shots and follows through. For those table tennis players whose shoulders and/or triceps are always sore or in pain, you overwork your arm and aren't using the rest of your body- if you are doing a forehand correctly, your lower back, quads, and maybe your butt should be sore, NOT your arm.

Notice in the first two photos that his back foot is "squishing the bug" (for anyone who remembers little league softball/baseball!), meaning that he is pushing off his back leg and driving all his momentum into his swing. In the second two photos, you can see that his hips are "opened up" and are now facing us, meaning that he has shifted his weight and carried all his power and momentum into his swing.

In the first two photos, you can clearly see him shifting his weight from his plant leg to his left leg, and the third photo shows him bringing all of his momentum into his stroke.

The final part of the swing is the follow-through. At this point, you should have shifted all of your momentum onto your front leg. The follow-through completes the stroke, ensures that you've used all the power you can, and directs your shot in one clear direction. Note that for both swings, their weight is clearly on their left legs, and their waists have twisted as much as they can.

The biggest difference between the baseball swing and the table tennis swing is that in table tennis, you're constantly in motion; you don't just take one swing and wait 10 seconds for the next shot, you have to link all of your swings together for a continuous rally. Therefore, shifting your weight back onto your plant leg is a crucial part of your stroke. Immediately after your follow-through, you have to bring your momentum back to your plant leg. The ball travels too fast for you to be able to stand still and admire your shot, so you have to assume that your shot is coming back. As soon as you follow through, your hips and waist go to work again. In the photos, he pushes off his left leg and turns his body directly to the right, keeping his arm as parallel to the ground as possible. You have to turn your hips to the right so that your weight comes back onto your plant leg, and guides your arm into another backswing all in one smooth, relaxed motion.

And that's my 10 cents for the day. Here are just some videos of the forehand so you can see everything in continuous motions instead of in frames. In the first two, pay attention to the explosiveness of the shot that can only be achieved when the timing of your shot is right and when you use power (发力) just when you make contact with the ball. In the second two videos, pay attention to the continuousness of the strokes, and to the shifting of his weight from right to left and back. The weight shifting is the most important part, because that's what allows you to be able to repeat the motion over and over again with no breaks.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

no coach? no problem -steph

Ever feel helpless and alone without your coach there? Overwhelmed? Naked, even? Feel like you just don't know where to start? There are a lot of people out there who simply don't know what to do with themselves without someone sitting outside of the barriers to help them during a match. I will admit that I am one of these people. It's gotten a lot better as the years have gone by, but let me tell you that at my worst, I was a complete basket case; I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and no matter if I won or lost, I had no idea how it had happened. Then one day, after getting a sound yelling-at and long lecture from my coach, my self-coaching improved by leaps and bounds. I'm now going to share his words of wisdom, and hopefully they'll help out someone else as well.

There are basically three things to focus on: how to receive your opponent's serves, how your opponent receives your serves, and how your opponent sets him/herself up for winners. If you can more or less get these three points down, that's 80% of the game.

How to receive your opponent's serves is the most straight-forward part. Presumably when you practice and train, you practice how to receive all different kinds of serves, so to take care of this part, you really just bring out what you practice at the club or at home: pay attention to how your opponent's racket strikes the ball when he/she serves, the ball's rotation (if you can), the speed of the serve, and how the ball moves in the air as it comes toward you. For example, to distinguish between a heavy underspin serve and a no-spin serve, pay attention to what part of the racket your opponent uses to contact the ball:

Forgive the crudeness of the diagram, but it gets the point across... If your opponent contacts the ball with the right half of the racket, the ball will have little to no spin, and if he/she contacts the ball with the left half, the ball will have a lot of spin (this is assuming your opponent is right handed and is serving a forehand serve).

Next, figure out how your opponent likes to receive your serves so you can have an idea of how your serves are most likely going to be returned to you. For example, pay attention to see if your opponent is more likely to drop shot your short serves or push them long. Also, look to see if any of your serves give him/her a lot of trouble. When you have this part of your opponent's game more or less figured out, the match becomes a lot easier, because you can anticipate serve returns and set yourself up accordingly.

The last part is the tricky part, especially if you're playing against someone you've never seen before. Every person has his/her favorite plays, and absolutely everybody is different. Also, every person has his/her strengths, and his/her serves will basically reveal what kinds of points he/she prefers to play. For example, a player whose shots aren't strong, but are fast, and who is super consistent will probably let you be aggressive and attack the ball so that you will get into rallies that favor him/her. You can figure that this person will probably serve long a lot to thrust you directly into a rally in which he/she is comfortable and confident, and/or serve just off the end of the table to get you to open with a shot of mediocre quality and start a rally that favors him/her. Once you see what kinds of points your opponent likes, avoid those situations at all costs. You have to do whatever it takes, even if it means venturing outside of your own comfort zone a little bit, to make your opponent uncomfortable and to keep him/her off-balance. Sometimes if your opponent gets annoyed enough because you aren't giving him/her the rallies he/she wants, he/she will start missing easy shots, giving you freebie points.

Like I said, these three points are only about 80% of what it takes to win a match, or at least keep it close. The rest is concentration, stamina, your own shot making skills, and how you feel that day. However, if you can figure out these three elements of your opponent's game, it makes figuring out how to play him/her that much easier.

Busy days...

Have some fun today! Be wild, be spontaneous, be pong-a-licious!

Monday, July 14, 2008

"table tennis" or "ping pong" part 2 - steph

So, as Atha has mentioned in a previous blog, my opinion does not necessarily reflect hers, and our opinions on the question of whether to call the sport "table tennis" or "ping pong" is a perfect example. In my eyes, there are two extremes: people who call the sport "ping pong" and have absolutely no issues doing so, and people who call the sport "table tennis", cringe at hearing "ping pong", and look down on those who have no problem with "ping pong". Then, of course, there are people, like Atha, who use the name "table tennis" and "ping pong" interchangably. I personally use "table tennis" and I have issues saying "ping pong". However, I don't admonish anyone who says "ping pong" and I don't go around insisting that people say "table tennis". While Atha and I may have different opinions on the name of the sport, we ultimately have the same opinion: there is simply not enough coverage of competitive (aka "real") table tennis in the US. Because of the lack of exposure to the general public, ping pong is thought of as just a basement sport and is not differentiated from the competitive sport simply because people just don't know better.

Like I said, I'm partial to "table tennis" for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that, no matter what people may prefer to call the sport, the official governing body of the sport, both internationally (ITTF) and in the US (USATT), recognize the sport as "table tennis". While it may be true that in Chinese, the sport is called "乒乓" (pronounced as ping pong), its name in every other language is the direct translation of table tennis (eg "tenis de mesa" in Spanish, and "tischtennis" in German). However, even China's official governing body is called the CTTA...

The next reason I prefer "table tennis" is that "ping pong" just sounds silly to me. However, this brings me back to my (and Atha's) original point: the image and idea that come to mind when a non-table tennis athlete thinks "ping pong" differs drastically from those that come to mind for a table tennis athlete/coach. For example, and I'm sure this has happened for almost everyone, when you say, "yeah, I play table tennis," someone else says, "oh, you mean ping pong?", waves his/her hands around in the air and then says "yeah I'm really good at that". Then you end up smiling and nodding awkwardly, knowing that the person you're talking to has never seen the level of intensity at the North American Teams Championships, held yearly in Baltimore, MD, or at Nationals, and just knowing that the two of you are clearly visualizing two very different things.

Now, I'm not trying to be elitist, condescending, or arrogant; everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion and can call the sport anything they want. But, something definitely needs to be done to change the sport's image. As Atha mentioned in her post, when old ladies at country clubs say that they play tennis, nobody will confuse "old geezer" tennis with Roger Federer tennis, and nobody will say that tennis' image is marred and damaged by "old geezers". Similarly, nobody will say that kids who play baseball in empty lots make baseball look bad. And the list goes on and on. The reason for this is that sports are a big part of our culture; go channel surfing and you're sure to see games from the NBA, MLB, NFL, NSL, NHL (and note that the sports on primetime TV and the sports that are heavily advertised are exclusively male leagues, but that's a whole 'nother issue), so no matter where you look, you see professional athletes at the top of their games, earning millions of dollars because of their skills. The table tennis scene, however, is a completely different story. The extent of major media coverage of table tennis has been, as Atha mentioned, Killerspin in Chicago (which was aired at the strangest, most nonsensical times possible), and, unfortunately, the movie "Balls of Fury". Basically, the general public has never gotten the chance to see what I've seen and is unused to the idea of professional, or even Olympic, table tennis.

Finally, I have to say that while I agree that the basement is a great place for table tennis players to start out, and that it is a crucial part to the grassroots movement, I disagree with the idea that basement table tennis is the future of table tennis in the US. The basement is where a lot of people, including me, start playing and grow to like the sport. However, solely playing in your basement is not the way to up your game. You're not going to get better with practice alone; who you practice with makes all the difference. The issue of practice and practice partners could be a whoooooole other post, but my point is that table tennis HAS to come out of the basement and it most definitely needs to shed its image of it being just a game. My point is that table tennis is more than just a game. It is a huge commitment and, like any other sport, requires a lot of time, effort, and energy. Not everyone will pursue table tennis seriously, and I respect that, but those who really want to compete absolutely cannot limit themselves to their basements. And, yes, people definitely still play basketball on rundown courts, but there are summer camps, summer programs, clinics, etc., in quality facilities (an example is Hoop Zone, near my house on Rt 4. East in Englewood, NJ). The grassroots system we have in the US, as a whole, is not sufficient. It is not enough to get a bunch of people interested in table tennis; people need to see it at its best to really appreciate table tennis as a "legitimate" sport, but the only way for this to happen is more exposure, more education, better coaches, more people who know what they're talking about, and more people who can teach fundametals and basics. For example, the basics for sports like basketball, baseball, tennis, and American football are widely taught to children at an extremely young age, and, for the most part, kids really do build solid fundamental skills in these sports because whoever taught them (parents/coaches/gym class/etc.) essentials like how to properly throw a baseball or a football, and how to dribble a basketball. In contrast, basement ping pong is learned/taught by grabbing a racket and improvising until people can manage to somehow get the ball across the table. The problem with improvising is just that; you may find a stroke you're comfortable with and that gets the ball across the table a few times, but without knowledge of the basics, you will only have limited success. Again, not everyone is looking to be a world-class player, but the problem is that the highest level the average person envisions is probably the equivalent to the level of little league baseball. The issue is simply that people don't know what kind of table tennis is out there.

So, back to the original question. Is it "table tennis" or is it "ping pong"? It's really a matter of opinion. The two different names can carry two different implications for different people. But no matter what name you use, it all boils down to this point: the typical perception of the game in the US does absolutely no justice to the sport. People just do not know enough about the sport at the international, world-class level, but this is an easily fixable problem.

Senior discount?

My hero.

That's going to be me in about 60 years. It's my goal to be an old woman who whoops on little kids' butts and makes them cry. Watch out!

Korean Olympic Training

Happy Monday! The start of the 2008 Summer Olympics is fast approaching (8/8/08)! As you all know, Stephanie will actually be in Beijing to witness this event and all its crowded, humid, polluted excitement! Stay tuned for her Olympic coverage :-p.

We aren't the only ones getting ready for the excitement of the Olympics -- the actual Olympic competitors have been pushing through with full force. Why, ITTF just released an article about how the Koreans--who have produced 2 Men's Singles Olympic Gold Medalists, Yoo Nam Kyu in '88 and Ryu Seung Min in '04--are "training in earnest."

Okay, so what does training really mean? Here's a youtube video to show you what "training" on the ping pong table is (sound is lagged, but it's the best I could find)...

"Training" consists not only of doing table drills but also of doing footwork drills, jumproping, sprints, endurance runs, and weight training.

The Koreans are known for their being in tip top shape and for training super hard. This is a glimpse of a typical day of Korean National Table Tennis Team training:

5 :00 am - Wake up before the hot Korean summer heat hits
6:00-7:00 am - Training starts with 30 minutes stretching, 30 minutes running
7:00-8:00 am - Breakfast and rest
8:00-12:00 pm - First session of table training
12:00-2:00 pm - Lunch and rest
2:00-6:00 pm - Second session of table training
Optional training in the evening.

Phew! I get tired just writing about that training schedule! Also, the Korean National Players' Village is situated at the foot of Mount Bul-Am. Training in that location is meant to boost the players' power and endurance. I think I probably would die...

Read the full story here:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ping pong or table tennis? I'd say it's BOTH--A response to a reader's comment

I recently received a comment from a reader who congratulated me on naming my site "Pong with Me" and for using the term "ping pong." You can see the whole comment under my post called "Tip #1: Got Patience?" The reader asserts that "this attempt to disassociate the sport from the term 'ping pong'...betrays an arrogant and self-harming elitism - since when has a sport turned its nose up at those who self-teach themselves the sport, even though it be in basements?"

Originally, I was simply going to respond to his comment with another comment, but it turned into a whole other monster, a whole other post, a whole other schpeal!

So, in response to Tsoi Dug, I say the following:

Thank you for the comment, tsoi dug! I wholeheartedly agree with the reader that ping pong should be an acceptable term to people who call themselves "table tennis" athletes.

I think that we need to encourage more people to play in their garages and to get good in them. Look at my video of Timo Boll as a little child. That's him playing against his father in his basement in Germany! I, myself, did a lot of training in our own garage, and I call the sport "ping pong."

If we look at basketball and soccer, how many of those top athletes came from underprivileged backgrounds? How often do we see kids playing soccer in South America or Africa in dirt poor conditions? Are they not playing "real" soccer? Do we go around saying that those kids playing basketball in their local, rundown, outdoor basketball courts are not "real" basketball players? What about those old people who stand around on the tennis court at their country club and swing at a few tennis balls? Do we say, "Oh, they're not playing tennis--they're playing ___ (insert with anything along the lines of 'pseudo tennis,' 'old geezer tennis,' 'these people are lame-o's who give tennis a bad name,' etc.)." Hmm...I didn't think so.

So what makes someone playing ping pong in their basement so different from someone who plays ping pong in better conditions with better equipment that we need separate terms for the two scenarios?

Well, I do see why "table tennis" players don't want to associate with "ping pong." The majority of the American public DOES NOT see ping pong as a sport. The education simply isn't there. Most Americans see table tennis/ping pong SOLELY as the game they play in their basements and garages. They think that table tennis is just about waving your hand in the air and trying to get the little ball to bounce on the other side of the table by "not hitting the ball too hard."

It's easy to see why "table tennis" athletes try to disassociate themselves from those recreational "ping-pongers" who don't understand the true dimensions of the sport--it's because there is little or no representation of table tennis as a sport. There is nothing to redeem ping pong from being seen as a mere game which requires little physical effort. In the American media, there are no Michael Jordan's or Andy Roddick's or Mia Hamm's to make up for the old people or fat P.E. kids.

The core of this problem, however, is NOT in the term "ping pong." The problem rests in the portrayal of ping pong/table tennis in the general public and the lack of proper education and media coverage on table tennis as a sport. Now, Killerspin has done a great job by airing its matches on ESPN2, and I commend them for publicizing the sport for what it is--competitive, physical, complex, intense, and intricate. There just needs to be more of that.

Instead of shunning the "ping pongers," we should embrace them and accept the term "ping pong." The garage- and basement-ping-pong players are where the future of table tennis/ping pong is, and we just need to harness that popularity and turn it into something positive for the sport.

We need to educate these "ping pong" enthusiasts and show them everything that ping pong/table tennis can be--something more physical, complex, and rewarding than they could ever imagine.

We need to start from the bottom up (this includes basements, garages, schools, after-school programs, community centers) to promote grassroots and homegrown players and establish American players as formidable forces in the international arena.

Friday, July 11, 2008

2008 Stag PanAm Junior Championships -- it's all about the Bay Area girls!

2008 Stag PanAm Junior Championships went down in Halifax, Nova Scotia, (that's in Canada, if you didn't know) from July 7-10.

Ariel Hsing (pictured left) won the PanAm Junior Girls' title! Way to represent the Bay, the girls, and the US, Ariel! 12-year-old Ariel was one of the youngest players at the tournament. Yep, it's all about the Bay Area girls -- we used to train together at the Palo Alto Table Tennis Club.

Lily Zhang (pictured left), another Bay Area/Palo Alto youngun (also 12 years old) and one of my faves, also did quite well. Although she didn't make it to the final round robin, she did win the consolation round, grabbing the #11 spot. See? It IS all about the Bay Area girls.

Unfortunately, the American junior boys didn't perform quite as well as the girls. Southern California's Steven Chan placed 13th, and St. Louis's Justen Yao placed 17th. Unfortunately, Justen had torn his tricep while playing at the US Open in Vegas, so he was not in 100% tip-top shape. Hope you get better, Justen!

Click here for the story from Butterflyonline.com.

Click here for the full results from the Canadian Table Tennis Association's website.

Tip #1: Got patience?

Welcome to my first table tennis tip. Yay, hurray, woohoo, honk! I will be making this a regular thing, so if you have any questions please please please ask, either by e-mailing pongwithme [at] gmail.com or by simply leaving a comment, if that's easier for you.

Okay, so in table tennis, you gotta be patient. That's not to say that you don't have to make sure your legs are quick enough to get to the ball, nor does it mean you shouldn't be aggressive when the opportunity arises. However, you can't rush a point. In other words, you can't be too obsessed with finishing off the point with a killer loop before you've taken the time to set yourself up for a put-away shot.

If there's one thing that I've learned is super important in table tennis, it would be this: never fear playing out the point.

You have to be patient and strategically set yourself up for an opportunity to end the point. If you play to set yourself up for a good shot, you'll find that you will actually start winning many of your points before you even get to put away the point. Sort of anti-climactic, but it's true! You won't have to waste your energy ripping away at unnecessary shots but instead can conserve energy for times when you really need it (say, deuce in the 5th or match point).

So how should I work on that aspect of my game, you say? Well, young padawan, you must be one with the force. I'm just kidding. I would suggest that when you're playing practice matches (heck, even when you're playing a tournament match), mentally visualize how you will set yourself up for an opportunity to put the ball away.

When serving, don't think about trying to win the point with an ace serve. Instead, think about what serve will allow you to set yourself up for a good shot to put away. That strategy is based on what spin you put on your serve, where you place the ball, and where you want your opponent to receive the ball. Based on your opponent's tendencies and on the spin of your ball, try to think about the possible areas where your opponent might return the ball. As the server, you have a certain degree of control, which you can use to your advantage. You don't want to deal with your opponent's nasty underspin chop? Serve a fast, deep topspin serve so that your opponent is forced into a topspin rally. Don't want your opponent to keep ripping your serve? Serve so that your second bounce is closer to the net, so that the ball bounces lower and closer to the net so that your opponent won't even have the opportunity to attack the ball. All this is in your control.

If you're the receiver, think about what your opponent is not expecting. Think about which angles, which depth will throw your opponent off the most. When your opponent is thrown off, you will have a better chance of scoring a winner.

For inspiration, here's Timo and his crazy rally with a chopper. Now this is patience, young padawan. Enjoy!

P.S.! Go to your nearby 7-11 today to get a free Slurpee (while supplies last). Yum yum :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

*from Steph* baseball and table tennis- who woulda thought...

So, like I mentioned earlier, baseball and table tennis have, surprisingly, A LOT in common. Table tennis involves much of the same mentality and strategy used in baseball, but it's all compounded into the mind of one player instead of 9. In other words, table tennis players are the batters and fielders and the pitcher all at the same time. There are MANY parallels I could draw between the two sports, but for right now, I'll just focus on the most obvious one: pitching/batting and serving/receiving.

Ok, so a pitcher has a bunch of pitches he can choose, each with its own characteristics, including spin, grip, and velocity. Some common examples are the fastball, the change-up, the slider, the curveball, and the knuckleball (which is thrown literally with your knuckles and "dances" and floats in the air). There are endless variations to pitches in terms of grip, timing, wind-up, velocity, and degrees of spin. In table tennis, the serves share exactly the same concept, with an infinite number of possibilities in spin, speed, point of contact between ball and racket, toss, motion, and timing. In general, serves can be categorized as topspin, backspin, side-spin, or no-spin.

The most important thing pitches and serves have in common is their extreme importance in their respective sports. Anyone in baseball will tell you that to win games, it all starts with pitching. Good pitching will trump good hitting any day, because if you can hold the opposing team to even 3 runs a game on a consistent basis, not only does your team always have a chance to win, but your opponents' batters feel the pressure before the game even begins. Well, serves in table tennis are exactly the same: if you have great serves, you are always in control of the game, put enormous amounts of pressure on your opponent, and you'll be able to wiggle your way out of very close games. It's real simple. It goes like this: if your batters are constantly striking out and never even making it to first base, how many runs do you need to score to win? Just one. If you are constantly getting aces, winning points straight off your serve, or your serves are so good that they set you up for a winner (and keep in mind you serve every two points in an 11 point game), how many [essentially] freebie points do you get? Over half the game.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oceania World Cadet Challenge Team

Every year, ITTF holds the World Cadet Challenge for players under 15 years old. Every continent sends 4 girls and 4 boys to the Challenge. This year it's going to be in Helsingborg, Sweden.

Oceania just had its tryouts for its team in TAHITI. That's pretty awesome. Anyway, this is random, but I thought this picture was super cute because they all look so young and out of it. Hehe.

Click here for the full story on ittf.com.

*from Steph* hey, everyone!

Hey! So, as Atha mentioned, my name is Stephanie Shih, and I will be a guest author for this blog. I'm 18 years old and will be moving into Barnard College at Columbia University as soon as I get home from Beijing in August after watching the Olympics (and I'll be writing about the atmosphere and about the Olympics while I'm there). I live in NJ, and practice at the New York Table Tennis Club- only the best club in all of NY ;) - in Flushing [Queens], NY. I've been playing competitive table tennis since 2001, and I was on the US team from 2005-2007, on the US Girls' Cadet Team in 2005, and, as Atha mentioned, on the US Junior Girls' Team in 2006 and 2007. Playing table tennis has brought so much to my life. The best part has definitely been going to tournaments and training camps around the country and around the world- I've been to Canada, Dominican Republic, Sweden, Spain, and China for training and tournaments, and have met and chilled with people from the US to Australia.

Anyway, table tennis isn't my only favorite sport- I LOVE baseball (die-hard, hard core Yankees fan) and tennis (Djokovic and Ivanovic fan). I like almost every sport, really, because, as an athlete myself, I can relate to how the pressure of competition feels in some way or another. I just happen to find that baseball (yes, baseball) and tennis have the most in common with table tennis, and the comparisons are fascinating. I'll be writing about the connections between table tennis and baseball, and the similarities and glaring differences between table tennis and tennis. Hopefully, for any of you baseball buffs, this blog will be interesting and get you into our tt world ;)

Okay, so it's back to the Yankees game for me, and back to Atha for you. See ya!


If you haven't noticed already, I am completely reconstructing my site. Some of the links might not work, so please bear with me as I beautify my site. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


STEPH SHIH! Please welcome Steph, who will be writing some guest articles on pongwithme. She is one of my very good table tennis friends. She was also one of the top Junior Girls in the U.S. and was on the Junior National Team with me in 2007 and 2006. She's from New Jersey and will be heading off to Columbia University in New York next year. Yay for college table tennis!

I am really excited that Steph will be contributing to this blog. I am sure that she will be a great addition to the online table tennis community.

**Disclaimer** Stephanie's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Atha. Please do not get us mixed up. Thanks!

Monday, July 7, 2008

U.S. Open

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July. I had a relaxing 3-day weekend and lots of friends and family time. I love summer and weekends :).

This weekend was also a big one for U.S. pongers -- the 2008 U.S. Open went down in Las Vegas! This is an annual 5-star tournament (5-star is the highest ranking you can get, and the number of stars is based on the amount of prize money offered) that is "open" to ALL players around the world. Lots of international players come to participate in this tournament. From what I heard from my friends there, it was a good time (I don't, however, know if it was a good time because of the ping pong or the "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" type thing, if you know what I mean).

, it was a big big tournament. "28 nations, 700 players, 91 tables, 57 events, and 100 degrees," states the USATT US Open coverage. Not bad, not bad. The U.S.'s #1 woman and former Chinese national team member, Gao Jun, won the US Open women's title. Yay. I hope she does well in the Olympics! Since I wasn't at the US Open, I can't really say what it was like. From the results, I don't really recognize many of the names because they're mostly international players, and I don't keep up too much with them. But I did recognize some up and comers: Ethan Chua placed 2nd in Boys Under 11, and "John John" Alto won the Boys Under 13 event. Yay, congrats to them! It's hard to win an event at the US Open because of the large number of international players, but they pulled through :).

I'm sad that I didn't get to go to the US Open, but it's okay. If you want more results, you can either visit butterflyonline.com or http://www.usatt.org/magazine/08jul-aug/OpenCoverage.shtml.

My favorite part of the weekend, however, was watching the Wimbledon Gentlemen's Final. It was AMAZING. Here's a ghetto clip of the last 6 minutes of the match from Youtube. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I used to do gymnastics as a kid...but I definitely did not bust out the gymnastics moves while playing ping pong, like one of the guys does in this video! This video is from an exhibition game from a long time back when ping pong players used to wear super tight and short shorts to show off those hot man legs (no offense if you still wear those; I understand that you need the freedom and ability to move quickly, but sometimes too much leg is too much leg!). Anyhow, this was also back when players were allowed to hide their serves. In 2000, ITTF passed a rule stipulating that serves could NOT be hidden by any body part or article of clothing between the point of contact between ball and racket and the two net posts. That law was passed at the same time as when ITTF also changed the ball size from 38mm in diameter to 40mm in diameter. There was a big commotion -- and, man, it was 8 years ago! Time flies.

As you'll notice in the video, there are two very different playing styles. Both players hold their rackets with shakehand grips. The guy closer to the camera has an aggressive, forehand-dominated, looping style. The guy farther from the camera is more of a defensive player, who prefers to chop (give the ball underspin), fish (just getting the ball back over the net with a little bit of topspin), and lob (getting the ball really high up in the air). Of course, this is an exhibition game, so the two players are not actually playing their hardest, and all of the gymnastics and theatrics are not too commonplace in a real match.

And a shoutout to nukemdomis, this video is for you! And thanks to everyone who has been visiting my site :).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ping pong in Africa

I hope you all had a lovely weekend. I did :).

So I was catching up on some ITTF news, and last week, the African Seniors Cup took place in Nigeria. It's always a little bit weird to think of table tennis in countries outside of Asia or Western Europe, but table tennis exists everywhere! It truly is a global sport. While I was training in China a few summers ago, I met Egyptian, Sri Lankan, Indian (okay, India and Sri Lanka are technically in Asia, but you know what I mean), Ukrainian, and Polish players. Pretty crazy, eh?

Anyway, as I was saying, the African Seniors Cup went down last week. And the interesting thing about the tournament was that a Chinese Congo-Brazzaville woman named Yang Fen won the Women's event. A Chinese Congo-Brazzaville table tennis player. Crazy. Sorry if I sound ignorant--I don't know very much about Africa--but I didn't even know that Chinese people lived in Congo-Brazzaville. Yang Fen is currently ranked #250 in the world women's rankings and is ranked #1 in the continent of Africa. She is going to represent Africa and Congo-Brazzaville at the 2008 Olympics.

So the thing that caught my attention was the words "African Seniors Cup" and the accompanying picture of a Chinese girl with poofy hair and her coach (pictured above). Chinese ping pong players are notorious for leaving China after years of table tennis training, moving to other countries (Canada, USA, Austria, Singapore, Hong Kong), and replacing those countries own homegrown players as the top players. Now, being a homegrown American table tennis player myself, I know how the feeling of having absolutely no hope of becoming a top top table tennis player, even in the US, which does not do very well in international events. It does stink to have any good foreign player (now I'm not just talking about Chinese players; I'm also talking about Europeans) come in and sit at the top of the rankings and on the national teams.

HOWEVER, I think that so many people are taking the wrong attitude in how to solve this problem. I've heard people complain about how Chinese players are "taking over" the sport, as if it were some disease or something. The solution is not to complain and impose bans and restrictions. Instead the fact that Chinese players can just come into your country and defeat your homegrown players is just a wake up call to every country that its table tennis associations need to start from within and develop its own players. Each country needs to invest in itself and find ways to catch up to and compete with China. The beauty of the freedom of movement is the exchange of ideas and skills. It's about the spirit of competition, and the last time I checked, whining wasn't part of it.

Anyway, this is not a response to any specific person or current event; it's just a general reaction to the things I've heard and seen in the past years. Please feel free to leave any comments. And thanks for reading :).