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11 Questions with Adam Bobrow

By USATT | Aug. 31, 2015, 12 a.m. (ET)

 Adam Bobrow

USATT Insider poses 11 questions to Adam Bobrow

11 Questions with Adam Bobrow

1) Why do you play?

It’s endlessly fascinating to me.  There’s always something new to discover, to learn and to create.  It’s fun, challenging, good exercise and like an ongoing puzzle in real time (to out-think and out-play your opponent).  I also feel that it’s a great ice-breaker and nice social lubricant.  Even in parts of the world where I don’t speak the same language, if I play table tennis with a group, I immediately have something in common with a group of locals.

2) Which is your favorite tournament?

To watch, I love watching many ITTF tournaments. The World Championships (especially the teams) and of course the Olympics.  It’s also exciting to see tournaments where the top Chinese players aren’t there (I love watching them play as well) because there is an element of suspense.  It’s much tougher to predict the winner and THAT makes it more interesting.

To watch in the US, the NCTTA Collegiate Nationals is TOO much fun.  The social atmosphere is incredible and the level is even stronger than the US Nationals.
To play, well… I really enjoy playing the Hanoi Open (Vietnam Open).

In the US, I really enjoy James Therriault’s tournaments because it involves lots of playing.  Same with Len Winkler’s Big Isalnd Open in Hilo.  The US Open, Nationals, the teams… those are all great and several local tournaments as well (anything at Santa Monica College is fun because they have a LOT of space so I can really play my game with a lower chance of injury).

3) Who is your primary nemesis? 

Hmmm…. It’s funny… Scott Malek is a friend and we have really intense matches.  For as long as I have known him he’s been a better player than me (and still is).  EVEN when my rating was higher (which I think happened for a brief moment) he has had a strong winning record over me.  So I think I get pretty intense when I play him… but that’s hopefully a big compliment because I really have to fight so hard to try and out play him which rarely happens.

4) What is your favorite game tactic to score?

Just listen and show that I am genuinely interested in what she is saying.  Sorry, I just re-read the question and think I understand it now (why doesn’t my computer have a delete button?). I guess it completely depends on who is on the other side of the table.  I often like to try and fool my opponent with a serve that is either difficult to read, deceptively spinny or kicks.  Starting the point right really helps my chances.  Of course stronger players punish long serves better unless they are really fast and well-placed.  As the receiver I like to wait and if the ball comes off the table, start with a forehand loop.  Against many well-trained players that are higher level (obviously at a certain point this is far less effective), but I like to really slow the ball down… lob the ball… put some sidespin on it or something that’s a bit tricky or unpredictable or forces them to break their rhythm and in many cases, play a game that they have very little experience playing. 

5) Thoughts on the Poly Ball.

Took a little while for me to get used to it.  Anything that makes me feel like I am playing worse than I am used to is difficult to like, but things change and we have to adapt… that’s life.  At this point, I am a fan.  I am used to it and when I go to countries where people still use the celluloid balls, I can’t do it.  I’ve worked to hard to move on.  I read Matt Winkler’s answer on this and completely agree about XIOM’s seamless ball.  It’s hands down my favorite ball to play with.  It feels faster and more consistent than any poly ball I have used.

6) Toughest Loss? 

Man… there have been some really tough losses in my life.  Interestingly, it’s not necessary how much I choked that makes it the worst.  It’s more emotional.  In the finals for the 2013 Hanoi Open (C-Division) I was up 9-2 in the 5th and deciding game… and lost NINE POINTS IN A ROW!!!!  But honestly, it didn’t bother me that much because the match was really fun and the crowd was laughing and cheering the whole time.  Also, I think the guy who beat me probably felt pretty awesome to accomplish that comeback.  I would in his situation.

I think for me it was against Kyna Fong at UC Berkley for some NATT tournament probably around 2006 or so.  Kyna has always been extremely kind and a very respectable athlete and even role model within the sport.  In addition she was a better player than me as her rating reflected. As many people can probably relate to (and I see it) I am sometimes a bit obsessed with rating points.  As if my rating is directly represents my quality as a human being and the legacy I leave behind (it’s really quite silly… but still understandable to want to achieve a high rating… like its own game).  Just the week before this tournament I played Kyna for my first time at a local club and won.  In the tournament, I felt like I was having a decent tournament and saw that I was facing Kyna, had a good strategy in mind to repeat my past (and unofficial) victory and found that I was failing to execute my plan.  Of course the simple story is, she out-played me, but I was beating myself up inside and when I finally lost the match, I was SOOO furious that I had to leave the playing area and ask the rec center employees where there were punching bags in the building.  When I got down to the room with the punching bags, there was only one other guy in the room…. this buff Asian guy in a tank top who probably out-weighed me by 40 pounds of solid muscle just training.  I asked him “do you mind if I use this bag?” pointing to a bag not to far from his.  He said “No. go ahead.” Well… I just started SCREAMING and KICKING and SWINGING at this bag like it had killed a family member and within about 5-10 seconds of this starting, the guy left the room and after about 30 seconds or so, I was COMPLETELY exhausted and panting like I had just run a marathon.  I looked in the mirror and my face what BRIGHT red and my knuckles were all scraped up.  I paced around for a while knowing that I wasn’t ready to face humanity yet.  A few minutes later, I splashed some cold water on myself, drank some water as well and re-entered the gym and did my best to remind myself that it wasn’t a big deal.  I think very few people knew that this happened.  THAT was probably the toughest loss for me. 8>)

7) Greatest Win?

Man… just ONE?!?!?  It’s so tough for me to choose favorites unless it’s my favorite movie (The Shawshank Redemption).  Two REALLY stand out for me.  At the 2014 Hanoi Open, I had a semi-final match against Johnny Chau who was over 2300 at the time and I had never beaten him in a tournament and maybe beaten ONCE in about 10 attempts at local clubs… or not at all… I can’t recall. 

Well, the organizers of the tournament told me to really fight this year.  They told me that I don’t need to entertain the crowd and that I should play my best, I think they were referring to the year before when I lost 9 points in a row to lose the championship.  Well, I couldn’t believe that Johnny was in my division as he seemed a whole LEVEL above the rest of us (I am usually around 2100 and the guy I played in the finals the year before was probably about 2000 level).  Well, I was fighting so hard that the Vietnamese fans (who call me “Mr. Bean” probably saw a side of me they had never seen… and maybe didn’t like… but that wasn’t my concern… fighting hard to win… that was my concern).  Well, Johnny had 3 match points at 10-7 in game 4 up 2 games to 1 and I came back to win the match.  That accomplishment had me with tears in my eyes because I worked so hard for it and couldn’t believe it actually paid off.

The other one, was against 2008 Olympic Women’s team member and several time national team member, Jackie Lee.  I had seen Jackie play many times and respected her as a top player in the US.  At the time she was 2380 and I was around 2100 and we met in the early rounds of the U2400’s at the US Nationals.  She had just come back from training in Sweden or possibly China (can’t recall) so was prepared to play well at this tournament.  Having watched Jackie play before, I knew that she was clearly a better player than me and that she was very strong over the table, off the bounce and liked to spin the ball from both wings.  At the same time, she had to be no taller than 5’3” and since she played a very straight forward, textbook spin game from both sides, I wasn’t super concerned about being overpowered with flat hits.  I thought that since I am comfortable getting far from the table and lobbing, that as long as I kept the ball high and deep on the table with good topspin and varying the sidespins… I might have a chance.

Well, I gave Jackie the best warm up I could before the match considering I am a much weaker player and felt a great sense of respect (also because she was clearly such a professional in her demeanor and attitude on the court).  Once the match started, I attacked any serve I could if it came up a little high or came long off the table and otherwise, I pushed deep and allowed her to spin the ball as I quickly backed up and lobbed.  We had some REALLY long rallies and whenever I had a really high and deep, kicking lob, I would try to creep back in a little and counter attack for a winner. Partially because the points were so long and suspenseful and partially because I won the first game and spectators started talking and crowding around, we ended up having about 100 people around our court watching. 

I managed to pull out the match 3 game to 1.  This was the first tournament that I wore my “sexy santa shorts” (which are really boxers that I got at Ross because they looked fun, were comfy and about the same length as most TT shorts), and after that they became my regular shorts.  I am not superstitious, but they are comfy, light, breathable and just FUN to wear!  Not to mention… they carry some history and maybe even remind me that I am more capable than I realize at times.

8) How you prepare for a tournament?

I make sure I have my food, shoes, shorts and racket.  That’s about it. 8>D  (WHAT?!?!! A short ANSWER?!?!?!  Just mixing it up 8>)

9) When you see a new player at the club, what do you do?

Of course this depends… but in general, I approach that player when I am not in the middle of a match and introduce myself. I try to make said player feel comfortable, welcomed and let the player know that he/she has someone to call on for anything and doesn’t feel intimidated, alone or out of place there.  I remember when I started coming to play at clubs and know how important the social aspect is.  Not everyone is so outgoing and I want to do whatever I can to get more people involved in this sport. ESPECIALLY people who go out of their way to find a place to play.  They clearly love it too.  Also, it’s often fun to play with the new player.

10) Player you would most like to play in a tournament?

Hmmm…. From the US?  Well, I guess anyone who seems way over-rated 8>D  COMPLETELY unrelated, I would like to play Amy Wang.  I have watched her play MANY times and am VERY impressed with her game.  I think she has certain unique skills and such an UNUSUAL mental game… that she’d probably CRUSH me… but it would be a fun experiment and experience.

11) If you had to face Jimmy Butler, Lily Zhang or Kanak Jha what would your game plan be?
I have played all of them for fun before and Kanak in matches before he sky rocketed in level (but was still stronger than me) and now, it’s sort of like throwing an ice cube at the sun.  They are a few levels above and beyond me BUT… if I am playing to give myself the BEST possibly chance to win rather than simply have fun, even if that chance is 1 in a MILLION or anything that rhymes with “MILLION”… then I guess I would try to do what I see on the ITTF World Tour.  I would try to do everything that I have learned watching the best and hope that I can execute a higher percentage than would seem likely for a guy who hasn’t put in the work or practice.  That list could go ON and ON!  But in short, I would only serve with VERY clear intentions and plans for a third ball.  I would try to use my forehand attack as much as possible and try and find their middle, block instead of backing off the table and try to change the pace, break the rhythm by changing placement and spin and really try to use the element surprise wherever possible.  I would basically play out of my comfort zone and see if I could get them out of their comfort zone. Please don’t put any money on me in any of these matches. 8>) Hats off to our top players.