USATT Insider poses 11 questions to USATT Social Media Specialist Matt Hetherington
1) Why do you play?
I started playing when I was 8 years old and I'm 26 now so in a way I feel like I've invested enough of my time in the sport to feel like it's become a major part of my life. I still have a lot of goals in so many different areas of the sport; playing, coaching, media things like my blog or now my work with USATT in digital and social media. I feel like I have a lot to contribute to the game and I'd love to see it reach its potential as a professional sport. I guess the real answer is that playing the sport is the core and source of my passion, so competing and training really feeds my love for the game which leads on to everything else I do.
Also I was a late bloomer with the sport, I didn't start training properly until I was 19 years old as the region I grew up in was really weak and had no coaches so I was mostly self taught for a good 6 years before I went to College. I moved cities for College and started to train more regularly and after a year I had the chance to represent New Zealand at the Oceania Championships in the Open and Under 21 Singles and Doubles and then another year later I was in the team for Australian Open. I also made the National Team for 2016 so still a little active internationally!
2) Which is your favorite tournament?
The ITTF World Tour China Open has been my favorite tournament to date, I had an awesome time there last year. It was really well organized and even though the competition was incredibly tough and in my case over very quickly, I still really enjoyed it.
3) Who is your primary nemesis?
Judy Hugh, I can't even play her. My first time in the USA 3 years ago I lost 3-2 to her and ever since then I've lost a handful of times. I find it difficult to compete with her to be honest, we spent a lot of time together at the club coaching, we are training partners and we are good friends. She can be very intimidating so she definitely has the advantage. I'm just biding my time until I turn the tables.
4) What is your favorite game tactic to score?
I'm a 5th ball attacker so playing 5th ball set plays work better for me, I usually try and heavy spin the first opening ball and take off a lot of the pace and then try and induce a softer return so I can try and position to finish the point with power or good placement.
5) Thoughts on the Poly Ball.
In the beginning I felt a little annoyed at the quality of the ball, also it can be difficult to deal with that kind of change to the game after you have been playing for such a long time. A lot of things which I would like to do in matches need more work to adjust but I feel like I have become more accustomed to the poly ball and it's not such a big problem now.
6) Toughest Loss?
After my first time in the National Team I came back and immediately felt a lot of pressure in my domestic matches. I really wanted to keep making a good impression so I could stay on the team. What ensued was a string of horrific upset losses to much lower ranked players over about 4 or 5 tournaments and essentially that turned the selection panel away from me and ruined my chances of making the team again.
7) Greatest Win?
I grew up with one player at the top of every age group I went through and I figured I would never beat him, he was also ranked top 3 in the country in the Men's. I managed to play really well and beat him 3-0 so that was great.
8) How you prepare for a tournament?
I usually listen to a lot of music and just try and make sure I get a good warmup in. When I warm up I make sure I do serve receive and short stuff and make sure my touch is in good form and just make sure things are consistent.
9) When you see a new player at the club, what do you do?
If I have a chance I like to help them if I walk past and see any obvious problems standing out, I try and talk to players regularly, it's good to be approachable especially when you are in a coaching position.
10) Player you would most like to play in a tournament?
I would love to play against some of the stronger European players like Timo and Samsonov I think that would be fun. I had a short hit with Timo when I was in China and his forehand loop is deceivingly spinny and fast, much more so than it looks in videos. They are really humble guys. Other than that it would be cool to play legends like Jorgen Persson or Saive more exhibition style.
11) If you had to face Lily Zhang or Kanak Jha what would your game plan be?
I'd really be focusing on bringing out my best service game, that would be my best chance to win points, having a lot of variation and left handed serves usually works well in my favor. Also I'd be looking to attack first, I feel like in a rally if I have time to get in position I have a chance to win points, if they can outplay me on speed which I know Lily probably can closer to the table, then I would have more trouble. I wouldn't completely count myself out, I have a few tricks in the bag.