USATT Super Camp - Day 10

By Videos/Images by Matt Hetherington & Story by Larry Hodges | July 20, 2016, 1:16 p.m. (ET)

USATT Super Camp - Day Ten by Larry Hodges

Sometimes cold print like this doesn’t really do justice to all that’s happening. With luminaries like Dan Seemiller, Sean O’Neill, Lily Yip, Richard McAfee, Samson Dubina, Han Xiao, Wang Qing Liang, and Cory Eider, and with so many of the top juniors in the country, there are so many interactions going on that there’s no real way of reporting on them. For example, Lisa Lin has a really nice backhand serve, her best serve. I told her how Dan probably had the best backhand serve in U.S. history - incredibly spinny and deceptive, plus he knew how to follow it up - and suggested she talk to him about it. Five minutes later I find them in deep discussion as Dan’s demonstrating and explaining it for her. This is how knowledge is passed from one generation to the next. 

The kids got to sleep late today - no physical training. (But we have evil plans for tomorrow - another timed mile run.) After a morning of video games on various devices (and a room inspection, followed by forced clean-ups as I stood guard, arms folded), we went over to the club at 11:30AM for a birthday party for Michael Tran (who turned 14 today) and his brother Daniel (who recently turned nine). We had lots of chocolate and vanilla cake. 

Sean O’Neill had to leave for the day, driving back to Virginia for a funeral. He’ll be back tomorrow. Lily Yip ran the 12-2PM session for the lower group, with my assistance, while Dan and Cory were with the upper group. (Note that “upper group” refers to overall level; the kids in the “lower group” may be lower rated, but they are also mostly younger.) 

Once again I was recruited as a practice partner. I warmed up for a while with Nandan Naresh (age 9, 1830). Then I blocked while he did side-to-side forehand looping footwork. Then Jessica Lin (12, 1906) took his place and we each did a serve and loop off backspin drill, playing out point after the loop. Then one of our practice partners had to leave, leaving us with an even number again, so I wasn’t needed as a practice partner, so I became a roving coach. The next drill was serve short backspin, receiver backhand banana flip, play out point (POP). They did a few other drills, and then they played 30 minutes of up-down tables, games to 11.

One problem - I spent the morning and much of the afternoon with severe indigestion. I also thought I had a slight fever and felt like I’d just run ten miles. I kept it to myself and struggled through the session. By the afternoon it had cleared up. However, I later found out that a couple other kids had the same symptoms. We all played through it. 

We started the 5-8PM session with Dan Seemiller giving a short lecture on excelling in as many things as you can, reiterating what he’d spoken about yesterday. He went over each of the 15 items again - so here’s the list from yesterday, with a few notes from today:

1. Serve - must set up your attack. 
2. Ball placement - learn to target the moving middle. It’s different for everyone. 
3. Power
4. Consistency
5. Footwork - must be in shape!
6. Receive - you’ll make mistakes, so don’t worry about that.
7. Deception (serves and strokes) - how much is in your game? 
8. Fundamentals - you should always be working on these, and will do so the rest of your playing career. 
9. Tactics
10. Shot selection
11. Rally ability
12. Blocking
13. Looping (forehand and backhand)
14. Reading of spin
15. Experience - When you lose a match, learn at least one thing, maybe two.

Once again I worked with Lily with the lower group. I started out hitting with Daniel Tran (9, 1801), doing the 2-1 footwork drill (backhand, forehand from backhand side, forehand from forehand side). Then we did a drill where we each spent ten minutes serving deep serves into each other’s backhands. (He’s a lefty, so we served down the line.) It took me a few minutes to convince myself that he really could tee off on my returns to his forehand, but once I began going into this backhand more, he started guarding that side, and I was able to go more into the forehand. We had some vicious rallies, including some nice counterlooping duels. (I may have had my most memorable backhand counterlooping rally ever, where he forehand looped to my backhand over and over and I did about ten backhand counterloops before winning the point.) 

Then it was my turn; he had trouble when I kept varying the spin on my down-the-line fast serves, but gradually improved. When I served really fast, but with straight topspin, he’d just smack it in with his backhand. Since he liked going to my wide forehand and then step around to counterloop, we again had some vicious counterlooping duels. I threw everything at him when I served - fast topspin, breaking sidespin either way, fast and dead, and all sorts of fakes. Most worked the first time. Other than a deceptive forehand pendulum side-top serve that looks like backspin (and gets most people), he adjusted to them all. 

Then, after a five-minute break, Lily took four girls for multiball while I took the seven boys plus Katie Chen (about 1900) and ran their drills. I called three drills, with each player doing it about 7 minutes. Before each drill I called them together to go over the purpose and focus on the drill. 

1. Forehand Random Looping Drill. One player blocks randomly to 60% of table, other player loops. Blocker has to jump on any loops that land short and block at very wide angles - so loopers needed to drive the ball deep. They also had to focus on balance - no off-balance follow-throughs that left them open on the next shot. I demonstrated the proper way loop and recover quickly - it’s all about proper rotation and balance. 
2. Short to Forehand/Long to Backhand. One player serves short backspin. Receiver either drops it short to the forehand or pushes quick to the backhand. Server has to forehand flip or backhand loop, then they play out the point. I stressed that the receiver should regularly aim one way, push the other - for example, start to push crosscourt deep to the backhand, but at the last second drop the racket tip and angle it to the left, and drop it short to the forehand. The goal on both sides was to mess up the opponent!
3. Middle-Random Drill. One player alternates blocking to the middle and randomly to a corner. The other player forehand loops from the middle, then loops or drives from either wing against the random ball to the corner, with all of his shots going to the same side for the blocker. None had done this drill before, which I had learned from Stellan Bengtsson - the purpose was to learn to cover and dominate the table from the middle with the forehand, and react to random angled shots. The kids had trouble at first, but found it easier when I told them to alternate saying to themselves, “Middle, Random, Middle, Random…”

I then paired them up into six doubles teams - keeping players who play together regularly on a team together - and had a lecture/demo/discussion on doubles tactics. Then they played up-down tables that way, games to 11, on three tables. 

Next was Brazilian teams, one game to 31. (Player from each team plays a point; winner stays on, loser goes to the end of his team’s line, and next player comes up. New player always serves.) I told them about one of my greatest memories, from the 1978 Seemiller camp in Pittsburgh, where I was on a six-person team, one game to 51, with our team down 48-33 when I went to the table. I was around 1800, and the other team had Perry Schwartzberg (2400+), Joe Rokop (2200+), a 2000 player, and three other players around my level. The rule there was new player received, so I got to serve each time I won a point - and I just served and forehand attacked over and over, and won 18 in a row to win 51-48!!! That was the moment when I realized these great players weren’t gods, that if you learned to play properly you could win against them. This is a lesson everyone should learn. 

We chose up four three-person teams (the girls had rejoined us) and paired them up. They played one game to 31. Afterwards, we had five minutes, so I told the two losing teams they would now have their chance for revenge with one game to 11 - but everyone had to play penhold!!! (They were all shakehanders.) The kids loved it, and I think both losing teams won this time. Tomorrow I might have them play opposite hand, or perhaps Seemiller style!

And then it was dinner - orange chicken (gone in minutes), beef with broccoli, another chicken dish, some sort of egg and potato dish, fried rice, and lots of watermelon. And then - after an obligatory 30 minutes of penhold play! - we returned to the house.