Table Tennis Tidbits #5 By Robert Ho

By Robert Ho | Aug. 05, 2017, 9:30 a.m. (ET)

Ding Ning injury at the 2015 World Championships

TABLE TENNIS TIDBITS # 5   By Robert Ho   9-14-15

The Point

Except for points scored by “disqualification”. i.e. illegal serve, or under the expedite rule, a player may focus on winning a point by “just returning the ball until the opponent makes an error”—a “defensive attitude”.  A player may also strive to return the ball with sufficient velocity, spin or advantageous location so that the opponent fails to make a successful return either because of an error or failure to contact the ball—the goal of an “offensive attitude”.

Before the advent of inverted sponge rubber and focused training techniques, it was a feasible tactic to consider playing defensively against another defensive player with the aim of having the expedite rule invoked by the umpire if one was confident he/she had the superior attacking game.  However today’s upper level “defensive” players are able to employ offensive tactics well enough so that the expedite rule seldom arises in such a match.  On the other hand some attackers presume they would have an advantage against a defensively oriented player in an expedited match.

Nevertheless the expedite rule is employed periodically.  The expedite rule is invoked when the elapsed time of a game has reached 10 minutes and the match is interrupted at that point unless 18 points have been scored at that moment.  The expedite rule may also be applied if requested by both players.  If a game is interrupted to invoke the expedite rule while a point is being played, whoever served the ball to start that point will serve to start the 1st point under the expedite rule.  The server alternates thereafter on each point.  The order of serve at the beginning of each game thereafter follows the original order.  If the server fails to win the point before 13 successful returns by the receiver, the receiver automatically wins that point.


3 instances of expedited matches in 2015 follow:

1.  At the World Championship Women’s Final: Ding Ning of China injured her right ankle moving to her right to make a (lefty) forehand counterloop when she stumbled, straining her right foot-ankle and took a timeout to have it medically attended.  When the match resumed the expedite rule was invoked because more than 15 minutes had elapsed; the injury time out was included in the “game time”.  The score was 3 games all; Liu Shi Wen, Ding’s opponent and Chinese compatriot, was leading 1-0 with the serve when the timeout was called.  However Ding  went on to win the match and the Women’s title.  Except for the alternation in serve, the rhythm of play was not obviously affected as both players are aggressive attackers and prolonged points between them are unusual.

2.  At the Austrian Open:  In a quarterfinal women’s match, Feng Tian Wei, an attacker from Singapore was leading 2 games to 1 over Han Ying, a chopper from Germany when the match went into expedite in the 4th game with Feng leading 9-7 with the serve.  That game ended 11-9 in favor of  Han who went on to win the match 4-2.  Prior to the expedite rule coming into effect, there were numerous long rallies between the 2 players; the ball might be struck a total of 50 times before a point was scored.  After the rule was instituted, Feng seemed “rushed” and made numerous errors trying to attack.  Paradoxically Han seemed to be aggressive but poised in her attack.  Feng did not score another point in the 4th game although she was leading 9-7 when the rule went into effect.  She lost 3 games in a row to lose the match.   Han went on to win the final 4-0 against Cheng I-Ching of Taipei, another attacker.

3. At the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan: In the Women’s Final chopper Li Jie of the Netherlands beat chopper Han Ying of Germany 4-3.  The 1st game was 12 minutes in duration (expedite is called after 10 minutes have passed).  Games 2, 3, and 4 ended after 8 minutes each.  Games 5, 6, and 7 ran 9 minutes each.  Han won the 1st 2 games at 8 and 7 respectively; Li won the next 3 games at 6, 7, and 9 respectively.  Han won game 6 at 9 and Li won the 7th game and the match at 8.  After the match Han indicated she was favorable to the match being played in expedite as she is confident in that context; however she confessed to being under a little extra pressure as she hoped to qualify directly for the Olympics by winning the match.

The foregoing 3 matches demonstrate how the sudden alteration in the game format can disrupt a player’s rhythm, especially examples 2 and 3.  Under the stress of a close match, Dean Doyle, outstanding Portland player of the ‘80s, could sometimes be heard to murmur to himself, “This point”, in an effort to focus his attention momentarily.  In a competitive sport, concern about winning and losing, correct or faulty technical performance, and success or failure are “natural” inclinations which also tend to interfere with optimal performance.  There is a fine line between enjoying the activity independent of outcomes while simultaneously striving to improve. Can one be diligent, focused, yet lighthearted?