Table Tennis Tidbits #10

By Robert Ho | Oct. 02, 2017, 9:01 p.m. (ET)

2015 World Tour Grand Finals

TABLE TENNIS TIDBITS #10 By Robert Ho 12-10-15


Shades of Takashima?  Omni-potent Ma: ’15 World Tour Grand Final

An observer said Hitomi Sato of Japan was reminiscent of Norio Takashima and Koji Matsushita and their chopping skills. I have seen both Koji and Norio play; while I was mildly impressed by Koji, I was “massively” impressed by Norio.  So with great anticipation I watched Hitomi win her first 3 matches of the women’s U 21 class against one attacker from Hongkong; then 2 attackers from Singapore.  Hitomi exhibited wonderful chopping skills and an impressive attack reputedly using Tenergy on the forehand and Feint on the backhand; infrequently she would twirl the bat during a point.  In the 4th round (a semifinal) she played countrywoman Yui Hamamoto a RH attacker.  As in her previous matches Hitomi was able to chop, topspin and occasionally lob.  Her previous opponents did not exhibit the level of power and consistency against her defense as did Yui; also Hitomi’s attack hardly fazed Yui as it had the earlier opponents: 11-7,11-6, 12-10, 2-11, 11-8 in favor of Hamamoto put her in the final.  There was 1 towel break during the whole match!

In the final Hamamoto meets Lin Ye of Singapore who is slightly more consistent than Hamamoto; they are about equal in power and the heavy forehand push which Hamamoto often uses to set up her attack is minimally troublesome for Lin who wins 10, -8, -4, 9, 7, 8.  Hamamoto, 17 years of age and 50th in the world has a serious demeanor but emits a slight smile upon receiving a check for $5000 for 2nd place; Lin, 19 years of age, 57th in the world receives $10,000 for 1st prize.

What a dream of a men’s final: #1 in the world and current world champion, Ma Long of China (29 years old) plays countryman (one might say boy) 18 year old Fan Zhen Dong, #2 in the world: $60,000 for the winner, 30,000 for 2nd.  Both players are “righties” with the expected mobility and technical proficiency in FH and BH looping.  In addition some unexpected delicacy was displayed at times.  Midway thru the 1st game and midway thru a point when he was away from the table, Ma FH chops 2 balls in a row, then wins the point with a FH loop; at 9-10, BH chops to tie the game 10 all.  In the 2nd game there is one BH chop by Fan; in the same game, away from the table Ma BH lobs, then BH loops to win the point.  In game 3 at 9-all, Fan BH loops from his FH corner, then FH loops from his BH corner for the point to make it 10-9, his favor.  In the 4th game, Ma uses a BH serve once; otherwise all serves by both players were with the FH.  In game 5, Ma chop blocks twice in a row—the 2nd goes long.  I mention the above details to illustrate the all around skills of the players.  Oh—were you interested in the outcome of the match?  The scores were 12-10, 12-10, 11-13, 7-11, 7-11, 11-8, 11-9 with Ma winning the bigger check.

A minor interesting note to the men’s final: there were no towel breaks!  I suspect that towel-breaking every 6 points as permitted by the rules is employed by some players hoping it might be a tactical/psychological advantage, even though there may not be sufficient perspiration to necessitate it.  Although Ma and Fan were observed to shrug a shoulder or raise an arm to sleeve away perspiration, one might infer they didn’t want the longer disruption of their focus that might occur by walking to their towel and using it—interesting implications re the behavior of the top 2 players in the world compared to others.

Ma’s very selective use of chopping and chop-blocking illustrates their role in point making: they may disrupt the opponent’s attacking rhythm before Ma quickly resumes his effort to win the point by attacking.  Ma does not appear to use those “defensive strokes” hoping to win the point by his opponent’s error in dealing with the chop.  Psychologically, if not tactically, heavy reliance on chopping is often associated with the hope that the chopper will win the point by the opponent’s error.  This approach becomes progressively less successful as one ascends skill levels.  It becomes possible to hit the ball so hard, or with so much spin, or so well directed that a controlled chop becomes impossible.  Such attacking shots can win a point outright but a chop does not usually win a point outright.

The women’s final was won by 2 times world champion Ding Ning against teammate Chen Ming 11,-10, 7, 2, -9, 7.  Ding had been out of action recovering from illness a period of time before the tournament but was still optimistic about her chances in this tournament, confirmed by her performance.