Table Tennis Tidbits #12 By Robert Ho

By Robert Ho | Oct. 31, 2017, 10:02 p.m. (ET)

Ma Long vs Samsonov 2016

Table Tennis Tidbits #12 By Robert Ho 2-1-16


2016 German Open: Elbowing Your Way to the Top, or Not

The ‘16 German Open was won on the men’s side by the current #1 male player and world champion Ma Long of China over Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus 4-I (7, 6, 4, -12, 5).  Samsonov barely won the 4th game which was otherwise a very one-sided match. The 2 players exhibited typical technical and tactical differences between Chinese players and those from other countries.  Samsonov’s FH attack usually starts with the elbow flexed about 90 degrees—the same position used when players warm up before a match.  This allows a reliable relatively short stroke which, however, also limits the power of the stroke.  The Chinese aim to start the stroke with the elbow almost fully extended which permits greater angular excursion at the shoulder with greater velocity thus imparting greater power to the stroke.  To employ optimal stroking most of the time demands great anticipation, mobility, and excellent physical conditioning (and probably inherent physical and mental prowess beyond most of us) which is a trademark of elite Chinese whose training and philosophy of play underlie their performance.  2 ball attacks by Ma for the point were frequent.

Although Ma’s coach appeared vociferous and demonstrative toward Ma between games, I find it hard to imagine whatever “coaching” was imparted would have been very important considering how superior Ma’s performance was relative to his opponent.  Samsonov did well to reach the final beating Chuang of Taipei.  In 1989 Samsonov was the losing finalist to Waldner in Birmingham, England at the World Championships; he was #1 in the world going into that tournament so he has endured over an extended period.

What was really equivalent to the men’s final was the semifinal match between Ma and teammate Zhang Ji Ke, 3 times World Champion, Olympic Champion, and World Tour Champion.  Zhang reportedly underwent back injections in order to play.  Ma won 4-0 and has been playing so well that Zhang might not have prevailed even at his best.

The women’s final pitted the currently best female chopper in the world Wu Yang of China against Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan.  Wu won: 5, 7, -9, 8, and 7.  In the final game with the score 6 all, Wu made a chop which landed near Ishikawa’s end line.  Ishikawa’s attempt at a push return resulted in the ball shooting downward onto the table, so heavy was Wu’s downspin combined with Ishikawa’s bat plane not open (approaching horizontal) enough.

In a semifinal match Wu played teammate (also a chopper) Hu Limei.  The tactically and technically superior attack of Wu made the difference.  The chopping defense of each player is superb—inverted on the forehand in each case; short pips BH for Wu, long pips for Hu.  There were at least 5 other women choppers in the tournament all of who were eliminated by the quarterfinals.  Joo Sae Hyuk, heretofore the top male chopper from South Korea, lost in the first round to looper Gacina from Serbia.  The Greek chopper Panagiotis Gionis lost to Zhang Jike only a little later.  4 Chinese women who have superior records against Wu were not in the tournament including Liu Shi Wen whom Wu has never beaten in about 5 tries.

Even Wu displays the extended elbow position to start her loop which is a key to a powerful FH loop.  On the other hand Timo Boll, long a top player from Germany, seldom deviates from the bent elbow starting position for his FH loop which I think is a major reason why he is frequently overpowered in looping duels with Chinese players.

In her quarterfinal match with Japan’s Ai Fukuhara, Wu won with scores of 8, 4, 8, and 12.  In the fourth game, Wu was down 8-10 and deuced the game with her forehand attack.  Her attack also won the match for her.

Fan Zhen Dong #2 and Xu Xin #3 in the world respectively did not compete in this tournament.  Fang Bo and Yan An at #10 and below respectively, from China did participate; Fang lost to Jike.