Table Tennis Tidbits #38

By Robert Ho | Dec. 14, 2018, 10:58 a.m. (ET)

Ma Te China


TABLE TENNIS TIDBITS # 38  By Robert Ho  2-13-17

Global Whole Milk: The Cream Rises to the Top

The China Super League consists of teams composed of top players worldwide.  The players from China include both the currently top 4 men and women respectively who are familiar to fans, because they are the chosen ones for the World Tour.  The other Chinese players are infrequently seen on the world stage or not at all.  The non Chinese players are usually among the best from their respective countries facilitating dramatic comparisons between elite players and those just below that level.

The best “choppers “ in the world are part of the league and their performances served to dramatize the current state of the sport.  On the World Tour, the top male chopper is Joo Sae Hyuk of South Korea, current world ranking 15, who was the losing finalist in the ‘03 World Men’s Singles Championship to Werner Schlager of Austria.  In the ’16 China Super League, Joo lost to chopper Ma Te of China who, 2 years ago, was at or about the 20th position on the list of Chinese men.  Ma, I think, uses short pips on the BH, inverted on the FH, is right handed, and may use either side of the blade for defense or attack; he certainly attacks more often with both BH and FH than Joo or Panagiotis Gionis from Greece, another chopper on the world circuit who, like Joo, uses long pips on the BH.  In their Super League match, Ma Te beat Joo 3-1 doing far more attacking than Joo.  Ma Te  also beat Jung Young Sik, talented young attacker-teammate of Joo, who won the ’16 Korea Open.

In the ’15 China Super League Ma Te ran into countryman and World Champion Ma Long who hit the ball so hard and consistently that Ma Te did look like #20 in China rather than among the top 4 in the world!  Ma Te was successful with his own attack at times, but never really seemed likely to win.

Wu Yang of China, the top female chopper in the world and winner of the ’16 German Open, lies just outside the top 4 women in the world (all from China).  In the Super League, she topped almost all her competition, but came up short against Liu Shi Wen and Ding Ning, her teammates who are also among the top 4 in the world though the gap between her and her elite teammates is smaller than between Ma Te and his corresponding colleagues.  Hu Li Mei, another chopper at a lower rung on the Chinese ladder of performance, beat Miu Hirano of Japan, winner of the ’16 Women’s World Cup in Philadelphia.  Currently when a player not from China wins an international competition it means the top players from China are absent from the tournament.

The top choppers provided an object lesson in why the emphasis is on offense in contemporary table tennis.  The speed and force of attacking shots require that the chopper position himself at some minimum distance from the table to provide enough time to make a successful chopping response.  But at that distance a counterattacking response by the chopper is more difficult.  Moving toward the table to make a counterattack more likely to succeed, a chopper is compelled to make forward and lateral movements which make counterattacking technically more difficult and increases the chance of an error in a return to chopping in the same point.  The offensive player may not be obligated to move as much even when making a topspin defensive shot.

On the World Tour Ma Te would probably be very successful against many players from other countries, but he has little opportunity because he is so far down the list on the Chinese team.  Wu Yang, on the other hand, is occasionally selected to perform on the Tour as she did in winning the ’16 German Open.  The attacking skills of both Wu and Ma Te are at least at the level of competitors from other countries but their defensive skills often come up short against Chinese teammates.

The plethora of superior players from China may be viewed in “evolutionary terms”.  Because of the very large number of candidates aspiring to excel in the game at an early age, “natural selection” of those most inherently gifted with the desired attributes (eyesight, reaction time, agility, mental focus, willingness to train, etc.) is facilitated.  The well established training system has produced many world champions and serious contenders who often become competent coaches to perpetuate the winning ways.  In the U.S.A., somewhat the equivalent competence and tradition may be seen in football, basketball, and baseball.

For non professional enthusiasts, a guide to training priorities based on success at the highest levels could be listed as follows:

  1. Technique and positioning for “kill-looping”/”smashing” as it is possible to hit the ball hard enough so that the receiver either cannot react quickly enough to make contact with the ball or is likely to err in doing so.

  2. Technique for serving long, short or “half long” with disguised movements and varying spin or no spin to facilitate an opening attack by the server, as the player who makes the first successful aggressive shot tends to win the point.

  3. Technique for returning serve: pushing, “flipping”, looping, chopping.  With good technique, the returner may neutralize the advantage the server ordinarily enjoys and instead launch the first aggressive shot.

  4. Counter pushing, short and long by either server or returner to jockey for the first opportunity to launch a strong attack.

  5. Blocking against 3rd and 5th ball attacks, counter-looping.

  6. Default responses: lobbing, chopping.  The top Chinese men and women chop or lob when that is perhaps the best shot they can make in a given situation, but it is always a transition tactic prior to returning to offense.  They do not often chop more often than twice in a row.

The above suggested list is for individuals serious about going as far as they can with their “assets”.  Multi-ball drilling, drilling with a practice partner, drilling with a robot, photographic analysis of stroke technique and movement, and especially competent coaching are essential in a program to improve.  Physical training to enhance strength and endurance relevant to the sport should also be pursued.