Next week, from July 2-6, is the annual US Open tournament, with prizes awarded for Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles in a range of age and ability divisions. Last year’s Singles winners – Eugene Zhen Wang and Liu Juan– set a truly high standard for their challengers, and we’re all excited to see new heights of athleticism and technique on display this week.
The US Open has been a focus for change and development in the sport since its inception. This year will feature hard bat competition, a trend which recalls the early days of the sport and may forecast its future. It was also a lightning rod for calls for increased professionalism in table tennis competition as early as 1976, when the sport was well underway to its current refinement.
Whether it’s evolving technique, scientific refinement, or sheer athleticism, there is always something exciting on display for table tennis fans at the US Open. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Ever noticed how the Chinese team’s primary playing shirt colour is red? Well, perhaps they have accidentally (or purposefully) chosen a colour that actually makes them more likely to win.
British anthropologists Russell Hill and Robert Barton of the University of Durham in England studied the outcomes of one-on-one combat sports such as boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman-wresting, and freestyle-wrestling matches at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
In those sports, Olympic staff randomly assign either red or blue clothing to competitors. When otherwise equally matched by their opponent, athletes wearing red were more likely to win.
On the subject of lighting, the author cites a German study of the influence of light levels on athletic task performance. Humans exposed to higher light levels – such as the regulation 1,000 lux at the US Open – perform noticeably better on athletic and endurance tasks.
Love him or hate him, Tim Boggan’s life and career has mirrored the development of Table Tennis as a professional sport – even extending to when we played Ping Pong, instead. Here, he recounts the contentious 1976 US Open, which was picketed by several players:
At the 1976 U.S. Open, I was at the forefront of a group of players who picketed the Philadelphia venue because we all felt the prize money was grossly inadequate. Back then, and for some time after, I was quite outspoken about what I felt or thought. I remember one player passing me as I was on the picket line who hissed, “You’re disgusting.” But our boycott of this tournament was heard. Thanks to Neil Smyth and Bill Hodge the first U.S. Closed was held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, with 10 times the prize money that had been offered at the Open.
While Boggan’s opinions and play were often controversial, his work chronicling the history of the sport is invaluable.
Professional table tennis is played with sponge paddles, which allow increased control at the cost of power and accessibility. This year’s US Open features a hard bat division, calling back to the days of power strokes and sandpaper paddles. Is this part of a wider movement within the sport?
“For once in my life, I looked backward rather than forward in history, and I found out that current table tennis had no television appeal,” Hearn said. “The rallies are too short. It lacks athleticism. It’s just not big enough.”
Hearn filled Alexandra Palace with booming rock music for the competition, and he made sure the beer stands were always pouring. He wooed top players with a $100,000 prize purse—10 times greater than Table Tennis’s U.S. Open pays its winner. The two-day tournament attracted several thousand spectators and a million television viewers on Sky Sports.
“Guys would make these amazing shots from 15 feet past the table and just smash it into the corner,” Hearn said. “The rallies went on and on. The crowd would go crazy.”
While we applaud the technical wizardry of sponge play, with its layers of spin and deception, we would love to see a return to the packed halls and excitement of the sport’s early days. Is encouraging hard bat play a key part of that revival?
While entries for the 2013 US Open are still being processed, it looks like Coach Liu Juan of the New York Table Tennis Club is not (at the time of writing) on the list of confirmed entries for this year’s Women’s Singles Championship.
Last year came down to an incredible match between her and HuiJing Wang, showcasing Liu Juan’s trademark blend of power and spin control:
Who’s your pick for Women’s Singles champion this year?
Eugene Zhen Wang is a player to watch this year. As we write this, he holds the highest win percentage in the sport (98.48%) and is the current US Open Men’s Singles champion. From his Olympic profile:
Eugene Wang is the No. 1 ranked table tennis player in North America and will be making his first appearance at an Olympic Games at London 2012. He became a Canadian citizen in June 2012, in time to represent Canada in London.
His to date greatest success came on the ITTF World Tour where he finished 5th losing only to World #1 Ma Long of China. Wang recently won the 2012 Butterfly Cary Cup and has been building on an impressive 2011 that saw him crowned as champion of the Badger Open, the L.A. Open and finalist of the U.S. Open.
Table tennis is nothing if not dynamic – watching Eugene defend his position this year should be incredibly interesting.
This year’s top players are gathering in Las Vegas at the LVH to compete for international recognition and cash prizes. This week, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most interesting players, trends, and trivia surrounding this prestigious event.
We’ll start the week with profiles and videos of last year’s Singles winners, before moving on to items of historical and scientific interest – including one which may forecast a change at the heart of table tennis, itself. Stay with us!
What a week! We hope you enjoyed these classic games from some of the greatest table tennis players of all time. If we missed your favorite player, or you want to highlight a game from one of these star athletes, please contact us and share your thoughts! It’s always a pleasure to meet and get to know other table tennis fans.
It’s hard to pick just two figures from the early days of old school table tennis. We settled on Richard Bergmann and Viktor Barna, seven- and five-time World Champions, respectively. Their contributions to growing the game of table tennis cannot be undersold, from raising the level of competitive play to working to popularize the sport.
These two arguably laid the foundations for the three players many consider the best table tennis competitors off all time: Waldner, Kong, and Liu. All three of these men are legends, having completed Grand Slams in international competition and captured Olympic gold. Waldner and Kong, in their turn, have dominated all five of the major international competitions, while Kong went on to additional honor in the 1996 ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals. These three men are perhaps the best athletes table tennis has ever produced.
We hope you enjoyed these games – and learning about these fantastic players – as much as we enjoyed sharing them with you! Come back next week as we explore the US Open in Las Vegas: who’ll be there and what to expect at the oldest table tennis competition in the United States.
The current coach of China’s Men’s National Table Tennis team, Liu was the second to complete a Grand Slam victory of the three major international competitions, and the first Chinese player to do so. His style is aggressive, steamrolling lesser opponents with hidden, incredibly fast serves. Below, you can see him take on Waldner in 2000:
Both of these players are among the greatest in history. Watching them match their strength against each other is simply riveting.
The number one ranked US player from 1988 to 1998, Cheng Yinhua began his professional career at age twelve in Chengdu, China. Over the course of his career, he’s matched many of the greatest contemporary players in the sport and coached on two continents.
Today, we’d like to profile Chen’s career and style of play. While not the flashiest or best-known player in the game, he’s a living example of the international character of today’s table tennis community.
The Accidental Shakehand
Cheng Yinghua’s first exposure to the game was through a physical education teacher in Chengdu province. The two played regularly, enjoying each other’s company and the game. It was this teacher who gave Cheng his first paddle – a penholder racket, in the predominant Eastern style – which young Cheng shortly lost. The only available replacement was a shakehand-grip paddle, leading to Cheng’s lifelong preference for shakehand play. This accident of early training would determine much of the shape of Cheng’s later career.
He moved to a table tennis training school at the age of twelve, drawing a government salary and training with almost every waking moment (two hours daily were devoted to outside academic pursuits). Competition on the Chinese Men’s National Team followed, with a respectable showings at the Chinese Elite Championships and a 1983 victory in the Finland Open.
His shakehand style proved unpopular among the professional Chinese table tennis establishment, which unfairly capped his advancement in that country despite a winning record against formidable players such as Waldner, Seemiller, and Wen Chia Wu.
In 1988, Cheng took a position with the USTTA as a practice partner for the national team. This led to a US-centric career and eventual citizenship; Cheng won the US Men’s Singles Championship four times, the US Men’s Doubles Championship three times, and the US Mixed Doubles Championship five times. Twice, in 1983 and 1995, Cheng won the US Open Men’s Singles Tournament. Counter to popular wisdom regarding the peek age of table tennis athletes, Cheng went on to win the US Nationals twice over the age of forty- once at age 46 in 2004 and again in 2006. This final championship win was against one of his own students, Han Xiao.
Today, Cheng coaches in the US Nationals and plays for the US Men’s National Team. With generations of students in both East and West, Cheng may yet prove to be the most enduring and influential figure in the sport.
Cheng’s Style of Play
Cheng plays in a modified two-wing looper style, one of the more popular styles in the upper echelons of competitive play. Putting heavy topspin on the ball allows a player to give serious speed to the ball, while dropping it closer to the net than the power of the stroke – and an opponent’s intuition – would suggest.
Two-wing lopper players range from three to eight feet from the table; Cheng has shown himself to be comfortable anywhere in this range, adjusting his stroke length to suit the changing conditions of play.
Cheng’s personal style is quite aggressive, executing powerful topspin attacks with equal speed and power from both fore- and backhand. His versatility and aggressive play routinely befuddle opponents, as Cheng is able to work at a range of distances and from either side of the paddle, with few of the typical strategic weaknesses of shakehand-style players. Possibly, this is due to his first decades in China, playing shakehand against mostly penhold players. Without developing Eastern flexibility to match the power of his more typically Western style, Cheng could have been easily out-played by his early rivals.
Ironically, it was likely Cheng’s Chinese experience as a professional practice partner which developed his famed versatility and aggression. His role was frequently to train Chinese players by mimicking the specific style of Western contenders they would face. Cheng was able to become Waldner, Klampar, and other famed Western players.
As Cheng’s most important contribution to the game is through his coaching, we thought it would be best to close our profile by sharing a few videos of his American coaching career. (Videos of his time in China are seemingly impossible to find- if you have any to share, please contact us!)
Here, Cheng coaches young table tennis hopeful Matt Winkler in forehand strokes and topspin returns:
In this session, Cheng and Larry Hall play a practice game, with Cheng interrupting to display proper form and technique:
From the same year, here’s Cheng and Marques Dillard:
If you’re looking to improve your game, it’s worth taking the time to study and understand these sessions with one of the most well-respected coaches on the international scene. Enjoy!