The perils of coaching, losing a league title and Chinese obsessions – reflections on table tennis in 2015

Without doubt, this has been my busiest table tennis year. I’ve coached more hours than ever before, played in two different leagues and written 40 articles for my website. I even found time for a trip to Vienna to learn from one of the world’s top coaches. With so much going on, I thought I’d share some of things I’ve been up to, including a farcical coaching accident, losing a league title and becoming slightly obsessed with Chinese table tennis players.

Timo Boll vs Tomas Tregler (Champions League, December 2015)

20151220 - Timo Boll vs Tomas Tregler

Timo Boll is back from injury (although a bit rusty!) and playing again in the Champion’s league. His opponent in this match is Tomas Tregler from the Czech Republic who is ranked 180 placed below Boll. Timo Boll wins the first set fairly easily. He then takes an 8-3 up in the second set and the outcome of the match seems fairly predictable. But then Tregler stages a great comeback winning 8 straight points and the second set. The match is now tantalisingly poised. Can Boll get back on top or will Tregler cause a major upset? Watch to find out…

5 alternative match-play exercises to help you improve

Sometimes it’s useful to mix things up your training, especially the match-play element. You don’t always have to play the standard best of 3, 5 or 7 sets up to 11. There are alternative games you can play, which help you to work on weaknesses and strengths, put you outside your comfort zone and keep you focused and engaged. In this blog post I share five alternative match-play exercises I use as both a coach and a player.

Vladimir Samsonov vs Xu Xin (World Tour Grand Finals, December 2015)

20151214 - Vladimir Samsonov vs Xu Xin

Fascinating match-up between the world’s top penholder, Xu Xin, and European legend, Vladimir Samsonov. At 39 years old, Samsonov isn’t as quick as he used to be, so he has to use all his cunning, rather than speed, to disrupt Xu Xin’s attacking game. Notice how Samsonov uses the full width of the table when pushing, blocking and flicking and how often he switches the direction of play to try and keep Xu Xin off-balance. Ultimately, Xu Xin proves to be too good, but it’s a closer match than many expected. There is also a fantastic drop shot by Xu Xin in the first set, which is definitely worth watching.

Liu Dingshuo vs Xue Fei (World Junior Table Tennis Championships, December 2015)

20151207 - Liu Dingshuo vs Xue Fei

All Chinese final of the Boys’ Singles at the 2015 World Junior Table Tennis Championships. It’s a one-sided match, with Liu Dingshuo running away with a 4-0 victory against Xue Fei. But it’s great (and frightening) to watch the emerging Chinese talent. In particular, Liu Dingshuo looks like he could be a future super-star of the game. He does have a slightly annoying habit of shouting loudly after winning each point, but hopefully he will settle down as he matures. His table tennis skills, however, are definitely worth watching. Enjoy…

Frustrate your opponents with steady blocks, aggressive blocks and trick blocks

One of my favourite shots in table tennis is the block. In many ways, it’s a very simple shot. Little physical effort is required, you just need to get your body and bat in the right position and work with the speed and spin already on the ball. The other player does all the hard work, whilst you use all their speed and spin against them, putting them under lots of pressure to keep the rally going. In this blog post I look at different types of block shots you can use to frustrate your opponents.