Tuesday 28 February 2012Another month has zoomed by and its time for my next blog update. February is the start of my local competition season, and usually it's the month where all the top players come back from their off season break and start preparing for the main season, which begins in April. So typically we are all a little rusty at the start of the year, and hit our stride in late March.
This year, things are a little different. A number of our local top players are heading to Stockholm in mid-year to compete in the World Veterans Championships, so they have been practicing right through the November-January period. So there is very little rust around at the moment!
As I mentioned in my previous table tennis blog update, I spent most of the November-January period on general fitness work, and really only played table tennis once a week for about an hour or so. It wasn't until late January that I started to step up my on the table hours. As a result, I was a little off my best in touch and technique to start with, but by mid-February I was back in good form.
Physical TrainingFebruary has been a consolidation month in terms of my fitness training. I've been working out how best to combine my weight training and aerobic work with on table training, without over doing things. I've still got a fair bit of work to do to get into top physical shape, so I can't just let that side of things slide while focusing on my table tennis training, or else I'll start going backwards again.
At the moment, I'll still sticking to my policy of flexible training. I know that I need a couple of days to recover from a weight training session, so I make sure I don't do any weight lifting or intense aerobic work just before a tournament. If I feel a bit tired, I'll have an easy session or take the day off. Now that I'm trying to combine weight training, aerobic work and on table training with competition play, I think I'll start monitoring my early morning heart rate again to make sure I'm not over training - better to avoid over training in the first place.
So February has seen me treading water a little in terms of fitness - I haven't gone backwards, but I don't think I moved forwards all that much either. I'll be looking to make a little more progress in March.
On the Table TrainingMy training schedule is starting to firm up, with good group training sessions on Sunday and Tuesday nights, a relaxed training session/ coaching session on Monday night (I'm helping my partner switch from penhold to shakehand, which she is finding to be a lot of fun, and she is making pretty good progress too), an individual training session on Thursdays, and possibly another individual session somewhere during the week with a different training partner to be added in March. Plus a little technique work on the robot 3-4 times a week, nothing super intense, just polishing up my long pip techniques and doing a little specialized backhand topspin work to improve my power against backspin and while counterlooping.
The sessions on Sunday and Tuesday are very useful, since most of the local top players are attending, meaning that in a two hour session I can spend at least 1½ hours playing tough games against strong competition. We are all pushing each other to improve, and it's doing all of our games a lot of good.
CompetitionWe had our first local competition on Friday 24th February, and I'm pleased to say that it turned out to be quite a good night for me. Not perfect by any means, but definitely a step in the right direction for 2012.
In my first round group I started out feeling a little tight, which I expected, this being the very first competition of the year. I just stuck to my basics and once I got my first win I started to relax and get back into the swing of things. In my first and second round groups I was playing quite well overall, with the odd lapse in concentration which twice saw me win the first game easily and just lose the second game, before switching back on and overrunning my opponents in the third and fourth games.
The semi-final saw me matched against Jeff Drew, one of my long time foes (and friend off court, of course!) and fellow training group partner from the Sunday and Tuesday night sessions, where we have played some close matches this year. Normally against Jeff I struggle to initiate my offense, and end up playing a very defensive long range game with occasional pick hits. But this time I managed to stay a little more up to the table, mixing attack and counterloops with some good long pip push/blocking and twiddling, and a few long range chops as well. It never felt easy (but then it never does against Jeff), but I felt I was playing well and making life difficult for him. I ended up with a 3-0 win, which doesn't really reflect the closeness of the match, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I'm not complaining.
In the final, I played against another of my Sunday and Tuesday night training partners, Craig Campbell. Craig and I have already played some great matches in training, with some pretty high quality rallies, and this was no exception. I started well and got out to a comfortable 2-0 lead, playing a good mix of aggressive attack and solid long pip defense up at the table.
Craig decided to get more aggressive in the third game, and started to try to counterloop my attacks with more venom, instead of fishing and chopping. I made the mistake of stepping in to try to block these counterloops, which had sizzling amounts of topspin and sidespin and were kicking nastily off the table, and I struggled to control the ball. In hindsight, I should have stepped back and counterlooped to maintain my aggressive pressure (which I had been doing in training, but the pressure of the match made me chicken out and try to play safe, I think). The third was close and Craig edged me out (literally!), and the fourth was a similar story.
In the fifth I reviewed my tactics, kicked myself a little and vowed to stop trying to block his counterloops and start relooping them instead. This gave me time to adjust to the sidespin kick on Craig's counterloop, and make a good attack myself, which shifted the momentum of the match back in my favor, and I was up 10-7 with 3 match points. I then played three solid aggressive points, but each time Craig found something a little special when under pressure to steal the point. When a player manages to pull off something extraordinary three times in a row when down 3 match points, it's not luck, and there's not much you can do but grit your teeth and keep bringing it yourself. Needless to say, the thought that I deserved to have won the match 3-0 did cross my mind, but I'm glad to say I stamped it firmly back down and got back to work.
I don't remember what happened at 10-all, apart from the fact that Craig was serving. I'm pretty sure I played the point the same as the last 3 points, but this time Craig couldn't pull off another piece of magic. At 11-10 up I wanted a good double bounce serve to Craig's backhand that looked like a pure sidespin but with a little bit of backspin on it, but I flubbed the length and got it a bit too long. Craig pounced on it like lightning, but didn't quite read the backspin, and his backhand loop clipped the top of the net and either bounced back or bounced long (I don't quite remember which!). 12-10 in the fifth - whew!
So all in all, a pretty good start to the year - maybe a B+. Overall my form is pretty good, with a couple of lapses in concentration in the early rounds, and a bad failure to adjust my tactics correctly in games 3 and 4 in the final. But plenty to be happy with all the same, and some room for improvement too. Which is just as well, because I'm sure that Craig and Jeff will be looking to reverse things in the next tournament, which is due in late March.