2012 Australian OpenThis was my main event for July, and in fact it's one of the three big events that I focus on each year, the others being the New Zealand and Australian Veteran's Championships.
As I reported in my last blog update, I was hoping to do well at the Aussie Open, although I wasn't putting too much pressure on myself since I hadn't been training specifically for this event.
As it turns out, it was probably just as well that I took this attitude, since I wasn't really quite up to the mark this year, with several near misses (I think I lost 3 matches 2-3) and some fairly average play.
The main problem I encountered is that I the equipment and play style I was using at the Australian Open is not the optimal choice if I want to have good results. I was hoping to use an aggressive up to the table combination bat style, with a max thickness fast inverted rubber on my forehand, and OX (no sponge) long pips on my backhand, on a fast chopping blade.
I've been using this setup with good success at home this year, and this setup works quite well at the two Veteran's championships I play in. The reason being is that there is very few players at home or in the Veterans ranks who are fast enough to handle my attacks, and not many players who can serve well enough to set up big third ball attacks against me. So I get plenty of chances to hit strong attacks, which if they come back, usually come back relatively weakly, so I can hit an easy put away.
Things are very different at the Australian Open, where just about every player is easily able to handle the strongest of my attacks unless I place them very well, and possess very good serves to set up their own third ball attacks. As a result, I wasn't getting the chance to play aggressively very much at all, and I was forced to scramble a lot and play much more defensively than I have been doing in the last couple of years.
The problem was that my equipment was not really suited to playing a lot of defense - max thickness fast inverted rubber is not the best choice if you are going to be doing a lot of chopping against power loops! Especially if you actually want to be able to put some actual backspin on the ball. So I was forced to just control chop a lot of balls back with my inverted rubber, using minimal backspin, since every time I tried to chop hard I would sail the ball off the endline.
Add to that the fact that I hadn't really trained any chopping footwork for a couple of years, making my movement kind of off-kilter, and you can get an idea of the problems I was facing.
All things considered, I wasn't disgraced, but I was not able to play at my best in this Australian Open. I think that if I really want to be more competitive, I would need to use a thinner chopping rubber on my forehand, and focus more on defensive play with occasional pick hitting against loose balls.
Looking ForwardThe dilemma I have now is in trying to decide what my most important goals are, and what style of play I should use to achieve them. Am I more interested in playing well at the Australian Open, or are the Veterans events more important? And if the Veteran's events are more important, should I be focusing on the Teams events (where my teammates and I are looking to move up from silver to a gold medal) or the Individual events? Am I better off trying to learn to chop better with my max thickness inverted rubber, which also allows me to attack strongly at the Veterans level, or should I go back to my 1.5mm chopping rubber, which is great for varying spin when chopping but lacks punch when it comes to attacking?
These are all tough questions, to which I don't really have a definite answer at present.
What I have decided to do in the meantime is to go back to more defensive play with my 1.5mm Domination chopping rubber on my forehand. I have also been trialling Stiga Destroyer with 1.0mm sponge instead of my usual OX on the backhand. The 1.00mm Destroyer has proven to be a success, since I feel it really improves my control when chopping, so I think I might stick with that in the future, regardless of which style I adopt.
The 1.5mm Domination is more of a toss up. I have regained my ability to chop the ball with heavy spin, which is great since it has given me back my spin variation when chopping with inverted rubber. It has also made returning serve much easier, since I can actually put heavy backspin on the ball with confidence again. On the other hand, my attacks have gone from powerful to puny. My full swing attacks are much slower, while any half swing attacks are getting mercilessly pounded by my opponents. Counterlooping is now a hit and miss affair, since I don't seem to get a consistent response from the rubber - some jump up and fly off the end of the table, and some die into the bottom of the net. So if I want to continue with this rubber, I will pretty much have to play a mainly defensive game, using pick hits against weak balls from my opponents, and avoiding any topspin to topspin rallies.
Interestingly, once I got used to the slowness of the Domination, my actual standard of play hasn't changed all that much, even though my style is very different. I'm still getting pretty much the same results against my opponents and training partners, winning a few and losing a few. So it's kind of hard to say that I'm doing worse or better.
I think I'll stick with the chopping rubber and defensive style for another month or so, and do some more work on my chopping footwork to regroove my old patterns. Then I'll see whether I manage to make a jump up in level once I've got everything back working smoothly again. If I do improve, I might stick with the defensive play, while if I just stay at roughly the same level, I'll have to sit down and think long and hard about what to do next. So for the next month I'll just put my head down and put in some hard yards on the training table.
I've got the Western Australian State Open coming up in about a week and a half. This is one of our biggest local tournaments, but I can't say that I'm all that excited about it. I'll give it my best shot, but at the moment I'm more concerned with training my defensive play so I can make a decision about my playing style in time for the 2012 Australian Veterans Championships in October. A win would be nice but it's not really something I'm focusing on right now.