By Brent Hearn
If you’re a fan of jumbo table tennis (apparently, some folks just call it “tennis”) and you’re of a certain age, you may remember a player in the 80s and 90s named Michael Chang. Quiet of demeanor and diminutive of stature, he was the polar opposite, personality-wise, of many of the talented, boisterous players he squared up against. McEnroe and Connors, while in the twilight of their respective careers, were still around, raging and bellowing (and winning). Andre Agassi, the new breed of “bad boy,” was in danger of having his hair, his loud outfits and his celebrity overshadow his accomplishments. And there was Chang, who was the antithesis of “in your face.” At first glance, if you didn’t know anything about him, you’d be tempted to underestimate him.
That is, until you tried to get a ball past him.
To say he was quick would be an understatement. His success (he was ranked as high as #2 in the world) was propelled by his never-say-die attitude and by tree-trunk-sized pistons he called legs that gave him a near superhuman ability to chase opponents’ balls down. He just kept...getting...shots...back. Playing Chang was like playing a backboard, and the frustration of having their best shots repeatedly get run down was exasperating to his competition.
Sound familiar to any of you? It is if you’re a table tennis player who has ever played against a talented chopper. Competing against a player with an advanced defensive game takes its physical toll, as the points are typically longer—if they’re not, you’re probably getting slaughtered—and you’re having to exert yourself much more than usual. But it also takes a psychological toll, as well. There are few things more demoralizing to an aggressive player than going to war against a defensive wizard who takes all the heat you had to offer and just...keeps...pushing...it...back.
Enter 23-year-old Ohlone College team member Donglong Hao. If you’ve watched him play—or if you’ve played against him—you’ve seen first-hand the difficulties one faces when matched up against a skilled chopper. His defensive tendencies make him an outlier among his peers, most of whom employ an attacking style.
Hao took the offensive approach at first, as well. But when his coach at the time noticed his physical style and his propensity to play from long range, it marked the beginning of a new era in Hao’s game.
“I’ve been training the chopper (style) for six or seven years,” said Hao. “When I first started, I played attack for three years. My beginners’ coach used the chopper style, so that’s how I changed….”
Like any chopper worth his, well...chops, Hao knows how to switch it up when necessary. He goes on the offensive when it suits him, which keeps his opponents on their heels. You’re not likely to find Hao on his, though.
“I like running,” he said. And run he does. According to Hao, his height makes it necessary to take two steps for every one of his taller opponents’.
Hao’s goals for this year’s Championships are much like he is: focused and devoid of pretense.
“The first one is do my best,” he said. “And I want to help my team get in the final.”
The interview for this story was conducted with translation assistance from Ohlone coach Yong Gao. While some quotes were paraphrased for the sake of readability, the writer attempted to maintain the integrity of their meaning.
The 2016 TMS College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Round Rock CVB and is one of the premier table tennis tournaments in North America featuring 6 events: Men’s and Women’s Singles and Doubles, and Men’s/Coed Teams, Women’s Teams. The event is sponsored by TMS International, Gerflor, Double Fish, and Joola.
Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the TMS College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday March 25th and continues through Sunday March 27th at the Round Rock Sports Center
The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) is a non-profit organization established exclusively for promoting the sport of table tennis at the college level. As the national governing body for college table tennis in the United States and Canada, NCTTA organizes intercollegiate competition throughout North America. www.nctta.org
About USA Table Tennis
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, USATT is the national organizing body for table tennis in the United States, serving 9,000+ members and nearly 300 clubs. USATT sanctions 200+ events a year including the US Open and US Nationals. USATT is affiliated with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). www.usatt.org