Grant Li with his mates after qualifying for the World Team Championships.


Grant Li Has Found His Stride in School and on the Table

      Finally, the college life! I’ve been anticipating this year for ages, looking forward to the countless experiences I’ve heard about and the newfound freedom that I’ll have to manage. So far, my expectations have been met; college truly is so completely different from high school.

     One of my main worries going into college was whether or not I’d be able to continue playing table tennis consistently enough to maintain my level. Luckily, USC has a great table tennis club (PING PONG POSSE!!!) so I get to play 3 or 4 times a week with high-level players. Overall, though, an important lesson I learned is that the decision to continue playing is yours. Regardless of the environment or playing conditions, if you want to keep playing table tennis, then you will. It’s easy to come up with excuses to not practice. You could say that you’re too busy and that you should focus on school or try out new things. But the reality is that playing a couple hours every week won’t take away much of your free time, and if you hadn’t practiced, you probably wouldn’t be spending that time meaningfully anyway. So I’m glad that I still get to play a good amount of table tennis while taking in the college experience at the same time.

     Recently, in the end of August, I participated in the North American Championships. This would be one of my last tournaments being eligible as a junior, and I trained  hard to try to make the most of it. My goal was just to qualify for the World Junior Championships, but I ended up surpassing my expectations. Not only did team USA qualify for World Junior Championships, but we also qualified for the 2013 World Team Cup in Guangzhou, China. In addition to winning both team matches, I secured silver in junior singles, capping off an amazing weekend. I’m also extremely glad that I’ll still be participating in major world tournaments while in college.

     The equipment I’m using has greatly facilitated my progress and achievements throughout the past half-year. As a previous user of Tenergy, I was overjoyed when I tried out Calibra. It provides the same feel as Tenergy, the feeling of the ability to hit hard while still being able to control and defend well. One tip for enhancing the feeling of Calibra is applying baby oil to the rubber either before or after applying glue. Baby oil acts as a mild expander/booster and will cause your rubber to curl outward (if you apply it before applying the glue), but it is completely VOC free. The only thing to look out for is to make sure that your rubber doesn’t expand past 4.0mm. Regarding whether to apply baby oil before or after gluing, that’s up to you. I personally prefer applying baby oil after applying glue, and I’d say that applying baby oil before gluing would produce a stronger effect (and take a lot longer to dry).

     The blade I’m using, Ebenholz NCT V, is fantastic for me because it allows me to use my touch to the fullest while still being fast and offensive. There are rarely balls that completely fly off my racquet or shots that I miss because of my blade. I can feel the ball touching the wood, and it just feels comfortable contacting the ball (especially the sound it makes). Penhold players, definitely use a STIGA blade. I am not just advertising for STIGA; STIGA’s wooden blades truly work well with penholders because we usually rely on touch more than shakehand players. I used to play with a Butterfly blade, and although my shots were very fast, I often times couldn’t control the ball. Blocking was a huge problem; the ball would always either go off the table or straight into the net. With Ebenholz NCT V, I can comfortably do anything from counter-looping to flipping. There’s a reason why so many members of the Chinese national team use STIGA blades, including Xu Xin, arguably the best player in the world, and definitely the player with the best touch.

     And to the rest of you shakehanders: STIGA blades are still a great choice. If you are a touch-oriented player or wish to develop your touch, then STIGA blades are an excellent option for you. If you don’t fit into either of those categories, then it is still likely that you will find something that clicks when you use a STIGA blade.