By Samson Dubina
Are you going to Las Vegas this December to compete in the US Open? Have you considered the fact that the altitude in Las Vegas does have an impact on your performance?
Santa Fe, New Mexico is 7100 feet elevation, Flagstaff Arizona is 7000 feet elevation, Denver Colorado is 5000 feet elevation, and Las Vegas is 2000 feet elevation. In comparison, Las Vegas is not extremely high, but it is high enough to make a slight difference. Because the air is thinner at 2000 feet elevation, the ball travels faster through the air and doesn’t dip down as much. So, this slightly changes all your shots. For example, your loop will go faster and won’t have as much downward curve.
So what should you do to prepare?
#1 Arrive Early
The tournament goes for an entire week. If your event starts on the first day, consider going early and practicing at the Las Vegas Club. If your first event starts on Thursday, consider getting there on Monday or Tuesday so that you have plenty of time to adjust. The adjustment isn’t difficult, but it usually take a full day or two to completely adjust.
Don’t go two days early to drink and gamble. If you are serious about having a great performance, go there early and practice several hours/day. Stretched out over seven days, you will likely play about 3-4 matches per day. You should spend at least two additional hours each day practicing.
The biggest notable impact for nearly all players in on serving. The ball travels deeper, so your short serves will often drift long. Before going to Las Vegas, spend about two weeks practicing shorter versions of your short serves. To do this, cover the last few inches of the table with a towel. Make sure that your serves bounce twice on the opponent’s side before hitting the towel. When you arrive, try to spend at least one hour on the first day practicing your serves. Serve practice won’t wear you out too much, and it is one of the most necessary adjustments.
#4 Serve Return
Likewise, realize that your opponent’s serves will likely come longer, even on the serve that they intend to serve short. Usually, it takes about 4-5 loops to get through a good opponent. However, if you loop the serve that was intended to be short, oftentimes you can surprise your opponent and get through him with one loop. Before arriving in Las Vegas, you should spend a few weeks looping the half-long serves – this always serves as a good weapon.
#5 Contact Point
If you allow the ball to drop low, it is tougher to loop, flip, and smash. As I mentioned earlier, the ball travels in a straight trajectory with less downward dip. Focus on contacting the ball high and spinning forward. It takes faster footwork and more precise timing to contact the ball at the ideal spot, but it is very important. Also, if you can get your opponent to play later, by playing sharper angles and more deceptive shots, he will lose the ideal timing and give a less-consistent shot as well.
The spin doesn’t curve in the air as much, BUT the spin is still absolutely essential for ball control, shot precision, and power potential. Yes, you need to move fast… Yes, you need to high the ball at the top-of-the-bounce… and Yes absolutely, you need to spin.
Staying hydrated during any tournament is essential. However, staying hydrated in a week-long tournament at high elevation is 10x more essential than any other tournament. You should drink AT LEAST 5-6 quarts of water per day. I personally drink about 10-12 quarts per day, which is not excessive. In addition to drinking water, many other factors are important for your health as well – such as limiting the alcohol consumption, getting the proper rest, etc…
Don’t fear to play in Las Vegas. Playing at 2000 feet elevation is a small difference, not a huge difference. Just remember the principles – get there early, practice, hydrate, and consider the serve, return, and contact point. Thanks for reading! I’ll see you in December!
Also, check out Samson’s DVD – International Table Tennis Skills