I just finished reading "Breaking 2000", a book by Alex Polyakov that I just randomly found on Amazon.
It was a great book to read because it all resonated with me and my own story and goals.
I'm sharing my review here because I feel like it can be of help and inspiration for many readers of this blog. If you're working hard to break to the next level and improve your table tennis from beginner to intermediate, you'll find inspiration and motivation on this table tennis book.
What "Breaking 2000" is about
"Breaking 2000" tells the evolution of the author. From being totally new to table tennis at the age of 28, to achieving his goal of reaching the 2000 ranking mark on USATT.
The book is very entertaining and very illustrative at the same time. It's not a technical book, i.e. it doesn't tell you about strokes, tactics, positioning, etc, more than necessary for the story purposes.
But its true value is the feeling of excitement and possibility that you get from reading it.
Why I liked "Breaking 2000"
I have similar goals to those described in the book: my first goal is breaking 1500 by next year, when I'm 30.
Therefore, it was very useful and illustrative to see step by step what I might encounter on the way.
Also, Alex lives in the US, and I've found that there isn't much literature on Table Tennis here in the US (one great piece of content that I've seen recently is the great "Topspin" movie, available on Netflix).
From his training sessions to the most common type of players he had to face, to his most problematic areas of development, I felt like all that he was talking about could be happening to me. And, if it indeed happens, I'll have a clearer idea of what to expect now. I really appreciate that from the book.
Alex Polyakov with Ben Larcombe in the "Expert in a Year Podcast"
My good friend Ben Larcombe made an episode of his podcast with Alex Polyakov, where they talk about the book, his journey, and much more. Totally recommended. Listen to it here.
My favorite quotes from "Breaking 2000", by Alex Polyakov
These are some of my favorite quotes from the book itself (I hope I'm not breaking any copyright law by quoting them here).
On responding to attacking players (something I myself am dealing with at the moment):
My performance was even worse when I myself was under attack. In a long rally, I jammed up and threw the ball on the table instead of continuing the execution of offensive shots. Once I began making mistakes and missing, I lost conﬁdence in looping the ball.
On winning, losing, playing passively and playing your best:
I believe that it’s best to lose the game by playing it your best way and missing, instead of playing a toned down and safe game and not ﬁghting — completely surrendering the initiative to your opponent. After all, if you play your game, you will someday improve. If you do not play your game, you will simply just play the same passive way all the time not allowing the skills learned in training to ﬂourish.
On playing lower level players:
He told me that I had to play all players under my level harder than I play anyone else. I must focus to win those matches just as hard as I focus when I play high rated players. I must close the games early, aiming for 3-0 wins, and I was not to experiment with my game or strategy unless I was leading the match 2-0.
On losing and playing defensively, again:
This is just a loss is and is not an obstacle as opposed to playing defensively, halting your footwork and blocking easy shots, missing opportunities to attack, and giving up the initiative completely.
However, if each return can be attacked over and over, the initiative will remain, leading to more pressure on your opponent with very favorable chances to win the point.
Build your game around your strenghts
On advancing from a finishing stroke strategy to maintaining the offensive during the whole point:
First, focus on the development and the consistency training of the offensive weapon Then, your focus must be aimed at learning to deal with possible responses to the offensive weapon such as blocks, counter attacks, and available angles
On the mental game and giving up the initiative:
While prior to improving my mental game I was losing my games subconsciously due to complete indecision or due to a lack of proper risk assessment and being overly aggressive, after improving my mental game I began to consciously lose games by giving up the initiative to my opponent on purpose. Giving up the initiative had some good results against my peers since most of my rivals had similar issues attempting to go for the win. Against better players, however, deliberately giving up the initiative amounted to the same as giving up. Better players took the opportunity to win the points outright and at will.
A summary of the spin on service return:
To summarize, remember that a short underspin serve will produce an underspin push as a response most of the time. Side spin serves will come back with side spin using a push or a topspin with a ﬂip. Topspin serves, whether short or long, will come back as loops or ﬂips, unless you are playing a defensive player. Expecting these types of shots as the service return will make it easier for you to develop the proper strategy against your opponents and take your game to the next level.
Certainly, if you want to learn more about what you will face on the path of becoming a better player, get Breaking 2000 and read it fast. You'll feel inspired, motivated, and more accompanied in this journey.