Junior of the Month: Adam Hugh

By Ben Wolski

 

Adam is the top rated under 16 player in the U.S., and he won Under 16 Boysí Singles at the U.S. Open. He recently came within one game of making the U.S. National Team. He comes from a family of table tennis players: His sister won Under 16 Girlsí Singles at the U.S. Open; his mom was on the USA Olympic team; and his dad is a top senior player.

Adam is interviewed on TV at the U.S. Open. Photo by Gerry Chua ©2003.

The first time I experienced the strength of Adam Hugh, he was doing multi-ball practice with Wally Green in the NJTTC. Wally was feeding the balls at six times the speed of a regular feed. Adam danced side to side like a prizefighter. He hit the feeds back with perfect timing, form, location and footwork as if the whole practice session was being shot in super high-speed film. His orange laser beam firecrackers echoed throughout the whole club. I stood watching in awe; it was not possible, I thought, to look so effortless yet be so powerful.

With Adam, it is in fact very possible. He is one of the brightest stars in USA table tennis. And he benefits from the collective wisdom of Olympian Lily Yip (his coach/mom), Barry Dattel and numerous NJTTC members.

Iím not sure, however, where Adam learned to throw his paddle at a ball and have it go over the table! Recently, during the Stiga Open in Delaware, his opponent Thomas Keinath hit a ball that just cleared the net. Somehow, Adam released the bat from his hand. Not only did he make contact, but he managed to return the shot with an airborne paddle. Sadly, the rules state that you must always have a playing hand connected to a racket and so Adam lost the point.       

There are certain times in a young athleteís career that signify an advance in status within a playing community. In basketball, a younger player dunks over a veteran with authority. I think, in table tennis, when you have the firepower to stand up to world-class competition, it is time to recognize and embrace a gifted young player.

It is impossible for juniors to develop in America without great coaching. And it is sad to see young players enter clubs without proper coaching Ė only to get crushed and run back to the basketball court. But a chosen few with a ton of desire get to a very high level of play Ö Adam Hugh makes you think only about these possibilities.    

He has a twenty-foot high-toss serve that zips deep down the line, loops that players donít even bother trying to return and light speed hand-eye coordination. And, for those of you who play in his stratosphere of elite American table tennis, Iíve got bad news: he is still very much growing into his game.

Part of this growth, I think, is due to intense multi-ball training. Often, people in table tennis circles think past how important this is to junior development. Chinese style multi-ball practice can have even the best athletes sucking wind in less than three minutes. Instead of hitting three hundred backhands per coaching session, you hit forty-five hundred. And the drills, which cover every aspect of the game, never go out of style with a strong coach. With elite players, multi-ball is also a way of testing the breaking point: Can you really loop thirty-five times into the corner while you suck wind and trip over bad footwork? Or are you going to break down? When are you really ready to quit? That, in some ways, is the best test of an athlete. And while there are no multi-ball championships, Adam Hugh is training this way. He is finding and correcting weaknesses, making strengths stronger, and getting stronger and stronger.

What I also find interesting about Adam his introspection: his constant desire to improve his mental game. Often, the grizzled table tennis veteran can break down the more talented junior by honing in on one little weakness and riding it to a "he could not beat me victory." Or, the grizzled veteran looks for impatience. Anything to throw the kid off balance. Adam is aware of this and seems to always be working on getting stronger in this area.

True intimidation in table tennis is often silent physical confidence. There are few juniors in the world with the grace and movement of Adam Hugh. That one multi-ball drill left me dreaming about his potential for the future of USA table tennis.  

How old were you when you first started playing?

My mom, Lily Yip, started me early in multi-ball training. At the age of 10, I started playing in competitions.

How would you define your style of play?

Two-winged looper. Iím working on moving more towards my forehand.

What are the most common mistake juniors make at tournaments?

Many juniors underestimate their opponent by looking only at ratings. Also, not being mentally prepared before each point.

Why do you think the NJTTC in Westfield turns out strong junior players?

Great coaching. Also, the fact that you can play almost anytime you want.

What table tennis achievement are you most proud of?

Almost making the National Menís team. I felt my game was very strong at that point in time.

What events are you looking forward to?

The Macy Block Open, The Olympic Trials and The World Cadet Championships.

Do you have a professional player you look up to?

Kong Linghui. He is so smooth and powerful at the same time. I admire his mental strength and consistency.

Who do you train with?

Judy Hugh, Lily Yip, and Barry Dattel.

What is your favorite kind of drill?

I enjoy fast multi-ball feeds with random movements.

What has table tennis taught you about life?

Show respect for people on and off the court.