6 Fast Improving Table Tennis Players

ittf logoAs table tennis players we all want to improve your game and see that improvement transfer to increased tournament results and rankings. In this post I’ll be looking at six table tennis players that I’ve singled out based on their fast improving ITTF world ranking and in future posts I’ll be trying to get in touch with them to find out what they’ve been doing right.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a stats fan. I just love them. I can spend hours skimming through ranking lists looking for anomalies that might prove valuable. If you’re a member of the Expert Table Tennis Academy, and receive my emails, you should have got an email from me recently entitled ‘How to Double Your Ranking in 12 Months’ (if you haven’t got it just yet don’t panic, it’s on its way).

In that email I looked through the England men’s ranking lists for the past year and found that seven players had managed to “double” their ranking in the past 12 months (for example, moving up from 50th to 25th). I received a few emails from academy members interested in hearing more and encouraging me to look at the world ranking list. This post is my response to those emails and I hope you’ll find it an interesting read.

Filtering the ITTF ranking list

I decided to concentrate on the top 200 players on the men’s ranking list. After a lot of searching I discovered the following;

  1. Only 11 of the 200 players have doubled their ranking in the past 12 months (for example, Wang Yang was ranked 252nd in May 2012 and he is now ranked 126th, an increase of 100%).
  2. Only 28 of the 200 players have seen a 50% or greater increase (for example, Hao Shuai was ranked 18th in May 2012 and he is now ranked 12th, an increase of 50%).
  3. Only 48 of the 200 players have seen a 25% or greater increase (for example, Alexey Liventsov was ranked 111th in May 2012 and he is now ranked 88th, an increase of 26%).

Now obviously it would be impossible for every player to see such a big increase in 12 months but surely 25% should be a minimum target for most ambitious improving players? If they are currently 100th they should be aiming to be at least top 75 in 12 months time.

A graph showing changes to ranking over the last 12 months

I began to group players based on their ranking change and as you would expect a bell-shaped curve emerged. Twelve months ago the majority of players (159 out of 200) were ranked somewhere between -40% to +40% of their current ranking, with a significant chunk (125 out of 200) within -30% to +20%.


This is not unexpected. Over 12 months the majority of players will keep a relatively stable ranking. Only a few players will see big increases or decreases.

However, it is the players that have experienced these big changes that we need to speak to. I want to find out what they have been doing right (or wrong) to cause these ranking changes. Hopefully then we can learn from them and see similar results!

The biggest losers

I began by looking at the eight players that had seen their ranking go down by move that 40% during the last 12 months. I had hoped that I might be able to learn something from their mistakes but instead it became apparent that all of these big decreased could be easily explained.

  • Two of the players were Zhang Jike and Ma Long who had lost 50% each but in reality this is just moving from 2nd to 4th or 1st to 2nd. Nothing to learn from that!
  • Two were older players that were naturally moving their way down the list year-by-year.
  • The other four were players that appear to have been over-ranked slightly last season, or saw very big improvements to their ranking last year, and have decreased this year either back to levels that are still much higher than before. One example is Simon Gauzy who moved from 65th to 110th in the past 12 months. However, when you consider that he was outside the top 400 just a few years ago this isn’t as unusual.

I decided that it would be difficult to get much information out of the players that had seen big decreases in their ranking and decided to focus my attention on the more positive side of things; those players that had seen an improvement of 40% or more!

The biggest gainers

33 Players had seen a 40%+ improvement in their ranking but I wanted to whittle this list down a bit. I also looked at their ranking three years ago, in May 2010, as I wanted to find players that had seen steady improvement. This is what I did;

  1. I removed 3 players that were unranked in May 2012 (30 left).
  2. I removed 4 players that were unranked in May 2010 (26 left).
  3. I removed 3 players that had seen improvement in the past 12 months but were ranked lower now than in May 2010 (23 left).
  4. I removed 3 players that are currently in the top 10 in the world (20 left).
  5. I removed the remaining 2 Chinese players (18 left).
  6. I removed 10 players that were current 21 or younger (8 left).
  7. I removed 2 players that were currently outside the top 100 (6 left).

This left me with six players that fit my criteria.

I decided to remove the younger players because I thought it likely that they were under-ranked either in 2009 and/or 2012. I removed the two outside the top 100 because arguably they are outside the true “elite” level of being a world top 100 player. The three in the top 10 were removed because the numbers can easily make very small changes in ranking points look like big increases.

Who are the six players?

The moment of truth, but first…

  • Their mean age is 27.
  • Their mean current ranking is 56.
  • Their mean ranking in 2012 was 92.
  • Their mean ranking in 2011 was 111.
  • Their mean ranking in 2010 was 137.

And the players are…

  • Taku Takakiwa
  • Andrej Gacina
  • Kim Hyok Bong
  • Cazuo Matsumoto
  • El-Sayed Lashin
  • Stefan Fegerl

I will briefly do a run through on each of them but expect to hear more soon as I attempt to get in touch with each of them and find out how they’ve managed to achieve these impressive results.

6 Fast Improving Players

SPORT, Tischtennis, GAC Group World Tour-Austrian Open, Wels, 23Taku Takakiwa is 24 and from Japan. He saw the biggest improvement in his ranking, of the six, over the past 12 months, moving up from 61st to 32nd.

All the way back in April 2009 he was ranked 93rd and he hovered around that mark for quite a while. He was ranked 97th over two years later in July 2011. Then he began to see major improvements, reaching the top 50 in June 2012 and continuing all the way to his current ranking of 32nd.

Most notably beat Zhang Jike at the Austrian Open in January 2013 but what’s really impressing is his constant improvement over the last 24 months.

Tischtennis TTBL: TTC ZugbrŸcke Grenzau - SV Werder BremenAndrej Gacina is 26 and from Croatia. His ranking has seen some big up and down swings over the last few years but he’s managed to keep the trend moving consistently up.

Back in April 2009 he was ranked just 89th in the world and he is now currently 41st (although he has been as high as 32nd).

He’s probably most well known for losing to Timo Boll in the European Championships in October 2012. It was a really amazing game and he played so well. Just imagine what his ranking would be now if he has beaten him!

Kim Hyok BongKim Hyok Bong is 27 and from North Korea. His increase in ranking is particularly interesting because he went from being 108th in March 2012 to 38th only five months later, in August 2012!

Kim didn’t play many tournaments in 2010 or 2011 and his results were a bit hit and miss. He got lots of points for beating Gao Ning and Marcos Freitas but lost points to Kou Lei and Vasily Lakeev.

These hit and miss results have continued but he started beating a number of good players including Sharath Achanta, Jang Song Man, Joo Saehyuk, Oh Sangeun and Jiang Tianyi.

Cazuo MatsumotoCazuo Matsumoto is 27 and from Brazil and currently ranked #54 in the world.

His developed is similar to Taku Takakiwa’s. In May 2001 he was ranked 211th but since then has seen a steady improvement all the way up to 54th!

He had a particularly good tournament at the World Team Classic in March 2013 where he beat Jun Mizutani, Mattias Karlsson, Jens Lundqvist and Patrick Franziska. That sent him up from 91st to 45th in one month! Was it a fluke? I’m going to ask him hopefully and find out.

El-Sayed LashinEl-Sayed Lashin is 33 (the oldest of the six) and from Egypt. He is currently ranked 77th and has improved his ranking every single year since May 2009!

El-Sayed has played 144 ranking matches in the last four years and his ranking graph shows almost a straight line going upwards, very impressive. With his age being 33 can this continue? Well if his most recent results are anything to go by I’d have to say yes.

At the World Team Classic he beat Bastian Steger (#25), a great win for any player ranked around the 100 mark.

Stefan FegerlStefan Fegerl is 24 and from Germany. His current ranking is #85 and he too has shown a pretty steady increase over the last four to five years.

If Stefan is able to keep this going he could even break into the top 50 in the next 12 months and, with age on his side, has nothing to stop him going even further.

He’s recently clocked up some decent wins against Jung Youngsik, Bojan Tokic and Adrien Mattenet.

Conclusion (for now)

I’m assuming that every player inside the world’s top 200 is trying very hard to improve their game, and therefore, their ranking. Perhaps this is not the case but I would like to think the majority of these players are giving it their all, training full-time and focusing on table tennis.

However, few are actually managing to achieve these significant improvements. Take, for example, England’s Paul Drinkhall. Now I mean no disrespect to Paul and I’m sure he has worked tirelessly over the last few years to improve his standard, especially with the London 2012 Olympics in mind. Unfortunately, Paul was ranked 118th in December 2008 (aged 17) and he is now ranked 101st (aged 23). Yes he has improved but we’ll all agree that he hasn’t had the effect we hoped he would have 4 years ago.

The six players above have been able to consistently increase their rankings (and therefore I’m assuming improve their level of play). I don’t know what they have been doing. They are all from different countries and even different continents. They are different ages and have different styles but something they’re doing is working.

I’m now going to do my best to investigate how these players have created this fast improvement and what they have planned for the future. I’ll also do my best to get hold of the coaches and teammates that have witnessed this development.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this. Please leave me a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Also, to make sure you never miss a post on Expert Table Tennis please subscribe to our RSS feed. You can find that here.

Thank you and there’s much more to come!