Ping Pong World Championship 2013

a writing by Paul Butters

This is not Table Tennis as we know it. Called “Liha” in the Philippines: played with sandpaper-covered bats. I watched it on Sky Sports early in the New Year. Maxim Shmyrev (Russia) was defending his title here, at the Alexandra Palace, in London...

It was not Table Tennis as we know it. Early in the New Year I watched highlights of the Ping Pong World Championships on Sky Sports. This tournament was held at the Alexandra Palace, London.

Most Table Tennis (confusingly called “Ping Pong” by the Americans) is now played with bats (American “paddles”) covered with sponge and very fast, spinny rubber. Very spinny rubber indeed. Most of the top players play a “three-ball-attacking” game: swirly horrible spin serve followed up by an attacking topspin-loop-drive, usually a big forehand. Harsher critics of the modern game say that it’s too “samey”: all the players are the same and there are few rallies. Sometimes it’s the player with the best bat who wins. This is like watching lawn tennis when it was dominated by serve-volleyers and formula one if ruled by one constructor.

“Ping Pong”, or “Liha” as the Filipinos call it, is different. Everyone uses the “same” bat, as far as physically possible: the wooden blade is covered with black sandpaper. On this occasion bats were handed out by the organizers to competitors just before the start of each match.

Sandpaper puts next to no spin on the ball. Yet these international Table Tennis players were able to topspin-loop the ball very effectively. Unlike in modern table tennis, players seemed reluctant to block back those loops, preferring instead to backspin-chop the ball back. Thus there were many long loop versus chop rallies, like there was (I’m told) in the 1930s when short-pimpled-rubber-covered hard bats were used. Ping Pong seems much more “tactical”, again a throw-back to the good old days.

The highlight for me, however, was seeing the amazing Backhand attack of a Lithuanian girl called Egle Adomelyte. Like me she uses a mainly wrist movement on her backhand, but she plays it from almost anywhere, attacking both wings of her opponent. Egle seemed to use very long fast serves mainly and then attack every return. I say “seemed” because it’s difficult to tell serve-length on the telly. Anyway, she reached the last 16 and was unlucky to lose there to Martin Groenewold (Netherlands) 11-7, 6-11, 9-11. (Yes, most matches were best of 3 ends). As the only female in the tournament Egle showed lots of Girl Power!

Another “difference” in this tournament was that each player, in each match, could call for a “Two Point Ball”: any point won with that ball would be doubled. Nice variation. (Most points were played with a yellow ball, but the two pointer was white.

Last year this same Championship was played in Las Vegas (America), with lots of razzmatazz (as you can imagine)! Maxim Shmyrev (Russia) won that first title, and lots of US Dollars. Well this time he won again. He beat Sule Olaleye (Nigeria) 11-5, 13-15, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8 in the 5 end final for $20,000. Sule won $10,000. The losing semi finalists got $5,000 each: Christopher Doran (England) and Ilija Lupulesku (USA).

Sule was the Nemesis of the Brits in this competition. In the last 16 he defeated Gavin Rumgay (Scotland), then beat Andrew Baggaley (England’s Number Two) and then Christopher Doran (England).

The Filipinos made a good showing. Richard Gonzales and Joseph Cruz reached the quarter finals. Having dominated the US Open earlier, they were philosophical in eventual defeat. Incidentally, they were the only Asian country to respond positively to the invitation to participate.
Much was made of the presence here of “Veterans” such as Patrick Chila (France) and former England number one Denis Neale. Sadly the latter fell in the group stages.

Altogether an interesting experiment. As for me, I’m busy practising my backhand attack to my opponent’s forehand wing.

Paul Butters

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