This past weekend I headed off to Alexandra Palace for the first sporting event of the year … the 2014 World Championship of Ping Pong! This was also my debut watching live professional ping pong.
The difference between ping pong and table tennis is that ping pong bats are covered by very fine sandpaper whereas in table tennis they are covered by rubber and sponge. This means that the players get a lot less spin on the ball and thus have to work harder during points in order to generate spin and hit the ball hard.
In fact, something I learnt at the tournament is that players don’t have their own bats. Bats are provided at the start of each match and they actually swap during the match.
Matches are best of three sets with each set being the first to 15 points and you do not need to win by two. The final is the best of five sets. Unlike table tennis where you serve for five points, here you only serve for two. Also, and I found this crazy, there is something called a ‘double point ball’. A player who holds serve can nominate this ball once during the match. It can be called on either the first or second serve but can only be used up to or when a player has scored 12 points. Should the server win the point, he scores two points. If he doesn’t, however, the opponent only scores 1. And, they have two white balls especially for the occasion!
We were watching Round of 16 action so we saw eight matches in all. The first involved two-time defending champion (now three-time in fact after winning this tournament) Maxim Shmyrev from Russia and lasted less than 10 minutes as he demolished the #1 player in France. I wasn’t sure we’d be here for more than a hour at this rate but that match was an anomaly and the remainder were a lot closer. Many went the distance and they were more entertaining with the players were of a similar skill level.
Play is so quick and they play from so far behind the table, although not as far behind as they do in table tennis. I also loved the intensity and emotion of the players – with 64 players in town and £100,000 on offer in prize money, this was serious business and it made for great entertainment. To see some 30 seconds of action, please see here:
All in all, it was a great afternoon’s entertainment for only £12 and a super way to kick off the new sporting year.