False Start

Thursday, September 30, 2004


I'm sure I'd be better at this game if they raised the table by about 18 inches.

Table Tennis – Men’s Singles – Peers Sports Centre, 29th September 2004, 8:30PM

The table is much smaller than I remembered, especially when it is set up (as it was) in the middle of a badminton court. It’s not nearly big enough to play tennis on. We warmed up for five minutes. I wonder if maybe the top players prefer to warm up with someone other than their opponent. I found myself beginning to spot patterns in John’s play after only a few rallies. Jan-Ove Waldner described the game in a recent interview as being like chess, but faster. I could see what he meant.

In the end, fast doesn’t even begin to describe it. We started playing at 8:36PM. By 8:50PM, John was dancing his victory dance for the camera having won a five set thriller. Less than fifteen minutes. I wonder how that compares to the average match time for the experts. If anything, they should be a bit quicker as I’m sure they don’t have to go running across two adjacent badminton courts to retrieve the ball, apologising to the badminton players all the while, every time they miss the table completely.

Even under the old scoring format, table tennis was a game of momentum; a few points lost or won in a row could form a vicious or virtuous circle leading to defeat or victory. Now, with each game being played to 11 (rather than 21), there is even less time to mount a recovery if momentum starts to swing away from you.

In theory, this shouldn’t really be the case – not at our level of play anyway. Serving in our game is no real advantage – even if we were good enough to disguise what kind of spin we were putting on the ball, there would be no need to do so as neither of us are good enough to have read the undisguised spin in the first place. As such, each and every point is pretty much up for grabs. Being 10-0 to the good or 0-10 behind shouldn’t make a bit of difference to the point or how you play it, but it does.

The mind plays a massive role in what’s going on. When you’re on a roll and winning points hand over fist, you almost chant out the score like a mantra as it ticks along in your favour. When your opponent is on a roll, you want to do all you can to disrupt the rhythm of what he’s doing. When you gain the cushion of a few points you feel free to play more committed shots, but when you are trailing by a few points, you get tentative. Tentative doesn’t work in table tennis.


This is how stupid you look when you get tentative.

However, as it turns out, our five set thriller (which John won 5-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-13, 13-11) counts as nothing more than a warm up. At the insistence of my boss (thanks Rob) I checked my facts this morning to discover that the BBC’s guide for beginners got it wrong. Olympic table tennis matches are the best of seven sets, not five. I blame whoever wrote the guide on the BBC website, but I also blame my opponent. Less than an hour before we played last night, he was showing me photographs of himself sitting in Athens a month ago watching the Olympic table tennis semi-finals. You’d think he might have noticed that the matches were decided over seven sets.

Of course, I’m joking and the blame lies squarely at my own feet – as the organiser of this ridiculous escapade, the buck stops with me. I’m just glad I made this mistake about an event that will only take 20 minutes to replay and not one that took all day to complete and months of training beforehand. Imagine that, the day after running the marathon, “What do you mean they’ve changed it to 28 miles?”

Result of Table Tennis – Men’s Singles

Null and void. To be replayed next week (probably on the same night as the doubles).

9 comments:

SwissToni said...

I was at the tabletennis in Athens with your opponent, and the way I recall it there were a lot of fag breaks, the beers started arriving very early and a good deal of time was spent watching the mad Swedes who had turned up en-masse to watch Waldner...

...and that was just the players....

It was pretty dull, truth be told. I may have struggled to remember my name by the end of it.

SwissToni said...

... although that might have been the beer.

John said...

You were in a brave number of the photos John showed me last night, and by the look of you (all of you) I would surmise that it was mostly the beer for the duration of your trip.

I particularly liked the picture of Luke holding Ed Coode's gold medal - he looks less like a delighted sports fan being allowed to touch the hallowed prize and more like a particularly determined burglar forming a plan to half-inch it.

SwissToni said...

sweet jaysus - look at the sideburns on the guy behind Luke. Nice work.

John said...

They go well with his earings. Perhaps he's a pirate.

Mike said...

Good luck - great idea and very entertaining

DancingJohn said...

Think you'll find that the pro game lasts a little longer as they have these things called rallies....

John said...

... and smoke breaks, according to Sozz.

SwissToni said...

Official Visitor #2 & proud!