A bluffer’s guide to ... Table Tennis

No need to put a spin on it - just don’t callit ping pong

Japan’s Koki Niwa hits a shot against China’s Zhang Jike (left) in their men’s singles quarter-final table tennis during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photograph: Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

Japan’s Koki Niwa hits a shot against China’s Zhang Jike (left) in their men’s singles quarter-final table tennis during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photograph: Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

 

The old ping pong, eh.

Don’t call it ping pong. That’s largely an expression that the 1950s are looking for back, or an Americanism. And the Americans are more into beer pong. Before you ask, it’s a drinking game where one player tries to bounce a table tennis ball into a cup full of alcohol and if successful his opponent has to drink the contents.

Okay, table tennis, with its Corinthian values and short shorts with the perishable gusset; first to 21, five serves each in rotation, the server hiding the ball beneath the table or behind his hand or body to camouflage the spin.

The ball must be tossed six inches in the air from an open palm, struck on the descent, the bat behind the end line. Games are played out, first to 11 points, win by two, with two serves each on rotation.

What about Barna?

The place in Galway? Oh, sorry you mean Victor Barna, the Hungarian sensation who won five world singles titles in the 1930s and partnered with Dunlop to lend his name to bats and balls. I believe the ‘Barna Three Crown’ was the flagship of balls from memory. The only place you’ll find Barna these days is on eBay.

I suppose Penhold is no longer?

No, he’s still in Dangermouse. Oops, that’s Penfold. No the two grips, ‘Penhold’ and ‘Shakehand’, still pertain. The current world number one, China’s Ma Long, is an advocate of the ‘shakehand’ grip. Chinese players originally pioneered the ‘penhold’ grip, allowing for greater wrist flex and therefore spin.

Are any of the players as good these days as Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner, once described as ‘the Mozart of table tennis?’

Waldner is regarded as the greatest of all-time; one of only four players to win the sport’s grand slam and the only non- Asian to win a gold medal at the Olympics (1992) since the sport was introduced to the Games in 1988. Ma Long and Zhang Jike would be contenders.

The last fella sounds like a Scrabble-winning score, what’s his background?

Zhang Jike, like Waldner, is another to have won the grand slam. He’s 27-years-old, the reigning Olympic champion, world ranked number four and he was named after the Brazilian footballer Zico, which should be worth a bit of support and coverage in Rio.

Are you still allowed to wipe your hand on the table to remove sweat?

Yes. It tends to be done at the side near the net or near the end line where some rubber crumbs might have fallen from the bat. The players are allowed to towel down after six points.

And finally what’s your favourite urban myth when it comes to the rules?

You win the game if you lead 7-0. That’s not true but what is, is that hitting the ball with the racket-holding hand, including the fingers, knuckles and any parts below the wrist is considered a good hit.

Quick notes...

Top spoofing factoid: If you touch the table with your ‘freehand’ during play you lose the point.

The ball size changed from 38millimetres to 40 millimetres in 2000.

Do say: It’s like watching a guy standing in Greystones play a guy standing in Gorey with the table in Arklow,they’re that far away.

Don’t say: It’s all a bit tippy, tappy with that serving lark.

When: Monday

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