In the last handful of years there has been a re-invigoration in some quarters to playing Table Tennis in a way that is close to the original roots of the game. Many players and some clubs are dabbling in a fun alternative to the modern game. It is commonly referred to as 'Hardbat'.
World Championship of Ping Pong
Some of you may have seen the WCPP Tournament on TV recently. Well some of our members made the trip to Alexandra Palace to see the early rounds. 'Ally Pally' was a superb setting for the event, spectators had the choice of sitting in the stands to watch the televised group matches or wandering around the arena to watch other matches at close quarters. Below is some matchplay recorded by David Gough - you can see how close to the action he was!
The eventual winner of the competition was Andrew Baggaley of England, who beat Alexander 'Flash' Flemming in a 5 set final. All those attending said that it had been a very enjoyable day out; we would like to make this an annual event so if anyone else is interested in going, please let us know.
The Club's hardbat 'guru' Chris Smith was one of those who attended the WCPP event, following the BSE & District hardbat competition Chris set down his thoughts on the game:-
The main principal is to provide an even playing field - everyone plays with an identical bat (similar to the designs used in the 1950's Victor Barna era). The new “hardbat” bats are very basic and are provided by the organisers. The bats DO NOT have sponge and just have either a basic thin "pimple out” rubber or in some tournaments just a sandpaper surface (as used in the World Championship of Ping Pong televised on Sky Sports). Sandpaper table tennis has been popular in the Philippines since the game of table tennis was first introduced there and the “liha” game has some very interesting rules which prevent service from being an advantage and just a mechanism to bring the ball fairly into play.
Whilst modern table tennis produces some tremendous athletes and very highly skilled players there is an argument that the levels of sophistication with equipment design still plays a part in trying to gain an edge in performance. For example before being banned, it wasn’t many years ago when lots of players applied "speed glue" behind their rubbers just before a match to try and improve their performance. The ITTF constantly review and publish official standards for equipment to try and keep some order in the game, rubbers now have to be approved and registered with ITTF as scores of manufacturers constantly push the boundaries to seek an advantage (and a sale) through them in terms of the enormous speed and spin that can be generated.
As a result the modern game has become lightning fast and dominated by "spin". Some people are questioning whether this is actually doing the game good, with blistering "killer" shots (whilst impressive to many of us) and deceptive spin techniques often leading to much shorter rallies. There is no doubt that the modern game requires an immense level of skill to deal with all the attributes of play, this can however, to the new spectator appear to offer a very fragmented stop/start game lacking any real fluency.
With a hardbat, only a very limited amount of spin can be generated and therefore this favours those of us who have basic or modest level of skills. Indeed both David and I beat players in the tournament that we probably wouldn't have had a chance against if we had been playing them with our normal sponge bats. Hardbat is a great leveller and the “spinny” players have to "forget" some of their normal sponge strokes as they just don't work with a hardbat. Rallies also tend to be much longer
What impressed me about the Bury tournament was that some of the top Bury League players entered in the knowledge that they could be "scalped" by more modest players. They entered it with Great Spirit and generosity in defeat. A lot of the table tennis played was still very good to watch and competitive but with a very friendly atmosphere.
The Bury tournament was won by Tony West. Tony is one of the top hardbat players in the country and a couple of years ago got through to the final 16 in the world championships for “ping pong” (the sandpaper version of ”hardbat”), this was covered by Sky Sports and Tony now summarises as a commentator for Sky in televised tournaments.
Also Chris Doran who represented Stowmarket in the National British Junior League many years ago (and has gone on to become England’s number 5) has reached a World Ping Pong Championship (WCPP) Semi-final.
Hardbatters are strong in force in this region. Richard Hutchinson of Ipswich won the 2013 English Hardbat Championship also qualifying for the WCPP final rounds at Alexandra Palace.
Hardbats in action
To give you a flavour of the “hardbat” game here are some links to YouTube clips:-
This shows Bury's Tony West in action in a Hardbat Competition in 2012 at Harlow.
The 2014 WCPP Final won by Maxim Shmyreva former Russian Number 1 (sponge game).
Chris Doran (former Stowmarket Junior player) in the 2014 WCPP finals.
This shows Jan Ove Waldner the legendary Swede who dominated the World Table Tennis Sponge game for a decade being a good sport and entering and losing to Marty Hendriksen a Dutch “hardbatter” in a semi-final of a major “pimpled hardbat” tournament.