Sunday, 31 July 2011

Words of Wisdom from an NZ Legend

I decided to really add some substance to my content by stepping back into an era of NZ table tennis history where we had some players committed to competing on an international stage. For most of us Barry Griffiths is just a name etched on titleholder boards, but from the stories I had heard Barry was a super hero in the sport in New Zealand winning 8 New Zealand Open Mens Titles and in 2009 gaining induction into the TTNZ Hall of Fame. I hope you enjoy this interview, Barry has given some thoughtful and informative answers.

Full Name: Barry John Griffiths
Date Of Birth: 29th February 1964
Nation represented: New Zealand
Highest World Ranking: 124

Left: Peter Jackson Gold Medalist, Right: Barry Griffiths Silver Medalist
1988 North Island Championships Open Mens Singles Event
Photo Courtesy of Table Tennis New Zealand.

Equipment Used?
Blade: Can’t remember – something like Butterfly Power Drive. Probably because it was sponsored. But, I was a Yasaka/Stiga sponsored player and my blade of choice was a Butterfly blade. I really liked it.
FH Rubber: Mark V – fast, spinny and had good grip for shots requiring severe angles.
BH Rubber: Yasaka Do – this was a Japanese rubber, similar to Chinese Friendship rubber. Not that fast, but amazing grip on the ball, which allowed severe bat angles to be used. When trying those shots with Sriver, the ball would slide off the bat. This style of rubber really suited my backhand.


Your Career

Who did you play table tennis for, when and how did you start?

I started playing table tennis at home. We had the only table in the street and all the other kids would come and play. They were all better than me, but I played every morning before school with my father and eventually caught up. Our school entered a competition at the Auckland Stadium and our team, with players entirely from our street, won.

From there I started playing tournaments and then made Auckland junior teams. I had a breakthrough at the NZ Champs in 1979 winning U16 singles, doubles and mixed and then U18 singles, doubles & mixed. I gained a lot of confidence from this and developed an all round attacking game from both wings, which proved effective.

I played for Auckland for many years, but after a dispute with Auckland administrator, David Jackson, left to play for Counties. I played the rest of my career for Counties with Geoff Rau, Kevin Barry and Alan Pedley – all top 10 players.

What was the highlight of your table tennis career?
I had many highlights, but the single most memorable match was in the Under 16 NZ Champs against Australian, Gary Haberl. There was an Australian Team playing the NZ Champs and a lot of betting was organised for this match. Haberl was a tough player and was leading the deciding 3rd game 20 – 14 (6 match points). The Aussies went to collect their bets, but I clawed back a couple of points and eventually made my way to 18 -20 down. Haberl then misread a serve to make it 19 -20, at which point I knew I had won. I have never heard such noise from a crowd before and hit 3 clean forehand winners in a row. Haberl couldn’t believe it and the Aussies were heading for the exit in a real hurry…

Other highlights include beating the Nigerian team at the Commonwealth Champs. They had one of their strongest teams ever and Malcolm Temperley was our surprise star winning all 3 matches against them. I chipped in with a win over Atanda Musa (Commonwealth Mens Singles Champ), while Peter Jackson beat Francis Sule.

In 1980, at age 16, beating reigning Australian singles champ Bob Tuckett was a huge highlight and I made it to the final, losing to Paul Pinkewich who was in his prime and a very tough opponent.

Then in 1987/88 winning the NZ Champs, Aus Champs and Oceania Champs was probably the peak of my table tennis standard.

How do you feel the game has changed playing now from when you played yourself? More specifically what is it do you think that allowed a higher standard of players in New Zealand in your era as a Senior Representative than those in our teams now?
Table Tennis hasn’t changed much at all. The differences I see in NZ players is the lack of short play, which would allow a good player to claim the initiative too easily. Also, many players seem one dimensional trying to play high speed. I see them struggling when an opponent changes the pace and spin on the ball.

There seemed to be greater depth in the past, with a strong top 10 and a solid standard down to around 20. There was also a greater variety of players ranging from choppers like Graham Lassen and Dave Hall, to blockers/counter-attackers like Malcolm Temperley, James Morris and Alan Pedley. These players forced you to work hard for your points and build rallies rather than to go for outright winners. Also, their return of serve was much tighter. So, in general, it required more work to win the point, which developed higher standards.

Who was your biggest rival out on the table in your career?
In NZ, my biggest rivals were Malcolm Temperley, in the early part of my career and Peter Jackson in the latter part. In Australia, it was always Gary Haberl, one of the most tenacious competitors I’ve ever faced.

I noticed you paid a visit down to the Oceania Championships in April last year, what did you think of William Henzell's game?
I really liked Henzell’s game. I suppose that’s natural because that’s almost exactly how I played. I found it interesting that when he struck a bit of trouble in the final he slowed the pace of his forehand and his Australian opponent mistimed a lot of blocks. Smart play from Henzell.

You enjoy playing tennis nowadays, what does tennis have that table tennis lacks?
Tennis is easier with almost no spin. It’s slower, the movements are smoother and timing of the ball is easier. Because tennis is slower, the rallies are longer and it’s just fun to play an outdoor sport. It’s also easier to watch because spin and big 3rd ball attack can make table tennis a poor spectacle at times.

Most young players like myself have never seen you play a match, tell us a little bit about your game style and how you liked to play.

I used to attack from both wings, but focused on attacking at around 80% speed. I did this to allow recovery time for my next shot. My thinking was to attack hard enough to keep the initiative and control the rally. Many times, my opponents would try to counter-attack some of these shots, which was a low percentage play. Generally, I let them do it, confident the odds were in my favour.

I also liked to return serve short, where possible or deep into my opponent’s crossover to limit their attacking options. Often followed up by a block punch wide and then counter attack.

I was always happiest playing consecutive backhand or forehand loops and felt confident in these rallies.

You won the New Zealand Mens Open title 8 times, do you think you could come back and win it again given the current standard of players in NZ?


I think I would have a chance, particularly last year… Not sure if my body would hold up though.

Barry's induction into the TTNZ Hall of Fame at the TTNZ 75th Jubilee, Whangarei 2009.
Photo Courtesy of Table Tennis New Zealand.
What do you believe table tennis needs to raise its profile in New Zealand?
Publicity and specific target markets such as schools, Asian community, social, etc. Table Tennis associations need to be organised on the publicity side, which requires hard work and commitment, but is very achievable. It’s important to remember that media outlets do not want to spend time or money covering Table Tennis, so it must be made easy for them. For newspapers and radio we did the following:

Media cut off times were often around the 4pm mark, so we started featured events early in the morning, with all finals completed around 3 – 3:30pm. This also guaranteed crowds as other events continued into early evening.

A media officer phoned through results to radio stations and were often broadcast on sports news.

A media officer (in our case, Geoff Rau) wrote articles about the tournaments, etc for the newspapers, which were accepted, edited and then published.

Basically, we had to spoon feed the information to the media and make it as easy as possible for them.

Other options include website info with articles and results. Also, links to uploaded videos of matches. People like this and it’s easy to follow.


Off the Topic Questions

Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Favourite, I don’t know.
Table Tennis would be Waldner – a true genius.
In tennis I’m a big Federer fan – I just love the way he plays the game and his attitude.
Cricket would be Tendulkar – very elegant.

Favourite food?
Shabu Shabu. This is a Japanese food made with thinly sliced premium beef cooked for a few seconds in boiling broth with vegetables. It is so tender…

Tennis or Table Tennis?
I still love table tennis, but it’s hard on the body and requires lots of training to maintain skill levels. Tennis is great, but I dislike the advantage a tall big server has. Why do they get 2 serves anyway? If they can’t get one in they should lose the point…

Dream Car
I’m not really a car guy, so never really thought about it. But, I’d love a flying car or jet pack. They’re not that far away now.

Ideal holiday destination?
omewhere warm with a tennis court and swimming pool and ideally no internet access or phone lines. It would also definitely need a bar.

First thing you would do if you won $1million?
Phone up the tennis guys and go to the pub. These tennis guys were all table tennis guys – Hagen Bower, Kevin Barry and Aaron Winborn


Your Team Mates
I’m not sure if this is a question, but I had a lot of team mates:

Tennis:
Hagen Bower – talented cunning and loves a post match drink.
Kevin Barry – POWERFUL and loves a post match drink.
Aaron Winborn – Loves a post match drink.

Table Tennis:
Richard Lee – great player on his day. Always wanted the best for his team.


James Morris – gritty player.


Graham Lassen – astonishingly erratic for a defender. You never knew how he was going to play.


Malcolm Temperley – a nightmare opponent with reflexes like a cat. Always tough.


Peter Jackson – a great team player who was always at his best when the team needed him.


Geoff Rau – solid if he could control his nerves.


Kevin Barry – excelled in team matches. I loved having Kevin in my team.


Alan Pedley – very steady.


Tony Radford – a talented player who gave his teammates many heart attacks.


Maurice Burns – a legend with a forehand to die for.

Who was the most reputable player you beat in your career?

Probably Atanda Musa, from Nigeria. Watanabe from Japan in the Aus Open in 1988 was also a good win. I had some good wins in training, which don’t count, but includes Jiang Jialiang (when he was World Champion) and also Stellan Bengtsson.

Jiang Jialiang winner of the 1985 and 1987 World Championships

Who trained the hardest in the training hall?

Kiyoshi Saito, from Japan, was an incredible trainer who would do 45 minutes of forehand only footwork at a time and just never tired. Stellan Bengtsson also trained very hard. I didn’t train with any of the top Chinese players, but reputedly they were amazing.

Who’s was the funniest team player?
I think we probably had 2 of the funniest players in Malcolm Temperley and Graham Lassen. Graham did so many strange things and occasionally would just start laughing in a very infectious way. I think one piece of coaching advice he gave to Geoff Rau was pretty funny. Geoff was playing one of the top players in the Commonwealth and had just lost the first game around 21 – 2 or something like that (apologies, Geoff). He came to the bench and got advice from Graham. I heard a little chuckle from Geoff and he went out to play the second game feeling a bit more relaxed. Geoff was still getting thrashed about halfway through when I asked Graham what advice he gave Geoff. Graham said he gave something to aim at, but doubted Geoff’s ability to do it. A few more losing points went by and I asked Graham what he told Geoff to aim at. Graham said “The other side of the table” and promptly fell off his seat laughing and remained on the floor laughing until the match was over… Poor Geoff!

Malcolm’s humour was a bit different. He was just plain different. When we had to play Nigeria he refused to leave the hotel saying he was unwell. The trouble was we had no reserve. He eventually turned up just before being defaulted and proceeds to lead the first game against Musa, which nobody could believe, especially Musa. Then during a crucial point Musa prepares to serve, but can’t see Malcolm, who has gone under the table to pound his bat into the floor. Musa bends down and has a look and Malcolm tells him his counterweight has come loose. Musa was not amused and hammers a 3rd ball forehand to Malcolm who smashes it for a clean winner. Next point Musa hammers another forehand to the other side and Malcolm punch blocks another clean winner. Poor Musa had no idea what to do and Malcolm arrogantly finished him off as if he was giving a kid a lesson. I’ve never seen anything like it…

Who had the best nickname?
Aaron Winborn’s nickname is ‘Donkey’. I won’t say any more about that one…

And Lastly

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?

Train hard, but with purpose. Always train with a strategy for a match. When playing a match visualise the type of rally you want to create, then follow it through. Always think 2 shots ahead in every rally.

If in doubt think of the most awkward place you can position the ball. If you can’t get an obvious advantage, then make it as awkward for your opponent as possible.

Finally, ignore your opponent’s reputation. Play to a plan and apply the pressure without thinking about your opponent. If they’re going to beat you, make sure they have to work hard to do it. It’s amazing the shots a great opponent can miss when you continue applying pressure to them.


An amazing interview by any accounts, thanks Barry for taking the time to continue inspiring table tennis players in New Zealand.

2 comments:

  1. awesome advice, true gentle man of the sport.

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  2. I remember Barry well...He had a serving machine in his basement...I played a few times against him for fun only...His mother Dawn was extremely proud of him,as was his sister Donna...I dont think they ever told him...He was closest to his father who was also his biggest fan and critic and was also a decent coach...To me Barry was a champion full stop...

    ReplyDelete