Thursday, 21 September 2017

Is Conformity of Styles Hurting the Sport of Table Tennis?

This is a topic that you may have considered subconsciously but never really discussed. Maybe when I talk about it you will notice. I spoke to a couple of players during the World Table Tennis Championships, legends of the sport, one in particular was Jorgen Persson - 1991 World Table Tennis Champion. A big topic for me with the players from past generations is what they think about the progression and changes in the sport. Here is some food for thought about 'conformity of styles'.

Is table tennis losing diversity of style and character?


As the game of table tennis continues to change and the game slows down and becomes slower and less spinny we are seeing a mass phasing out of different styles. This along with the charge led by the athletic and technically superlative Chinese National Team has led to a disturbing trend in the sport.

Traditional penhold style was phased out, short pips penhold - phased out, even modern age penhold is becoming less common in the modern era. Pimple rubber defenders are abandoning long pimples and changing to short to try and keep up with the ever changing game but defenders (outside of Japan) are becoming less common as well.

So what model are people following? Two winged offensive players - trying to focus heavily on technique and building athletic power and speed. This is not a completely bad thing but it opens up some serious problems.

When speaking with Jorgen he told me that the great Jan-Ove Waldner, the Mozart of Table Tennis, says that in this generation nobody could beat the Chinese because they were missing one key element from their game - variation. Everybody is trying to play like the Chinese players, everyone thinks to beat China they need to play like them. The trouble is - if everybody plays a similar style to China, they will likely never best them in competition.

International players are looking for the first chance to get into a power rally and once in it, they play at a constant fast pace - let's face it how is anyone ever going to beat someone like Ma Long playing like that? If you train to play in a similar fashion to Ma Long - unless you train harder and longer than him (which is bordering on insanity), then how are you going to have any advantage in a match?

Admittedly I don't watch anywhere near as much international table tennis as I used to, I used to love watching greats like Saive, Kreanga, Primorac, Korbel, Persson and Waldner out on the table - why? because they were unpredictable, they had class and scrapiness - each their own unique style different from the rest. Saive with his amazing lobbing, Kreanga with that outstanding backhand, Korbel his breathtaking inside out forehand and banana flip and of course lets not forget Persson's backhand swat and Waldner's godly dropshots and fade shots.

Every player had character in their game, they had signature styles. I feel like that part of the game is being distinguished as we move to larger balls, plastic material and we constantly look for perfect techniques and more athletic games. I think that, yes, perhaps we are seeing long rallies in tournaments, maybe for some people it is more entertaining, but something that was special about the sport before is fading rapidly.


There are very much two sides to this fence, some people like that the sport is becoming more athletic and that table tennis players will now and in the future hopefully be treated more like athletes and less like garage players. Yes perhaps changes in the game were necessary, perhaps they weren't avoidable, this we can never be sure about, but looking back I think a great era of the game is being lost as the sport progresses.

Very interested to hear other opinions and thoughts about this topic, please comment below or on facebook and as always feel free to email me at mhtabletennis@gmail.com

7 comments:

  1. Ban long pips and anti-spin rubbers and maybe more people will be interested in playing. After all the hours of training, you get defeated badly in the tournaments by junk players. The purpose of junk rubbers is to make you miss, not necessary win by skill. Many quit table tennis, How is that good for the sport.

    All ITTF think about is changing the ball size, net height. Most of us players think it's about money anyway. Do you really think that the players think that they care about the sport after all the changes they choose in the past. The players are still hitting the ball strong. Slowing down the game is not going to attract more spectators, but only decrease the quality of the sport. We need more players in the world interested in competing, then spectators will increase. In most sports, if you play in it you will watch it because you can understand and appreciate the skill involved.

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    1. If you can't beat "junk players" after hours of training, you're doing something wrong. Probably overthinking.

      It's the top pros who make the game exciting to watch, no matter what changes are implemented. I was around when hard bats started giving way to inverted. The game will always be evolving.

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    2. Individuality is...by definition...required to make a World Champion. There can only be one.

      To bring up Long Pips and Anti here is ridiculous...those rubbers are obviously "weaker" You must have a level of understanding of the game and the ball to deal with them, once you do, obviously it is relatively easy or we would have a long pips/anti world champ...but we don't in recent times...I believe Deng Yapeng was the last with long pips on the back hand...arguably the best female player to have ever played the game? The rest are all sticky players. If someone arises with the skill to defeat the rest of the world with those rubbers...more power to them. Keeping the game as diverse as possible is our best chance of keeping the sport attractive and possibly promoting the rise of an alternative player that could knock the Chinese off of their well deserved pedestal.

      Innovate within yourself and your own game to excel...it is good to have a "signature shot" that no one teaches that is outside the box thinking. It's a great idea and can be quite productive...in fact, I would say it's a necessity to be a true champion...

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    3. I highly agree. Banning long and short pips does not mean table tennis will get anymore interesting. If you cannot even play against pips, how can you say you know how to play table tennis or understand it. I believe table tennis is a variation of all techniques and styles including short and long pips. He zhi wen was a very example of amazing technique and control using short pips. All around player who understood how to play the game.

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  3. Hi Matt! I TOTALLY agree with your article's hypothesis. Having lived in China for nearly 10 years now, and with a personal grip and playing style that is totally different and "weird" as compared to anything that the local Chinese have ever seen, I can attest to the fact that it is not only possible, but also quite fun, to be able to consistently beat many Chinese players who possess "superior strength and technical skill levels" by being completely unpredictable and as I like to say--"playing with their minds" as much as just playing good table tennis =:).

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