Custom made 18k Gold Table Tennis Bat with Diamond studded handle and Jade Dragon inlay made by Vinqui for a Chinese Olympic Gold Medalist.
BORIS JOHNSON famously infuriated the Chinese four years ago by claiming we invented table tennis as a game called whiff whaff played on dining tables.
After my 30-minute lesson with British No 1 Paul Drinkhall, I think it is best I stick to eating at a table rather than playing on one.
I was left in a spin by the different topspin and backspin serving methods.
The key, Drinkhall told me, is keeping your eye on the ball at all times — but that is easier said than done given the power and spin he manages to generate — and the way the ball flew off the table at various angles.
WHAT qualities do you need to succeed?
Dedication, hand-eye coordination, speed and agility. I would compare table tennis to mixed martial arts. Like the full contact combat sport, if you start going mental on the table, smashing everything that comes your way, your opponent will pick you off.
You have to be more subtle. You have to pick the right balls and decide whether it’s best to play hard, fast, slow or use spin. The sport is all about timing and trying to stay as controlled as you can.
HOW do opponents push the boundary between what is acceptable and illegal?
A player may throw their serve back into his racquet rather than straight up. By throwing it slightly backwards you generate more spin. This happened to me during the Olympic qualification. I complained to the umpire — but they didn’t penalise the offender. I just had to get on with it.
The other thing is timewasting. Players will tend to take more time between points if they are losing. Sometimes the umpires will realise and tell you to hurry up. Sometimes you can get away with quite a lot, taking an extra 10 or 20 seconds to retrieve the ball.
CHINA are the dominant force in your sport. How do they do it?
The population there is massive. In England, everyone wants to be a footballer. In China, they want to play table tennis.
Their leading players are treated like Premier League stars. The rest of the world is trying to compete and it’s difficult because China have systems in place for kids as young as eight or nine to play six or seven hours every day.
ARE the Chinese invincible?
Well, to be ranked at No 1 or No 2 in the world would be difficult for a European because you would have to beat the Chinese week-in, week-out.
But over the course of one match — especially at the Olympics where the number of individuals per country is restricted — it is possible.
WOULD you say you are more Chinese in your mental approach than European?
Definitely. My coach, Liu Jia-Yi, is Chinese. He has been with me since I was young and had the most impact on my game. I’ve learned everything from him. My style is Chinese, my mentality is Chinese.
WHAT are the different ways to strike the ball?
With the topspin serve, you try to come up the back of the ball more. You tend to use your shoulders more, as well as your forearm and wrist to generate the spin through the ball. You contact the ball towards the top of the bat.
With the backspin, you contact the ball at the bottom of the bat. If I was to serve backspin, the ball would ideally land on their side of the table and spin back towards the net. If I was to serve topspin, the ball would ideally kick towards them.
SO tactics must be important?
Absolutely. Your opponent watches where the ball hits your bat and tries to anticipate whether the shot will have topspin or backspin.
The trick is to disguise your shots. If you pull that off, it’s a great feeling — because your opponent can only stand there like an idiot as the ball flies past them.
When you see a player standing quite a way back from the table, they are playing defensive — but usually putting backspin on the ball most of the time.
Some players are defensive and let the offensive player make the mistake during the rallies.
WHAT are the favoured grips?
The penhold where you hold the bat as if you were writing with a pen. That’s generally better for the serves.
But it’s more difficult to play the backhand shot.
The majority of people use the shakehand grip — which is basically like shaking someone’s hand. It’s better for the backhand and the forehand.
Darius Knight Growing Up
Move to the Beat of London 2012 - Darius Knight, Olympic Table Tennis hopeful shares his amazing story with Coca-Cola
As One Official Trailer #1 (2012)
“As One” shows behind-the-scenes stories regarding the inter-Korean table tennis team that participated in the 1991 Chiba Worldwide Table Tennis Championships for 40 days. Ha Ji-won takes on the role of South Korean table tennis player Hyeon Jeong-hwa and Bae Doo-na takes on the role of her North Korean rival, Ri Boon-hee.
Coke & Darius Knight Rap