London 2012: Table Tennis
Tell me about table tennis:
It’s like tennis … but played over a 9-by-5-foot table and played with a small wooden, laminated racket. Table tennis events will take place at ExCeL London, an exhibition center in the borough of Newham. Table tennis has been at only six previous Olympics and debuted in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. The 2008 Olympics featured singles and doubles events, but the London Olympics will replace doubles with teams of three. The are four medal events: men’s and women’s singles and men’s and women’s teams-of-three competitions.
What’s up with the scoring?
Table tennis has a lot in common with regular tennis, but its competition format and scoring are a whole different breed. The ball may only bounce once on the table before being returned. Points are scored if the ball is not returned. The scoring is straightforward: a single point is scored for a player when his or her opponent fails to legally return the ball. Singles matches are best-of-seven and each game is played to 11 points. Teams of three don’t play at the same time; rather, the team match consists of four games of singles and one game of doubles. The winner is determine in a best-of-five format.
How do players qualify:
Each nation can have two players per gender for singles, and those players also play doubles or teams. The top 28 males and top 28 females ranked by the International Table Tennis Federation qualified at the 2011 World Table Tennis championships, and further qualifications took place worldwide to add players from other nations. Additional team qualification was decided by awarding a berth to the top team from each continent at the 2012 World Team Championships as long as three of its players had qualified for singles. The chance to medal comes from playing a series of knockout rounds, starting with prelims, then quarterfinals, then semifinals, then the finals.
International players to watch:
China tends to sweep the gold medals in table tennis, and did so in 2008 at Beijing. The only non-Chinese or non-Korean player to ever win gold in table tennis was Swede Jan-Ove Waldner, who won men’s singles in 1992. Needless to say, the Chinese are favorites again for the gold. They are bringing the highest possible amount of athletes for the sport (6). Zhang Jike is the top-ranked male table tennis player in the world and has won gold at the World Championships for the last two years. He will play singles and the team event, and this will be his first Olympics. Ning Ding is the female World No. 1 and is the favorite for women’s gold. The most likely challengers to China’s medal dominance are male players Jun Mizutani (Japan) and Timo Boll (Germany) and female players Kyungah Kim (South Korea) and Kasumi Ishikawa (Japan).
Americans to watch:
The USA is sending four athletes, none of whom are promising to compete for a medal, but hey, we can always hope for an upset. They are: Timothy Wang, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Erica Wu–one male singles competitor and three women who will play as a team, two of whom can also play singles.
Talk like an Olympian–terms to know:
Blade – the part of the racket used to hit the ball. The rackets are often made of wood with rubber covering on each side of the blade. The rubber on the blade is generally changed after a certain amount of play to maintain the racket’s characteristics.
Let – a “let” is called when the play is somehow interrupted–such as an illegal touch of the ball before it has bounced, or a ball from another game entering the playing surface.
Penhold and shakehand – two common styles of gripping table tennis rackets. There is no rule that states that the racket must be gripped a certain way. “Penhold” means the racket is held similar to the way one holds a pen or pencil. “Shakehand” means the racket is grasped in a manner similar to a handshake. Penhold is more traditional among players from Asia, while Western players tend to use shakehand (though many top-ranked players worldwide now use shakehand). Shakehand is considered easier to learn and more versatile. Variations are frequently used on both.
Offensive and defensive strokes – Strokes are categorized based on their purpose. Offensive strokes tend to be fast and capitalize on opponent’s mistakes, such as the smash, when an opponent has hit his/her ball too high or too close to the net, and a fast return will cause him/her to be unable to return it. Defensive strokes are simpler and either very conservative or very desperate. Take the difference between the block and the lob: the block is simply placing the racket in front of the ball after it has bounced to create a simple return, but the lob puts the ball up to five meters in the air with the intention of returning it with a difficult amount of spin.