We’re back from a fun three days in Las Vegas and I’m thinking about whether the approach taken by Budweiser (the big tournament sponsor) and Killerspin (equipment maker and I think the sponsor of the “All Star” competition) is going to be good or bad for the wonderful game of Table Tennis.
My short take is yes, this is great for the game because it raises awareness and gets people playing more in bars and basements and therefore will bring more people into the serious side of the sport. However I would recommend better social media next year, tied initially to the bar tournaments and then to the big Las Vegas spectacular. There was very little media buzz offline or online about this tournament despite hundreds of free trips to Las Vegas, celebrities, big money, pretty athletes, and a two hour ESPN special coming in September! Everybody loves this game in different ways and somehow this part was lost in the PR campaign leading up to and including the tournament.
In real Table Tennis the play is at a much higher level than we saw even among the best players at the Hardbat Classic because everybody was required to use one of two special “hard bat” paddles made just for this tournament.
$100,000 Winner Jack Baker, originally from London and now from Mobile Alabama, had won a local bar tournament. He was an excellent player but would have been crushed by Trevor Runyan but for the point spread. Runyan is a US Hardbat Champion who barely made it out of the All Star tournament to face Jack in the semifinals where he lost due to the point spread. I think the spread was 17 but don’t know yet (I missed the final day’s matches).
Despite a lot of grumbling by the best players who faced the huge handicappings, I think the idea of spotting points is good because it forces everybody to play their very best. Not so with these paddles, which basically forced many of us who know the game well to play far below our normal levels. I had trouble even keeping the ball on the table – I think because I’d mostly practiced with the hardbat against a robot which did not give me a sense of what type of shot would be coming to me from these paddles. Every player I saw from beginner to international class was struggling to get performance out of this blade, so if I had to make one recommendation for next year it would be to find better equipment that would showcase skills. Old style hardbats, used in the heydey of the game as a spectator sport, shoud be reviewed by Bud and Killerspin.
The lower end paddle was much like the junkiest type of pips out paddles you’d buy for a few dollars at Wal- Mart, where the higher end paddle was a notch up in blade and rubber quality though still seemed light and hard to control. Head was normal sized where a better hardbat head might have been larger. The pips rubber allowed a very modest level of spin but control was so weak that the rallies with these paddles tended to be very, very short.
This problem was significant as the whole idea is to get people excited about watching long rallies and I do not think this type of equipment is best for that. Better would be to find a blade/rubber combination that slowed the speed and spin down but allowed longer rallies with more work and motion on the part of the players. This is what might turn Table Tennis into a more popular spectator sport in the USA.
Another popularity strategy I’d love to see would be regular bar tournaments with money or prizes. I think Bud’s done a lot of good in that direction with the Hardbat Classic, though it was disappointing for me that the distributor held a small tournament locally but did not pony up the money to send the winner to Las Vegas . Especially because the winner was … me.
Although I heard something about “4000 local tournaments” that number made no sense because there did not appear to even be a total of 1000 players at the tournament – more like about 300-400 would be my guess and that includes the “basement” players that had no rating, players like me who were rated by the US Table Tennis Assn, and the 8 all stars, mostly from Killerspin’s great team of amazing players.
The Table Tennis “All Stars” who were invited by Killerspin and Bud played against each other and this was the most exciting, high quality play even though they were handicapped with the low grade rackets. Table Tennis Superstar and Olympic Silver Medalist Ilya Lupulesku http://server2.usatt.org/magazine/08mar-apr/lupulesku%20.pdf was there but was having a lot of trouble with the hardbat and the fact that his ranking meant he had to give many points to his opponent. He did not even make it out of his first round robin with other All Stars. I understand that David Zhuang, another amazing player who has won the US national championships lost *every match* in his first round robin in the “pros” division – I assume because he had to give up to 17 points to the other players.
My initial reaction was that the handicap system was failing to be fair with points, but the idea was to make it very hard on the best players and in this they succeeded – few “great” players made it out of the initial round. My round robin opponent Ashu Jain, a brilliant player with the HBC hardbat, managed to win a a lot but was finally defeated due to the large point handicaps.
…. more soon with pictures ….