Once the heat sets in, those of us looking to continue our sporting pursuits into the summer will most likely look indoors. There are plenty of indoor sports leagues in which you can get involved, yet Time Out has chosen to take a closer look at arguably the most underappreciated of ball sports – table tennis.
Though ping pong’s larger-scale cousin, tennis, commands the spotlight and spawns some of sport’s biggest celebrities, there’s a lot to be said for the table-based version of the game. For one, it’s the world’s most widely played racquet sport (an estimated 10 million people take part in sanctioned tournaments every year), which says something of its attraction as a sport. And while ping pong hasn’t taken the UAE by storm, it has a fledgling following here thanks in large to Wiktor Gniewek, a Polish pro who has been spreading the ping-pong gospel since his arrival in Dubai four years ago.
Wiktor came here to represent Poland in a tournament that he likens to the table tennis equivalent of the Dubai Tennis Championships, and though he didn’t come away with the spoils, his trip to Dubai was enough to convince him to stay and take up a coaching position with Al Shabab Sports Club, as well as the role of assistant coach for the UAE national team. And now Wiktor is offering classes to the general public.
‘It’s one of the most underappreciated sports in the world,’ sighs the Polish national. ‘Table tennis is a sport for everyone – young, old and all levels of fitness. There’s even a player in Australia, Dorothy De Low, who is 101 years old.’ While many of us don’t expect to be playing the sport for quite that long, we can at least reap the health benefits now. ‘You don’t have to be fit to play, though it helps, and it’s a fairly easy sport to get the hang of.’
This said, Wiktor concedes that those wanting to reach a competitive standard of play will have to dedicate time and effort if they want to improve. After all, table tennis is a more complex sport than you might imagine. There are three ways to hold the paddle (pen-hold, shake-hand, reverse shake-hand); five offensive strokes (speed drive, loop, counter drive, flip, and smash); and four types of defensive strokes (push, chop, block and lob). What’s more, players can spin the ball in four different ways (backspin, topspin, slides-pin and cork-spin). That’s an awful lot to learn.
A professional table tennis player can smash the ball at speeds of more than 170kph, and it takes less than a second for the ball to cross the table, making quick, coordinated reactions essential. Wiktor says his lessons will help amateur players develop basic techniques (racquet grip, elbow positioning and footwork) and develop hand-eye coordination and physical and mental agility. Likewise, he can also help more advanced players, to develop their skills.
As far as summer sports are concerned, it seems table tennis offers much more than meets the eye. Let’s hope we can master our speed drive before the thermometer tops 50°C.
Wiktor offers lessons for Dhs100 per hour at Al Shabab Sports Club (050 398 8005)
Table tennis trivia
• In 2000, it was ruled that games were to be played to 11 points rather than 21.
• Table tennis became an Olympic sport at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
• The most decorated table tennis player in history is Hungarian Victor Barna, who won 22 world table tennis titles in the ’30s and ‘40s.
• Table tennis was banned in the Soviet Union from 1930 to 1950, after it was deemed a detriment to eyesight.
• The name ‘ping pong’ was originally patented by Parker Brothers; the patent is now owned by Escalade Sports.