It’s a sport that rarely takes centre stage, yet table tennis is now stealing the limelight in Dubai.
Table tennis, also referred to as ping-pong (a term that is, in fact, trademarked), is enjoying some much-deserved time in the spotlight at the moment. Aside from being installed in the canteen at Time Out Towers, Jumeirah Rotana held a match using a glow-in-the-dark ball to mark Earth Hour in March, and a competition was held in Mirdif City Centre around the same time to promote the Dubai Peace and Sport Forum.
Arguably the most attention-grabbing news surrounding the sport in Dubai, however, is the announcement that Hollywood actress and, apparently, avid table tennis player Susan Sarandon, star of Thelma and Louise, is to launch a ping-pong club in the city. SPiN Dubai will be unveiled at a location in Wafi in May, housing 11 designer tables, a bar, lounge and nightclub, with patrons invited to eat, drink, dance and play from 6pm until 3am.
On hearing the news that the unusual concept would be arriving on Dubai’s sun-soaked shores, I decided now would be a good time to drop in at Deep Sports Services in Karama. Here, Yeleswarapu Venkata Pradeep (known as Pradeep to associates), a competitor in the recent Mirdif City Centre competition, had offered to teach me the basics.
After welcoming me to the studio and introducing me to his assistant coach, Habib Shaik, Pradeep explains that he’ll be taking me through the steps for the bronze award – the first skills test for amateur players. I manage to demonstrate the ‘ready position’ without difficulty (essentially bending the knees and looking ready to move, aligned with the centre of the table), and we move on to hand-eye coordination skills. Ten forehand bounces of the ball on the paddle and ten backhand bounces later, we move onto ‘combos’, as Pradeep calls them, which involves alternating sides of the paddle for each bounce. Harder than it sounds.
Five attempts later, I’m no better than when I started, but I manage to persuade him to let me move on to the next test. As we work through forehand and backhand control when hitting a ball across the table (with an imaginary ball), it’s clear that it will take far longer than the time we have during this session for me to get into the rhythm, and Pradeep chuckles as I make all the classic mistakes, including changing my movements completely when I finally have a real ball put in front of me. At this point, he plots a large yoga ball in front of me on the table. Fortunately it’s not a test, and I’m not supposed to somehow get it airborne; instead I watch as he demonstrates where I should be hitting the ball, and where I actually am (needless to say, there is great disparity between the two).
Before I leave he allows me to try a rally with assistant coach Habib, and sets me a goal to get ten passes back and forth before my time is up. I manage six, and then another six, before his next student arrives. Not bad for an hour’s instruction, but I’ve some way to go before I’ll be putting my name down for the Olympics. Maybe Susan could oblige me with a masterclass while she’s here?
Dhs500 for five 60-minute lessons. Daily 7.30pm-9.30pm. Deep Sports Services, Al Yamama Building, Karama, www.deeptta.com (055 978 8144).
More indoor racket sports to get a grip on
Hire one of the courts at this beachfront hotel and the friendly staff will do their best to make sure you have everything you need – even down to goggle hire.
Dhs150 per hour, Dhs30 per racket, balls free. Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, JBR (04 399 5533).
Play singles or doubles in this enormous indoor sports hall. Rackets can be hired for those without, but you’ll have to bring your own shuttlecocks.
From Dhs120 for court hire for non-members, Dhs15 per racket. SportZone, Fitness First, The Meadows (04 437 0545).