Not since Marco Polo’s visit to Kublai Khan’s court has the world been so fascinated by China. What makes the Asian giant the latter day Colossus, reducing other players of table tennis to ‘petty men peeping about under his huge legs?’
Exploring the eastern enigma can be about as enlightening as solving the Loch Ness monster mystery.
The endeavour goes on nonetheless, the most recent one being after it trounced Japan in the team competition finals of the Volkswagen world junior table tennis championships (WJTTC) here on Wednesday night.
“If the Chinese paddler’s second ball attack doesn’t hit you, the fourth will,” Uppuluri Krishna Murty, a die-hard table tennis follower, told The Hindu .
“Simply devastating, they give defenders no time to take up positions to execute their pet long range chops. Junior World No. 2 Yuto Muramatsu discovered this the hard way against Lin Gaoyuan and Fan Zhendong while Joo Sae Hyuk and Chen Weixing continue(d) to suffer at the hands of Ma Lin, Ma Long and Xu Xin.”
In a sport where the mind muzzles muscle, science serves as a sound starting point.
“On the mainland, guidance training gets juniors facing strong senior players and men play women, thus hiking standards swiftly, if not sharply. In contrast, top players in professional systems of Europe and elsewhere avoid revealing their game to the younger lot lest they beat or displace them,” notes Murty. The Chinese system develops “clones” of foreign rivals for simulated training, thus equipping its own against foreign players.
Thus in actual match situations, overseas opponents neither shock nor stun the Chinese with the “surprise factor”. “Multi-ball training trims reaction time and quickens reflexes. So does a favourite face two players, including a left-hander, especially if the former is a right-hander.
“Eight hours training daily, six days a week, covers physical fitness, tactics, techniques, match play and sports psychology. Chinese paddlers, once identified as real talents, play from age eight or 10 till they retire at about 30,” explains Murty.
Skill-specific training sharpens serves, receiving them, loops, spin, blocks, floats, et al. The merits of a strong domestic system realised long ago, the Chinese Super League is by far the world’s toughest.
Into the thick of such competition, juniors and young players are thrust, hardening them for the bigger battles ahead, besides rewards of expensive cars, flats and citations.
So do its players give their own league the highest priority, their elite released mostly for top-notch tournaments only. “If training centres are nurseries or sources of talent, these resemble Indian schools or colleges, each of them having between 50 to 100 tables, while our national academies may not have more than 20,” says Murty. If these become like factory assembly lines turning out talented paddlers, much research goes into tactics, techniques, equipment, technological and material changes. A major plus is the easy availability and affordability of table tennis equipment, apart from access to the game enabled by its administrators.
If unforced errors seem non-existent in the Chinese game and its speed unsettles the opposition, is the chasm widening between the rulers and the rest of the table tennis world?
“Yes, in my opinion the gap is widening and it is alarming for several reasons,” says Mikael Andersson, Executive Director, Education & Training, International Table Tennis Federation.