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  • 21May

    If you want to be cool, then there is only one sport to play; of course it’s table tennis!

    What else?

    It is the current fashion and as the London Olympic Games looms ever closer, the sport is seeing a rejuvenation in the English capital city’s parks; whilst across the pond in the U.S.A. it’s the sport for the “in” crowd. Certainly that is the opinion of former England international Matthew Syed, now an acclaimed journalist who is very upbeat about the sport that is currently the height of fashion. In the edition of the “Times” newspaper published on Friday 14th May 2010, Matthew Syed writes in a most upbeat and positive manner about the sport that is now the “in thing”.

    Susan Sarandon giving table tennis celebrity status  Photo By: Courtesy of ITTF

    The Times
    May 14, 2010
    Table tennis gets a fashionable spin from Susan Sarandon and bellinis

    The metamorphosis has happened with dizzying speed. Table tennis, a sport that has traditionally suffered from an image of parochialism and downright geekiness is, for the moment at least, the sexiest sport on the planet.

    Well, almost.

    The revolution started in central Manhattan. Table tennis has long commanded a fringe following of hip media types and fashionistas in Greenwich Village, but the sport was thrust into the epicentre of New York¹s high life last summer with the opening of the world¹s first ping-pong nightclub on the corner of Park Avenue and East 23rd.

    SPiN, as it is aptly called, is cool, mellifluous and swanky. The idea is to hold a fizzing Bellini in one hand and to whack a ball with the other. The dance floor is taken up with ping-pong tables, with a long bar at one end and a VIP room with a mirrored table and abstract paintings at the other.

    The first time that I entered SPiN I thought I had arrived in Heaven. The women whacking balls were from the pages of Vogue; the chaps ‹ many wearing sunglasses, despite the dim lighting ‹ were young, talented and preposterously handsome. I played an exhibition match with the local hot-shot and shared cocktails with the actress Susan Sarandon, who is a co-owner of the club and a self-confessed addict of the game. ³Tell me about that forehand,² she said, brown eyes earnest. ³The way you scoop it from off the floor is something else.²

    The ping-pong buzz has not been limited to the Big Apple. A number of clubs have sprouted in fashionable bars in Shoreditch and Camden. Karmarama, a London advertising agency, has a section of its website devoted to the sport. Rockstar Games ‹ inventor of Grand Theft Auto ‹ has a table in the middle of its office on Kings Road in Chelsea, across which staff conduct brainstorming meetings, bats in hand.

    The City has been hit by the craze. Tables stand next to the trading floors of discerning hedge fund partnerships in Mayfair and St James. Michael Sherwood, the co-chief executive of Goldman Sachs International, plays a weekly game at a flat kept for the purpose in North London, and John Varley, chief executive of Barclays, is known to play staff at the bank¹s headquarters.

    But even as ping-pong surfs this unexpected tidal wave of chic, the sport remains true to its democratic roots. A game premised on universal accessibility, a pioneering initiative aims to harness its urban appeal.

    Funded by Sport England, outdoor tables are being erected in London¹s chief parks and spaces, including Trafalgar Square, at the London Eye, Soho Square, the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, Shoreditch Park and Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The tables will be available round the clock for free impromptu use, with masterclasses and competitions.

    Equipment sales are rocketing. At a table tennis event at the Barbican on Thursday night, hosted by Ron Arad, the contemporary artist, who plays every day, dozens of the guests talked of how they had bought tables for their homes and garages. Tables seem to have taken over from mini-trampolines as the fashionable accessory for families who want to give the kids a workout.

    Not so long ago, we table tennis aficionados had to justify our passion for the sport. Ping-pong, whiff-whaff … the alliterations seemed to carry every connotation of frivolity, the idea that no red-blooded sports fan would ever deign to whack a ball except with a sense of irony. But suddenly we can be outward-looking again, proclaiming the sport¹s magic without inhibition.

    Bobby Fischer, the chess grandmaster, who loved ping-pong long before it became fashionable, is reputed to have been the first to describe the game as ³running the 100 metres while playing chess at the same time². The phrase encapsulates the sport¹s defining synthesis: strategy combined with speed; lightning reactions welded with subtlety and wit.

    Perhaps this is why table tennis always had a following among the intelligentsia. The first world champion in 1926 was a doctor of letters and most early champions were every breed of philosopher and writer, usually from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    Dick Miles, the US player, never went to a match without a copy of Ulysses in his kit bag. Marty Reisman, his great rival (who continues to play a mean game in his late seventies), is a follower of Sartre¹s existentialism.

    Howard Jacobson, the novelist, had this to say about playing the perfect
    shot: Then I understand what the mystics mean by perfect stillness. The bat, the ball, the will to succeed, become fused in an arc of supreme effortlessness. And for that one moment, it is as though the hand is the pure instrument of one¹s will, boneless, fluid, lethal. It is not another player one has got the ball past ‹ the other player, strictly speaking, is an irrelevance ‹ it is impediment itself, frustration, obstruction, everything that usually stands between you and happiness.²

    Jacobson would doubtless be pleased that table tennis has finally discovered its latent chic but he would be even more pleased to know that the sport remains true to its philosophical and democratic fundamentals. ³Ping-pong is the new black,² somebody said to me the other day, and instinctively, and to my great surprise, I knew she wasn¹t kidding.


    Posted by ttfan @ 1:36 pm

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