Ping & Pong > Four letter words for a “table-tennis” player ?!?

Table-tennis an “Olympic” “athletic” “sport” ?- “You cannot be serious… moron”

An invitation to table-tennis from an ex-tennis-addict turned table-tennis addict 

                      I am writing this article as sort of as an introductory invitation to table-tennis written by this ex-tennis addict  turned current table-tennis addict, after time and again being asked (or more like ridiculed) about what the heck is “table-tennis” anyway and how is it different from “ping pong”. Unless your intent is to deliberately stay close minded to consider only traditional American sports as global sport and would rather continue ridiculing table-tennis as ping-pong, it is my futile hope that you would consider gathering some additional information about table-tennis and not sound ill-informed in the cyber age of instant information and even get hopelessly addicted one day.  (….if your are somewhat familiar with tennis history, you should recognize the famous phrases “you cannot be serious”, and “moron”….tennis legend McEnroe would probably have made lot more money if he had trademarked these above phrase & word, like many athletes do these days  LOL)

VOC(Volatile Organic Solvents), Jan Ove, frictionless medium-pips, Ma Long, hook & fade loops,  Aspect Ratio genocide, basement grip, wet regluing, robotNazis,  high-toss tomahawk, two-color-rule, 40 mm fiasco, asymmetric composites, brush-lob Appeling, exponential back-spin amplification, cork-screw trajectory, top-sheet geometry, dwell-time synthesis, Kpen, Jpen, Cpen, RPH curvature, Pre-tuned vacuum pack, biotech 36 degrees, expedite rule.

              Do any of the above terms sound even remotely familiar to you ? Do not feel bad if you do not……. as even many advanced level table-tennis players may not recognize even half of the above terms. Even though my goal is to invite rather than scare people away from the “sport” of table-tennis, reality is that non-table-tennis players even in places like  China , Korea , Germany , France , where table-tennis is regarded as a serious professional sport, may not recognize many of the above terms. My simple point is that table-tennis for the most part is no more than a joke of basement “game” of ping-pong in USA.

           “Ping Pong” is actually a name trademarked in USA by the Parker Brothers (Toy makers) to monopolize the market during USA’s golden age of “table-tennis” in the 30’s & 40’s. The “sport” of table-tennis now is now an extremely popular event in Olympics, despite the sad fact that ITTF had turned the sport for the most part into a non-spectator sport as a super-speed comedy of errors of mostly 4 or less rallies. Though USA probably has more tables at homes than any other country, the “sport” has regressed to a basement joke “game” called ping-pong mindlessly hitting the ball back and forth over the table, while in most of the 155 member nations of the ITTF , it is approached ( or even revered) in most of Asia & Europe as a professional sport. Most Americans would thus rather watch the Swedish bikini Team play “ping-pong” rather than watch the Swedish Dream Table-Tennis Team of 70’s or the Swedish Super Dream Team of table-tennis of the early 90’s knocking off the Chinese, the gold standard of table-tennis. There are twice to three times as many registered coaches in Germany as there are registered tournament players in USA and the German League is 6 or 7 divisions deep with the top division Bundesliga generally reserved to current or Ex- World or Continental champions , all of whom are multi-millionaires and national heroes in their home countries. So when an American casually relegates this “sport” that demands insane hand / eye co-ordination and obscene reflexes, foot-speed & foot-work at the highest levels, to a basement “game” calling it ping pong, it generally sends shrills down thru the spines of any poor serious table-tennis player living in USA having desperate hopes of returning USA to its glory days, when they hear the dreaded words “ping pong”.


I grew up admiring McEnroe’s lightening foot-speed & volleys and Connors’ one-in-a-billion flat-hitting style (absolute orthogonal “hitting of the ball” contact with extremely low-error-margin) which is identical to the most gifted natural-born table-tennis players known as short-pips-out hitters. But I almost worshipped Bjorn Borg who though named the angelic assassin by Bud Collins actually seemed more mortal than Connors & McEnroe. Borg pioneered the slow-looping super-top-spin (acutely tangential “brushing of the ball” contact with enormous error-margins) in tennis (from table-tennis) Quote from web:-Although Lennert Bergelin had some early input into the technical and tactical aspects of Borg's game, his contribution was limited. Borg had developed his own style – the result of a table tennis player suddenly adapting to the heavy tennis racket he had been given at the age of nine – and if it offended the purists Bergelin saw no reason to change what was a winning game.”

As fate & destiny may have it , the above racket Bjorn got at age nine was actually won by his father Rune Borg as a prize for Rune winning a “table-tennis” tournament. Rune was a top-table tennis player in Sweden but not good enough to make the Swedish Dream Team 1 in early 70’s that conquered the Gold standard in table-tennis ( China ) . The (Super) Dream Team 2 of Sweden (who would thrash China) came about in later 80’s thru 2000.  

For those not familiar at all with Bjorn Borg of Sweden , he won 5 Wimbledon's (on grass) and 6 French Opens (on clay). If you are not familiar , clay and grass are diametrically opposite surfaces to play tennis on....clay is super-slow and grass is super-fast. Bjorn Borg had followed table-tennis so much so that he is now a close friend of Jan Ove Waldner of Sweden considered by many as the best ever in table-tennis)  .

           I have by now learnt to visualize & accept just how hard a tennis player in USA is laughing inside at me when they hear me say I play “table-tennis” ( A tennis club manager once actually offered me a whopping $5 to do a “ping-pong” demonstration…..these days, though I am happy coach serious players for free if they come to the local table-tennis club …..I would be charging like $200 per hour with a $600 daily minimum to give private lessons if I ever did do it, which I don’t and had been offered over the years………mostly to counter the pathetic image of table-tennis in this country rather than to make any money.). Being someone who was lot more addicted to tennis once than I am now to table-tennis and had been an advanced player close to a USTA level of 5 (of 7) , and though I don’t think I reached my tennis level (or ever will) in table-tennis, I could never imagine going back to tennis.

Why ? I can answer it this way.    If given an opportunity to come back as one life-time of Bjorn Borg (as much as I admire his pioneering contributions to tennis via table-tennis) , I would rather come back just even one week as Jan Ove Waldner (or even Appelgren………or even Bjorn Borg’s dad Rune ………or heck I would settle for pro-golfer  (table-tennis master level player) Fredrik Jacobson LOL ).  

                Tennis is an amazing athletic sport. However I could never dream of going back to tennis once addicted to the insane super-spins of table-tennis. At the professional level (where youth dominate) it is a sadly mistaken myth that tennis would demand more endurance and power. Most non-players  estimate the playing area for example based on the basement sizes where table-tennis is played as a game but few folks realize the standard size of a table-tennis court   is 14 meters by 7 meters ( 46 feet by 23 feet) and the power ,coordination and foot-speed to generate the extreme super-spins of table-tennis (mostly because the Olympic level table-tennis athletes make it look so easy like Forrest Gump).  However tennis for the most part is a young person's sport since it may become much harder on the average & excruciatingly painful to execute powerful spins like a young person in tennis,  while in table-tennis it is relatively less painful though not still as easy and that is why I personally find  table-tennis more fun even as you get older. Yet to my surprise  I have noticed that most players who played both sports competitively when younger continue to pursue both sports at all ages even competitively. However there are also other complex reasons why tabletennis is more of a lifetime sport than tennis and this has to do with extremely diverse playing styles possible in table-tennis  and far more than in tennis (Hard to discuss  this in detail here as it requires a basic knowledge of table-tennis but this article is written for non-table-tennis players ) 

       Once you even “barley” learn to generate the myriad of super-spins & counter-spins of table-tennis at such extreme high speeds in relatively such small time frames compared to tennis and can get the sizzling feel of the ball digging deep at tangential limits of calculus into the (freshly reglued wet) bottom-sponge of the rubber sheet to meet the wood , your addiction to table-tennis is incurably complete and cannot think of going back to tennis, despite the fact that it can be at times very frustrating (depending mostly your own style of play) as the most complicated individual sport ……sort of downhill skiing while playing speed-chess at the same-time due to the high level of thinking for stroke selection and execution on your feet at ridiculous speeds at generally expected & accepted nearly non-stop action until the game is over.  

                        `One unfortunate aspect of table-tennis is that it is really not much of a spectator sport. Unless you play & “feel” the sport , as a spectator, it is mostly a super high speed comedy of errors except may be 1% or so of the time. Used to be that at least you can watch 10% matches in the sport when an attacker plays a defensive player, when the sport is at its spectacular best . But unfortunately ITTF (with IOC’s help) had systematically exterminated defensive styles for political reasons. Yet the sport is one of most popular Olympic events.


If you are a table-tennis player, the above statement will help you do your research on the history of spin thru times from the introduction of the sponge racket in Bombay (now Mumbai 1952) by Japanese, Cultural Revolution of 60’s in China & Ping Pong Diplomacy 70’s , the first Swedish Dream Team 1973, Bjorn Borg ( bringing looping super-top-spin to tennis subconsciously from his dad), Hungary – loopers-maker-chopper (Berczik’s Trio) 1979 , Swedish (Super)Dream Teams 1989-2000, & glue ban and repeal fiasco of 1995, Ruf Harrison’s ( & Tim Boggan’s) Aspect Ratio concentration camps of 1998 at Durban for back-spinners, Adham Sharara’s 40mm gas chamber of 2000 to finish the job on back-spinners etc etc


Below is a (condensed) excerpt from the book “The Money Player” ,the most expensive ( old or new ) book related to table-tennis on Ebay, written by Marty Reisman , who was many times a US Champion in 40’s and 50’s & prestigious English Open Champion ( sort of like Wimbledon of table-tennis then ) and one of the very best in the World , around when US table-tennis was at or close to the top.

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“One of my last gold smuggling ventures took me to Taiwan. Doug (Cartland) and I had been invited there by Taiwanese Table Tennis Association to play an international match against Taiwanese National Team. We flew in as we usually do, on US military aircraft since it was free. This time though, most of all fifty passengers seemed to be all Colonels or Generals. 

Doug & I felt so insignificant. I felt worse because at least Doug was not a criminal (not a gold smuggler like me). He was not what I felt I was , the lowest of low, a smuggler with 21 lb of gold in secret pockets of my vest.

 The armed services brass talked about possibility of war with Mainland (China).

They talked about beefing up the 7th fleet

They talked about Koran war.

They talked about entire strategy of South Pacific .

These men were movers & shakers in history.

They discussed about fate of entire nations. 

As the plane landed and I looked out the window. There were 100s of people to welcome the plane, government officials in suits, news media, flower girls and school children. When the plane stopped a band stuck up.

 The brass was impressed. They knew Taiwan was doomed without US help but they had not expected such a show of support & gratitude. They were performing selfless tasks that brought skepticism from home & hostility abroad. What a refreshing change. Here was a country that was openly grateful. 

The brass crowded into the aisle of the plane. One star generals glowered at colonels, who gave up their place in the line. There was a 3 star general aboard and obviously he will be out first to lead the delegation but after that it was anybody’s guess about other generals in line.

 Everyone in the plane was standing except Doug & me. We were sitting way back in the plane, pondering the importance (if any) of table-tennis in a changing world.


Minutes went by. The brass had pretty much arranged themselves in order and were combing their hair and sponging their brows and becoming more important.

 Finally the wheels were rolled to the door and door opened. I cannot even see the door as we were way in the back. There was cheering.

The brass gave themselves one last inspection.

A voice came over the airplane’s intercom :-

“ Mr. Cartland, Mr.Reisman, the US table-tennis champions, come to the front of the plane PLEASE“ 

I floated on a cloud past those colonels & generals. The Taiwanese Officials were shaking Doug’s hand and mine. Schoolchildren shoved bouquets of flowers into our arms.

 A personal representative of Chiang Kai-shek delivered the welcoming speech. I will never forget what he said “ Mr. Reisman & Cartland, you have given much pleasure to people of free China . You have demonstrated that competition can lead to better understanding and nations should recognize & avail themselves of their great hidden resources: their sportsmen, the true ambassadors of good will ”

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