There is a recurring theme in the table tennis world at the moment: The new plastic balls. Everybody is talking about the switch and issueing early goodbyes to the established celluloid. Fact is, starting from July 2014, international table tennis events will be played with the new balls and players all over the world are starting to prepare themselves one way or the other. But is this change really that big? Will the world of table tennis be turned upside-down after this?
We have asked the experts: At first, a short review by the table tennis expert, the head coach of the Werner Schlager Academy, Richard Prause:
The year 2000 saw the last “big” change in table tennis balls, when we had to adjust from 38mm to bigger 40mm balls.
At first, there were many rumours and speculations about this bigger ball and a few months had to pass for players to slowly welcome the change. I am expecting a similar process with the switch from the known celluloid to the new plastic balls. I will, however, try to give a short review of the first few weeks in the new “plastic age”.
First and foremost: table tennis is still table tennis. The better players will adjust more quickly than the rest but the world of table tennis will still be turning the way it always has, no player will suddenly be either unbeatable or win no matches just because of the plastic balls.
Small things were obvious nonetheless: The ball loses spin pretty fast, which makes it easier for players to block shots. If there is a lot of spin on the ball it stays remarkably flat and is very difficult to actively engage. Since it loses the spin faster, the ball appears to “stay” over the table a bit more, where players were expecting a longer bounce. This means players will have to aim more horizontally, keeping the racket higher on the swing-back.
Flicks in general seem to be a bit easier, because players will not have to deal with as much spin on the serve as they are used to. This changes the importance of the serve a bit.
It has become more necessary to use the upper body and feet to move “through” the ball, which shows us more than ever how crucial good athletics are. The importance of being fast and strong while moving towards the table becomes even more obvious now, which means players will have to work harder on their athletic abilities.
We are expecting more feedback on the European level after the ITTF Czech Open 2014, which will, like the semi- and finals of the Chinese super league, be played with the new plastic balls. So far, the quality of the matches were on a high level, demonstrating us how well players have already adjusted to the new situation.
Like I said, these are just first impressions and I will keep you updated in the coming weeks. Maybe we will see another change when balls of later production cycles will either be a bit softer or harder when production on a larger scale commences.
We are happily looking forward to another European Event, the European Championships in Portugal which will also be played with the new plastic balls.
The new season in the prestigious German “Bundesliga” will also see the introduction of the new poly balls. Players in Germany are resuming their training and preparation these days. Danny Heister, head coach of the successful team “Borussia Düsseldorf” in the German First league is quite confident about the change:
“We are not conducting any special preparations for the new balls, but rather contining with our usual training routines. Every player is working on his individual strengths and weaknesses. We all have to deal with this change and I feel confident that players will adapt quickly.”
Will the change be big?
“Some players still feel a bit uncomfortable playing with the new balls, because they expect it to bounce differently sometimes. The first samples were a bit soft and not well-rounded – a problem we had with the switch from 38mm to 40mm balls in the past as well. I expect later productions to be harder, like the balls from the Chinese Super League, which were of excellent overall quality. Even a bit faster!
In general the ball seem to hold a bit less spin and appears to “stop” over the table during service and receive, but this is something players will quickly adapt to. I do not think it is going to be a big change for table tennis after all.”
“This is not going to be a big change after all.”
“Table tennis is still table tennis”.
These are two crucial statements we can take away from this early review. After all, there seems to be no need to fear the change, but rather curiously look forward to it.