Tournament and Tribulations

If the last post was about what table tennis needs to work on. This post is about where they excel. My huge amounts of nervous energy, however, did not allow me much time for analysis as I made my way to the event, which started at the rather early time of 8.45. Unfortunately, I would arrive 10 mins late owing to the fact I had input the address of the event organiser rather than the actual venue. So after a lovely detour around the suburbs of my local area I arrived.

The first thing I noticed about this tournament was how well organised it is. All the tables were ready to go. All the equipment was laid out. All the tournament sheets were on the wall with who played who. In many ways it was similar to an athletics event with call outs etc as various people went off to play their events. I also started to notice how many people I knew. I had at this point attended a total of 5 clubs (now 6). Two of which had been intermittently attended. Therefore, my face was at least recognisable to a sizeable number of players. The tournament itself had a mix of events going on, from the top level singles tournaments (males & females) to the doubles events and, finally, the "social"/novice tournament i.e. my tournament.

One of the fantastic things about table tennis is that, except for maybe at the highest levels, both men and women play together in the leagues. The tournament we were at had on this day split the sexes but on the previous day it was a handicap tournament based on nothing more than your skill and ability. It actually provides a nice balance to tournament play and creates a dynamic that is less testosterone fuelled than usual and, perhaps, a slightly more intelligent aspect to competitive play.

I was lucky to be joined at the tournament by my main man Mr. Oliver Wilmot. (he is also the person that proofs the blog so PM him with any mistakes or abuse) He has been intermittent with his attendance of the table tennis club but still decided to support little old me by doing the tournament. By the time we were inside my nerves were peaking. I have always suffered with nerves in everything I have done. I once go so scared during my driving test I pulled out into oncoming after 2 mins and decided to get out of the car and walk home. Needless to say, it can be pretty bad. Likewise, athletics has always terrified me whenever I compete and, sometimes, even when I train. It is these nerves that give me the utter will to win but also destroy me. The slight calming factor was that all of the people at my "home club" were there and also doing the social tournament. It made for a great atmosphere and also a good support structure for all of us.

Our tournament was split into 4 groups of 4. This would create a round robin group stage followed by quarterfinals, semi-finals and the final. The classic tournament structure. Oliver was in a group with strangers but I was in a group with two people I knew. It is hard to say if this is an advantage or a disadvantage but it certainly made for an interesting first stage.

My first opponent was a girl from my "home" club. She is probably the least experienced out of everyone I knew and therefore one of the weaker players in the tournament. She was also the perfect person for me to play early on as I was struggling to keep my nerves controlled. The match started off as played I lost very little points during the first two games (to win a match you need to win 3 games) and felt comfortable. However, the last game I switched off a bit and lost a few more points than anticipated. Yet, in the end, it was job done.

The day's biggest challenge was not table tennis related at all. It was umpiring. It appears I am terrible. Who knew counting points and flipping over plastic numbers on a chart would be my downfall! It was atrocious. I got points wrong, I forgot scores, I lost concentration and I basically ruined everything. Fortunately, one player was the girl from my own club. However, the other player was a lady I had never met before. Needless to say she was not at all pleased with my performance. I tried to relax the situation, which only seemed to make her more angry. I did apologise but to no avail. She was not happy, especially as my friend was pushing the lady awfully close in every game.

After that savage introduction to bad counting and after watching another game I came up against my next opponent. Lo and behold its the woman I couldn't umpire for. She had a record of won one and lost one. The other guy in my group from my club had dealt with her easily and I was expecting to have a similar reaction. She seemed to be weak in terms of her movement and her serves were flat. I approached the game with a lot of confidence and didn't think much about it. My confidence was misplaced. Her flat serve went with speed straight into my backhand. At this point, my backhand was a weaker shot and I struggled to deal with it. She took the first game. A bit of fear started to appear in my eyes. Yet, the problem with only having one serve and playing it every time means that the opposition will eventually get used to it. It becomes less effective. After 6 point in the first game, whereby I was still behind, I got used to the serve. From there it was a case of dominating her 3 games later and I beat her 11-4 on the last game.

I was now onto, what I knew would be, my toughest opponent. Out of the people that are 'new' at my home club, I have always considered myself slightly better than them. However, my emotions and my way of learning have made me very inconsistent. Sometimes I will destroy someone, other times I will be in real trouble. This guy, who I was playing, is a consistent player. He also had beaten me before we had played. Although, it had been close. I knew, psychologically he had the advantage and I also knew that I was weak in the first games I was playing. This match was no different. Game 1 and I am beaten 11-9 game two and it is 11-8. However, I knew I was close. I knew I wasn't far off every time. I knew I could still win.

It is the fundamental part of my personality. It is the thing that has always separated me from my peers. It is the advantage I have always had when in major competition. When the chips are down. When everyone else is crumbling. When I look like I am in an impossible situation. I am at my best. It is largely due to the fact that my time to think goes away. I am no longer anxious. I am focused and all I want to do is win.

The chips were down. I suddenly became more aggressive. The speed of the ball meant that the return of the oppositions serve would be over the net. The hits rather than being into the net or into the sky were smashing down on his side. As the games went on I knew I win. The last game was a formality. I had overcome my fear. I had won my group. I was unbeaten.

The group stage went into the quarter finals. My opponent, so I thought, was another guy from my group at my club. We had a neutral umpire, however, he decided, after my opponent missed his opening serve, to allow second serves. When I asked why he said "you can serve". Which, although a compliment, was little use to me when I am trying to win a tournament. That is like saying if I had a weak forehand then I could repeat all my forehands. We all have weak parts to our game. If a tournament has rules it is not fair to adjust them in favour of one competitor over another. I once again lost my first game. However, once again it was very close. Then in the second game I was 7-1 up and someone came running over to tell us that I was playing the wrong person. Now, I know table tennis isn't exactly marathon running but it does require intense concentration and it was boiling hot in the hall. Playing 1 and 3/4 matches then playing another one is not ideal. Especially, when the person I am meant to be playing has beaten the person I was in the middle of playing.

After a 5 min break I was back on the table with my correct opponent. She was a lady in, I imagine, her 60's. Her movement wasn't great and I was starting to wonder how she had come second in her group. Then I put a shot a little higher than I wanted and she smashed a ball into the table. I decided it was time to shut up and play. 1, 2, 3 games. I barely dropped a point. I played the corners. I played low and I made her move. I even had to replay 3 points due to the "second serve rule". It was a great game and I was through to the semi finals.

I was feeling pretty positive by now. Seeing people I knew, getting recognised for my shorts and, above all, winning. I thought I might even get to the final. My next opponent, in the semi-finals, turned up in a green joola t-shirt. The brand, synonymous with table tennis, tends to mean someone has been playing for a while. Its like a customised, bat. You don't own one unless you are into the sport. I knew it would be a battle.

From the first ball it was obvious that the guy was better than me, he used heavier side spin and his forehand, while not a loop, could clearly be adjusted to deal with spin a bit more. His overall experience told completely in the first set, whereby I struggled to compete and his serve outclassed me. In the second game my nerves settled and I found my rhythm. I started to take a few more points and, to my surprise, won that game. However, the games after continued to be tough. He just positioned me differently and, try as I might, he eventually secured victory.

My final game, is perhaps the one game that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was a game of doubles with my and Ollie being paired against two of the guys from my home club. Which, were also the two guys I played in the singles. The week before Ollie and I had, had a test run at doubles. We weren't bad and managed to beat the pair now stood in front of us. I knew I was perhaps the stronger player and I was riding high on my semi-final achievement. Therefore, the first 2 games went in our favour. However, the next two games nerves set in a bit and Ollie perhaps lost his rhythm that he had managed to gain in the past two games. Which took us down to a decider. The decider in turn went to deuce and we had match point. We served. Returned. Forehand. Backhand cross court and...miss. Just. Or so I thought. However, the umpire, who didn't particularly take a liking to me disagreed. The anger I felt wasn't due to the fact it was a miss but it was due to the fact she could not of seen it hit the edge of the table from where she was sitting, low down on the other side of the table. I was unable to regather myself and two points later we lost the match.

I understand that my inability to regain composure and the good play of our opponants lost us the match. I also thought on balance, after letting our game slip, we deserved to lose. However, to be beaten by a decision because somebody didn't like me felt raw. I knew why she didn't. I am competitive in a way that other people are not. I am not rude and I am always polite to everyone, including referees, but I want to win in a way that can look aggressive to people who are not used to it. However, I feel in a tournament, winning is everything. It isn't the taking part or the lessons learnt. It is walking out with the trophy. This lady, I am certain, does not quite see it that way. Her calling me back to shake her hand and that her after I left the court, I felt, was petty. I didn't do it to anyone else and I didn't know I was meant to shake her hand. She waited long enough to call me back so it became a shout rather than a request. I was obviously angry but I did as she asked. Sometimes, I think, people are just different an personalities clash.

The learning point from the whole debacle is to learn control. Even outward anger is ok as long as there is inward focus. I am not sure I could of done anything not to annoy the referee but if there was it would probably be wise not to upset them in future!

So, a long day in the hall meant I left with my head held high. I learnt about tournaments and about myself. I also learned I was an embarrassingly bad umpire! I even learnt how well tournament table tennis is run. Yet, maybe my biggest lesson of all was that I know when the chips are down. I am a winner.




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