Some things exist just to make you happy. Table tennis is one of those things. I have fond memories of playing the game with my grandfather as I was growing up. At the most crucial points, he would suddenly serve two balls onto the table, kiss the ball theatrically for luck, or make mischievous comments to distract me. It was always light-hearted, always fun, and an excellent way for the family to bond.
Most people, I think, have similar memories of table tennis. Although it is an Olympic sport, its soul is profoundly amateur. It began in 1891 as “gossima”, played with cork balls and pigskin bats, and then became “whiff-whaff”, a Victorian parlour game played on a dining table with a row of books for the net. This spirit endures; everybody, deep down, believes that victory comes to those who want it most badly, know the most tricks, and can produce the liveliest badinage.
It was this attitude that I brought to the table when I delivered my best serve to Joanna Parker, the British No 1. Knowing that I would be hopelessly outclassed, I had been trying something she wouldn’t be used to: dirty tricks. I had told her that if she were to lose, she would be a laughing stock. I had kissed the ball, and pretended to polish it on my shorts. I had asked her repeatedly if she was ready. (“You’re sure? You’re sure?”). Most effectively of all, I had insisted on calling the game ping pong, rather than table tennis. The other comments she just laughed off, but this last one got under her skin. Continue reading on the Telegraph website