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WCPP 2017 Preview – Who Can Bring Baggaley Era To An End??

By Yorick van Teeseling

After the costumes, pints of beer and walk-on girls during the World Darts Championship and the perfect cue action and century breaks of the Masters snooker, it’s now time for the sandpaperbats and a tiny 40 milimeter round ball.

This weekend Alexandra Palace will be filled with table-tennis players from all around the world competing in the World Championship of Ping Pong. The players compete for a total prize money of $100,000. The winner will walk away with of cheque of $20,000 and the title of World Champion of Ping Pong, while the runner-up will leave ‘Ally Pally with ‘just’ $10,000.

In 2011 the first edition of this tournament was held in Las Vegas (USA). Since 2012 players find themself competing in Alexandra Palace. If you take a look at the players who qualified for this years edition, you can see they come from very different places. The majority are from Europe, but there are also players from China, the United States of America and the Philippines. The format of the tournament isn’t like any other tournaments. It has its unique way of making sure players don’t play just one match but at least two during the group stage.

UNIQUE FORMAT

On the Saturday, the players play their group matches followed by the first knock-out round. Each player has been placed in one of eight groups. If you lose your first group match, you get a chance to qualify for the knock-out stage by playing a second match. The knock-out stage of the tournament is also unique. There will be a random draw to determine the knock-out matches and also which player ends up in one part of the draw. Unlike any sport, where there’s a draw from the outset, this system makes this sport unique.

On Sunday there are only knock-out matches. The players that made it this far compete in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and ultimately the big final. On the first day there will be around fourteen tables, with a table tennis table in the middle which Sky Sports use to broadcast the matches. Each match will be played according to the ‘best of three sets’ and players can use a ‘double-point ball.’

Due to this unique format it’s very difficult to pick any favorites. Nevertheless there are two clear favorites: the Russian Maxim Shmyrev, who won the tournament three times in a row from 2011-2014, and England’s own Andrew Baggaley, who claimed the title in 2015 and 2016. The Shmyrev and Baggaley rivalry is similar to that of Nadal and Federer. These two guys dominate the sport and they want nothing less than to claim the trophy and the title. But it could be anyone’s game. It all depends on the draw and the fitness of each player. Players like Alexander Flemming, Chris Doran, Gavin Rumgay, Andrew Rushton, Lubo Pistej and many more are eager to climb the mountain.

SANDPAPER BATS

In contrast to what people might think, this discipline of table tennis is not being dominated by Chinese players. Players don’t play with the normal spongebat but use sandpaper bats in this tournament. The surface of the bat on both sides is covered by just sandpaper, which makes it easier for spectators and visitors to follow the sport. During a match the rallies will be much longer and it is much more difficult to play with spin. And although playing with a spongebat means shorter rallies, they do play with spin and it’s more difficult to follow the sport.

During two days of breathtaking rallies and entertainment the stage for the ordinary visitor couldn’t be more perfect. While players are competing against each other you can walk around, even between the tables and talk to the players and see them moving around. In contrast to sports like darts and snooker where the players are seperated from the crowd making it much more difficult for the visitors to have interaction with them. Anyone thinking there won’t be any costumes or cheering on really needs to come to ‘Ally Pally’ to witness the contrary!

The Dutch delegation is always there to entertain the crowd and the players. Wearing their orange T-shirts, trousers and even colouring their hair orange. Don’t forget to wave and take a picture with ‘Loekie the Lion,’ who always puts on a happy smile on children’s faces. The Irish are also fully dressed with their green cloths, growing beards and beer in the hand. And even though it isn’t a big sport like darts or snooker the entertainment fun and level of players are very similar.

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