Eye on the ball, please

SINGAPORE - The rubber on the bats are crucial, the glue used to stick them on the paddle is policed to ensure fair play.

The table tennis bats are checked before international contests.

The white ball used in table tennis has never come into focus, though, until now.

From July 1, the sport is set for a major change, as the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) gets set to introduce a new ball.

The change will mean Singapore's paddlers will face a big challenge to prepare for major events like this year's Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

The current ball, measuring about 39.3mm in circumference and made of celluloid, will be replaced by a plastic one that measures around 40.6mm at official ITTF events after July 1.

The change raises a question mark for the Singapore table tennis team, who are not sure which ball will be used at the Commonwealth Games , which will be held in Scotland from July 23 to Aug 3.

While the event is recognised by the sport's world governing body, it is not an official ITTF event.

"I have not tried out the new ball, but it's definitely a big change for us," said Singapore's top paddler and women's world No. 4, Feng Tianwei, on the sidelines of Singapore Table Tennis Association's sponsorship signing with Neo Garden Catering on Tuesday.

Women's national head coach and former Singapore star Jing Junhong said: "The speed and the bounce will be different... we are still using the old balls because we are preparing for the World Team Championships (next month in Japan).

ZERO

"Everyone will be starting from zero with the new ball and there's a possibility that we might be able to upset the top players, but it would also mean that lower-ranked players may be able to beat our top paddlers as well."

During tests, the ITTF discovered players generally found the new ball to be slower and with a higher bounce.

The new ball could potentially increase the length of rallies.

Singapore won six of the eight golds on offer at the last Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010, but will head to Glasgow with a relatively inexperienced women's team, after the retirement of stalwarts Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu after the 2012 London Olympics.

The women won a team silver at the 2008 Olympics and collected a bronze four years later.

Feng enjoyed a double in London when she also bagged the women's singles bronze.

Right now, no one knows how the ball change will affect Singapore's already difficult task at the Asian Games, which will be held in Incheon, South Korea, from Sept 19 to Oct 4.

Facing the likes of the two Koreas, Japan, Hong Kong and superpower China, the defence of the women's team silver from the 2010 Games looks a formidable task.

But Jing is taking it one step at a time.

She said: "Right now, we are in the midst of preparing for the Asian Cup (in China this month) and the world championships. "We will focus on this for now and worry about the rest later."

sayheng@sph.com.sg


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