Hardbat Night, 29th December 2023
The club held its annual hardbat tournament on Friday evening, at the church hall. It was the first time since 2013 (when Stephen Gray beat Christopher Wheeler in the final) that we have used traditional style hardbats (short pimples with no sponge). Since 2014 we have used the World Championship of Ping Pong sandpaper bats. The change is due in part to the end of the WCPP and the start of the Classic World Cup, composed of separate Sandpaper, Hardbat, and Wood Only events.
It was going to be interesting to see how this change affected play. One thing that was immediately apparent was the duller sound they give off as compared to the slightly screeching sound of sandpaper.
Who would come out on top? The youngsters (many of whom were trying hardbat for the first time) or the old stagers?
Play commenced with groups of four, with the top two making it through to the knockout rounds, with those in third and fourth place heading into the consolation event. Games were best of three, up to 15 (at 14-14, it was sudden death).
In the early group matches it was interesting to spot which of the youngsters might be capable of making an impact. Young William Wang came agonisingly close to beating top seed Charlie Ellis; losing the third end 14-15. William’s backhand punch was particularly impressive which was perhaps no surprise as he uses short pimples on his backhand when he plays with sponge. But why, everyone watching wondered, did Charlie keep playing to his backhand?! Other youngsters to do well included Jamie Toner, who had performed well at the Scottish Hardbat Open, qualifying for the World Cup in Mexico 2025.
Another youngster, Rory Thompson was also considered a threat. His group match with Anna Porsche was one of the more intense of the night. Anna, leading with her backhand (“my backhand works well but every time I try a forehand it goes into the net !”), levelled the match at 1-1, getting a bit over excited (“I won a set!”). If you also led as the match got into the final stages, before Rory found some consistency, taking it 15-10.
Also doing well was Angus, who was playing pragmatically and beat fellow youngster Max in the semi final of the consolation. He felt that with a few more hours of practice he might be able to play more aggressively but just didn’t trust his attacking shots.
As to differences between hardbat and sandpaper. The general consensus was that the hardbats were a little more satisfying to play with and gave more opportunity for spin and variety. Serve played a bigger role in the matches. It’s notable that two of the players who combined defensive play with offence (Lindsay and Gordon Muir) did particularly well. With sandpaper, it’s possible to defend but the bats are very fast and the very limited backspin you can generate makes it largely ineffective. In his matches, Lindsay generally defended but was able to finish off the points when the right ball came.
Among the best matches of the knockout rounds was the seesawing contest between William and Jamie; a real battle of the backhands. Both players had long runs of dominance but eventually Jamie edged the match – his ability to also score with his forehand perhaps the key. Lindsay vs Rory was another good contest with some excellent backhands from both players with Lindsay coming through in the end.
In the semi-finals, Lindsay had the first set stolen off him by Charlie (“I thought I’d won it!”), before Charlie found some consistency in the second end, though some silly attempted drop shots almost cost him. In the other semi, Gordon started very strongly against Keith, cruising to the first set (“he pinned me in my backhand corner”). Keith adjusted and found himself ahead in the second and perhaps should have taken it; Gordon eventually took it 15-14 to set up a repeat of the 2022 final.
For the final games, we set things up with one table in the hall. In the one point tournament, Keith and Gordon made it through to the final. Keith won a lengthy rally with a brave forehand.
In the final of the consolation event, it was a battle between the consistent pragmatism of Angus and George’s more dynamic (but more inconsistent) style. George took the first, before Angus claimed the second, finishing with a nasty net dribbler (which George could only laugh at). Eventually Angus wore down his opponent, who just made too many mistakes with his big forehand. Though Angus got a bit nervy towards the end, he took to the decider 15-9 – and with it a large Toblerone.
In the final of the ‘main event’, Charlie edged the first set 15-12, Gordon struggling to adjust to his serve, and Charlie profiting from a couple of lucky points at key moments. There was no obvious change in approach in the second set but suddenly Gordon was 10-0 up! He began to get more and more balls back, defending with some real skill – as well as getting in his own attacks. This forced Charlie into more and more errors. This pattern continued in the third end and although Charlie was never that far behind he was never able to string together enough winners. Gordon taking the final set 15-9 and claiming the title for the first time since 2012.
The evening ended with large plates of chilli being happily gobbled by the hungry players. As usual, thanks to Team Muir for all that organisational efforts, and the Letchfords for the beef chilli. Thanks also to everyone for turning up and bringing the year to such an enjoyable conclusion.