Professional table tennis is played with sponge paddles, which allow increased control at the cost of power and accessibility. This year’s US Open features a hard bat division, calling back to the days of power strokes and sandpaper paddles. Is this part of a wider movement within the sport?
“For once in my life, I looked backward rather than forward in history, and I found out that current table tennis had no television appeal,” Hearn said. “The rallies are too short. It lacks athleticism. It’s just not big enough.”
Hearn filled Alexandra Palace with booming rock music for the competition, and he made sure the beer stands were always pouring. He wooed top players with a $100,000 prize purse—10 times greater than Table Tennis’s U.S. Open pays its winner. The two-day tournament attracted several thousand spectators and a million television viewers on Sky Sports.
“Guys would make these amazing shots from 15 feet past the table and just smash it into the corner,” Hearn said. “The rallies went on and on. The crowd would go crazy.”
While we applaud the technical wizardry of sponge play, with its layers of spin and deception, we would love to see a return to the packed halls and excitement of the sport’s early days. Is encouraging hard bat play a key part of that revival?