Barry Hearn expects "big, boisterous crowds" for "World Championship of Ping-Pong" spectacle
Friday, 04 January 2013
January 4 - Sports promoter Barry Hearn, the man responsible for turning darts into one of the most passionately followed sports in the UK, has embarked on a new mission - to put table tennis on the map with a televised tournament at Alexandra Palace, London, this weekend.
The tournament, which will be shown on Sky Sports, will feature 64 players that will battle it out for their share of a $100,000 (£61,000) prize fund, with the overall winner taking home $20,000 (£12,300).
All players will be given the same playing equipment- a hard-bat with a 'sandpaper' surface, akin to those used decades ago in the sports' heyday in the 1970's and 1980's.
In the modern game, sponge-covered bats covered in small pimples are mainly used, which increases the influence of spin, meaning rallies tend to be shorter than they were previously.
The tournament will commence at 12 pm tomorrow, when all competitors will take place in the "Double Elimination" round.
Every tie in this round will be the best of three games, each of which will be a race to 11 points.
Participants have been drawn into eight groups of eight, and will face two opponents from their group.
When a player wins two matches, they will automatically progress to the next round, and if a player is defeated twice, they will be eliminated from the tournament.
Players that win one game and lose one will then face each other to determine who qualifies for the next round.
The tournament will then become a straight knockout tournament, played over three sessions on Saturday evening, Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening.
The expedite rule will be in place throughout the tournament, which encourages more attacking play by limiting the number of shots played in any point.
This rule comes into play if a game is unfinished after 10 minutes, unless both players are tied on nine points, or if both players request it.
If the rule is activated, each player will serve for one point in turn until the end of the game, and the rule will remain active for the rest of the match.
If the receiver makes 13 successful returns to the server, they are awarded the point.
The "World Championship of Ping-Pong" will also feature a new twist in the form of the "double-point ball".
The server will have the opportunity to indicate to the umpire that they wish to use their "double-point ball" at the start of a point.
On the televised table, the standard orange ball will be replaced with a white ball to indicate that the server has opted to use their "double-point ball".
If the server wins a point when using this ball, they will gain two points instead of one, and if they lose the point, the receiver will only win one point.
The "double-point ball" can only be used once by each player during a match, and cannot be used after each player has reached eight points.
Luke Riches, media director at Matchroom Sport, told insidethegames that the promoters believe that the sport has the potential to become a hit with the public.
"You can't turn any sport into something it's not, but we would love to see big, boisterous crowds," he said
"We feel that the sport is underexploited and has a big grass-roots appeal, so we hope to see it succeed"
"It's a new sport and it's our first season, so the future depends on whether Sky like it, but the people at Sky are very excited about the event."
Riches also stated that they were hoping for crowds of around 500-600 per session over the weekend.
Among those competing in the tournament will be Team GB London 2012 representative and Commonwealth games double-gold medallist Andrew Baggaley,currently ranked as the second-best player in England.
However, the notable absence of many of the world's leading Chinese players could hinder the interest surrounding the tournament.
The organisers cut down the number of entrants from 128 to 64 in an attempt to lure the top players with higher prizes across the board.
Despite taking this action, there are only three players from the United States competing in the event, and no players from China.
At the American version of this event, held in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2011, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) objected to the term "World Championship" in reference to the event, and threatened to ban players that entered the tournament.
The issue was settled in court and the event kept its name, but the previous opposition from the ITTF may be in the minds of some players.
The fact that the tournament takes place mid-way through the table tennis season may also have been detrimental to the efforts to get the top players in the world to compete in the tournament.
Tickets will be available on both days from the Box Office at Alexandra Palace, priced at £20 ($32/€25) for both sessions on either day for adults and £10 ($16/€12.50) for concessions.