Watching a BUCS Table Tennis fixture is like watching no other sport you have ever attended. At Leeds, in the late-afternoon light of the Cromer Terrace Fitness Suite three games take place simultaneously over the span of about an hour, at such rapid speed it’s hard to keep up with it.
And so it was the brave athletes of the University of Leeds men’s table tennis team took on league leaders Sheffield over the usual best-of-17 format. The four players on each team take each other on in a round-robin format, before a doubles match, designed to break a deadlock at 8-all should it transpire. Confidence wasn’t high, with one player beforehand speaking of the 21-point gap between the two in the league table, not to mention the massive 150-point ‘goal difference’.
Still, the Gryphons put on a brave show, often forcing errors in their opponents’ play, or benefiting when Sheffield tried an ambitious shot which resulted in a fault. There was no doubting the severity of the challenge that the Leeds players were up against. However, with the opposing side hitting serves having thrown the ball six or seven feet in the air with huge amounts of strength, and at times working their way back from the edge of the table until they were half way across the hall to deliver powerful returns, it was always going to be an uphill task. It was that level of complexity which really gave them the upper-hand over the home side, clearly the result of sheer dedication to their sport, and machine-like effectiveness in bringing their training from the practice room into the match.
More than once the Leeds players mentioned Kim Daybell, their world class player from last year, currently taking some time out from university to attempt to qualify for the Rio Paralympics this summer. They were without Daybell (himself born in Sheffield) on this occasion however, and though one player claimed the team was “essentially last year’s reserves” they really did give it their all, and the frustration on their faces was tangible each time the Sheffield players secured another point. After an exhausting final quarter of an hour the match may have ended 0-17, but it was far from a walkover for the visitors. They were made to work for their whitewash, and it required all of their elite talent down to the last electrifying rally.
Featured image: Jack Roberts