If you were asked to make a list of Australia’s most successful current athletes, it’s unlikely anyone would include a world champion by the name of Jason Belmonte.
Wimbledon 2010 has come and gone. What will be remembered more than champions Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal is the John Isner Vs Nicolas Mahut marathon, which went on for eleven hours and five minutes over three days. The final set of 138 games is a record in tennis. But table tennis has produced weirder marathons.
Table Tennis has mutated in the last few decades: rallies have disappeared and ping-pong has turned into chitty-chitty bang-bang.
Previous years’ smash and rally were far more exciting than today’s smash and counter smash. But at times, the rallies became infuriating.
The table tennis match between Alex Ehrlich of Poland and Rumania’s Paneth Farcas went on and on … and on. In a crucial Swaythling Cup match at Prague in April 1936, it became a cat and mouse contest, as both players depended on the other’s mistake to win a point.
They began their historic match with a rally that incredibly lasted for two hours and 12 minutes before the first point was decided. “The ball went back and forth for an estimated 12,000 times with neither player making a mistake,” wrote the Daily Mirror.
Then Ehrlich’s attention wandered, and instead of pushing the ball back to his opponent’s forehand, he directed it to his backhand. Farcas was caught on the hop and Ehrlich won his first point.
Imagine 132 minutes for a single point!
You can watch a full length movie in that time or a Twenty20 cricket match. You can almost overthrow an Australian Prime Minister in that period.
Another rally followed for the second point. After it had gone on for 20 minutes, Ehrlich thought it was time for some gamesmanship. He told his Polish teammates to set up a chess board on a side table.
To annoy Farcas, he began calling out his chess moves while continuing his table tennis match.
The ploy worked as Farcas’s nerves exploded. With one wild stroke, he threw both bat and ball over Ehrlich’s head and ran screaming out of the room.
Richard Bergmann, the King of table tennis from 1937 to 1950, was known for his unflappable concentration and grim determination. Born in Austria, he represented Austria and then England and won seven World Championships.
He won his first World Championship in 1937 when only 17. His opponent in the final was none other than Alex Ehrlich, the marathon maharaja.
Nicknamed ‘The Flea’ because of his diminutive size, Bergmann was a colourful eccentric who, according to Sportsweek magazine, played with three alarm clocks under the table until they were banned.
They were set to go off at 12, 17 and 19 minutes to warn him of the 20 minute time limit per game introduced after the Ehrlich–Farcas fracas of 1936.
A wrist watch would have served the purpose, but Bergmann refused to wear one when playing. “It impairs my rare balance,” he explained. It takes all sorts to make this world.
Another five hour table tennis marathon in the Swaythling Cup in Sarajevo in 1973 between Japan and China ended only when one of the players dropped on the floor, according to The Australian (10 April 1973).
This allowed Li-Ching-Kuang of China to smash home the winning shot and win the match after prolonged and agonising periods of the ball crossing the net in a white blur.
The Guinness Book of Records gives a weirder instance: “The longest recoded time for a marathon singles match is 59 hours and 30 minutes by Graham Shires and Peter Shaw of the Leigh Park Community Centre Youth Club in Hampshire on 29 to 31 May 1971.”
Call it ping-ponging forever.
This puts the recent eleven hour Wimbledon ‘Tennis-athon’ between Mahut and Isner in the shade. About time we have tie-breakers in the final set in a tennis match.
What do you say, Roarers?