Table Tennis: Choppers earn slice of table tennis history

Dutch paddler Li Jie slicing a backhand return against Japan's Hitomi Sato at the ITTF Qatar Open.
Dutch paddler Li Jie slicing a backhand return against Japan's Hitomi Sato at the ITTF Qatar Open.PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL TABLE TENNIS FEDERATION

Two paddlers produced an incredible 766-shot rally in the women's singles first round of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Qatar Open on Thursday night. It was the longest exchange in a competitive table tennis match in the modern era.

After Dutch veteran Li Jie served to Japan's Hitomi Sato, 28, in the opening point of the third game, the paddlers - both defensive specialists - chose to stick to their chopping styles.

The point lasted 10min 13sec before it was interrupted. Neither won the rally. A ball bouncing into their playing area led to a let and they were called to replay the point.

Li, 32, won the replay in just a couple of shots.

Said Li: “In the third game which the long rally occured, I wanted to try changing my serve and started to 'push', I didn’t expect that Sato started to 'push' as well, and it ended up with that long rally.

“I didn’t realise that the rally went on for so long. After that my coach threw a ball into the court, and the umpires interrupted the game.

“At that point I was really relieved that that rally is over, because my arms were sweaty all over. After that, I think my attacks were better than hers, and won the next three games.”

“After that I felt very tired... I didn’t have any feeling of happiness after winning that match, just felt super tired. It took a while after the match until I recovered from that tiredness to be excited about winning that match.”

The expedite system was introduced for the rest of the match. It meant each player took turns to serve a point, with the receiving player earning the point after 13 shots. The rule is introduced after 10 minutes of play in a game and encourages players to attack.

Li won the match 10-12, 6-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-9, 3-11, 11-9, but lost to Singapore's Feng Tianwei when they met in the round of 16.

Feng will play China's Gu Yuting for a place in the semi-finals on Saturday night (8.15pm). 

According to the ITTF, which has kept modern-day records since 1937, the longest rally took place at the 1936 world championships in Prague. Poland's Alojzy Ehrlich faced Paneth Farkas of Romania, and won a point after the ball crossed the net more than 12,000 times following 2hr 12min of play.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Choppers earn slice of table tennis history'. Print Edition | Subscribe