Time-based format could be future of table tennis
He excelled in table tennis under the old rules, where games were played to 21 points, and witnessed its change to an 11-point system to make the sport more exciting.
Yesterday, Chinese ping pong great Jiang Jialiang said that a new time-based format, introduced at the T2 Asia-Pacific (T2 Apac) Table Tennis League could well be the next big thing as it aims to appeal to the young.
"This is an experiment and in the future, this format may well replace the 11-point format," said the 1985 and 1987 men's singles world champion at the launch of the T2 Apac competition at the Pinewood Studios in the Iskandar region in Johor Baru, Malaysia.
"I think experiments are good and people are interested. People know that this is different, from the lighting and camera angles to the attire and make-up.
"Perhaps this could attract the young and give them the impression that table tennis is very stylish and very modern."
Jiang is one of four team captains in the competition, which is the brainchild of founder and chairman Frank Ji, a Shanghai businessman.
Featuring in this inaugural season are 24 of the world's top players, such as Timo Boll (Germany), Jun Mizutani (Japan), Feng Tianwei (Singapore) and Ding Ning (China).
They are split into four teams of six (three men and three women) and will play singles matches over seven sessions a season, timed to fit into breaks in the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) calendar.
Instead of best-of-five or first-to-seven matches, paddlers need to rack up as many game wins as possible in a fixed period of 24 minutes. (See rules at right).
All matches will be broadcast live online from the purpose-built indoor studio at Pinewood, which is about 30 minutes' drive from the Tuas Second Link.
The tournament boasts of a US$1.75 million (S$2.42m) prize purse, and is supported by the ITTF and the Asian Table Tennis Union.
The likes of cricket and tennis have also experimented with newer formats, albeit with varying degrees of success, but Danish table tennis legend Michael Maze believes the time-based format could be a boon for broadcasters who often had to grapple with how long a table tennis match would take.
The 35-year-old, who won the men's doubles bronze at the 2004 Olympics, said: "With this format, you'd know that it's 24 minutes long, it's easier for matches to be broadcast on television when you know exactly how long it's going to take."
Players The New Paper spoke to at the launch said they were not fully sure of the new rules, but are excited about the experiment.
German world No. 5 men's singles paddler Dimitrij Ovtcharov said: "As players, we like to be in our safe zone with our current rules, but it's a good opportunity to try something new.
"It's too early to pass judgment, but who knows?
"We might like this format, and it could be the future of the sport."
T2 APAC basic rules
- Players have to win as many games as they can within a 24-minute match.
- First player to reach 11 points wins the game. Unlike the traditional format, deuce will not be introduced when the score is 10-10. A player can win 11-10.
- If time expires when a game is in progress, the player in the lead wins the game.
- The clock stops only during one-minute breaks after every two games, at team captains' time-outs, and when a Kill Zone Game is called.
- The referee can call for a Kill Zone game if an earlier game is completed in the last two minutes of a match. The first player to score five points clinches the Kill Zone game.
- Team captains may call for a time-out only once in each match.
- Each game won is a point earned for a player's individual tally and for the team's overall points.