The history of Table Tennis is a series of one of the most fascinating developments and events. From the outside, the rackets might look simple but the majority are not aware of the hardwork and effort it took to make it the perfect tool for the sport. Its history features 100-year-old events and several museums across the world hold evidence of how it all started. Since Table Tennis has turned into an International Sport, it is only right that we discuss its evolution over the years. Let’s begin.
Back in the day, the ping pong balls were made from cork or rubber while the table tennis rackets featured 50 cm handles similar to the badminton rackets. Plus, the hitting surface was made from parchment paper. Soon, the handles became comparatively shorter, wood was introduced and people started using cork or animal hides as hitting surfaces for their rackets.
The year 1902 saw Englishman E.C. Goode put rubber on the racket for the first time. Goode had the idea upon observing a round piece of rubber in a pharmacy lying next to the cash register. As a result, he planned to develop a similar rubber piece for table tennis rackets. At the same time, the balls celluloid now and the wooden rackets were covered with rubber. This gave birth to a new sport called ‘Table Tennis”.
The wooden table tennis rackets covered with rubber were later transformed into having pimped surfaces and flax base. This allowed the players to produce more spin and better control of the racket. This yet again turned the game into an entirely new sport.
Similar to Football, Table Tennis rackets had to go through significant changes to reach the final shape we see today. Pimpled Rubber rackets continued to be used until the early 1950s when sponge bats were introduced. The first individual to use the sponge racket was Australian Waldemar Fritsch at the 1951 World Championships. Following World War II, the resources became so scarce that manufacturers couldn’t find anything for both rackets and balls. However, as standard, the table tennis rackets at the time featured pimpled rubber on one side whereas cork on the other.
Rackets made from pimpled rubber were actually not an accurate definition. Instead, these rackets were covered with pimpled material, which stayed for a very short while on the racket. Additionally, the rubber in the middle was usually not pimpled, which deemed the racks as inappropriate for playing conditions.
Back in the day, “Richard Bergman” rackets were the biggest hit and a dream of many professional players. Then, the “Alex Ehrlich” paddle was introduced. It wasn’t made from the same Okoume tree as the Richard Bergman paddle but from a “faster” wood type.
In the 1950s, there were no standards particularly followed for table tennis rackets. Plus, at the time, you could not pay for a custom-designed racket since the idea was completely foreign. There were several reasons for that. First, you couldn’t find or purchase wood and rubber separately. Therefore, you could only buy the finished product.
Prominent tire manufacturing company Dunlop introduced its bat called “Viktor Barna”, which became the most popular bat of the time. The bat was introduced years after rubber had retied and the Viktor Barna continued to be used for decades until it was termed as a “Classic racket”. In addition to the Viktor Barna, there were other popular rackets as well such as “Johnny Leach”, “Guy Amoretti” and “Cor du Buy”.
In Germany, the “Martin Ness” and “Conny Freundorfer” were the most famous rackets in the 1960s.
Sponge Rackets Changed the Game
The 1950s saw big changes taking place. These were nothing less than “historical’ changes, changing the way table tennis would be played in the coming years. For instance, in 1951 at the Vienna World Championship, Austrian Waldemar Fritz appeared from nowhere with a black sponge on his racket. He won against his opponent who then trained hard for a rematch and won the second meeting.
It was a time when defending world champion teams from the former Czechoslovak Republic and former Yugoslavia who had won the bronze medal a year before could not afford to travel to Bombay. Therefore, they could not attend the year’s World Championship.
Meanwhile, the Japanese were a huge sensation making their first appearance at the World Championships. Their women won almost all the competitions while Satoh won the men’s singles. Almost everyone credited Satoh’s 1 cm thick yellow sponge racket for his success. Despite the fact that Europe’s players were warned about the sponge players, they failed to pay any attention.
Then, in 1952, another player named Zarko Dolinar appeared with his sponge racket. This was after Satoh’s success with his yellow sponge racket. As a result, the rackets had become immensely popular at the time. Zarko was able to win many tough international competitions thanks to his racket. Although he was not the first player to use them but the one who profited the most. His career was almost over but was shot up by the sponge rackets.
However, by the late 1950s sponge was banned to be used as cover for rackets in 1959. But the players were allowed to use the sponge as a base for the classic rubber. This would welcome new revolutions in the world of table tennis.
Strange Shapes, Practices, and Changes
The evolution of table tennis rackets has witnessed strange shapes, practices, and changes being introduced. For most years, the rubber was the game-changer. Every player would use a different type of rubber to his/her advantage while others preferred different shapes. As a result, changes were made but they still failed to balance the game.
Then, the players would come up with yellow, green, brown, black, and red rubber rackets, which upset the opponents. The players used the same color for both sides, which turned into a huge problem at the time. Over the years, the players did everything they can to twist and turn the rubber to gain maximum benefit. This goes to show how significant the impact rubber has had on the quality of the game and how players used these distinct characteristics to their advantage.
At the end of the day, the history of the Table Tennis racket is a long one. In the beginning, no rules or bodies were governing the way the game was played. With time, the game developed and so did the rackets. However, this time, the players introduced new techniques to win the games. It played out quite well for many players and teams back in the day but today, the authorities are stringent than ever and have set international standards for everyone to follow.