Written by Ben Larcombe.
Last Sunday (12th November 2017), I played in my fourth ever racketlon tournament - the 2017 Robin Hood Classic in Nottingham. If you've got no idea what racketlon is, you can find out more about it here.
In short, racketlon is "the ironman of racket sports". To have any chance of winning, you need to be at least half-decent at table tennis, badminton, squash, and tennis - and ideally very good at one or two of them.
In my first racketlon tournament, back in September 2016, I got smashed. Sure, I won the table tennis easily but I got hammered in badminton, squash and tennis. Since then, I've joined my local squash club and I actually managed to finish runner-up in the Men's C event in Nottingham last week - beating two solid players in the quarter and semi-finals.
I really enjoy playing racketlon, but I do feel the pressure of being the "table tennis expert" in the hall. Everyone is expecting me to win my table tennis matches really comfortably, and because the racketlon scoring system is 'every point counts', I really do need to win the table tennis as close to 21-0 as possible.
Not Getting a Proper Knock-Up
One of the problems with racketlon tournaments is the shortage of table tennis tables for knocking-up on. At the Robin Hood Classic, there were just three tables (and perhaps 15-20 eager players wanting to knock-up before their first match). At the last tournament I played in (the 2017 Kent Open) there was only one table tennis table!
This can make getting a proper knock very difficult. The temptation for me is to just leave it and try to make the best of the two-minutes you get before you play your first actual match. After all, I feel a bit silly making a fuss about getting a knock-up when I'm easily the best table tennis player in my band.
That was what I did at my second and third racketlon tournaments. I went onto the table cold and without any sort of knock-up. It didn't go well.
Granted, at both tournaments I was playing an opponent who could actually play table tennis. But still, I felt awful. I was slow, sleepy, and scared to go for any proper shots. I won those table tennis games 21-16 and 21-13 - which isn't enough when you consider how weak I am at badminton, squash, and tennis.
Making Sure You Get a Good Knock
This time was going to be different. I decided to arrive 30 minutes before any of the matches began and an hour before my first match - because even if you have a later start time, once the matches begin it becomes really difficult to get a proper knock-up as the tables are constantly being used for matches.
Once I walked into the hall, I immediately got my bat and a ball out of my bag and started looking for somebody to knock-up with. I was 'circling' for 10 minutes.
Another problem with racketlon tournaments is that there are usually only a handful of players that can play table tennis - or at least play in an orthodox way that you can knock-up with. I needed to find one of these players.
Fortunately, I spotted Connor Green (the current U11 English national table tennis champion). Perfect. I managed to get a decent 10 minutes hitting with him.
For whatever reason, it takes me a really long time to warm-up/knock-up and start feeling ready to play. When I used to play competitive table tennis, I would usually try and knock up for 45 minutes before playing my first match of the day! So, ideally, I could have done with more than 10 minutes with Connor. But it was an awful lot better than nothing.
My first match was at 9.30am against a player whose best sport is table tennis and who plays in a local league. I managed to win 21-5, which set me up really nicely to win that racketlon match. If I hadn't of got that knock-up with Connor I reckon that could have very easily turned into another 21-13 (or something like that) and I probably would have ended up losing the match.
You Gotta Fight For Your Right...
Often you have to be a bit 'pushy' in order to get onto a practice table and have a decent knock-up at a tournament. This isn't something I particularly enjoy doing but it is necessary if you're serious about playing your best. After all, none of the other players have any more of a right to be knocking up than you do. They don't "own" the tables their on.
I remember being at the English National Championships one year and having to knock up 12 players to a table! There was "cross-knocking" on every table, but not only that. On some tables, there were three pairs sharing each half!
So pair #1 would do a forehand to forehand rally whilst pair #2 did a backhand to backhand rally. When pair #1's rally broke down, pair #3 would jump onto that diagonal. When their forehand to forehand rally broke down, pair #5 would start hitting forehands. It was insane!
If all the tables are taken at a tournament, don't be scared to ask to cross-knock. I tend to approach a table that has players on it that are good enough to keep the ball in their half but not so good that their going to make me feel rubbish. That's not great for your confidence just before a match!
Whatever you do... just make sure you get a good knock-up before your match.
Otherwise, all that work you've put in over the last few months in the training hall, and all the time and money you've spent entering the tournament, it's all for nothing, if you end up going onto the table cold and losing to a player who got there early and spent half an hour getting themselves warmed up and ready to play.
Ben Larcombe is both co-owner at Eastfield and a #TeamEastfield sponsored player. He is also the founder Expert Table Tennis which includes; a popular blog, two podcasts, numerous coaching resources, and a thriving online community.