USATT Insider poses 11 questions to Ben Larcombe of Expert Table Tennis
1) Why do you play?
In my opinion, table tennis is one of the most challenging sports in the world - that's why I love it so much. These days I don't do that much "playing" myself as I decided to focus my efforts on coaching a few years back.
2) Which is your favorite tournament?
As a kid, I used to really enjoy Junior British League. We'd travel up on the Friday afternoon (after school) and play team matches against other clubs all Saturday and Sunday. That was probably the most fun I've ever had playing table tennis. I loved spending the weekend with my teammates and all staying in a hotel together.
3) Who is your primary nemesis?
Nobody in particular really comes to mind, but back in 2007-2009 (when I was playing in tournaments practically every weekend) I had a lot of close battles with players like; Rory Scott, Will Bayley (Team GB Paralympian), Billy Pegg, Keiran Smith, Dan Fielding. Most of those guys you won't have heard of. At the time, we were all ranked inside the top 200 players in England and very active on the tournament circuit.
4) What is your favorite game tactic to score?
I really enjoy short-play. I spent a lot of time serving short and tight, getting a short push back, and then touching my third ball short again. Sometimes I would win the point outright - because they were expecting it long. Often their fourth ball push/flip would be very weak and I could loop-kill the fifth ball.
5) Thoughts on the Poly Ball?
Very early on I realised that the Chinese seamless balls were much better than the seamed ones. Fortunately, most British tournaments and leagues quickly switched to these balls. Therefore, I was fairly happy. I've tried the Nittaku Premiums and they are very different to the others but good. The Germany-made balls sound too odd for my liking.
6) Toughest Loss?
I remember losing to an unranked player in my group at the 2012 National Championships. I should never have lost to him. I was really nervous because it was such a big tournament and I hadn't managed to get a proper knock-up because the hall was so busy. I completely choked and couldn't get a shot on the table. To make it worse, my girlfriend (now wife) had come along to watch me play for the first time.
7) Greatest Win?
Midway through the 2010/11 season I decided to switch from Tenergy 05 on both sides to Calibra LT. I assumed they couldn't be that different. I played in a tournament a few days after the switch and lost practically all my matches on the Saturday. I was devastated. That night I glued my dead Tenergy 05 back on my blade and got rid of the Calibra LT forever. On the Sunday morning, I was determined to make up for the disaster the day before. I had a top 50 player in my group called Tom Cutler. I beat him 3-0. I think I was ranked about 200th. Also, at that point in time, he was the highest ranked player I had ever beaten.
8) How do you prepare for a tournament?
Nowadays I only compete a few times a year for my team in British League (if they are short of players). Therefore, my preparation usually involves frantically messaging a couple of friends in the week before the matches begging them to practice with me because I haven't played properly in months!
9) When you see a new player at the club, what do you do?
At the moment, I very rarely visit a table tennis club! I do all of my private coaching at client's houses. If I was at a club, I guess I would do what every player does. I would introduce myself and then ask a few probing questions to try and work out if they were better than me or not.
10) Player you would most like to play in a tournament?
During the years I been fortunate enough to play against (and lose to) almost all of the top British players; Liam Pitchford, Darius Knight, Gavin Rumgay, Danny Reed. I've never come up against Paul Drinkhall, though. It would be cool to play him in a tournament. I can't really see it happening now, though.
11) If you had to face Lily Zhang or Kanak Jha what would your game plan be?
To be honest, I don't think a game plan would help me all that much! I would probably just try to relax, play my own game, and enjoy it. And get it on camera, of course.