Penhold is Alive and Well at the World Veterans and Ding Yi is Leading the Charge

By Larry Hodges | June 18, 2018, 2:30 p.m. (ET)



These days it's almost all two-winged inverted looping, mostly shakehands with a few penholders with reverse penhold backhands, even a few chopper/loopers - but it's all about looping. But there was a yesteryear when pips-out penholders dominated. Ding Yi, one of the last of the breed, is also one of the top players here, and looking to add Over 55 Men's Singles to his previous World Veterans titles.

I watched him play one of his two preliminary matches. The other player was quite good, able to shakehand loop from both wings over and over, and get a lot of balls back. But it was all futile, as Ding's ability to change the pace and placement of his blocks, and sudden hits (mostly forehand, but some big backhands) turned the opponent into a puppet on a string as Ding won at 3,2,3. At 9-2 in the third, Ding "served" a ball, but the ball disappeared. He clowned about for a moment, looking for the ball and "arguing" with the umpire about whose point it was, before showing that he had been holding the ball in his playing hand the whole time, in his cupped hand below the paddle in his penhold grip. (He later showed me the trick, where you seem to serve but instead catch the ball in the playing hand, hidden by the paddle.)

Here's a quick look at his table tennis resume:

  • 7-time Austrian Men's Singles Champion

  • Former #3 in China (semifinalist in Chinese Championships)

  • Top ten in the world

  • 1981 China Team Champion

  • 2-time and current European Over 50 Men's Singles Champion

  • Former World Veterans Over 40 and Over 50 Men's Singles Champion

  • 4-time Olympian

He's been a star in China and Austria, but for the past six years he's played in the Swiss League, playing for Baar Table Tennis Club. He's also a businessman, running Dingo Swiss Table Tennis, with a complete line of table tennis equipment, including some new long pips rubbers he showed me. He speaks four languages - Chinese, German, Italian, and English.

If you want to see the yesteryear clash of pips-out penhold versus shakehand looper, look no further. Just watch the ball, how he keeps moving it around, fast and slow, deep and short, wide or to the middle - or, sometimes, it might completely disappear, either because he smashed it too fast to see or he's hiding it in his hand with a big smile on this face.