Yukon bets on table tennis success

Yukon coach Kevin Murphy is a betting man. His vice isn’t played out on horses or cards; he bets against team Yukon players in table tennis.

Yukon coach Kevin Murphy is a betting man.

His vice isn’t played out on horses or cards; he bets against team Yukon players in table tennis.

The guy wants to lose.

Because when he does, the Yukon player has won the match, or achieved a personal best score.

And he has to pay out. Consider it a backhanded incentive.

So far, he’s lost his favourite Marvin the Martian pin, which he handed to Yukon’s Ryan Bachli after he won a match earlier in the week.

“I’m not sure when the bleeding is going to stop,” Murphy said with a laugh.

“Zara (Bachli) was angling to get me to dye my hair if she won a match.

“I don’t know, I’m running out of ideas to motivate them — I’ve only got so many pins left,” he added.

By the way, it’s OK to call it ping-pong.

Murphy doesn’t mind, but Parker Brothers might.

The company bought the rights to the name in the early 1900s.

“A federation was set up, but it couldn’t use the name ping-pong, so they called it table tennis ‘cause it’s miniature tennis,” said Murphy.

“I don’t mind people calling it ping-pong if that gets more people out playing the sport.

“You want people interested in the sport; it’s a beautiful sport and if I can get more people playing or watching, then I’m happy.”

Over the past week, the Canada Games Centre bleachers have been dotted with fans watching the table tennis matches unfold.

On Thursday afternoon, the Yukon team was beginning its singles matches and each player had a few tough matches scheduled against more experienced players from stronger provinces and territories.

“I was hoping to win, but I guess I came short,” said Yukon player William Kennedy after losing a disappointing match to a Nunavut player.

“I messed up on a couple of my pushes and a couple smashes — I did my best,” he said.

Although Kennedy hasn’t taken any pins off his coach, he was able to claim Dave Stockdale’s beard.

“I played Dave Stockdale and he said if I was to win a game then he’d shave off his beard — and I won a game,” Kennedy added with a smile.

 “It’s fun even though you’re going into a match against somebody where you know you can’t win; you can learn new things from them,” said team Yukon player Karlie Knight.

Knight started playing five years ago, learning from her mother who coached the sport.

“I liked it so I stuck with it and here I am,” said the 16-year-old with a laugh.

She’s improved a lot over the years, but she still can’t beat mom.

“She’s definitely better than me still, but I’m slowly catching up over the years,” she said. “Maybe one day.”

Just like the sport’s big brother, tennis, table tennis has forehand and backhand strokes, serves, lobs, drop-shots and smashes.

Used well, the basics can be enough to upset a fierce opponent.

During a long, hard rally that has players standing five metres back from the table, a smart play, such as a well-placed drop-shot can be enough to win the match and embarrass a rival.

“Then they’re standing there with their pants hanging down by their ankles because somebody really yanked the strings out from underneath them,” said Murphy.

“We’ll see some of those points when we hit the finals; they’re incredible rallies and there are a lot of skilled players here.”

The sport also offers some secret weapons for players who take the time to learn them.

There’s an arsenal of specialty shots that more advanced players hone and craft over years at the table.

There’s the flip — when players step very quickly in towards the net to grab a short bounce, and flip the ball down on to the other side.

“It’s designed to be aggressive,” said Murphy.

And the most powerful topspin in table tennis is called a loop.

Skilled players brush up on the ball with heavy topspin sending shots bouncing on the court and kicking off the table with incredible force.

It’s the most difficult shot — especially the backhand loop, said Murphy.

“They’re beautiful shots to watch because they take such incredible timing.

“When people who don’t know the game watch it, it seems effortless but it takes a lot of years and a lot of practice to be able to do that.”

Murphy began playing the sport when his father brought a table home in 1970.

“Me and the kids on the block started playing in the basement and avoiding sunshine,” Murphy said.

He’s been at it ever since.

And he’s been coaching since ’78.

Murphy started coaching to help his teammates out at the table and juggled the coaching with playing for years.

Now, as the Yukon’s Games coach he’s having just as much fun guiding younger players through their matches.

“It’s just as fun; I live vicariously through the kids that I coach,” he said.

Team Yukon will face off in the singles final competition on Friday afternoon.