Ben Barrett-Forrest sat in the bleachers in Yellowknife’s Range Lake School gym waiting for his match to begin.
On his lap was a odd-looking device, used to increase the air pressure around a table tennis paddle — the pressure ‘tunes’ the rubber, making hits more effective.
“It makes everything faster and spinnier,” said Barrett-Forrest, as he warmed up to face Greenland’s Anders Jensen in the quarter-finals.
The paddle compressor belongs to his Yukon teammate Ryan Bachli, one of the territory’s best players, and the only Yukoner to advance past the quarter-finals in Wednesday’s singles competition.
Bachli defeated Greenland’s Aqqaluk Sivertsen in a very intense elimination match, the players often backing 10 feet away from the table and throwing down full-power forehand smashes.
Bachli won the first set, but then dropped the second. He regrouped and won the next two sets to advance to the semi-finals, which go Friday.
“In previous years they’ve been beating me, but I’ve been training a lot, and I think it shows,” said Bachli after the match. It wasn’t a blowout by any means, all his winning sets ended in an 11-9 score.
“I wanted to take it 3-0, but I’m satisfied with it, it was intense though, I was nervous at the start.”
This is Bachli’s third crack at the AWG table tennis competition, and he’s hoping to finally get an ulu for all his efforts.
“Greenland and Yamal are the best teams here, they’re serious about it,” he said. “For the rest, it’s just something they do in their spare time,” said Bachli. “But I’m pretty serious about it, too.”
Bachli was serious enough about it to go to a month-long training camp in China with his sister Zara, and Alexander Zheng, both members of the Arctic Winter Games squad as well.
Zara Bachli was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Yamal’s Alena Panfilenko, and was frustrated by the officiating in her match.
Yukon’s juvenile girls team of Claire Abbott and Anna Smith won a silver ulu in the team event earlier in the week.
“I think I’m getting better, but I get shaky sometimes when the pressure is on,” said Abbott.
She’s looking forward to the doubles competition, adding that doubles is a lot less pressure with someone else on your side of the table.
Bachli and Barrett-Forrest claimed bronze ulus in the team competition, where each player plays a single match, and then a doubles match together.
Barrett-Forrest’s match against Jensen was close, but his pressurized paddle wasn’t enough to get him past the Greenlander.
He wasn’t hanging his head after being eliminated though.
“I’m feeling really amazing right now, to have gotten two games off him felt like a win,” he said, after coming back from a two-game deficit to force the best-of-five match to decisive fifth game. “I was thinking it was over, I was shocked.”
He was happy to compete, and do well, against such elite players.
“It’s amazing to have such a high level of competition, and play against such spectacular players — they play against people that are amazing all the time, and for us it’s a real honour,” said Barrett-Forrest.