When I read the order of play to Norm, he laughed. The first grouping was against Hit-And-Miss, and being such an active member in the community, Norm knew them well. Against this team of three middle-aged, white metrosexuals and their buddy Chinese captain, we fared what can only be described as holocaustic. They wore tight-fitting shirts, stylish tearaway pants, and had the strength, and speed to match.
Except for the Chinese guy. He had a bit of a pot belly, a bit of a scruff, and a very feared, well-balanced, pen-holders grip. And he spoke great English.
It was a pleasure to lose to such nice guys.
I asked them about the next team we were up against, and they told us that they trashed the two little guys at the last league meet. Little guys? Kids. But I can already tell that both have improved since last month, the capain told me.
No challenge for four fit men in their thirties plus one Chinese guy (40 give or take 10 years). A little more difficult for me and my teammates, Norm, a calmly passionate Chinese guy in his 50’s, and Andrzej, a Polish man who picked up table tennis this year after a 40 year break, both of whom are better than I am.
I never would have believed that an 11-year-old and his seven-year-old brother could be so intimidating, a very FRENCH Olivier and Laurent. As captain, I had the decision to make as to who was playing first.
In table tennis, as with chess, the strongest player on the team is usually signed to the first match so that the matches may end before the weaker players have to play. Captain 1 signs the play sheet for the order of play for his team, and hands the sheet folded in half to Captain 2 so he can’t see, and use such information to his advantage by pairing up opponent styles against their weaknesses. Out of five matches, there are two singles at the start, a doubles in the middle, and two more singles at the end between the first singles opponents reversed, for best out of five matches.
Before I signed the play sheet, Norm let me in on a little secret; when Olivier was 10 last year, Norm beat him in the league. Gambling that this would still hold true, and our opponents would follow form, I put Norm first, me second, and Andrew with Norm as doubles. That way Norm had the best chance at beating the older brother, I would have a chance at beating the younger brother, they would win doubles, and that would be it.
Unfortunately, they decided to play the younger brother, Laurent, first. He could only see about a foot over the table, and I could tell his movements were strained from the height disadvantage. He spoke no English, except for the phrase “Backhand?” during warm-ups, and “One mo!” when he was at 10 points. Sometimes he would mimic the table tennis pros with little grunts of satisfaction when he got a point. Eventually, he lost to Norm graciously (for a seven-year-old).
Then I was up against the Olivier, the older brother. Believing that a pair of descended testicles to be my only advantage, I played with a lump in my throat, and he returned like a machine, surprising me at every point. I could never keep him off balance, or run him around the table. He just kept landing the ball on my side.
I lost. Then we lost at doubles, a tremendous upset. My mind was out, and I was forced to play the younger brother next. I lost again, although I won one set after Norm told me to serve to the far side of his stance (they had a time-out and easily adjusted for the next set). By that time, we lost three out of five matches, and they were determined to be the winning team, but Olivier asked to play Norm for the final match anyway. When Oliver won, he walked over and shook Norm’s hand, a look of proud accomplishment on his face.
And this is what Norm loves the most. To see those younger players grow up and improve and become national team players.