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- Roger Federer is widely regarded as being among the greatest male tennis players of all time.
- A Quora user asked whether Federer would have been just as successful had he pursued a career in table tennis.
- Another person argued that numerous rule changes and the dominance of Chinese athletes in pingpong might have prevented Federer from ruling the sport.
Roger Federer is widely considered to be among the greatest male tennis players of all time.
Federer’s accomplishments make for lengthy reading. He has the most men’s singles titles at Wimbledon (eight), the highest grass-court-match win percentage (87.2%), and the most weeks spent as the Association of Tennis Professionals’ world No. 1 (308).
But how would he have fared if he had picked pingpong rather than tennis?
A person on Quora recently posed the question – and others on the site say the answer is clear.
Federer’s physical and technical prowess has been essential in his quest for dominance on the tennis court, but he has mental assets that could be transferable to other sports.
He is a highly determined person with a champion’s focus that is likely to have helped him compete at a high level had he chosen another sport to pursue, such as table tennis, when he was younger.
But could he have been the best, as some say he is in the tennis world?
Martijn Grimme said on Quora that Federer “could have been a great player because of the universal skills needed for both sports … but not the GOAT of table tennis.”
Another person who responded to the question argued that there were several reasons Federer would not have dominated in pingpong the way he has in tennis.
Chinese players dominate in table tennis
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Larry Thoman, who says he has worked in the table-tennis industry for 27 years and been a competitive player for 46 years, gave the most upvoted response to the question. In it, he contrasted training in Europe and China.
“It is universally accepted that the best place for developing into a world-class table tennis athlete is in China,” Thoman wrote. “The training environment there is regarded as several steps above what is available anywhere else in the world.”
China dominates the international table-tennis rankings, with three of the top five men’s singles players and the top spot in both men’s and women’s team standings. Fan Zhendong is No. 1, while Xu Xin is fourth and Lin Gaoyuan is fifth.
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the 2012 Games in London, and the 2016 Games in Rio, China won every gold medal up for grabs in table tennis, while European athletes did not win one.
Meanwhile, Federer, who’s Swiss, was winning Grand Slam after Grand Slam in tennis, including a gold medal at the 2008 Games.
Thoman said on Quora: “For Roger to maintain a top 3 ranking in TT, he would have to outcompete the best players that China produced during that same era, but he’d have to have developed his skills and abilities in a sub-par training and competitive environment.”
Table tennis has changed in the past 20 years
Thoman also said that numerous changes in the sport over the past two decades had prevented one player from dominating.
The changes Thoman outlined include:
- The size of the ball was increased to 40 millimeters from 38 mm.
- The scoring system went from best of five games to 21 points to best of seven to 11 points.
- The number of serves decreased to two per player from five.
- The material of the ball changed from celluloid to non-celluloid plastic.
He argued that tennis had not experienced such drastic changes and that competitors had therefore not had to adjust as much.
“Besides the big disadvantages Roger would have faced because of the differences between European and Chinese training environments, he also would have had to successfully navigate the many changes in TT that happened during his era,” Thoman said.
He added: “There really are no table tennis players that developed say during the days of the 38 mm celluloid ball that stayed at the same high level for very many years after the switch to the 40 mm ball.”
One way Federer could dominate at pingpong
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Federer is at his best on a grass court. He has won a record eight Wimbledon singles titles, and he skipped the clay season this year to prepare for this year’s tournament.
With that in mind, Prashant Joshi, a Quora user who says he’s a software engineer, said there was a way Federer could make a seamless transition to table tennis: line the table with grass.
“Try placing a grass sheet” over a pingpong table, “and you might see him winning there,” Joshi said jokingly.