I have hired one of the world's greatest table tennis players to help me defeat Rolling Stone's head of digital operations, Gus Wenner, in a massive table tennis charity grudge match.
The United States doesn't take table tennis very seriously, which is why we don't produce any of the world's best players. The vast majority of the real talent comes from China, where the athletes train from childhood and are treated like superstars. In this country table tennis (or ping-pong, as it's insultingly referred to by children) is generally relegated to teen centers and summer camps. Which is a problem, because by the time our youths discover the sport they are already too old. The grooming of a true table tennis master needs to begin at around four years of age.
That table tennis is infinitely more difficult than regular tennis is a given, based on scale. Everything in table tennis is miniaturized: the racquets, field of play, and balls. With this comes a smaller window of opportunity to turn a point in your favor and bring the match home. Micro-changes in grip and stance are the difference between winning and losing, and the necessary reaction time is a fraction of a fraction of a second. Tiny details have massive implications. A good match is edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckled entertainment, but Americans just don't have a built-in national industry for the serious development of the sport, which is why we need to find other reasons to play.
In my case, I play for hate. I only hate two people on this planet. One of them is Gus Wenner.
Gus Wenner, if you're not familiar, is the son of Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone. He is a media celebrity and I hate him more than an ingrown beard hair. My hatred for Gus began two weeks ago, when I was asked to compete against him, in public, in a game of live table tennis.
Given his lineage, Gus is probably the type of guy who's never faced a truly formidable opponent in the sports-leisure arena. Most people probably throw the game when they realize Gus is about to lose, lest they blow their shot at working at Rolling Stone. Well Gus, I'm not most people—I'm your worst fucking nightmare. I will rain down all 215 pounds of my being onto that table and you will crumple underneath the power of my kill shots like the little bitch that you are.
To be fair, I've never been good at any sport in my entire life. As a pimply, fantasy-obsessed pre-teen, and then a pimply, punk-obsessed high schooler, I learned to wear this inability as a sort of badge of honor. Now I'm almost 31 and it's just embarrassing. I've been told by close friends on several occasions that I'm the worst athlete they've ever met. On top of that, I'm cursed with another, related character flaw: I'm a terrible loser.
But my approach to table tennis, and this game in particular, has been different than that of other sports I've tried. Mainly because I've employed one of the best table tennis players in the world to be my personal coach, to train me up and turn me into a paddle-wielding hellbeast with a thirst for the blood of Gus Wenner.
Meet my coach, Malin Pettersson:
Malin is a strong offensive backhand player from Norrköping, a small city in Eastern Sweden nestled at the mouth of the Motala ström. She began playing table tennis at three years old, standing on boxes to reach her father's table. At seven, she joined the Norrköpings Ungdoms Pingisklubb (Norrköping Youth Table Tennis Club), and began competing against older kids at age nine. At 12, she was drafted into the highest league in Sweden, where she competed against 20-year-old women, and at 16, she was drafted onto a Spanish team, and then later, a German team.
Between 2002 and 2010, Malin won the Swedish National Championships 14 times, and in 2010, she tells me, "I was, all ages, the best in Sweden." She no longer plays professionally, but she recently co-wrote a book on table tennis with Gregor Schill called Mental Strength, in which she outlines her techniques for mental training in table tennis.
Now, she's my coach. In case you doubt her prowess, here's a video of her absolutely annihilating the German Amelie Solja at the Portugal Cadet U15 Open, back in December 2004:
Last week I started a three-week intensive-training regimen, which began with Malin ascertaining my technique. According to her, my backhand is natural and strong, and my followthrough is solid. For this reason, I've decided to perfect my backhand before my match with Gus.
In the next few weeks, Malin will be working with me on my footwork and forehand, running a series of training drills three nights per week. I'm adopting an aerobic exercise routine (heavy on jump ropes and sidestep drills), along with a high-protein diet. I'm also in the market for anabolic steroids, if anyone has a hookup.
Next week, Malin is going to help me build my own racquet, which is the sign of a serious player. I've decided to name it "Walter," after Walter White, who destroyed a nemesis, also named Gus, by detonating a homemade bomb in a nursing home.
I know I'm going to have to work for this, but I want to fucking beat this kid. And when I win, it won't just be for me. It will be for everyone who has thrown a game to him in the past, it will be for justice and righteousness, for sportsmanship and the American idea that if you work hard and try your best and maybe do a little steroids you will fucking annihilate the son of a media mogul in table tennis one day.
Gus, come March 27, you're going to be entering a world of pain.
A world. Of pain.
Suck my dick.