My Ping-Pong Paddling by Tennis Star Rafael Nadal

There’s little likelihood I might win some extent off Rafael Nadal in tennis. He’s a 14-time Grand Slam tennis champion, regardless that he’s in one thing of a hunch in the meanwhile, coming into this week’s U.S. Open seeded eighth.

However it seems that in ping pong, the place we confronted off in opposition to one another Thursday night within the courtyard of the New York Palace resort, we’re considerably extra evenly matched.

“Generally in tennis tournaments now we have ping-pong tables within the gamers lounge,” he defined. “And once I was a child, we have been at all times taking part in.”

The fantastic thing about ping pong, not like tennis, is which you can shortly develop the unwarranted perception that you just’re proficient.

“It’s not very troublesome initially to hit the ball,” Mr. Nadal agreed. “That’s why all people thinks they’ll play effectively initially. However while you play with someone that basically practices it’s unattainable.”

That’s additionally true.

After I was invited to play in opposition to Mr. Nadal, often known as “Rafa”—the occasion was a cocktail get together within the tennis star’s honor—I made a decision it is perhaps sensible to take a lesson first to scale back the potential for humiliation.

I used to be fairly good on the resort resort circuit once I was 12. However that was a couple of half-century in the past, and I haven’t performed a lot, or in any respect, since.

So I known as up SPiN, a ping-pong membership in Chelsea.

The membership courteously organized to have Malin Pettersson, a 14-time Swedish table tennis champion, give me a lesson.

Ms. Pettersson mentioned she shortly disabuses SPiN’s patrons, males specifically, of the notion they’ll defeat her. “I’m certain Nadal would suppose he might beat me,” the ping-pong champ boasted. “No approach.”

SPiN, within the basement of a constructing on East 23rd Avenue, has a bar, plenty of couches and, fortunately, ball boys who scooped up the outcomes of my errant photographs with gear resembling the fishing nets that youngsters use to catch crabs on the seashore.

I performed three video games with Ms. Pettersson, who knowledgeable me that video games nowadays are to 11 factors slightly than to 21 as they have been in my period—and even took a number of factors off her. However that’s solely as a result of she was humoring me.

After I requested her to play as she would in opposition to knowledgeable opponent, there was a lot spin and placement on the projectile I couldn’t do a lot besides watch it fly by.

She supplied to accompany me to my match in opposition to Mr. Nadal. I agreed realizing I might use all of the ethical help I might get. Additionally, it will be cool exhibiting us with a 14-time Swedish ping-pong champion in tow.

When the organizers heard I used to be touring with a posse, they thought it will be enjoyable if Ms. Pettersson and I performed doubles in opposition to Rafa and Toni Nadal, his coach and uncle.

Rafael Nadal and Ralph Gardner Jr. after going through off in table tennis.


Peter Foley for The Wall Avenue Journal

It was a sensible transfer. As a result of if I’d needed to face Rafa alone—as nice and even self-effacing as he appeared to be—he’d most likely have died of boredom. Toni Nadal additionally appreciated the human backboard that Ms. Petersson offered for his photographs.

Additionally, I’m not used to performing in entrance of crowds, in ping pong or anything.

And there have been a minimum of a few hundred individuals clicking pictures of the tennis star and Tommy Hilfiger underwear mannequin on their cellphones, as waiters served pigs in blankets on trays adorned with sneakers and tennis ball-shaped cake lollipops.

Toni Nadal, astute coach that he’s, shortly perceived my lack of expertise—it helped his analysis that I regularly whiffed the ball, although I attribute that to nerves—and compassionately recommended we heat up collectively whereas Rafa and Ms. Pettersson did the identical, as if we have been getting ready to play a doubles tennis match.

I’m relieved to report that whereas Rafael Nadal is among the best clay-court tennis gamers in historical past, that expertise doesn’t completely translate to a ping-pong table. “Under no circumstances,” Rafa admitted.

Ms. Pettersson described his ping-pong recreation as cautious.

Nevertheless, the tennis nice mentioned, “I at all times believed that working towards as many sports activities as you possibly can helps to change into a greater sportsman usually. So I used to be taking part in soccer once I was a child; ping pong the identical.”

I even managed to get off a few smashes on the champ’s expense, regardless that we didn’t preserve rating. That helped calm my nerves, redeem a speck of shallowness and, most necessary of all, will enable me to boast in perpetuity that I gained two factors in opposition to Rafael Nadal. Although not in his best sport.

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