Back in 2013, BATTS Table Tennis Club in Harlow was the focus of sandpaper table tennis when it hosted the UK Qualifier for the World Championships of Ping Pong (WCPP) as players battled it out for a place at the iconic Alexandra Palace in London in January 2014. 

In 2013, only a few hard-core table tennis afficionados had heard of sandpaper TT. But fast forward to 2020 and it was being played internationally and Sky Sports was broadcasting the WCPP from Alexandra Palace to avid viewers around the world.

Sadly, the WCPP never returned after the pandemic – but sandpaper TT survived, and is developing. 

On June 8, players will be returning to BATTS to play with not only sandpaper bats, but also with bare wood – socialising, having fun and, for the more ambitious competitors, vying for places at the 2025 Ping Pong World Championships (PPWC) in Mexico City. 

The UK & Ireland Open Classic TT tournament includes Open, Ladies, Junior and Veterans events in both sandpaper and wood. A separate hardbat tournament (using sponge-free rubbers) is planned for later this year.

The field at BATTS will include student sandpaper world champion Ethan Walsh of Stevenage (pictured above). Ethan flew to Mexico City in January to compete in the sandpaper events at PPWC 2024 and had a phenomenal competition. First, he reached the last eight of the open sandpaper category, defeating Alexander “The Flash” Flemming – the top seed for the event – along the way. Ethan then went on to win the student sandpaper event.

Ethan was not alone in his success in Mexico City. Dave Tiplady of Bedford is the current senior hardbat world champion, and Hungary’s Viktória Balics – who also qualified via the UK Open Sandpaper Tournament – won the ladies’ hardbat.

Players in Mexico City, including champions Dave Tiplady (third left) and Ethan Walsh (fourth left)

So, what is Classic table tennis, and what is its attraction? It is a return to old-fashioned equipment without the modern soft, high-spin sponge rubbers used in contemporary table tennis. This puts less emphasis on expensive rubbers, and more on the skill and agility of the players. It’s also slightly slower than standard table tennis and has less spin on the ball, which makes it a great spectator sport.

The recently founded International Classic Table Tennis Federation, ICTTF, defines Classic TT as using 100% wood blades with sponge-free covers. There are three currently recognised disciplines – sandpaper, bare wood and hardbat – the latter does use rubbers, but no sponge, and long pimples are banned.

The scoring systems are designed to increase the excitement. In sandpaper, sets are played to 15 points with a “sudden death” point at 14-all, and each player gets one “double-point” ball (effectively a joker). Wood uses a race to 30 points – so getting a good start can be critical.

Classic TT is great fun for all levels of player, including beginners. Rallies tend to be longer and the reduced spin can be a great leveller. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s only a sport for the elite table tennis player – no matter your standard, come along and have some fun. 

Entries for the UK & Ireland Open are open until June 2, and everyone is welcome. You don’t even need a bat – if you don’t have an old glue-free, wood-only blade, you can buy or borrow one on the day.

Click here to find more details and entry forms.