By Larry Hodges
Alexander “The Flash” Flemming was a top sponge player in Germany before he got into sandpaper. He once finished third at the German Nationals in Men’s Singles and won Men’s Doubles twice. But in 2012 he tried out one of those “oldfangled” sandpaper rackets . . . and now he’s the World Champion.
To be specific, the World Ping-Pong Champion, for that’s what they call the sandpaper events. He defeated four-time and defending champion Andrew Baggaley of England in the final. It was the fourth time in the Finals for “The Flash.” And now he’s competing this weekend at the World Classic Hardbat Championships in Missouri, TX (just outside Houston), where he switches from sandpaper to hardbat. (He was also the China World Cup Ping Pong Champion in 2018 and 2019.)
He has a master’s degree in business administration but chose a different career – professional player and full-time coach in Germany. He’s here with his brother and coach, Stephan. I watched them warm up and Stephan could compete with most of the top players here – but Stephan’s not entered in singles, and only plans on perhaps playing doubles in the team event. He’s mostly just taking a vacation from his regular job as a lawyer.
Alex often goes by his nickname, “The Flash” (which helps differentiate him from his namesake Alexander Flemming, who discovered penicillin). Most automatically believe it comes from his table tennis game – he does play very fast. But that’s not where it came from. He once played in a darts tournament, and the director wanted all the players to have nicknames. Since Alex is quick in table tennis, he chose “The Flash.” And it just carried over naturally to table tennis. (He darts all over the court – but “The Darter” doesn’t have the same ring.)
He says he still plays more sponge than sandpaper – “90% sponge, 10% sandpaper.” But he began hardbat training for this tournament about two months ago. It’s an easy transition as he plays an aggressive sandpaper game that switches over to hardbat rather easily. Here’s video (3:47) of him playing practice games with Jimmy Butler on Thursday night. (Generally, sandpaper is more defensive than hardbat, which is more defensive than sponge. Sponge “grabs” the ball more than hardbat, which grabs the ball more than sandpaper.) With both sandpaper and hardbat he mostly stays close to the table, attacking from both wings as if using short pips on both sides. When he gets in trouble, he’ll back up and chop, especially on the backhand – but very quickly he’ll find a ball to counter-attack and get back to the table.
Saturday is the Team event where he is teamed with Jimmy Butler, with brother Stephan also on the team as a possible doubles and backup player. Open Singles is on Sunday. “The Flash” is seeded second after top-seeded Jimmy (reigning World Hardbat Champion), with Yinka Olasoji, A.J. Carney, and others right behind. And when these players play . . . prepare for “The Clash”!
The tournament will be livestreamed at: https://m.facebook.com/ClassicHardbat/
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