Duffy rallies for table tennis title
He cleaned up at last year’s national table tennis titles, but the stakes are high for Jake Duffy at this year’s championships, starting in South Australia on Monday.
Claiming the under 18, under 21 and mixed doubles titles last year, Duffy has drawn a tough challenger in the 2017 senior competition – the number one ranked Australian and Olympian, Chris Yan.
The tournament is set to have a massive impact on qualification for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, with rankings affecting the GC2018 trials, set to take place in January.
It’s why the prospect of playing Yan is a little daunting for Duffy, who is yet to defeat him.
"This Nationals is a big set up tournament for our trials in January, if you stuff up here you can stuff yourself up for the trials," Duffy told GC2018.com.
"The top six ranked people get into a big round-robin automatically. So if you stuff up here, you’re ranking will go down and you’ll have to go through qualifying to even get to the trials.
"I’ve played Yan three or four times, but have never won. I’ll just swing freely and see how we go.
"When you play the top players, it is very intimidating. You go into a zone and rely on your training and from then on its pure instinct."
The 19-year-old is seeded first in the under 21s competition, where he hopes to defend his title, but there is no question that the senior competition is where his real focus lies.
For Duffy, qualifying for GC2018 would mean the world.
"I’m really passionate about playing and really excited that I have an opportunity to play in an event so close to home," he said.
"It’s so rare that you get to play on home soil in your home town playing the sport you love.
"I love the sport, I love the city and I love the event. It gives me a chance to represent the green and gold which is the best thing for any athlete. The whole culture is so passionate and proud of sport."
Duffy’s preparation for the nationals has been – like his playing style – a little unorthodox, with the University of Queensland student also having to finish assignments and exams for his Commerce Economics degree.
It means he hasn’t had the best preparation, but this week’s tournament provides an opportunity to test his form leading into the GC2018 trials.
"You’ll be playing against everyone you’ll play in the trials, so you get to gauge how you are going under pressure situations," he said.
"It can give you a really good feel of how you are going, and if you need to put more work in, or areas you need to focus on to improve."
The week-long tournament will see matches played from 8am to 8pm every day. It’s a gruelling schedule, with team and double events starting before the singles events commence later in the week.
While Duffy believes the earlier matches can be an advantage leading into the crucial singles event, it can also be a double-edged sword if you get fatigued or burnt out.
It’s why he has a plan to have a training-hit ahead of the singles, to refocus his energy and make sure he is ready to go.
"In table tennis, focus is extremely important because the ball is moving so fast and there are so many different spins being put on the ball and you have to use all your senses, hearing, sight, touch, you need to be able to really combine those and produce to get the ball on the table. If they are off, then the ball misses," he explained.
"Because of the pure speed of the game, you need everything in control and working, or you are destined for failure.
"It is one of the fastest games in the world, you need quick reactions with your feet, your hands and your body.
"At the top level, you have milliseconds to adjust your body to every ball that is coming back. You have to be so in control and tight in your core to be able to adjust and basically if you are not up and willing to fight to win the point. You’ll lose so many so quickly, you won’t be able to recover."