The King of Ping Pong: Nick April 1, 2016
The finals of The HelloFresh Ping Pong Open, the most prestigious of grand slam sporting events in the HelloFresh calendar, took place at Bounce one Friday night. Many competitors had entered the tournament and fallen, huge efforts and many sacrifices had been made until only 4 remained.
There had been upsets in previous rounds, none bigger than the removal of Freddy Ward, the once Under 11 school boy champion. Rumours around the Fresh Farm had circulated that Freddy was the man to beat, so when the young pretender Tom Lambert sent him packing with relative ease it seemed as though the tournament was wide open. Unfortunately Rob Powell had to withdraw from the competition due to illness on the day of the finals. Some say the pressure got to him, others say it was the dodgy Chicken Madras he had on Thursday night, I guess we will never know, but it was a great shame to lose the man known to the ping pong world as the human backboard in such a manner.
The Suspense-filled Semi-Finals
On with the finals then, making it to the last 4 were Luke ‘Vanilla Slice’ Grob, Nick ‘The Flash’ Graham, Bastien ‘The French Thunder’ Kolb and Tom Lambert who had come to be known as ‘Houdini’, due to his knack of escaping with victory when seemingly all was lost. The historic venue of Bounce seemed fitting to host such an occasion as this, the arena that saw the arrival of many great champions in the past would surely witness the birth of another by plays end. The sell out crowd could not wait to see the start of play and it would be Nick Graham v Tom Lambert to get us going. The match started at some pace and The Flash raced into an early lead, such precision had not been seen since witnessing Patrick Drake chop a carrot on the 60 second chef. The crowd were enjoying more fine slices as relentlessly The Flash slammed down forehand after forehand. Not even Houdini himself could escape this one and after a slight comeback in the second set found himself knocked out of the tournament. A valiant attempt from young Tom who I am sure will go on to make a great champion in the future. The first man into the grand final then was Nick ‘The Flash’ Graham doing so in some style, but had he peaked too early?
Next up in our second Semi Final then was Bastien Kolb v Luke Grob. A Frenchman v a South African and there was little love lost between these two as The French Thunder came out all guns blazing to storm into an early lead. The crowd sensing Grob needed a lift attempted to do so as chants of slice, slice baby rang around the arena. Suddenly the tail of Vanilla Slice was up and confidence soared through him as he chopped back at The French Thunders lead sending inch perfect, unreturnable back hand slices over the other side of the net. The Frenchman was really under the cosh now and needed something special to get out of this, Grob though ruthless as ever really turned the screw until he too had claimed a deserved place in the final. Commiserations to Bastien whose skill and excellent technique had made for fine viewing throughout the competition.
Now to the showdown, the grand final where two fierce competitors stood in each other’s way for a place in history and to get their hands of the HelloFresh Ping Pong Open cup. Nick ‘The Flash’ Graham v Luke ‘Vanilla Slice’ Grob in a match that promised to live up to expectations. Grob had fought hard to get here after coming through some tiring previous rounds and it seemed to show as he fell behind to The Flash early on. Try as he did he could not claim back Graham’s early lead who stayed typically cool to grab the first set. The two competitors changed ends and as they did exchanged a glare like two rival Tom cats meeting on a garden fence. Graham seemed to have been put off by this passing and Grob immediately made him pay throwing down more back hand slices to take the advantage. The psychological edge was certainly with Luke as in true Vanilla Slice style he crushed Graham to take the second set and level the match at 1-1. All to play for in the third then, and The Flash would need to steady himself to stay in the match. Back down his favoured end he began on the front foot, finding his rhythm again and pushing some scintillating shots past Luke. Grob would not be intimidated this time though and hit back aggressively again with his favoured back hand slice. The crowd were on the edge of their seats and tension was felt all around Bounce, some rowdy customer care agents couldn’t take the tension anymore and had to be calmed by the match officials. Onto the final chapter of this final then, The Flash plucked some inspiration from out of nowhere and started to play to Grob’s forehand. A tactic that Vanilla Slice had not encountered before in the tournament and unfortunately for him one he was unprepared for. Grob sent a few long forehands and all of a sudden The Flash had the match in his finely manicured hands. Nick would not give up this opportunity and ran through to take the match and the tournament, the crowd went wild, sheer scenes of jubilation. Never before in my 3 weeks of following ping pong had I witnessed such a joyous occasion. Holding back the tears Nick ‘The Flash’ Graham lifted the HelloFresh Ping Pong Open cup, all the previous hard wrist work from the young man had finally paid off. Luke Vanilla Slice Grob would have to wait another year to try and win his maiden Open, his attempt this year was valiant until the end and something which he should be very proud of.
So there we have it, another year and another champion, congratulations again to Nick Graham who served us up some unforgettable moments. There is just time to thank the tournament organiser Hannah Francis who makes this competition come alive every year and puts on a great show. Also a massive thanks to the sponsors HelloFresh, use the code NICKGRAHAMPINGPONGGOD to claim 50% off your first box. Also special thanks to everyone who competed in the tournament and came along to watch on Friday night.