Sport

Paralympian Milly Tapper’s dream to also compete in the able-bodied Olympics. By Jack Kerr.
Credit: AUSTRALIAN PARALYMPIC COMMITTEE

Turning tables: Melissa ‘Milly’ Tapper, 25, table tennis player

When I was born, I was a bit of a whopper, and I ended up getting stuck. I had to be pulled out, and that tore the nerves between my neck and my shoulder. So I don’t have much use of my right arm because of that, even after surgery, and it didn’t grow as much as my left.

I’ve just had to learn how to deal with it. The only thing I have to do with that arm in table tennis is serve, but I’ve had to work quite a lot on that to be able to get it up to a nationally competitive level.

I know I’m off to Rio for the Paralympics, so now my focus is on getting to the Olympics as well. I’ve been trying to do that since I was 14, so for more than 10 years. The first stage of those qualifiers is coming up in Tweed Heads. I’m ranked third, and three qualify for the Olympics, so I’m definitely in with a chance. But there’s a couple of stars who are just coming back from having babies or whatever, who are unranked right now. So I’m not kidding myself. It’s an Olympics, I don’t expect it to be an easy thing.

People who wonder why table tennis is even in the Olympics, I feel sad for them. Because they haven’t experienced what real table tennis is about, they haven’t seen it played professionally. It’s absolutely mind-boggling when you do get to watch it at a high level. It’s a lot better than people think. And if an Australian won gold, it would be huge for our sport.

The female game is a lot quicker than the men’s. For girls, it’s about reaction and speed. We are pacy and fast and in at the table, whereas if you watch the guys, they have more power and stand a bit further back. They get a lot more of their legs and waist into everything. The guys get us more on the power aspect, but we need a much quicker reaction time.

There’s a lot of squatting involved, so you get really strong glutes and quads. I’m in the gym four times a week, doing a lot of squats and other exercises where I’m having to stay in a crouched position. I also do a lot of biometric speed training. And a lot of stretching. The amount of stretching I have to do!

You notice when someone is getting tired, because slowly they start becoming more upright. There are tricks to exploit that, definitely, like moving them around the court a bit more. The whole aim is to try to stay down, because once you start to straighten up, you’re not really reading the ball properly.

I’ve been training on the court for five to six hours a day recently. We’ve been in the middle of a training camp, but now it’s back to about four hours.

We have two types of training on court: single ball and multiball – that’s quite cool to watch. The athlete is at one end, and the partner is at the other end with a big box of balls, and they basically feed ball after ball. Many different balls. It’s a new ball each time.

Pimples aren’t that common on racquets anymore. They are almost a disadvantage these days, but you can do good stuff with them. With the long pimples, for example, you can basically reverse whatever spin you give the ball. I play with smooth rubber on both sides. It’s a lot more fun, I think, because you can give the ball more spin. Just like any other sport, the equipment that you choose to play with is important.

Balls have been changing over the years as well. I remember when I first started, I played with an orange ball, 38 millimetres. Then it moved to a white ball. And then it moved up to a 40-millimetre ball. It used to be celluloid with a gas inside it, or whatever they used to pop them up with. Now it’s just plastic. They have less spin, but you can play with more power. That change was quite difficult to deal with at the start. It took us a month of constantly playing with it to feel comfortable.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: Australia v New Zealand, 1st Test, day 2

Saturday, 8.30am (AEDT), Basin Reserve, Wellington, New Zealand

• Horseracing: C.  F. Orr Stakes 

Saturday, 4.30pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne

• Soccer: A League – Sydney FC v Perth Glory

Saturday, 5.15pm (AEDT), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

• Rugby league: NRL Indigenous All Stars v World All Stars

Saturday, 6.50pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

• Basketball: NBL – Perth Wildcats v Adelaide 36ers

Sunday, 4pm (AWST), Perth Arena

• Golf: Women’s Australian Open

Thursday until February 21, The Grange Golf Club, South Australia

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 13, 2016 as "Turning tables". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.

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