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EPO for rubbers

Boosting rubbers is prohibited, yet it is said to be widespread at the top level, especially among men. The world federation has a new plan to expose these rule breakers.

Ricardo Walther thinks he knows them all. The tuners, the boosters, the colleagues who have resorted to illicit methods in order to improve their own rubbers. He doesn’t have to think long before he can remember a match against an opponent who he knows has been boosting his rubbers. It was only three days ago, he says, that he stood side by side with such a colleague at racket control. “It’s sad,” says the German champion from 2020. “You know exactly that your opponent is tuning and hiding it by using tricks. And then he gives the racket to inspection, I stand next to it – and he just gets away with it.”

Walther says he does not use any treated rubbers himself. But likewise he tried it once. It was five or six years ago and then only during training. “Everyone just did it and you wondered what exactly happens, whether it’s like speed gluing and what advantage it gives you.” As with speed gluing, the sponge should expand during boosting and thus be under more tension. To do this, softeners are used, which are applied to the surface of the rubber. This creates a greater catapult effect, giving the ball more rotation and speed. This is an advantage that is particularly appreciated by the player who gives one hundred per cent. Walther, on the other hand, did not like his treated training rubbers. “When you boost, you never get the rubbers right because you don’t manage to apply exactly the same dose time and time again,” explains the ASV Grünwettersbach player. “So you always have a different racket and have to hope that it turns out well.” In addition, he says, the aftercare is an extremely time-consuming affair. The solution has to dry for 24 hours after application, before the next layer is applied. Two to three days can pass before the rubber is stuck to the racket. “Even if the result had been perfect for me, the effort would have been too much. And I wouldn’t have been able to reconcile it with my conscience, because it’s simply forbidden.”

Rules without proper checks

Boosting became a matter of conscience in 2008, when the ITTF banned not only speed gluing but any treatment of rubbers. This includes the pimpled rubber that has been lying in the sun for three days in order to become smooth. “Anything that is supposed to bring about a physical change in the rubber is forbidden,” Claudia Herweg specifies the rule. The DTTB president was responsible for the ITTF Equipment Department until the end of 2021 and had taken up the fight against tuning. “If I compare the rubber after sunbathing with the same model that was approved by the ITTF, it would be clearly different from it in terms of playing characteristics. Thus, the rubber must not be used in competition.” A clear matter in theory. However, in practice, compliance with this rule could hardly be monitored from the beginning. Notably, as early as 2008, when the ban was introduced, the then DTTB assistant coach Jörg Roßkopf criticised in the Tagesspiegel during the European Championships in St. Petersburg that about 90 per cent of the players were boosting. Five years later, Japan’s Jun Mizutani protested against illegal methods used by colleagues by boycotting a number of ITTF tournaments. Timo Boll burst his bubble of silence in 2016 after raising the issue internally with the ITTF several times, but to no avail. He brought the issue to public attention in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He estimated that 80 per cent share of the top players boosted their rubbers and cited the Chinese, among others, as an example.

Factory boosting also an issue

The result of these initiatives? “Since there have been no rule changes since then, the situation has probably not changed,” says Boll today. “The ITTF certainly doesn’t have it easy. Yet, for ten years on this issue everyone has been asleep, nothing has happened. I’m at the other end, I follow the rules, but after so many years it’s a sobering truth.”

Boll criticises that there is often a big difference between the rubbers on the market and those on the rackets of his competitors. “For me it would be optimal … To read the full article and many other exciting topics you have to buy TTinside!