"That the new Poly balls (non-celluloid material) be used at ITTF events as of 1 July 2014. The Executive Committee may allow the use of the Poly balls, in exceptional cases, in the period between the 2014 World Championships and 1 July 2014."
|Half of a celluloid ball, formed by pressing a disc into a|
hemisphere. It will be trimmed, glued with another half,
and polished. Image taken from the Nittaku ball video.
From one perspective this is not much of a change. The direct scope only extends to ITTF events: World Title Competitions and ITTF Sanctioned tournaments, which includes the ITTF World Tour, ITTF Junior Circuit, and continental events. The ITTF already specifies a particular ball for these tournaments. For example, all World Tour events must use the DHS ball, while Junior Circuit events must use the Butterfly ball. So this resolution is in a similar vein in that it designates a ball to use, but in this case it's by material type, not brand.
But even though this resolution is directed at specific elite events, the game played by the pros is also played by aspiring pros; likewise, aspiring pros play with dedicated amateurs and weekend hacks. Even novice players want to play the same game as the professionals. A change in equipment at the top has broad effects.
|Each celluloid ball is checked by hand and sent through|
a gauntlet of mechanical testing devices before it gets
its final grade. Image taken from the Nittaku ball video.
Poly balls were briefly used in competitive table tennis a few decades ago, so in that sense it's not new. Poly table tennis balls are also readily available as recreational toys, but not built to the standards required for official competition. The forthcoming poly balls are expected to meet ITTF requirements and behave more like celluloid balls than older versions.
Some players and coaches have been able to acquire prototype poly balls for testing purposes. Reviews of those prototypes have been mixed. However until a brand of ball is fully tested by the ITTF in the approval process, nobody can legitimately claim that they have seen a final production set of approved balls. And nobody can truly say they know how the new ball will behave.
Personally, I would like the playing properties of the poly ball to be similar to the celluloid ball in feel, but improved in technical aspects such as roundness, durability, and regularity of hardness and bounce. I am hopeful that the use of modern materials and manufacturing processes can help lead to those improvements. However with the change in material there will probably be differences seen during play, and the more differences there are, the more time players will need to adjust to the changes.
Domestic competition does not fall under ITTF jurisdiction, and USATT tournaments could conceivably continue to use celluloid balls indefinitely, as long as there is an available supply of balls. Anyways, until there is actually an approved ball, and until that ball is available for purchase, we will continue to use celluloid balls by default.
How players, tournament directors, and USATT deal with the poly ball will depend on when it arrives, and how it performs. The fate of the poly and the celluloid ball may ultimately be decided by market forces and manufacturer decisions.
The 2013 USATT Annual Assembly will be held in Las Vegas at 7pm on Wednesday, December 18th, and all USATT members are welcome to attend. The complete program has not been determined, but I will be available to field questions about the ball or anything else.