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‘Backhand man’ Noshad Alamiyan propels Iran to coveted table tennis team medal

The crowd definitely did too, as they got behind the Iranians who were ranked eighth but swept fourth-ranked Japan in the quarter-finals on Thursday to be assured of a medal. Noshad, his younger brother Nima and Seyed Amirhossein Hodaei then lost 3-0 to South Korea to clinch a long-awaited bronze.

“We are super happy to achieve this medal after 65 years.” said Noshad, who is now aiming for more success in the singles and doubles events.

Table tennis giants completed a clean sweep of team golds on home soil on Tuesday, with their men’s and women’s teams defeating South Korea (X-X) and Japan (3-0) in their respective finals.

HANGZHOU – Watching Noshad Alamiyan play table tennis, you may think he is taking the mickey as the southpaw hops around playing almost exclusively backhand shots with plenty of topspin.

Once in a while, he feathers a forehand, passes the bat to his right hand, and smashes the ball. The audience at the Gongshu Canal Sports Park Gynasium can only gasp in awe, while his opponents are left guessing what is going to come next.

His unconventional style has turned out to be a great asset as the Iranian backed up his surprise 2018 Asian Games men’s singles bronze by leading the team to a bronze at the ongoing Asian Games – his country’s first in the event since 1958.

The 31-year-old did not set out to be the one-man, table tennis version of the Harlem Globetrotters when he started playing the sport when he was six.

He was already a talented player in his younger days when he beat then-junior world no. 1 Kenta Matsudaira at the 2008 World Junior Championships to finish fifth – despite training and competing without a coach.

But a neurological disorder seven years ago forced him to change his approach.

World No. 53 Noshad revealed: “I have a problem with the nerves in my left hand. It happens to about one in 1,000 people. I must play with my backhand because when I hold the bat, I cannot feel my forehand.”

The devastating development would have killed most careers, and he was frustrated, but his coach Jamil Lotfollahnasabi devised ways for him to improve his table coverage through speed and footwork.

“He is a very creative player,” said Jamil. “He creates some spin on his shots that lets him stay in the place where the ball is coming back, so he has fewer problems.”

With modern sports science athletes are now analysed and scrutinised, and it is to be expected that rivals will try to exploit his weaker forehand side.

Dubbed the “backhand man”, Noshad said: “I like it when people attack my forehand side, because I know it’s coming. I am always ready.”

His inspiration is Sweden’s Olympic champion Jan-Ove Waldner, who was known as the Mozart of table tennis for his genius and innovative shots. 

Noshad said: “He knew all the time where the ball was going and he just waited there... I do the same thing on the table.

“Covering the table with just my backhand means I’m limited. My body is limited. You can cover the table more easily with your forehand. But I make some special spin on the ball, and I know where the ball is coming and I stay there.

“I still have many other elements of my game. Service, returns, spin, ball placement. All of these are still good. I’ve learnt how to block and chop shots when I have to with my forehand. It helps me to make an opportunity to use my backhand.

“To me, this is not a handicap. I have adapted and I’m enjoying my game.”