AS a firm believer in sexual equality I see no shame in being beaten by a member of the fairer sex, but when squaring up against an 11-year-old girl, humiliation is on the cards.
In my defence, table tennis is more about agility and hand-eye co-ordination than the strength and power I have on my side.
And my opponent in this Olympic challenge Bhavika Mistry, of Westfield Table Tennis Club, is ranked number two in England for under-11s.
My tension was ramped up as Bhavika was late for the showdown, but I used the time to pick up tips from Greg Yarnall, the coach who plucked her from obscurity aged seven. He saw her raw talent as she was messing about on a spare table waiting for her older brother, who was a member of the Wellingborough club, to finish playing.
The practice didn’t start well, with me over-hitting every shot.
“That bat’s too fast for you,” Greg said. “I’ll get you a beginner’s bat from the cupboard.”
If only that were to be my only embarrassment of the day.
As we knocked up with my new baby-bat, Greg complemented my forehand but suggested I hit the ball earlier and angle the bat more over my backhand shots.
As I retrieved the ball for what seemed like the 100th time, my opponent strode confidently into the arena. I felt a bit ridiculous in my shirt and tie as she changed into her branded tracksuit.
In a bid to psyche her out I grabbed my familiar note pad like a security blanket and grilled her.
Bhavika, who lives in Northampton, said: “I was quite natural when I started because my dad played. He started me off.
“I went to the beginners for a few weeks then Greg took me because he thought I was quite good.
“I love it. I play badminton as well. I’m quite good but I’m better at table tennis.
“I hope that when I’m older I get to play for England. Now I play for England schools, but I’d like to play in the Olympics.”
So, I was going to play an Olympic hopeful. I felt more psyched out than this cool-as-ice veteran with three and a half years behind her.
I got to serve first in our 11-point clash after correctly guessing which hand she was holding a ball in under the table. I was acutely aware it could be my only win of the day.
But no – I took the first point! Gratuitously celebrating one point over an 11-year-old like it’s a three-set Wimbledon final win may seem undignified, but you have to take what you can get.
Inevitably as Bhavika, who started playing for the region last year and won a bronze medal in the under-11s national schools championships recently, got into her stride she notched up the points at a dizzying pace. Most embarrassing was when she aced me, but I swear the ball moved in the air.
In the end I lost, but I was very satisfied to come away with six points to her 11. At one point it even looked like I was poised to make a shock comeback, but I didn’t.
Choosing her words carefully, Bhavika said: “It was quite good, but I shouldn’t let not-so-great players get over five.”
Her advice to me: “Just play more.”
Greg said: “I think if she trains hard she could play for England seniors and play in the European championships.”
Bhavika’s dad Amrat said: “It’s a fantastic achievement within a few years. If she continues then obviously anything is possible.
“To get the number one status is the ideal thing, but to be selected for England is the priority for most players.”
As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the game despite the loss and have resolved to train harder as Bhavika suggested.