Andrew Baggaley: UK's least well-known world champion?

Andrew Baggaley
Andrew Baggaley won team table tennis silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games

On Sunday, in a sport you may confuse for another, Great Britain celebrated the crowning of a world champion to go alongside Lewis Hamilton, Max Whitlock and Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Andrew Baggaley, a two-time Commonwealth table tennis gold-medal winner, defended his World Ping Pong Championship title in London by beating Russia's Maxim Shmyrev in an epic five-set final to retain his title.

But table tennis and ping pong are the same thing, right?

Wrong.

"In terms of the equipment, table tennis is played with sponge on the surface of wood and ping pong is sandpaper wood," Baggaley told BBC Sport.

"Ping pong is a bit slower, you have to work harder for your points and there are a lot more rallies. With table tennis it's faster and very spinny."

The main focus throughout the season for the 32-year-old remains on table tennis, in which he is England's number three - but come January, everything changes in search of glory and a $20,000 (£13,200) prize.

Last year he only practised for one month in preparation for the tournament, and this time around he had to battle cramp in the final against the three-time former winner.

"It's a dream come true. To win it again this year was just absolutely phenomenal," said Northampton-born Baggaley.

"The final had everything, I was 2-1 down - thought I blew it when I was 14-11 up in one of the sets and lost it - but then the end was just outrageous.

Andrew Baggaley
Baggaley celebrates during his win over Shmyrev

"I had cramp after saving match point and celebrated - I almost couldn't open my fingers so it was quite concerning going into the next set.

"He's a phenomenal player in ping pong and in table tennis - to beat him is wonderful."

Read more on this story and others from Northamptonshire

Despite a British victory, Baggaley's achievements barely made an impression on the national media on a weekend when Johanna Konta and Andy Murray were storming through the Australian Open.

But that could all be about to change as chairman of promotions company Matchroom Sport Barry Hearn, credited with turning darts from a 'pub game' into a big-money spectator sport, has taken up the ping pong mantel.

Hearn believes the sport "has a fraction of a chance of being the next darts", adding that the length of rallies appeals to a television audience.

And Baggaley says the sport, in its early stages of playing to the mass market, needs to capitalise on any opportunity for exposure.

Barry Hearn and Andrew Baggaley
Barry Hearn (centre) presents Baggaley's trophy with runner-up Maxim Shmyrev

"I think it's got the potential because it's such a fantastic spectacle," he said. "Barry is getting behind it and is enthusiastic about it, which is what we need.

"We need another tournament in the year and also a tour. I heard they want to go to China, which will promote the sport because it is so big in Asia, we need it there as well.

"It's only just started three or four years ago so it needs time to grow and flourish.

"Every year more people have come to watch and the crowds are getting really into it. It has to be step-by-step progress - nothing can change overnight and hopefully it's going in the right direction."

With Hearn comes the potential for some experimentation. Darts players have their own walk-on music, for instance.

So what would Baggaley choose?

"Maybe a Rocky tune," he joked.

For Baggaley now, it's back to table tennis as he prepares for the Olympic qualification tournament in April. He is currently 152nd in the world.

"Winning the worlds really gave me a psychological boost last year and I didn't think anything would top last year, but this has," he said.

"I didn't envisage a match being as hard as I encountered, but I'm going to use this as a psychological boost and roll on with the season. I want to peak for Olympic qualification."

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