By Simon Daish for ITTF
In conversation with Melissa Tapper, the ITTF gazes across the state of play in her home country of Australia, the growth of the sport in Oceania as well as what is next to come.
Simon Daish: According to online sources you didn’t actually transition to Para table tennis until 2010, how did you find the move to the Para scene?
Melissa Tapper: I played my first international para event in 2009 in Jordan which was an Asia and Oceania Championships after several discussions with members from Paralympics Australia and Table Tennis Australia.
SD: Did you have any table tennis role models growing up? If so, who were they and why did they act as an inspiration?
MT: Growing up I loved watching matches between Aussie’s Jian Fang Lay and Miao Miao and the men’s with the likes of Simon Gerada and William Henzell, I wanted to reach their level. They all bring something different to court, strength, stamina, personality, touch, I want a bit of everything.
SD: What would you consider to be your best career performance and why? Also is there a specific match that stands out for you?
MT: Qualifying for the Olympic Games. I was sixth in ranking and finished the event in second defeating three players I have never beaten before in a major event.
SD: You have participated on the Olympic and Paralympic stage before. What was the experience like to represent Australia at the events and do you have any standout memories?
MT: Getting to represent Australia is the greatest achievement, wearing the green and old alone makes me so proud, but to be on the world stage at the Games and compete against the best in the world is something special and a real test to ones abilities, it’s one thing to make it, another to perform. The memory that stands out the most was my singles match at the Olympics, against Caroline Kumahara in front of 5,000 screaming Brazilian fans and absolutely loving every second of being in that moment and trying to play the best table tennis I could!
SD: What do you like to do away from table tennis to relax? Do you have any interesting hobbies?
MT: Away from the table I enjoy walking my dog Duke, reading and drinking coffee. I also fancy myself as bit of a chef.
SD: Who would you say has been the toughest opponent you have ever faced and why?
MT: My nine year old nephew. He played with an anti spin bat and was upset if I beat him. Needed to remain the favourite Aunty.
SD: How did your table tennis journey begin? How were you introduced to the sport?
MT: I started at eight years old, in Primary School as a lunch time sport, and my sports teacher was a big influence on me as an athlete, across all sports.
SD: What is your view on the current state of Australian table tennis and do you think there’s a bright future ahead for table tennis in the country?
MT: Table Tennis in Australia has undergone some change with coaches and developing national training centres, this has created a strong team culture and training environment, the juniors are really engaged and already showing great signs of future success. I can’t wait to see what they can achieve.
SD: What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from your career in table tennis? What advice can you offer young players?
MT: I have learnt to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, that pushing yourself and your limits is the best way to improve, even if at the time it may not feel like it. But most of all, if you love what you do, you will never take it for granted.
SD: How have you been keeping busy during lockdown? What methods have you used to keep yourself fit?
MT: Trying to keep a level of routine has been so helpful. I have a small gym set up in the garage and a table in the backroom of the house, so everyday a minimum two sessions, but ensuring I still have goals I want to meet help to keep the motivation there.
SD: Have you been able to return to normal training? If so, how have things been progressing since the return to training?
MT: Unfortunately not back to normal training as of yet, as of June 22nd we will be back in the hall.
SD: You’re no stranger to taking your country to new heights whether it be the first Australian to win a medal at the ITTF World Para Championships or the first from the country to qualify for both the Summer Olympics and the Summer Paralympics. What would you say was the driving force behind these successes?
MT: I’m driven by being better. I thrive off seeing improvement, and even at tournaments, a poor performance or result will motivate me to try and improve again. So for me, it’s just about being the best that I can be!
SD: In 2018 you represented Australian at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, what was it like to compete in front of the home crowd at such a prestigious event and did you find the home support helped give you any extra edge in your incredible campaign?
MT: It was absolutely amazing! Loved every second of it, I wanted to play more matches just so I could be in front of the crowd more, because it was the first time I had ever experienced a home crowd and it was the BEST!!! In my final of the Para class singles I was 0-1 down and I really felt the lift from the crowd and my family that really fired me up.
SD: You’ve already achieved so much in your career in the sport. What is the next step you are aiming to accomplish?
MT: I’m aiming for a Paralympic medal, it’s one of the last boxes for me that I want to check off in my career!
SD: Finally, do you have a special message you would like to share with your fans?
MT: This game that we play is the greatest in the world, it challenges us and teaches us so much about yourself on and off the court! I am a strong individual in sport and life because of it, and I hope that you too enjoy it as much as I do.