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Table tennis 'saved me'

With speeds reaching over 100 miles an hour, table tennis is the world's fastest racket sport.

Table tennis is a sport of precision and fast reactions. It works your heart and lungs, reflexes and co-ordination.

Matches are played as the best of five or seven games, with each game going up to 11 points and the winner needing a two-point advantage to win.

Table tennis has come a long way since its beginnings as a form of after-dinner entertainment for upper-class Victorians. Cigar boxes were used as rackets, a line of books served as a net and the ball was a knot of string or a rounded-off champagne cork.

Despite its origins, table tennis is now one of the most accessible sports.

“If you can pick up a bat, you can play,” says Richard Pettit of the English Table Tennis Association. “Table tennis is a game for life, no matter what your age or ability.

“If you start to get competitive and fancy more than a game with friends, there is a large regional and national scene with games played in local village halls right up to international sporting complexes.”

Darius Knight: 'Table tennis saved me'

Table tennis player Darius Knight says the sport has saved him from the get-rich-quick attitude that made many of his friends turn to crime.

The south Londoner is a three-time British under-21 national champion and European youth champion, and has made the sport appeal to youngsters.

“Table tennis is like my baby,” says Darius. “It was my saviour, giving me a new direction from a young age. I was fortunate.”

As a child, Darius lived on a council estate in Lambeth, south London. He spent much of his time with a gang of 15 boys. Darius found that table tennis gave him a purpose, while some friends went in the wrong direction, getting involved in crime.

“They wanted the quickest way of getting what they wanted and sometimes that meant doing negative things,” says Darius. “That was why I got into table tennis. It opened a lot of gates and has made my life easier.

“I was always pretty good at sport, but with table tennis I started off at the bottom. I was taunted by other players who had better skills than me, so I was determined to be the best.

“I was fascinated by the game. It requires speed, reflexes, technique and strategy. Anyone can play but when you take it to a higher level, it's very technical. For me, it's like one fast and furious chess game.”

Explosive table tennis style

Darius's training started in a shed in Wandsworth, but he soon caught the attention of the table tennis authorities.

His explosive style and athleticism have turned him into a star attraction at tournaments in Britain and abroad.

Darius aims to build on his national and European youth titles by making his mark as a senior player.

He says: “I'd like to become a top-class table tennis coach and give something back, especially in London. Being able to win at the highest level for your country is the best thing ever.”