By Joseph Nguyen
Ping pong, to many, is a sport that is known but not truly respected. It’s a pastime that you would play for fun with friends, possibly at a pool or beach party. However, unbeknownst to the general public, there lies a small, yet fiery community of competitive ping pong players, many of whom are based in the Bay Area, which is a breeding ground for Olympic ping pong players.
Milpitas, San Mateo, and Sacramento, in particular are hubs of ping pong, where players train with coaches on one of several large ping pong sports centers. There, they compete in tournaments such as the Milpitas STIGA Open Tournament.
Evan Tung, junior at d.tech, is a competitive ping pong player (which, to those who are serious about it, is more often referred to as table tennis.) He’s been involved with the sport since 2007. When asked about how he got into it, he replies, “I go to a church every Sunday, and there’s a ping-pong table there. I used to play after the service when I was younger.” Tung mentioned to his father how he likes the sport, and his dad took him very seriously. His father found Tung a club to play at, Peninsula Table Tennis Club in Burlingame. From there, the sport became a crucial part of Tung’s life. He spends three to four hours, four days a week doing drills, practice, and conditioning with his personal coach. Tung has grown to become an amateur pro player, with a current rating of 2151. (Rating is based on winning or losing matches against better or worse opponents. For reference, a pro player is usually around 2500-3000.) Tung’s rating is calculated by his performance in the USATT (United States of America Table Tennis) approved tournaments; he enters tourneys whenever they are open, which ranges from every few weeks to a few months.
William Bai, another competitive table tennis player and a freshman at Milpitas High School, offered his opinion on how the game has changed over the years, and what is currently considered the norm, or the “meta.” He states, “In the late 90s, there was much more of a focus on strength. Now, the average ping pong player focuses more on the speed and spin of the ball. Since the ball size changed in 2012, table tennis strategies have changed as well. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the current style of table tennis is most certainly different from how it once was.”
Ping pong coach, Andrew Yen, talked about the technicalities and intricacies of the game. “There’s a lot that most people would miss during a pro match,” said Yen. “The larger, more noticeable things are, of course, speed, strength, spin, and technique. But the micros of the game go much further than you would think. Footwork, ball placement, game strategy, individual style, and adaptability all contribute to who wins and who loses.”
d.tech sophomore, Ethan Yu, is a professional fencer who plays ping-pong casually. He says, “Ping pong is pretty fun, I don’t mind playing or watching others play. It is pretty interesting as a sport though. It’d be cool if there were organized matches at d.tech or something.”
It’s clear that as a sport, table tennis has a little farther to go before it earns the recognition that other sports, such as tennis, enjoy. But regardless of how others view ping pong, it is a true sport in the eyes of table tennis players. Ping pong is more than just a sport that you play when drunk; it is a sport to be played with finesse and pride.