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An Underground Player to an Olympian…

by Matthew Chellaraj

Not many people know more about ping-pong than the basic rules about hitting a tiny white ball back and forth over a net. Most characterize it as the easier version of tennis, but having played against a future Olympian and the third best 16-year-old player in the nation, I can say that it is not.

“It’s a battle and it can get very intense,” says sophomore Charlie Wang, who used to be called “The Rager” because he threw the paddle at the ground if he missed a point. Although he didn’t exhibit that behavior when we played, our match was anything but a relaxed competition. However, he said that he is more calm now than before, but maintains that he hates losing.

For the past seven years, Wang’s coach and a few friends rented out a space in a Plano gym where he has been honing his skill. It is because of the dedication for the sport and the commitment of his parents to take him to three hour practices every day and travel to places around the country (including the nation’s capital and Las Vegas) that he has landed a spot on the Junior Olympic team.

So as we warmed up, even in the beginning, I could tell there was professionalism about his swagger. I knew that it was not going to be an easy game. As we played a best of five series to 11, there was no surprise that he bested me in all three games, with scores of 11-7, 11-6, 11-4. He did say that he was surprised with my ability given that I was an amateur, but then noted a few weaknesses, including my backhand and the obvious lack of different serves. He proceeded to try to chip away at the kinks in my game, and even in a few hours, I noticed some improvement. However, there were some moves that he executed, including a powerful backhand return that I was not able to handle, even though I had used the exact same method. He assured me that my technique was a bit off and that it was the reason for my failure in completing the task. Nevertheless, I was skeptical.

As a joke, I told him that his paddle was the reason that he was winning, and so, he allowed me to use his. Right away, I started to execute the powerful back

hand, flying with confidence. I challenged him to another game, in which he would use my paddle. I could tell that his Chinese custom-made paddle with the special cushion gave him the advantage in our previous game, and with our first of a best of five game set done, the score was 11-4, me!! But would it be enough…

Our second game was much closer. He ended up winning 11-9 and went on to win the next two, 11-8
and 11-8. However, I could feel the intensity in the room skyrocketing with each point, and as he won that last game, I saw the biggest sign of relief on his face. As I left the game, wondering if I could have actually pulled off the upset, I realized I gained something much better–an insightful match against a soon-to-be professional who was actually trying 100 percent to beat me. The whole trip did leave me with one question though.

If I had my own custom paddle could I have beaten him…?

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