Table Tennis Championship Tour Takes Berkeley by Storm By Riya Bhattacharjee

Friday February 24, 2006

Table tennis is coming of age in America, according to players and coaches who descended on Berkeley from around the world last weekend. 

Just don’t call it ping pong. 

Sixty players, some among the best in the world, came to the two-day tournament to battle for the title of Western Open table tennis champion. 

By Sunday evening the tournament was down to two players. Defending champion Stefan Feth of Germany defeated 2001 U.S. Nationals Men’s Singles champion Eric Owens of Texas Wesleyan University in four straight games. 

Twenty-six-year-old Feth was the tournament favorite although other table tennis pros from around the world were in the hunt for their share of the $5,000 in prize money. Ranked 187th in the world, Feth recently won against the 49th world-ranked Danny Heister in the German Professional Bundesliga leagues. 

UC Berkeley’s Recreational Sports Facility, with its spacious wooden floors and common areas provided the players with perfect playing conditions, said Allen Williams, marketing director for North American Table Tennis, LLC, (NATT) the event organizer. 

The brainchild of Richard Lee, a former U.S. Junior Table Tennis Champion and Junior Olympic Gold Medalist, NATT currently is the top table tennis event management company in the United States. It has handled the U.S. Open Championships and the U.S. National Championships for the USATT since 2003.  

Williams said that since it is often difficult to make a living out of a sport like table tennis, cash prizes at tournaments encourage youngsters to participate by helping them to raise money for equipment or overseas training. 

Keith Evans, coach for the Texas Wesleyan University Table Tennis Team, stressed on the importance of the sport as a morale builder for young people. 

“It is good to see kids getting more enthusiastic about the sport every day,” he said. “This tournament in particular is a good one and is helping table tennis become more professional.” 

Kingston Gee of San Francisco, who runs the Lincoln Square Table Tennis Club in Oakland, agreed with him. 

“Tournaments like these are definitely good for the sport,” he said. “A lot of kids are drawn to it since the Bay Area is one of the major table tennis hotspots in the country.” 

Williams said it is best to start really young. 

“To be a world class player you need to be really quick and in complete control of your reflexes,” he said. “Any move which is less than one tenth of a second could spell disaster. Most players retire by 30.” 

After winning the tournament, Feth told The Planet that he was satisfied with the way things had shaped up during the finals but admitted that he had to be focused during every second of the game.  

Although Feth plans to retire from professional table tennis this year he will be moving to the United States to coach junior and local players in the Bay Area. 

“I want to take American professional table tennis to new heights,” he said. “I think there is a lot of untapped talent here. To become a top player requires a lot of practice and discipline and sometimes you have to give up other good stuff like parties and friends.” 

The 2006 North American Table Tennis Tour, sponsored by the Swedish sporting goods company STIGA, returns to Berkeley in September for the Berkeley Open. For more information, see www.natabletennis.com. 




Photo by Riya Bhattacharjee 

Competition was fierce at the Western Open Table Tennis Championship.