USATT Insider poses 11 questions to Michael Levene of Smash Table Tennis in Sterling, VA
11 Questions with Michael Levene
1) Why do you play?
It is and has always been fun! Its what i do and have done for 36 years since picking up a paddle when i was 13 years old. It is my primary and only form of exercise. Playing virtually every day since opened a club in January, I lost 25lbs. Physically i am in the best shape since my 30's!
2) Which is your favorite tournament?
I have poor sight in my left eye (I was legally blind in this eye up to the age of 40) so favor conditions with excellent lighting and good flooring that enables me to scamper around without losing traction. So based on playing conditions alone I like my own club tournaments! For seeing old friends and networking the US Open is the premier event in the USA but I have also enjoyed the Cary Cup tournament over the years.
3) Who is your primary nemesis?
Nemesis sounds a bit like a good-versus-evil comic book confrontation so let’s talk about competitive rivalries. In my younger days a good friend Jimmy Walsh from England (his son Ethan is the English national cadet champion). Many fine hours battling closely fought matches. I don't really have one here in the US but do enjoy competition against players of a similar standard and in particular, spin versus speed confrontations.
4) What is your favorite game tactic to score?
Imparting heavy topspin shots off service returns touched or pushed out longer by my opponent
5) Thoughts on the Poly Ball.
There is currently too much variety between different brands. Overall it has not turned the world upside-down. The better players tend to prevail with any ball.
6) Toughest Loss?
1985 World Maccabiah Games a former ITTF sanctioned tournament in the bronze medal playoff between Germany and Great Britain aged 19, deciding match, I lost 2-1 against a chopper; a style I like to play. 100’s of very loud German supporters successfully schooled me in pressure and managed to unsettle me.
7) Greatest Win?
Deja vu - 2001 World Maccabiah Games in the bronze medal playoff between German and Great Britain I redeemed myself from 16 years earlier winning the deciding match at 3-3 and thereby securing Great Britain’s first medal in the men’s team event in over 30 years. I was 18-12 and 1-0 down and saved numerous match points prior to rallying the in the 3rd and final game. In a newspaper article I was quoted as saying “364 out of 365 days he would have beaten me.” If you are going to pull a rabbit out of a hat, do it under pressure when something important is at stake. He may not have been the best player I have ever turned over, but it was my best performance under extreme pressure. In Men’s singles quarter final at the same tournament I lost 3-1 (old style games to 21) in closely fought games to one of the Israeli national team members; so I figure I was playing somewhat decent table-tennis at this time.
8) How you prepare for a tournament?
These days I play for fun; I haven’t really trained for an event for a long time. If I were in the final stages of preparation for an import event then plenty of irregular footwork exercises, 3rd/5th ball service / service return exercises and match practice.
9) When you see a new player at the club, what do you do?
Introduce myself, my family if they are present, show them the facility and talk about the programs and events we offer. I introduce them to the people in the club and if they are on their own try to pair them off with another player. For children who have never played before I ask if they would like to hit some balls either with our Newgy Robot, another player or sometimes myself.
10) Player you would most like to play in a tournament?
Everyone and no one. A player who would have a very similar skill level, physical fitness and mental aptitude. A match which would bring out the best in both players irrespective of the end result.
11) If you had to face Jimmy Butler, Lily Zhang or Kanak Jha what would your game plan be?
Realistically, the balance of probabilities would be very much against me with these opponents. Every player has strengths and weaknesses. It’s one thing to be able to work out an optimal strategy and another having the skill to execute it; however with strategy you can maximize both point tally and enjoyment!