2014 US Women's Singles Champion Lily Zhang and USATT CEO Gordon Kaye
1) Why do you play?
I have found that table tennis is so many things – competitive, healthy, fun, interactive, social…you name it…My love of the sport is multi-dimensional. It’s a fantastic sport to play, and fun to watch. Most of all, I play because of the people – I have met so many interesting people through my involvement in the sport.
2) Which is your favorite tournament?
I actually have two favorites, with several honorable mentions. 1a is the Arnold Invitational (Columbus, OH – March 6-8) and 1b is the Badger Open (Milwaukee, WI – September). I really enjoyed Nationals last year as well, and am looking forward to the US Open in July. Those are the “big” ones. I also have a strong affinity for the smaller (0, 1 and 2 star tournaments) – there is something great about the intimacy of a smaller tournament.
3) Who is your primary nemesis?
Anyone with a paddle. In all seriousness, my nemesis is myself – I can’t tell you how many times I have beaten myself!
4) What is your favorite tactical combo?
I am not sure “tactical” comes into play in my game. It’s more like survival.
5) Thoughts on the Poly Ball.
I don’t know if I am really good enough to tell the difference, but from what I can tell, I really like them. I don’t play with a lot of spin (nor am I good at reading spin), so I think the poly ball helps someone like me. The operative word is “think.” As Yogi Berra once said, “90% of the game is half mental” – so if I think it is helping me, I guess I will go with it!
6) Toughest Loss?
They are all tough. As much as I hate to lose (and I really don’t like losing), I get more angry with myself when I don’t play well -- it just ruins my day. I can usually handle losing if I feel like I played my best – but when I don’t, it will drive me crazy for days. There is nothing worse than driving home from a tournament and saying “would have…could have…”
7) Greatest Win?
They are all great, but one sticks out in particular. It was early in my table tennis “career.” I was playing in an NJTTC monthly tournament, under 1600 event. I think my rating was 1200 or so, and I was playing a 1501 that clearly was better than me in every aspect of the game – better strokes, better footwork, better serves, better clothes, better shoes…you name it. Keep in mind, at that point a 1500 was like an Olympian to me. I went down 2-0 in a flash, and then got lucky with a couple of nets and edges in game 3. Before I opened my eyes again, it was 2-2, and I was up 7-3 in the 5th. I went on to win 11-6 in the 5th. You would have thought I had won the lottery.
8) How you prepare for a tournament?
By reminding all of my opponents that I am now the CEO of USA Table Tennis.
9) When you see a new player at the club, what do you do?
I try to go out of my way to say hello, find out where they were from and chat them up a bit. I always travel with my paddle and try to find a USATT club wherever I go – so I know all too well the feeling of being the “new guy.”
10) Player you would most like to play in a tournament?
I am going to claim “executive privilege” and change this question a bit to “player I most like to play in a tournament.” to that, I have two answers (both from the Badger Open) – David Feerst and Doug Wruck. Both of them are significantly better than me, and both can beat me with their hands tied behind their backs. But I look forward to playing them every year– they are true gentlemen, great competitors, and good people. David also lets me win a few games every once in a while.
11) If you had to face Lily Zhang what would your game plan be?
Try to get a seat in the front row to watch her next match. There is no doubt she is a great player – but watching Lily compete, you can tell there is something more. She seems to really love the sport, and it shows in her attitude and demeanor on and off the court. I had the privilege of meeting Lily, her parents, her coach (Massimo) and her ICC “family” at Nationals, and you just get sense that she is a special.