11 Questions with Patrick Hrdlicka

By USATT | April 25, 2016, 12 a.m. (ET)

Patrick J. Hrdlicka 

USATT Insider poses 11 questions to Patrick Hrdlicka

1) Why do you play?

Table tennis is my happy drug. The sport keeps me mentally and physically fit. I lost 20 pounds within three months of picking up the sport again. And, it has been a great way to meet some awesome people. I play, and think and read about table tennis MANY hours a week. All in all, table tennis provides a perfect balance to my job (chemistry professor at the University of Idaho).   

2) Which is your favorite tournament?

I don’t have one yet. For me, the perfect tournament would be played on one type of tables/nets with non-slippery flooring and strong but non-blinding lights, with minimal downtime between matches, and able to attract many 2000+ rated players, resulting in 8-12 matches per day. The Westchester Open and the Joola Teams event probably come closest to these criteria, but I love (almost) all tournaments and their quirks. 

3) Who is your primary nemesis?

I don’t think I have one. However, there are several tough underrated players in the Pacific Northwest who give me a hard time including John Ochsner, Cody Hagel, and my doubles partner, Naoki Kanatsu, 

4) What is your favorite game tactic to score?

I love serves. In my opinion, it is the most creative and beautiful stroke in our sport. I also try to place the ball in hard-to-reach places using touch, be it on serve returns, blocks or FH attacks.   

5) Thoughts on the Poly Ball.

I am a fan of the seamed poly balls (XSF, YinHe). The Nittaku Premiums are ok. Everything else should be loaded on a rocket heading straight for the sun. The 40+ balls haven’t exactly made my life any easier since my game is very spin-oriented, but I am trying my best to adjust. Cell balls are a thing of the past and it is time to move on. 

6) Toughest Loss?

Back in my cadet/junior years, I lost 1-2 after being up 1-0 and 20-19 in the 2nd set (with serve) to the Danish #1 youth player at the time, Martin Monrad, who went on to win a handful or two of national open singles championships, and the European Team Championships in 2005 with Michael Maze, Allan Bentsen and Finn Tugwell. I still wonder if my table tennis path would have taken a different direction, had I won that match. There are several contenders to “the toughest loss” since my comeback to the sport: My 11-13 fifth set loss to Scott Preiss at my first tournament in the new era was nagging me for quite a bit: I would have been received a start rating of ~2150 rating, if I had won that match – instead, I had to claw my way up from a 1950 rating for the next nine months to break 2100. However, in retrospect, that was a necessary learning experience. 

7) Greatest Win?

Back in my young years, I beat the Danish #2 youth player in the semifinals of one of the bigger tournaments in Denmark, which was played on his home turf with what felt as ~100 of his closest supporters cheering on. I, on the other hand, had one supporter – thanks Dad !!. Frustrated after having lost the first set 21-8, I switched my inverted/inverted paddle to an inverted/short pips paddle (which I had hit with once for 5 minutes), and turned the game around to win 2-1. My run in the O30 event at the 2015 US Open, where I beat the 2180-rated Valeri Kim from Seattle 3-2 after being 0-2 down, followed by a 3-1 win over a ~2250 player from California to reach the quarterfinals, stand out as the best wins since my comeback. Incidentally, I switched from an inverted/inverted to an inverted/short pips paddle that I bought at the venue, prior to my match with Valeri.  

8) How you prepare for a tournament?

In the 3-10 days prior to a tournament, I play a LOT of handicap matches at my club (0-6 down). I try not to play in the two days leading up to tournament. The day before, I eat junk food. The night before, I play in the hotel swimming pool with my kids and have a couple of beers, as it helps me to sleep better. On the day of the tournament, before the matches start, I listen to an eclectic mix of music that pumps me up and helps me focus. 

9) When you see a new player at the club, what do you do?

I immediately greet them and pair them up with some of our most sociable players. Later during practice, I play with them for some time, inquire about the background, and give them some pointers. 

10) Player you would most like to play in a tournament?

I don’t think I have one. Living in a very rural part of US (the nearest 2000+ rated players  are 6 hours away in Seattle), I appreciate ANY chance to I get to play 1600+ players. I would love to discuss (and play) table tennis with Vladimir Samsonov and Jean-Michel Saive; they are/were such amazing, elegant and charismatic players. 

11) If you had to face Lily Zhang or Kanak Jha what would your game plan be?

I would go in and play my chance, however slim it might be, playing shorter, more focused, and more aggressive than usual. 

Interesting/fun factoid: In the first twelve months since starting to play competitive TT again (November 2014), I participated in 15 tournaments (4 in Portland, 5 in Seattle, 1 each in CA, NY and NV, 3 non-sanctioned in Spokane) and drove 10,000+ miles to go to tournaments. I may not have talent, but no one can accuse me of lacking enthusiasm.