Olga Nemes at the World Veterans - Really!!!

By Larry Hodges | June 23, 2018, 5:54 a.m. (ET)



Of all the championship players at the World Veterans, I'd say that Olga is the one most under the radar. When I've mentioned to other old-timers that she's here, the most common response is, "Olga Nemes is here? Really!!!?"

I didn't know she was here either until I was scanning the draws on the wall for recognizable names - and there she was, top seeded in Over 50 Women's Singles. What was my response? "Olga Nemes is here? Really!!!?"

She won the European Top 12 twice, the first time at age 14, the youngest ever to win it. She was #5 in the world and #1 in Europe - which really meant that she was #1 in the world outside China and maybe Japan or Korea. She made the semifinals of the World Cup.

Her table tennis journey started at age five in Romania, when her father taught her to play. He was her coach her first few years. By age 15 she was a professional player. She wanted to move to Germany to play but didn't have a passport - and so had to sneak into the country hidden in the trunk of a car. (See Tim Boggan's 2001 article on this. At the U.S. Open that year, on the way to making the semifinals, she upset top-seeded Zhang Yining - yeah, that Zhang Yining - who was the reigning World Women's Singles Finalist at the time and would go on to win Women's Singles at two Worlds and Two Olympics.)

She plays a classic counter-driving style. She likes to serve side-top serves and then bang it out from both sides, with an especially vicious backhand. When I watched her play, she was almost toying with opponents, using them for practice - throughout the match her first serve every single time was a deep, backhand side-top serve to the backhand, and her second serve every single time was a forehand pendulum serve, usually side-top to the backhand, though she varied the spin and placement toward the end. I asked about this, and she assured me she'd vary it more when needed.

She now coaches professionally in Luxembourg. She also plays occasionally in what she called a "man's league," but they allow a few women in it. But due to her coaching duties she didn't have time to really train for this tournament.

Outside table tennis she likes to swim, play and watch tennis (favorite players are Nadal and Federer), and play with her dog, a white Akita. She's also a linguist, speaking fluently in Hungarian, Romanian, German, and English, plus some Italian. I asked how she learned English, and she said she learned a little from school, but mostly "just picked it up" from traveling around the world for tournaments!

She's into the Final 16 in Over 50 Women's Singles, where on Saturday at 4:45 PM she will face Huang May Hui, a lefty Canadian player from China. "She's very good," Olga said. But I can already imagine the bang-bang rallies they will have, with Olga moving her all over the table at speeds few could handle. And if things go well for her, then if anyone exclaims, "Olga Nemes was here?", we'll just point at the medal around her neck and say, "Really!"