New table tennis club in Port Washington aims to find a Long Island star
Slapping a Ping-Pong ball back and forth is a familiar pastime, but witnessing a fierce rally at Gold Coast Table Tennis Club, a new facility in Port Washington, takes the game to a new level. Table tennis is a worldwide sport that is rapidly growing, therefore pro players/coaches Ahmed Elmallah and Fei Zhai decided to set up shop on the North Shore.
"Our goal is to develop a national player from Long Island," says Elmallah, who played on the Egyptian National Table Tennis team and served as a national coach for the Saudi Arabia Table Tennis team. "We want to make table tennis more famous in our area of the country."
Right now, one of Elmallah’s top prospects is 13 year-old Kayden Li of Great Neck, who had been playing for five years. Li is the youngest of three boys, but these days, he’s able to beat his older brothers Kenneth, 19 and Kevin, 21.
"In this game, you have to be able to think on the fly in the moment," says Li. "Getting stronger and faster is key. Plus, it’s important to continually improve your serve."
The club features eight tables side-by-side in two rows of four across 3,500 square feet with a pro-shop and lounge area for viewing. Guests can take private or group lessons, but if you are simply a casual player, tables are rented by the hour with a reservation. Balls and paddles are available if needed, however, it is suggested players bring their own.
"It’s the unique sport where there’s no gender or age discrimination. A 6-year-old can beat a 15-year-old," says Li’s mother, Joyce Cheung. "It’s very exciting to watch because it’s so fast paced. The agility and reflexes the players have is incredible. There’s a lot more to the game than meets the eye."
Elmallah and Zhai are not only business partners, they are a married couple who met at a table tennis tournament in Flushing, Queens, in 2016.
"We used to practice together," says Elmallah, 35. "The first time we played, she beat me!"
Zhai, who grew up in China, is an internationally ranked table tennis player and certified coach who can train a high level player or start with a beginner on the basics.
"We first teach them how to grab the racket. There are two ways — the shakehand grip or the penhold grip," says Zhai, 26. "We also teach how to properly stand for a forehand by opening your legs wider and bending your knees."
Brian Wu, 10, of Flushing, Queens, has been working with Elmallah for a month. He’s known as an attacker who uses top spin to win points by force.
"Coach Ahmed has been working with me on my forehand," says Wu. "I used to go from low-to-high but that caused the ball to be very slow. Now he has shown me to go from back-to-front which gives me more power."
In fact, Wu claims playing table tennis has even improved his eyesight. "Because you have to constantly look at the ball, the game really exercises your eyes and strengthens your vision," he says. "It’s a real challenge. There’s a lot of things to learn."
One move that Elmallah teaches his students is the banana flip, which is an aggressive return of serve where players hit the ball immediately on the bounce with some sidespin.
"The move is shaped in a half circle like a banana," explains Elmallah. "You can do it with both your backhand or forehand."
However, table tennis is a bit different from playing regular tennis.
"Tennis is large and more physical," says Elmallah. "In table tennis you can’t go too far from your space. You have to learn to maintain control and focus on strategy."
GOLD COAST TABLE TENNIS CLUB
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 52 Main St., Port Washington
INFO 516-767-0201, goldcoastttc.com
COST $15 per hour to rent a table, $70 per hour for a private lesson