Personal Best: Hard work pays off for rising table tennis star

Daniel Tang’s table tennis game has come a long way.

Coach Masaaki Tajima recalls Tang as a 10-year-old trying to learn the sport.

“Initially, he wasn’t talented,” Tajima said. “He had difficulty contacting the ball. Flexibility, agility, adaptability and coordination weren’t there.”

What Tajima didn’t realize in those early days was the young man’s determination.

“He’s trained every weekend for the past four years and is my top junior now,” the coach said, referring to his talented group of players at San Francisco’s Sunset Table Tennis Club. “He’s nationally ranked, not that high, but he’s moving up.”

Tang, who recently turned 15, spent the summer of 2008 in his parents’ home province of Jiang Su, China. His table tennis game improved measurably as he played every day.

“I had no distractions there, didn’t have a lot of friends to talk to,” Tang said. “I was more focused on training than anything else.”

The Portola district resident has seen his rating take off faster than a back-hand smash since arriving home from the summer abroad. At last year’s U.S. Nationals, he fell short of reaching the finals, but he moved on in the competition by defeating the top seed in the first round.

Tang finished the 2009 summer season with strong performances in the Sacramento and Berkeley opens. He played what he considers one of his finest matches against highly ranked Anh Nguyen in a quarterfinal match in Sacramento.

It was Tang’s 17th match of the day. After winning the first two games of the best-of-five match, Tang tired a bit and Nguyen captured the next two games.

“I took the last game,” Tang said, blending in a smile with his characteristic modesty.Tang noted that he went on to lose the 18th and 19th matches of the day, one that began with warmups at 8 a.m. and didn’t end until after 9 p.m. with only a one-hour break for lunch. At the Berkeley Open, Tang was victorious in his event against comparably ranked players and went home with a winner’s check of $80.

In one final tournament before the U.S. Nationals in December, Tang will be competing Nov. 7-8 against the Bay Area’s best adults and juniors at Francisco Middle School in The City. Tang’s goal at nationals, which are held in Las Vegas, is to earn a spot on the U.S. junior team.

The University High sophomore aspires to be a psychiatrist, but he has no intentions of leaving the sport.

“I don’t ever see myself giving up table tennis,” Tang said. “I think that [Coach] Masaaki has rubbed off on me. He’s all about pushing your limit, seeing how far you can go, but also having fun.”

Sunset Table Tennis Club

Where: 925 Chenery St., San Francisco
Phone: (415) 235-5560
Web: www.sunset-ttc.com
Table tennis rating system: Recreational “garage” players, 500; national average, 1,500; Daniel Tang’s current rating, 2,000; world class players, 2,700-2,800

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