Competitive table tennis is a far cry from the ping-pong you play in your basement man cave. It's a fast-paced game of backhands and backspins, chops and loops, drop shots, smashes -- and kill shots. It's a game of skill, stamina, strategy and cat-like reflexes. And for brothers John and Nathan Hsu of Riverside, it's a passion.
The two have been playing table tennis for more than 10 years. That's a pretty long time, considering that John is 17 and Nathan is just 15. Despite their tender ages, though, the brothers are beginning to make their mark on the national table tennis stage. John and Nathan recently brought home a combined six medals from the 2011 Junior Olympics held in New Orleans. Nathan also earned the Joel Ferrell Award in recognition of outstanding athletic ability and sportsmanship.
The Citizen caught up with the Hsu brothers to ask them about the game they love, their strengths and weaknesses, their success and their hopes for their table tennis futures.
When did you start playing table tennis?
John: My parents recalled that we started playing table tennis for fun a couple of times on our dining room table when I was 5 and my brother was 3. Then, we were reintroduced to table tennis when we joined an after-school table tennis program at the OGRCC (Old Greenwich-Riverside Community Center) many years later. About 4 1/2 years ago, we started playing seriously and began training at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, Md.
What skills do you need to be successful at the sport?
Nathan: Hand-eye coordination is an important skill in table tennis. However, practice and physical conditioning are equally important. Contrary to what many people believe, table tennis actually requires a lot of footwork and takes a lot of energy. Also, one of the most important aspects of the game is confidence (but not arrogance).
John: Analytical skill and mental toughness are also important.
How often do you practice and for how long?
Nathan: We practice five to six times a week, two to three hours a day. When time permits, we also run, jump rope and use free weights.
What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
Nathan: I'm a consistent player with an all around attacking game -- but I'm still not physically strong enough, so my shots don't have as much power as I would like.
John: My strength is my all-around game, but my weakness would have to be my physical conditioning.
What is the hardest thing for you to master in the game?
John: I'd have to say that knowing what your opponent is going to do is probably the hardest part of the game. The best players understand their opponents and anticipate where and how their opponents will hit each shot.
You earned two gold medals at the 2011 Junior Olympics in New Orleans. Describe your experience there, and talk a little about the competition.
John: We had never been to New Orleans before, and I found the food to be excellent. The people there were very gracious. The convention center looked cutting-edge, and thanks to the people who ran the Junior Olympics, the tournament was run well. I especially like to thank my coach, my parents and my brother for being there and helping me through difficulties. (Because of the high humidity, I had an asthma attack, so I had to withdraw from competition on the first day.) Competition-wise, this was my third time participating at the Junior Olympics. Finally, I was able to earn gold medals. I had some challenging matches, but I stayed focused and relaxed to win all my singles matches.
Nathan: I was happy to win two gold and one silver, plus two first place trophies for the top two rating divisions. ( I won all the Age 16 and under categories at last year's Junior Olympics). And, I was honored to receive the Joel Ferrell Outstanding Performance Memorial Award.
It was also great to see other athletes from various sports at the Junior Olympics. Other events were conducted in the same hall, such as gymnastics, weightlifting, jump roping, taekwondo etc. Everyone seemed to be in competitive spirits, while having lots of fun.
You played doubles with your brother at the 2011 Junior Olympics and earned silver medals in the under-18 Doubles Table Tennis event. What is it like playing with your brother?
Nathan: It was fun. In the beginning, we had some miscommunications, but once we worked it out, we were able to complement each other's games. We were able to beat the team (from Texas) to whom we had lost the day before in the Doubles event when we played them again in the Team event by winning two singles matches and one doubles match.
Who wins when you play each other?
John: We're pretty even. He wins some, and I win some.
What are your ultimate goals in the sport?
John: Well, my wildest dream would be to win a world championship, but I know that to reach that goal will require an enormous amount of time and energy, as well as some luck. My goal now is to enter the top 50 in the United States. After that, I will try for the top 25, then top 10. My long-term goal is to get onto the national team, maybe the Olympics.
Nathan: My goal is to make the national team and also to make the 2016 Olympic team
Will you reach those goals?
John: It is impossible to predict, but only time will tell . . .