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Westchester Table Tennis Holds Major Youth Competition for First Time

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Hasan Saidov, left, competed in the U19 and U17 categories last week at the WTT Youth Contender series at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville that featured some of the world’s best youth table tennis players.

Some of the top young table tennis players in the world made their way to Westchester last week in one of the sport’s premiere events for youth competitors.

The Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville for the first time hosted the WTT Youth Contender series, one of 35 events around the world each year that help determine international rankings for players 19 years old and under.

Last week’s tournament is one of just three events being held in the United States this year that will count toward the rankings. The other two are in San Francisco, said Vlad Farcas, an event coordinator for USA Table Tennis who oversaw last week’s four-day get-together.

There were 120 players from about 12 countries, both boys and girls, in five ages categories – U11, U13, U15, U17 and U19 – who competed in the Youth Contender matchup. Farcas estimated that about 60 to 70 coaches and, of course, parents made the trip to see their kids play.

“It has risen so much in the U.S., especially the past five years, I would say, the membership of USA Table Tennis has grown so much, the clubs, there’s many clubs on the East Coast, there’s many clubs on the West Coast, and many more professionals in table tennis,” Farcas said of the incremental growth and stature of the U.S. play. “So it grew a lot in the last five years.”

The strides that have been made have started to show up in the individual rankings of the young players. While China, Japan, South Korea and Germany continue to be among the strongest contingents internationally, the U.S. has both a male and female top 30 player, said Virginia Sung, the CEO of USA Table Tennis.

In fact, the top U.S. male player, Nandan Naresh, participated in last week’s Youth Contender event. Among the other countries represented last week were Canada, Australia, France, Italy, the Philippines, Chinese Tapei, Ukraine, France and Luxembourg.

Sung said in the U.S. table tennis is a club-based sport, so USA Table Tennis is helping clubs develop programs to be a training ground for young players. She said that Westchester Table Tennis Center may be the top facility in the U.S. if not the entire Pan-Am region, and was a natural fit to host the Youth Contender series.

“USA Table Tennis will run as many international events as we can to accommodate players so they get more experience and opportunities to compete with foreign players,” Sung said.

One of those American players is Hasan Saidov, who was born and grew up in New York after his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Uzbekistan. On the third day of the tournament, Saidov spoke of his table tennis play after defeating a player from Canada in the U19 category.

Saidov said he started playing table tennis when he was about eight years old, which is on the late side for those who aspire to an international ranking. However, it’s an enjoyable sport that you can take as seriously as you’d like to, he said.

“You can win some money, you can play for fun; even if you have bad days, you can still make it a good day, but sometimes you just like to play in order to be a professional,” Saidov said. “Lose, win, it doesn’t matter, just play. That’s what keeps me going, why I keep playing.”

Another New York-based player, Lucy Chen, has been playing since she was four years old. Both of her parents are table tennis coaches, so the sport has been part of her life from as young as she can remember.

Chen said she was honored to participate in the Youth Contender event and represent the American contingent.

“So I’m really hoping I can get good results,” she said.

Farcas said that as the young players age out of youth competition, the rankings can also help determine whether they are ready for adult-level international play.

“There are some players here that are good enough to play senior events as well,” said Farcas.

That included Naresh, who is a member of the U.S. Adult National Team, according to Westchester Table Tennis Center.

Farcas said he was pleased that USA Table Tennis could bring the event to Pleasantville.

“We have 120 players, most of them stay in a hotel, most of them eat here, so it really helps economically over five days,” he said. “That’s a really good thing for the community.”

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